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The Makings of a Middle Eastern Lunch


Hard to believe it’s already Thursday and another Saturday is nearly upon us. I’m still thinking about last weekend’s 75-degree weather and super-chill Mediterranean style lunch. A trip to NYC will prevent me from repeating that meal this Saturday, but if I could, I would, in half a heartbeat. It’s the obvious way straight to my heart: breads, spreads, salad, and a glass of wine. Easy to please, no?

I might as well pass along the recipes I used in case you’re interested in replicating my lunch last Saturday. Really not hard, really really tasty. Whip up a greek salad to accompany the spreads here, get (or make) some good pita or laffa (shepherd bread), and wash it all down with some cold, fruity white wine. My mouth is totally watering.


First up: Muhamarra, the Syrian red pepper and walnut spread with a kiss of pomegranate syrup. Next, a lovely walnut hummus from Heidi at 101 cookbooks topped with paprika and sumac, the tart Middle Eastern condiment. Finally, labneh (at long last) — the thick, tangy yogurt cheese finished with a drizzle of good olive oil and a sprinkling of za’atar, a Middle Eastern plant ground into a fine powder and mixed with sesame seeds.


Last week was the first time in a long time that I’ve been able to bring a part of my experience in Israel into my home in DC, and I’m still riding the wave.


(Also — shout out to my little bro, who turned 23 today. Yowza!)

adapted from Epicurious

1 12-ounce jar roasted red bell peppers in olive oil with garlic, drained
1 cup walnuts
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses or fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Pita chips

Blend all ingredients except pita chips in processor until coarse puree forms. Season with salt. Transfer to bowl; serve with chips.

Hummus en Fuego
adapted from 101 Cookbooks

1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
2 cups cooked (or canned) garbanzo beans, drained
1-2 medium cloves garlic, to taste
juice of 1 lemon (about 4 tablespoons)
1/4-1/2 cup hot water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp za’atar (or paprika)

To make the hummus, give the walnuts a spin in the food processor, just until they are a sandy texture. Add most of the garbanzos, 1 or 2 tablespoons of the oil, 1 clove garlic, and lemon juice. Now process until smooth. Drizzle in the water a bit at a time and puree more, until the hummus is creamy and billowy. Taste; if desired, add the second garlic clove. Let the processor run for a minute or so at this point, to incorporate air into the puree and give it a light texture. Taste, adjust the seasoning – more salt, more lemon juice, etc.

Serve in a shallow bowl, drizzled with plenty of the remaining oil and paprika, sumac, za’atar or other Middle Eastern spice. Heidi garnishes with cured olives and red pepper oil, another lovely option.

Makes roughly 2 1/2 cups.


1 quart greek or regular yogurt
1 tsp salt
olive oil

Stir salt into yogurt. Line a wire mesh strainer with either cheesecloth (at least two layers) or paper towels. Spoon yogurt into strainer; set over a bowl, cover loosely with saran wrap, and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, bowl will contain much of the whey. For regular yogurt, strain an additional 3-4 hours or more, for maximum thicknes. Greek yogurt will be ready after about 8 hours.

Serve in a shallow bowl; drizzle olive oil, and top with a generous sprinkle of za’atar.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Aliza March 12, 2009,

    Riv, looks amazing. Seriously. Hope you make it to The Bay in August!

  • Kevin March 15, 2009,

    That looks like a really nice meal.

  • Olga March 17, 2009,

    This looks utterly amazing.