Middle Eastern Flavors for the Winter Blues

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This is going to be a quick one. Friends, I have been sick. We don’t catch many colds in our house, but Jeff and I both got one of the nastier ones I have ever seen, and my version of it pretty much kicked me in every facial feature: eyes, ears, nose, sinuses, tonsils… And chest. I don’t like to complain, so I’ll leave it at that.While I’ve been lying around for the last nine days, I have been kind of obsessed with food. Not the food on my own table, but food from far away places. We just started watching a BBC series featuring Yotam Ottolenghi’s food travels all over the Middle East. We have actually only watched two episodes because the food looks so incredible and the offerings around here are so dismal that it makes me either want to crawl into bed and cry myself to sleep, or punch someone. Also, I get so insanely hungry for all kinds of foods that are not in season, or just not available. I have had a hard time conjuring up an appetite for the heavy kinds of nourishing winter foods that I usually cook at this time of year. I don’t want a roast– it’s a feta, tomato and cucumber salad smothered in fresh herbs that I really want. Summer food. In fact, last night I served my family a really delicious stew, but had a green salad with a lemony tahini dressing on it instead while they enjoyed that.

Anyway, back to the food from Ottolenghi. (Let me just say right now that this is not  a sponsored post. I’m just a little ravenous and obsessed right now.)  I went to his website, and found that there was a whole grocery section. Check it out, the photos are just gorgeous. It was almost painful. Feeling rather low, I went ahead and did something about it. I placed an order for beautiful food. As much as I try to mainly buy local and cook with what’s seasonal, I desperately needed some bright flavors from sunny places.
Here’s what came in my box yesterday (I’ll add links to these so you can check out any you are unfamiliar with):

Rose Water, Pomegranate Molasses, Pumpkin Seed Oil, Dukkah, Dried Rose Petals, Sumac, Mahleb, Ground Iranian Lime and Aleppo Chilli Flakes. It felt like I had opened a package of sunshine.

I’ll still cook with the ingredients that are available and seasonal here (ahem, plus citrus!) but adding these flavors, I hope, will bring some freshness to our meals. I added rose petals to a chocolate and coconut treat I made today, and I’ve been sprinkling Dukkah on steamed broccoli raab and cauliflower rice. There was one item that was not available, which I am dying to try: Geranium Water. I have used Rose Water and Orange Blossom Water, but Geranium? I love the smell of geranium flowers and leaves, so I think I would love it. And I don’t buy a whole lot of cookbooks, but if these winter blues persist, I think I will have to treat myself to Plenty and Jerusalem. And then if I’m still feeling restless, we’ll have to go to London and eat at Nopi. Until we get our passports back and can get somewhere sunny! I can’t believe it’s almost been a year since we were wandering through the spice markets in Antalya

So, that’s how winter has been treating me. How about you? What foods give you the boost you need in the dark months?

P.S. Winter’s not all bad! Here are some photos I took of the gorgeous snowy sunrise this morning.

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17 Responses to Middle Eastern Flavors for the Winter Blues

  1. Hazel January 17, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

    I love pomegranate molasses. Just delicious. I remember making an Iranian dish with it, spinach and apricots that I haven’t made for ages.

    I’m sorry you’ve been so poorly- there have been some really nasty bugs around.

    I think taste buds take a knock when you have/have had a cold so bright flavours make all the difference. I was ill just after Christmas and couldn’t summon up any enthusiasm about food at all. Luckily my husband cooked meals and I just ate what was in front of me!

    Let us know what you make with some of the other ingredients. Mahleb is the only one I don’t know, but I’m always up for more inspiration!

    • Ariana Mullins January 23, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

      Whenever I think of pomegranate molasses, my mouth starts watering because of the tartness. I have made a chicken and walnut recipe with it before, which was memorable… I love Iranian and Lebanese food!

      I haven’t cooked with mahleb yet, either. I did put a pinch of it into our rosewater-scented coconut ice cream this week, but it didn’t make a huge impression. I’ll do a little research!

  2. Joy January 17, 2013 at 9:23 pm #

    I can identify. We have all taken turns with various illnesses for the past month. I rather expected a rough winter since we are living in a new place…but I sure hope we are just about done aclimating to the local germ set!
    This week I made fruit salad and a fritata for dinner with frozen spring veggies. On the menu for next week is a big Greek salad, with lots of cucumbers and parsley. 🙂

    • Ariana Mullins January 23, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

      I love an herbal Greek salad! So sorry you guys have all been sick. I am pretty happy that it looks like my daughter has managed to avoid any illness so far. I’m still having her take cod liver oil and Vitamin D every day, though…

  3. The Expat Wife January 17, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

    Oh I love food! But I don’t like Thai food that much, which is a shame as we are living here for a while longer…and i miss winter. I live for the TLC food channel though 🙂 I hope you feel better soon

    • Ariana Mullins January 23, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

      Oh, what a shame that you don’t like Thai food! Isn’t it funny that it’s those kinds of soups and spicy dishes we often crave when we’re sick, though? Or just cold? It seems like all of the best food comes from hot places. As you know, I am not at all jazzed about English food. The more we can avoid it, the happier we all are. *Sigh.* I didn’t expect to enjoy German food as much as I did, though, so that was a happy revelation.

  4. Amanda January 18, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

    I have heard of the Ottolenghi cookbooks but somehow didn’t realize they were related to a chef’s TV show! The link you posted doesn’t work in the US but I looked up Mediterranean Feast on Youtube and was able to watch a bunch of clips – I’m SO glad you linked to that! I would absolutely love to get the Jerusalem cookbook and start experimenting with Middle Eastern flavors. I adore Mediterranean food – Greek, Italian, Spanish, the small amount of Moroccan/Middle Eastern flavors I’ve tried. I wonder where I can get preserved lemons in Atlanta…?

    I hope your piggy bank savings plan leads to sunny adventures, vibrant flavors, and an in-person view of the dark blue Mediterranean Sea. The travel bug has bit me as well (thankfully not the flu bug, hope you feel much better soon), and I feel that I MUST go somewhere new and exciting for a long, long time. In the meantime at least we can create the smells and flavors of a faraway destination, right?

    • Ariana Mullins January 23, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

      Amanda, you should totally make preserved lemons yourself! I have been making them for years, although not recently, since it’s hard to find organic ones here. But I’ll get some and do it again soon. It’s very simple, and is SO delicious. Glad you enjoyed watching those clips– isn’t that food so vibrant and exciting?

      Eating food is how I get inspired. Much more so than reading about it. I understand that many people do so with food blogs and cookbooks (and I’m glad!! It brings people to me!) but I get this really strong yearning to go taste something new and exciting when it’s been a while. I never felt that yearning in California, since I was always tasting something great and different. But here, it’s… SO challenging. I am also dreaming of the Mediterranean Sea, once we count up our savings!

  5. Marisa January 20, 2013 at 12:36 am #

    Ahh man! SO sorry to hear you’ve been so miserably sick. That is the absolute worst. In 2004 I got 2 back to back colds that were exactly as you have described and since that time I have become an incredible germaphobe in an effort to never go through that again! I really hope you are doing better by now 🙂

    But wow – what an amazing bunch of treats you’ve received! I wouldn’t mind opening up such a package myself! I’m especially curious about your pumpkin seed oil. I’ve seen that before and always wanted to buy it – but haven’t yet. Let me know how you like it. And so interesting about your craving for summery food. That doesn’t seem like you Ariana! You always seem so tied to the seasons and eating what is available. Makes me wonder why your body is telling you it wants those foods? But maybe it is just all the tv watching of Ottolenghi (had no idea he has a show and MUST see it) and those bright lovely flavors that has simply gotten into your brain. Either way – hope you are enjoying it! And I hope you will share some of the wonderful meals you concoct with these ingredients!

    • Ariana Mullins January 23, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

      Marisa, Pumpkin Seed Oil was really easy to come by in Germany, available in all of the local supermarkets and mini food shops. I love making a salad dressing with it, using apple cider vinegar as the acid. I also pour it over cabbage slaws– it’s really good! You want to keep the applications uncooked, so it’s great for those sorts of things, and in drizzled onto a cream of cauliflower soup and things like that.

      It’s funny that you would say that I am so in tune with the seasons… I TRY to be, but you have to keep in mind, that I am hard-wired for year-round summer, having grown up in SE Asia and Los Angeles. Eggplant and peppers should be available every single day of the year, as far as I’m concerned! It is a real challenge to eat seasonally, but I just believe in it, and manage to do it most of the time. I would be super happy if it was summer all year again, but in the meantime I think I get better at doing winter each year. I managed to max out my Vitamin D levels this year, and that has helped a lot– but my taste buds don’t care!

  6. Hausfrau January 20, 2013 at 11:56 am #

    So sorry you’ve been really sick! Hope both of you are feeling much better now.

    Everything you got from Ottolenghi looks wonderful! Several of the things you bought are ingredients I’ve been wanting to get, too. I love dukkah–had it for the first time in Australia a few years back. I want to try to make it sometime. At the moment, my husband and I are watching Allegra McEvedy’s Turkish Delights series. I imagine you’ve seen it–if not, definitely give it a try! I don’t know how I’ve missed Ottolenghi’s show, but I’ll be looking for it.

  7. Ariana Mullins January 23, 2013 at 1:27 pm #

    Yes, finally coming out of the sickness now, thanks! I think it should be pretty easy to make dukkah at home. Now that I’ve tasted it a few times and read the ingredient list, it seems pretty straightforward– and we all love it! I will have to look up that Turkish Delights series, it sounds really great. Something I love about the Ottolenghi show is that he goes and cooks with families or other locals– that is my favorite exposure to cuisine, since it’s the most natural form of cooking and eating.

  8. Valerie {all mussed up} January 29, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

    A friend and I are starting a once-monthly living room bistro, and the theme of our opening night is “Escape from Winter”…to the Middle East! What fun to read this post and see we’re not the only ones going stir-crazy with all these wintry stews and craving crisp, bright flavours.

  9. Bonnie Rose February 9, 2013 at 9:39 am #

    Soups. My husband made this parsnip soup that really hit the spot when we had snow last month. We’ve recently learned how to get two meals out of one chicken by making soup out of the chicken carcass and I really like homemade soups. yum.

    Bonnie Rose
    The Compass Rose


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