Monday, October 31, 2011

Macroona Imbakbaka

This is the most QUINTESSENTIAL Libyan Dish. Heavily influenced by Italian cuisine, this Libyan dish is Pasta in a tomato stew. Any type of pasta can be used but more often than not its either Ditalini or broken up Spaghetti. I learned how to make this dish in only one quantity: A lot. The recipe below is for an entire pound of pasta, which really is on a box. It may seem like a lot, but it will go go go.

What you'll need:
- 1 Onion, diced
- 2 garlic gloves
-1 chicken cut and quartered.
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
-2/3 cup tomato paste
-1 tablespoon salt
-1 1/2 tablespoons Bzaar
-1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
-11 cups of water (will be used in parts)
- 1lb Pasta of your choice

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Libyan Kitchen

When I was a kid I remember being in the school cafeteria and seeing the other students pull out Lunchables or turkey sandwiches on white bread for lunch. My lunch would be more....Libyan. I would pull out a cheese sandwich made from my mom's hearty and healthy wheat bread or some left over rice with a pea stew (Tabikhit Bazalya). While I was once ashamed of bringing my Libyan food to my American cafeteria, as an adult I can't get enough of my cultural cuisine.

As with anything else, I have my favorites. Braak (stuffed grape leaves) and Roushda Emgata3a (a homemade pasta) are of course top contenders. My friends and I often ''rank'' the best Libyan cooks we know based on who was best at making which dishes. We constantly get together for coffee and dessert as is the social norm for Libyans. We have monthly, if not weekly, dinners together. We love food. In particular we love Libyan food. After constant nagging to our mothers to make our favorite dishes we thought it was high time we learned to make the dishes we loved so much by ourselves so that we could enjoy them when we wanted.

The biggest problem with Libyan cuisine is that more often than not the person cooking does NOT measure anything or any ingredient. As our mothers always say عينك ميزانك or ''your eye is your scale.'' Of course this is impossible for a new or unexperienced cook. So I made a list of all the Libyan foods I can think of and will create a recipe for them.

 I am in no shape or form an expert cook, I just love food, cooking and being Libyan. Hopefully those three things will be enough to gain your trust in using my recipes for your dinner table. I am a first generation Libyan American who has a mother who can cook your pants off MashaAllah. I want to be as good as her one day and I will be, inshaAllah, one can of tomato paste at a time.


Tomato Paste

Tomato paste is the most vital ingredient to Libyan cooking, only second to olive oil.

Tomato paste are not equal opportunity. Some can be very bitter and others almost tin tasting from the can. Its important to pick a tomato paste that is good quality. Personally, I like using Contadina.

Olive Oil

You CANNOT make Libyan food without......

Well, I guess technically you could not use Olive Oil but it just IS NOT the same. Libya is lush with Olive trees in its mountain regions, especially in towns like Gheryan and Zintan. Olives are collected during the winter months and send to a local press to be squeezed and the essential oil is bottled. Fresh olive oil is bitter, it is aged for months before use.

You will never find a Libyan dish that does not call for it. Its important to use good quality oil. Typically its Extra Virgin Olive Oil that is used. At least in the United States, its generally been found that the brand Pompeian has the best taste.

Olive oil can be pricey. So while quality is important, this ingredient is used heavily so dont break the bank.


Libyan food finds its unique flavor in the combination of 3 or 4 main seasonings/spices: 'Bzaar', 'Hararat', salt and cayenne pepper.

Upper Left hand: Hararat. Upper Right hand: Cayenne Pepper. Lower Left: Bzaar. Lower Right: Salt
They are essentials. You may be able to operate without Harrarat but without Bzaar you cannot. The drawback to Libyan food is, Bzaar is not something you can find in your local grocers spice aisle. It is more often than not a roasted, milled, and combined at home-- and by home I mean in Libya. 

Whats in Bzaar:
A mixture of ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, turmeric, cloves, coriander, and caraway

Whats in Harrarat:   
A mixture of ginger, cloves, cinnamon, cardamon, all-spice, nutmeg, and white pepper

The exact mixture and measurements of each spice in each mixture is beyond me and I think a bit more advanced than what this blog can offer. I dont think there is any Libyan lady who has actually measured how much of each goes into Bzaar.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Shakshooka-- Eggs in tomato stew

For me, Shakshooka means Saturday morning breakfast. Other families got pancakes on the weekend as a treat. My family made a huge tray laden with cheeses, olives, my mothers bread and of course Shakshooka.    This recipe is pretty flexible and has some variations in terms of how its spiced. This recipe is the way my mother makes it, the way I learned to make it and one that I find is pretty basic and well liked. You'll note it calls for Cumin. Some people arent a fan of Cumin but in this recipe it disguises that ''egg'' taste aka Zifraa sometimes associated with eggs.

What you need:
-3 medium sized tomatoes
-2 Jalapenos
-2 pieces of garlic
-2 Tbls Olive oil
-5 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon Salt
-1/2 teaspoon Cumin

What to do:
1. Dice tomatoes and quarter Jalapeno. If you would like to lessen the spice factor, deseed your pepper.
2. On medium-high heat, in a deep pan, put in olive oil, let it warm and drop in your peppers and let them sear a bit in the oil to infuse it with flavor. CAUTION: Seeds may pop in hot oil. 
3. Add tomatoes to the pan. Allow them to cook in the pan for about 3 mins before you add salt and cumin. (You want to wait because salt brings out the liquids and they will burn out too quickly. You need them for later. 

 4. Allow the tomatoes to cook for 4-5 mins, till they soften and make a stew.
5. Taking a spoon to push aside the tomato giving a ''resting spot'' for the egg, crack eggs into the pan, spacing them apart.
6. Lower the heat to medium-low and cover the pan with a lid till eggs cook to the desired consistency. Try not to remove the lid till needed.  When cooked, it should look like this.
7. Plate up and ENJOY!!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Imsayir-- Pickled Carrots and Peppers

I love Imsayir. Its an essential if you're eating something imbowkha and frankly even just to crunch on. Its a pretty straight forward recipe and adjust according to how much or little you need to make. I make mine in Mason Jars because it makes storage easier when its in smaller containers than in massive jars as the Libyans make it. When I measured the ingredients, I did it PER mason jar. Hopefully that will be easier

What you need:
- 12 Mason Jars
- 2lbs Carrots (washed and peeled)
-4lbs Hot Peppers (I use Jalapeños)
- White Vinegar
-Hot water