The Shiksa’s Shakshuka

I’ve been meaning to try the shakshuka recipe from The Shiksa in the Kitchen for ages.  Tori’s blog, which focuses on food history and culture while spotlighting Jewish and Israeli recipes, is one of my favorites.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that she’s my food blogger hero.  Her recipes are presented step-by-step with clear photographs; she always includes a back story that is very engaging; the dishes she presents are invariably fun and delicious; she is a fellow history nerd; her photography is amazing; and, reading her blog, I always, always learn something.  If you’re confused and/or offended by her choice of moniker, read her explanation here.

I became interested in Judaism and Jewish culture in 2009 when my best friend invited me to attend a class with her at Congregation Shir Ami in Cedar Park.  One of my favorite things about Jewish culture is, of course, the emphasis on food and celebration.

Though I have little interest in eating kosher (after two years as a vegan, self-limiting my culinary options and segregating myself from almost everyone else through ideological food choices, I can’t see myself ever going down that path again), I find the history of Jewish food fascinating.  It is a story of adaptation and innovation, stretching over six continents, and underpinned by a deep, joyous love of food and community.  And it’s not all gefilte fish and matzoh balls, as evidenced by the diversity of mouth-watering recipes on Tori’s blog.

I had planned to make more Italian hot beef sausage with cheesy mashed cauliflower last night, but then Tori reposted the Shiksa’s Shakshuka, and I was reminded that I still hadn’t given it a try.  It has always looked so good–I can’t believe it’s been nearly two years since she posted it, and I hadn’t tried it yet!  So last night, having all the ingredients on hand, I whipped up a batch.  It was easy, affordable, and filling.

We love eggs for dinner at my house, so it was a winner.  In addition to adding two homegrown serrano chiles for added heat, I did make a couple of changes to Tori’s recipe: I used a yellow bell pepper that I had on hand, and I added a splash of red wine!  L’chaim!

Go check out Tori’s amazing post about this popular Israeli dish, and get the recipe here.

Austin Middle Eastern Food Review 2012

This post is part of the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance Austin City Guide 2012!

Alborz
3300 W Anderson Lane #300
Menu

Alborz is a Persian restaurant tucked away in a strip mall on Anderson Lane, nestled right next to Mo-Pac.  Even though it’s a little hidden, it’s easy to get to because of its proximity to major thoroughfares, and well worth a visit.

Selections from the lunch buffet

Selections from the lunch buffet

The menu is anchored by fragrant rice dishes and roasted and grilled meats, notably chicken, lamb, and beef, but they also have an array of Persian specialties such as kashk-o-bademjan (baked eggplant pureed with spices and topped with dried yogurt, mint, sautéed onions, walnuts, and garlic); Persian potato salad; and four house stews.  My favorite was fesenjan–a tangy and sweet pomegranate and walnut soup.  If you have room, they also have popular Persian desserts, including baklava; rolled cake with peaches and pistachios; homemade ice cream with saffron, rose water, cardamom, and almonds (everybody was ordering it!); and sholeh zard, a bright rice pudding with saffron, and cardamom.

Fesenjan - tasty pomegranate soup

Fesenjan – tasty pomegranate soup

To sample all of these things at once, along with your fill of dolmas, baba ghanooj, hummus, and tabouleh, check out Alborz’s award-winning buffet.  The lunch buffet is $9.69 ($10.99 on weekends), and the dinner buffet (available Friday through Sunday) is $13.99.  They also serve beer and wine.

Persian "macaroni and cheese"

Persian “macaroni and cheese”

For a really special experience get there between 7:45 and 9:30 on Friday or Saturday night–they have belly dancers!

Alborz is a little out of the way if you’re based downtown, but it’s a very popular weekday lunch spot for those who work in the area.  The lessened weekend traffic makes a Saturday or Sunday visit casual and leisurely.  Service is pretty good; last time I was there, as a single diner for the Saturday buffet, it was a bit slow.  If you go in for a regular dinner, service is more attentive.  The atmosphere is cozy and more elegant than one would expect considering the location.  They have the now-ubiquitous big screen TVs (broadcasting NASCAR and Serie A last time I was in), but they are muted, so not too distracting.  Alborz is popular for large family gatherings, workday lunches, and intimate dinners.  Check it out next time you’re in the neighborhood!

DiMassi’s Mediterranean Buffet
12636 Research Boulevard
Menu

If you want a quick, affordable, varied Middle Eastern/Mediterranean meal, check out DiMassi’s.  A chain, they formerly had two restaurants in Austin, but the south location has now closed.  The Research location may not be convenient for everyone, but if you live in the area, it’s worth the occasional visit.

This buffet is huge.  They have all the Middle Eastern specialties you’d expect, plus all-you-can eat grilled meats, falafel, and a decent selection of desserts.  The decor and atmosphere is not inspiring (think: loud, cafeteria-like), but, at $9.99 for lunch (11:00am – 4:00pm) and $11.99 for dinner (4:00pm – close), including unlimited trips, drinks, etc., it’s not a bad deal.  This might be a good place to go with a large, diverse group of picky eaters who want to sample various Middle Eastern dishes for the first time; or for anyone who is really hungry and craving some quick lamb shank and lady fingers.

Flying Falafel and Po’Boys
2001 Guadalupe St. Ste. A1
Menu

This is hands-down my favorite Middle Eastern (slash New Orleans po’boy) place in Austin.  It’s conveniently located on my walk home from work, the owners are friendly and knowledgable, they make most items to order, and their ingredients are always fresh and delicious.

Lamb and Bbef gyro with majadara

Lamb and beef gyro with majadara

Owner Nuha Haddad is originally from Jordan, and came to Austin via New Orleans, which explains the seemingly odd choice of menu items.  Flying Falafel has daily lunch specials rotating between authentic New Olreans staples (red beans and rice on Mondays) and Arab delicacies (the above-and-below-pictured menssef is served on Thursdays).  They also have excellent seafood gumbo, catfish po’boys, and even fried chicken!

But back to the Middle Eastern food.  My boyfriend loves their falafel with tahini, hummus, and pickles.  Other hits include the zatter pita (cracked wheat, oregano, sesame seeds, olive oil) with yogurt; the mixed beef and lamb gyro; madajara (rice with lentis and beans served with Arabic salad); and the chicken shawarma plate. They also have dolmas with either meat or veggies, baba ghanooj, tabouleh, hummus, and labneh, their delicious strained yogurt with fresh herbs (I can’t get enough of this stuff).

Menssef with chicken

Menssef with chicken

But we need to talk about the menssef again.  I first discovered this revelation a couple of years ago.  I used to work a block away from Flying Falafel, and I’d regularly pop in to get lunch.  The owner kept telling me to come back on Thursday for the menssef special, saying, basically, that it would blow my mind.  I finally ordered it, and she was right!  A simple but decadent dish, traditional Jordanian menssef is goat slow cooked for many hours in dehydrated salted yogurt balls reconstituted with water, then served over rice with a garnish of fresh herbs and pine nuts and/or slivered almonds.  At Flying Falafel, you can choose from lamb, chicken, or a mixture; but be sure to get there before 1:00pm on Thursdays to get the lamb–they always run out!

Prices range between $3.99 and $11.99, so there’s something for everyone here.

Expanded review here.

Kismet Cafe
411 West 24th Street
Menu

Kismet is another campus-area gem, located next to the Castilian dorm on 24th Street.  This is a great place for lunch, because of their special (as shown above!): $5.55 for any pita wrap, plus fries and a drink.  The wait is a little long sometimes, but you can’t beat that deal.

Gyro lunch deal

Gyro lunch deal

Their gyro is pretty standard; coupled with crispy fries and their delicious, garlicky hummus, it’s a filling lunch. Other wraps available on the lunch special include chicken or beef shawarma, falafel, kafta kebab, fried kibbeh (fried bulgur and chopped meat), Santa Fe chicken, eggplant, or mixed veggies.

Kismet, while serving up an impressive menu of grilled, sliced, and skewered meats, also caters to vegetarians with a separate menu including various mezes, wraps, and a vegetarian sampler plate. Desserts include baklava, rice pudding, knafeh (a Palestinian sweet cake made of shredded phyllo), and nammourah (a.k.a. haresee, a delectable honey cake).

Hummus

Hummus

Expanded review here.

Maoz
The Triangle
4601 N. Lamar Blvd
Menu

Maoz, an international chain of vegetarian falafel restaurants, has come to Austin!  They are located in the Triangle and are open until 11:00pm Sunday through Thursday, and until midnight on Friday and Saturday.

My previous Maoz experiences had all been in London, specifically in Soho, specifically at 1:00am, and always, always drunk.  Maoz was where I first discovered the heavenly combination that is french fries and mayonnaise (thanks, Alex!).  The storefronts are always very clean, shiny, and efficient: fast food falafel.  Having said that, they make a decent product, allow you to customize your toppings Subway-style, and may just be what you’re looking for if you’re in the mood for a quick, crunchy falafel wrap.

Note: Today’s Groupon is for Maoz!

Phoenicia Bakery and Deli
4701 Burnet Road
and 2912 South Lamar
Menu

Phoenicia, with two Austin locations, is your go-to stop for stocking up on imported Middle Eastern (and other foreign) goods, from ghee to pine nuts to halal meats to candy bars to coffee to… British pork pies?  Yes.  They have everything.  Stefon would love this place.

Very good gyro

Very good gyro

I’ve lived in Austin for eleven years, and I’d never been to Phoenicia until last week.  My friend Mike (photo contributor to this piece) and I went in to pick up a picnic dinner from the deli at the Burnet location.  We ended up trying the mixed lamb and beef gyro, kafta wrap, and a chicken shawarma wrap with tahini.  These were some good wraps, made extra special by Phoenicia’s homemade pitas.

They also serve an award-winning whole roast chicken (only $3.99!), along with your usual Middle Eastern staples: hummus, tabouleh, and falafel. You can also fill up on manaish (a.k.a. zatar, a warm pita rolled with a blend of imported thyme, olive oil, and spices), lahme-bi-agin (meat bread with ground beef, tomatoes, and spices), and cheesy feta and sesame bread.

The deli has an interesting array of imported soft drinks, too.  Mike tried the Camlica, because the can looked cool, and it turned out to be a carbonated, lightly lemony drink (l later found it it’s Turkish).

Note that Phoenicia is primarily a grocery store, so there is limited outdoor seating.  This is a place for shopping and take-out, not a romantic dinner.  However, the service is great, and the take-out is really, really good.  Go there.

Sarah’s Mediterranean Grill and Market
5222 Burnet Road # 500
Menu

This is my new favorite restaurant.  Located in increasingly hip Allandale, with a diverse group of shops withing nearby walking distance, Sarah’s is another imported grocery with a small cafe.  Their selection of groceries is very impressive.  I want to go back soon just to browse!

Aside from having delicious food at very reasonable prices, Sarah’s is most famous for having the friendliest staff you’ll ever meet, and a casual, homey atmosphere.  Squeezed in among the aisles of sesame paste and giant cans of olives is the busy kitchen, and there are a few bright, four-person tables in the front window.

Garlicky hummus

Garlicky hummus

To start with the basics: Sarah’s has the great hummus.  Look at all that garlic!  They also serve all the usual Middle Eastern mezes, including baba ghanooj, meat- and vegetable-stuffed domas, tabouleh, and those pan-Mediterranean favorites, baklava and tzatziki.  A selection of halal pita wraps are available, filled with your choice of falafel, chicken, beef, kafta beef, or gyro beef.  The lamb shank rightly gets high praise–it’s succulent, tender, and well spiced.

Chicken shawarma plate

Chicken shawarma plate

Even better than all this, in my opinion, are the shawarma plates.  These are a real steal.  For $5.99, you get a huge meal of flavorful, lemony chicken shawarma dusted with slivered almonds on a bed of paprika-sprinkled rice, a fresh salad, a big serving of hummus, two slices of pita, and a sweet date for dessert!  The beef version (pictured up top) is just as delicious, with such savory grilled meat.

If you are in the Rosedale/Allandale area in North Central Austin, do not miss this place.

Tom’s Tabooley
2928 Guadalupe Street
Menu

Tom's

Tom’s wrap and hummus, by electric blues on Flickr

I cannot believe I don’t have any of my own photos of Tom’s Tabooley.  I’ve been going there for ten years!Conveniently located on the funkiest section of the Drag (Guadalupe at 30th Street), Tom’s has been serving up their famous tabouleh, hummus, and wraps for years and years.  You may recognize their logo from the deli case at one of your favorite local delis or grocery stores.  Or perhaps you’ve seen their round stickers on light poles and guitar cases around town.  Tom’s is the go-to place for fresh mezes.

They make superior versions of all your favorite meze standards with a Texas twist: hummus (regular, roasted garlic, roasted red pepper, Kalamata, spicy Southwestern), baba ghanooj, falafel, dolmas (traditional, dill mint, curry, jalapeno, or habanero), and labneh.  And they also have a variety of extremely fresh, shockingly affordable wraps, including: hummus with salad; mixed veggies; tabouleh and hummus mix (a favorite); the Tabouley Melt with cheese, grilled onions, and mushrooms; falafel with feta; chicken; mixed lamb and beef gyros; and the ever-popular Thai Wrap, with rice noodles and your choice of falafel or marinated tofu (ranging in price from $4.50 to $7.50).

There’s also the Mediterranean Sampler for $7.00 (for those of us who want it all), salads, and homemade baklava, halva, and fudge.  Tom’s menu helpfully denotes vegan and gluten free options, and even includes a Gluten Free Special ($8.00), including baba ganooj, dolmas, hummus, labneh, chicken, and salad.

Tom’s is a great place for casual dining with a side of people watching, due to their location on the block that houses weird Austin institutions Toy Joy, Buffalo Exchange, and a liquor store.  Hang out for a while under the patio umbrellas and soak it all in.

Review: Kismet Cafe

In honor of Greek Food Month, my coworker Alex and I decided to hop across the Drag to Kismet Cafe, a Mediterranean spot we’d been meaning to try for ages. Thought it was with some trepidation that I temporarily abandoned by standby, Flying Falafel, the trip was well worth it.

Due to the signage, we’d always assumed this was a Greek cafe; but all evidence points to it being, in fact, Jordianian! Not only is the menu heavy on the Middle Eastern fare, but the restaurant advertises its halal status and proudly displays a framed photo of King Abdullah and Queen Rania. Unfortunately, they didn’t have menssef on the menu; if they had, I would’ve ordered it! We decided to keep with the original, Greek theme, and ordered lamb gyros instead, with a side of hummus.

The hummus was absolutely delicious, though my companion thought it was a tad on the salty side. Topped with diced cucumbers, paprika, and a drizzle of olive oil, it was rich and fresh.

Alex, the expert, pronounced the gyro superior to Flying Falafel’s: a good portion of thinly sliced lamb meat, excellent homemade tzatziki, and a very generous amount of feta (for only 50 cents extra!). We decided to get the lunch combo special, as advertised on a sandwich board outside on 24th Street, which included the gyro, a side of serviceable fries, and a drink for $5.55. That’s a good deal. I don’t know if it was better than other gyros I’ve had around town, but it was definitely delicious.

Our only complaint was the extremely slow service. Granted, we arrived in the middle of the noon lunch rush, but it took over ten minutes (maybe fifteen, even) for our number to be called. Everyone else who had been in line behind us had already been served, and we were beginning to wonder if we’d been forgotten. For people on a short lunch break, this can be problematic (though, to be fair, this is my complaint at Flying Falafel, too!). I suspect that, on this occasion, someone in the kitchen forgot to put the fries in the deep fryer.

The restaurant atmosphere was standard for West Campus: plastic chairs, flashing flatscreen TVs (you just can’t get away from these things), and the hum of hungry students chattering, studying, and hanging out. There are also cute iron bistro tables on 24th Street, which is a fabulous people-watching location. And they’re open till 4:00am, seven days a week. Overall, the food was great, the price was right, and I will definitely be back, as it’s a stone’s throw from my new office. Though we were in a Greek mood this week, I look forward to trying some other menu items at Kismet, including the Vegetarian Sampler Plate, the Eggplant Gyro, and the Sheesh Tawooq! Luckily, I’ll still walk past Flying Falafel on my way home from work, so I’ll be stopping in there on Thursdays for the menssef special.

Kismet Cafe
411 West 24th St.
Austin, Texas, 78705
(512) 236-1811

Review: Flying Falafel and Po’ boys

White rice soaked in a reduced yogurt sauce topped with roasted pine nuts and tender boneless lamb. (Only guaranteed until 3 p.m.!)

I’ve been a fan of Flying Falafel for the past couple of years, since I started stopping in for lunch occasionally during the workday.

Convenient to campus, Flying Falafel is a great place to take a diverse group of eaters because they have an unusually large and diverse menu, offering everything from New Orleans-style catfish po’ boys to shwarma plates, falafel to spanakopita.  For a Mediterreanean-o-phile, it’s heaven!

The staff are always very helpful and friendly, you can order online ahead of time for take-out, they deliver for a dollar, and the outdoor seating area with umbrellas on the Drag is a lovely spot for a leisurely lunch and some great people watching.  It also generally takes at least 10-15 minutes to get your order, but not only is it well worth it – this is a sign that the food is actually made to order.  They also aren’t too stingy with the pine nuts!

I’ve had and enjoyed the falafel, lamb and beef gyro, dolmas, hummus, labneh, and baba ghanoush – all very tasty!

Falafel wrap with potato chips.

But my new favorite dish is the menssef (also known as mansef).

The owner has been telling me for a while that I just have to try the Thursday special, a lamb and rice dish with yogurt sauce and roasted pine nuts. When I went in after work last week to pick up some take-out for dinner, she told me that it was my lucky day, because they still had some of “the most famous Jordanian dish” available! And it did not disappoint!  Let’s be honest; what’s not to love about a dish that incorporates lamb, yogurt, and pine nuts?  I’ve since enjoyed the mixed chicken and lamb and the plain chicken versions, and both are fantastic.

! بالهنا والشفا

Menssef with chicken.

Flying Falafel and Po’ Boys
2001 Guadalupe St.
Austin, TX 78705
Neighborhood: University of Texas
(512) 494-1400

Easy Homemade Hummus

When my sister-out-law gave me a food processor for Christmas, I was thrilled. Not only can I make pesto much more efficiently, but this handy little appliance will be much quicker to clean that the giant blender I’d been using for the past few years! One point for increased kitchen efficiency!

The first thing I made was a batch of hummus, using canned garbanzos and an array of flavorful dried spices. It was so good, I decided to share it!

16 oz. garbanzo beans (1 can)
6-8 green olives
1/4 cup tahini
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried dill
pinch paprika
1/2 tsp salt

1. Mix all ingredients in a food processor, holding 1/2 teaspoon of dill and some paprika aside.

2. Garnish with sprinkling of dill and paprika, and even a few extra olives if you desire.

3. Serve with pita, garlic bread, chips, or veggies for dipping!