Monday, January 21, 2013


I started off my cookbook challenge with a book that is not actually a cookbook.  Instead it's a food memoir with recipes. But it just might be my favorite food memoir with recipes. The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber tells of the author's experience growing up with a Jordanian father who is absolutely food obsessed.  She's an amazing writer and her descriptions just leave you dying for the meals she describes.  StellaCarolyn and I have long dreamed of getting together and trying some of the more tempting elaborate recipes.

But Ryan has always had a different objective.  Ever since he heard the word kibbeh, he's declared that he loves it and wants to eat it.  I cannot even begin to tell you how much pressure that put on this recipe (and on me!)  I even tried to tempt him with a roast chicken recipe, but there was no negotiation.  Kibbeh.  That was it.

I modified her recipe somewhat because, of course, she calls for ground lamb and we needed to use ground turkey.  Because of that, I researched some other kibbeh recipes to hunt for spice options because there's no way turkey can stand on its own.  So the cinnamon and cumin are not in the original recipe and I've changed amounts (because stores sell meat by the pound, not the pound and a half) to make life easier.

The Language of Baklava - Verdict:  This is one to own.  Even though I altered the recipe quite a bit, it was delicious.  But you should own it for the stories and writing alone.  The recipes are just a bonus.

adapted from The Language of Baklava


For Stuffing:
2/3 C minced onion
1-2 t olive oil
3 1/2 T pine nuts (Italian are supposedly better than Chinese if you can find them)
1/3 lb ground turkey (look for something with some fat, 99% fat free is like cardboard)
salt and pepper
1/4 t cinnamon (needless to say I didn't measure, I just gave a quick shake of the cinnamon jar)

For Bulgar Mixture:
2/3 C "medium" bulgar (I've no idea what medium bulgar is.  I had exactly one option at Whole Foods and bought it - Bob's Red Mill) - ALSO - bulgar is a wheat, so definitely not gluten-free
2/3 lb ground turkey
2/3 C water
2/3 C chopped onion (but really, processed in your food processor - see below)
salt and pepper
1/2 t cinnamon
1 t cumin

Sliced tomato


Two hours before cooking: Soak the bulgar.  Put it in a bowl and cover it with water.  Let sit for 2 hours.  Drain.  (If you know a better way, feel free to say so in the comments). Set aside until you're ready to use.

Preheat the oven: 350 F.

Make the stuffing: In a small pan, add the onion, the olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.  Cook for 5-8 minutes or until the onions are a dark golden color.  Remove the onions from the pan and set aside.  Add the pine nuts (don't even wipe out the pan, just toss 'em in) and saute for a few minutes.  Remove and add to the bowl with the onions.  Mix the turkey with the cinnamon and some salt and pepper.  Brown the meat (same pan!) and break apart, then add to the onion and pine nut mixtures and stir gently until incorporated.

Make the bulgar layers:  In a large bowl, combine the bulgar and the remaining raw ground turkey and the spices. (Don't even mix, just chuck it in there).  Then take your onion, chopped as it is, and give it a good spin in the food processor so it's nice and minced.  I did this instead of doing it by hand because I didn't want any chunks of onion.  Add the onion to the bulgar mixture.  Then add the water.  Using your hands, mix it all together.  It should be smooth sort of like a paste.

Assemble:  I used an 8 x 8 baking dish.  Use half of the bulgar mixture and gently press it down to cover the bottom of the baking dish.  It will be a fairly thin layer.  Also, you know, it will be raw and mushy.  Then add all the cooked fluffy stuffing, distributing it evenly over the bottom layer.  Then, top with the rest of the bulgar mixture, patting very gently so you don't end up mixing it with the stuffing.  Finally top with slices of tomato (Abu-Jabar calls this optional, and from the other recipes I saw it's not traditional, but it is REALLY tasty, so do it).

Bake: for 35-45 minutes, until cooked through.

Serve: We served this with a made up sour cream sauce that was vaguely tzatziki-esque.  Traditionally it is served with a yogurt sauce but I didn't have yogurt. It really does benefit from the cool creamy addition, so look one up or wing it, depending on your comfort level.


laughcooklove said...

So impressive!!!!

mom said...

Lovely! I am so jealous. I did find someone's suggestion to use quinoa instead of bulgar and maybe I will try that. Kudos on highlighting that beautiful book. You were the one who led me to it and it is still one of my favorites- the perfect combo of story and recipe. Try not to drool on the pages.


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