Learning to make new recipes with good company

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Kitchen adventures food column by Becca Owsley

By Becca Owsley

Learning to make something new always is enjoyable, especially when it’s with a group of great ladies.

A few weeks ago, in the midst of the cold and snow, I learned how to make a few Arabic dishes from Bev Hicks, a former missionary in the Middle East.

She invited four of us over to teach us how to make a few things and enjoy a wonderful dinner together.

The food was delicious and the company was even better.

While cooking, she told us stories of her 20 years of ministry in the Middle East with her husband, Ray.

The first thing we learned to cook was Pita Bread. After making this from scratch, I might never buy it in the store again. It was surprisingly simple and tasted much better than anything from a plastic package.

If you make this with kids they might get a kick out of watching the bread bake, and grow, in the oven.

While the bread finished baking, we made Hummus from scratch. I didn’t realize that if you add ingredients other than what is in the traditional recipe, it isn’t technically Hummus. You learn something new every day.

She showed us how to make a salad called Salata. It had a fresh crisp taste of mint and lemon combined with tomatoes and cucumber.

Throughout the meal preparations the various stages of the main dish were added together to lead to a grand reveal.

Makloubi, or upside down, is a dish made with a layer of chicken, lightly fried cauliflower and rice. Each layer has allspice and cinnamon sprinkled on top.

After everything is layered and cooked together it is all turned upside down onto the plate — literally.

Using a large plate, cover the top of the pot and flip it upside down so that the pot is laying face down on the plate. When you remove the pot, layers are reversed and steam rises from the dish, spreading the smell of the spices throughout the kitchen. The rice is at the bottom followed by the cauliflower and chicken. The dish is topped with browned slivered almonds.

All of these recipes were delicious and we spent the afternoon talking about our love of food and life over the meal.

It was a perfect way to spend a snowy day.

Becca Owsley can be reached at 270-505-1741 or bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com.

Easy Pita Bread
2 cups warm water
2 envelopes active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Pour two cups of warm water into a large bowl. Add two envelopes of active dry yeast and stir to dissolve.

Stir sugar and salt into the yeast mixture. Gradually add five cups of flour, stirring constantly until the dough is smooth. Slowly work in up to 1/2 cup of flour with your hands, kneading until the dough is no longer sticky, about five minutes.

Shape the dough into a rectangle and pinch into two halves. Divide the dough into 24 portions for very small pitas or 12 for large ones. Shape each portion in a smooth ball. Place the balls on a floured surface and cover them with a slightly damp cloth or towel while you roll out one ball at a time.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. At the same time place an ungreased baking sheet in the oven to warm.

To roll, flour a work surface and a rolling pin. Gently press a ball out with fingers, roll each round from the center to the edge, turning dough after each roll to form a flat circle.

As each loaf is rolled, place it carefully on a floured surface and cover with a clean, dry towel or cloth. They will begin to rise.

When you finish rolling them out, begin baking the first ones you rolled. Carefully place as many as will fit on the hot baking sheet. Bake on the bottom rack of the oven until puffed, about four minutes.

Remove from oven and wrap in a clean, dry towel until cool enough to handle.

1 can chick-peas
Juice from 2 lemons
1/4 cup Tahini paste
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon yogurt (optional)
Olive oil or parsley for garnish

Hummus should be smooth and slightly thin. Hummus means chickpea. If it is blended with anything else (olives, roasted red peppers, etc.) it is not traditionally hummus. It is always a dip for Arabic bread and is served with fresh and pickled vegetables and olives.

To soften the skins of the chickpeas bring them to a boil before using them so the hummus will be silky smooth.

Drain liquid from chickpeas and rinse.

Combine some lemon juice, Tahini, salt and garlic in a blender or food processor. As you blend it, add in the drained chickpeas. Taste and add more lemon or Tahini as needed. Add a little water or yogurt to make it smoother if needed.

Serve drizzled with olive oil and garnish with parsley.

Makloubi (Upside down)
2 cups rice
2-3 pounds chicken pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1 head of cauliflower
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1-2 teaspoons butter

Earlier in the day soak two cups of regular rice in warm water.

Boil one cut up chicken or 2-3 pounds of chicken pieces from breasts or tenders gently for 15 minutes with one teaspoon salt, one teaspoon allspice and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Use a cooking pot that’s good for cooking rice later.

Pour off the chicken broth and reserve for later use. Leave the chicken in the bottom of the pot and brown slightly. You may need to add a bit of oil. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon allspice and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.

Cut up one head of cauliflower. (Do not wash if possible as the water makes the oil splatter). Fry in one inch of oil until brownish in color. Frying with a lid on keeps down on the oil splatters. Take out and drain on paper towels. Put the cauliflower in the pot with the chicken. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of allspice and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.

Pour water off soaked rice and rinse until the water is clear. Put soaked rice on top of the cauliflower. Sprinkle with another 1/2 teaspoon allspice and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and a few shakes of salt and pepper. Pour 4 cups chicken broth on top of this using your reserved broth and water to make the four cups.

Bring to a boil, cover and cook on low until all the water is absorbed, 15-20 minutes. Turn off burner and lest rest for 10 minutes.

Put a large tray on top of the open pot and turn upside down. Leave for a few minutes while you brown 1/2 cup slivered almonds in one to two teaspoons butter. Take care not to burn the almonds.

When you are ready to serve scatter the almonds on top of the Makloubi.

Serve with plain yogurt.

1 large cucumber or 3-4 small cucumbers
2-3 tomatoes
Green onions
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 lemons

Dice cucumbers, tomatoes, green onions, parsley and mint into small pieces and mix together. Sprinkle salt over vegetables.

For the dressing pour olive oil over vegetables and then the juice of one to two lemons.