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I’ve got a new way to rock (breakfast)

2015 April 22
by taiyyaba


One of our favorite things to eat is a full Syrian futoor. It’s called “breakfast,” but it can be eaten any time of the day as a quick and light-but-filling meal. A spread of eggs, vegetables, labne, cheese, and…ahem…bread.

Makdous is a small eggplant stuffed with walnuts and Aleppo red pepper, then stored in olive oil till the eggplant cures and softens. It’s beyond delicious with a perfect combination of flavors – hearty and savory from the eggplant, tart and spicy from the red pepper, a little crunchy and earthy from the walnut, and smooth and fruity from the olive oil. Makdous really says “Syria” to me. There are other foods I love that remind me of the country I love, but the flavors of makdous remind me of happy times eating futoor at Amto Warda’s medda in Damascus. Now, Fatimah keeps us well stocked with her handmade makdous (and I really need to ambush her one day to learn how to make this myself!).

Makdous omeletFutoor really seemed lost for our low-carb life because of makdous. Since we went low carb, we missed having all these flavors together. I mean, you can eat eggs with a spoon and dip cucumber slices into the labne, but bread seemed necessary to soak up the flavored oil and deliver the eggplant and filling to your mouth. Until we came up with….the makdous omelet.

I don’t know why this took me so long or why it seems like such a revelation. It’s just makdous cut up into an omelet. But whoa, was my mouth happy the day my brain made this connection! There’s no recipe here, just passing on a few thoughts. With regard to the eggs, I suggest you make a the omelet in a small pan with two eggs per one makdous so you can get a good proportion.

Overall though, this has been a great lesson for me that low-carb does not mean I can’t have the same kinds of foods that I enjoyed before. I’m enjoying bringing the same flavors to a meal without carbs. Here’s to more successful re-dos of our favorites!

Makdous eggs fade

Chicken and Spinach Gratin

2015 April 15
by taiyyaba

Chicken and Spinach Gratin

I saw a fantastic looking recipe on Food 52 – Richard Olney’s Chicken Gratin. I really do want to try it soon, but I also wanted to experiment with roasting chicken on a bed of spinach gratin. This recipe isn’t quite perfect yet, but it’s delicious. I’ll keep tweaking it and welcome your suggestions as well!


2 10-oz bags of frozen chopped spinach
2 cups of cream (or 1 cup cream + 1 cup whole milk)
1 cup grated white cheese (I used an Italian mix)
One small onion, diced
Six chicken leg quarters, with skin
3 cloves of garlic or 1 tsp of jarred minced garlic
2-3 tablespoons of Italian herb mix (I used Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Mix)
Olive oil
Salt and black pepper

Note: the flavors here were very tasty but a little mild. I’m also underestimating because I didn’t measure when I made this. Please add more or less to your own taste.

The Spinach

1. Microwave the spinach to defrost. Let it cool and squeeze out as much water as possible.
2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and saute the diced onion until translucent or lightly golden brown.
3. Add onion to the spinach, along with the cream, cheese, and 1 – 1 1/2 tsp of salt and about 1 tsp of black pepper (or to taste).
4. Butter a 13×9 casserole pan and spread the spinach mixture into the pan.

The Chicken

1. Pat the leg quarters dry with a paper towel, especially the skin side. On the meat side, season with salt (sprinkle a couple pinches over it) and 1 tbs Italian herb mix.

2. In a small bowl, mix 3 tbs of softened butter, garlic, 1 tsp salt, and 2 tablespoons of Italian herb mix. Loosen the skin under the thigh and on the drumstick in each leg quarter. Smoosh some of this butter under the skin of each leg quarter, making sure to push some of it into the leg as well.

3. Heat a frying pan over high heat (not the highest, but getting there). Add some olive oil. When it’s hot, put the leg quarters in skin side down and don’t touch them for 2-3 minutes (Peek after 2 minutes to see) to sear the skin until golden brown. Arrange on top of the spinach in the casserole dish.

The dish

1. Cover with foil and bake at 400F for 45 min – 1 hour (check for doneness at 45 minutes). Uncover and put under the broiler for 2-3 minutes to re-crisp the skin. Serve!

Basic and beautiful roast veggies

2015 April 8
by taiyyaba

Roast veggies

Roast vegetables are a beautiful thing – not just because they taste good. They are made to be flexible. You can use any veggies you have, flavor them any way you like, and then eat them any way you want.

There are a two main keys to success, here.

First – Use a big sheet pan and roast at high heat. Oil the sheet pan and spread the vegetables out in a thin layer without many overlaps. If you crowd everything together, you’ll get boiled vegetables. If you spread them out, you’ll get color and flavor through the caramelization that comes from high heat roasting.

Second – Flavor! Even if you’re just using salt and pepper, use a good amount of it. Under-seasoned vegetables are just blah.

Roast vegetables

Use anything you like – better yet, clean out the fridge or pantry. Just try to cut everything in a similar size so it cooks at the same time and/or be aware that softer veggies will cook more than carrots or potatoes.

One eggplant, diced
One red bell pepper, diced
A pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup of frozen corn
A bag of kale, chopped roughly
Spices – 1-2 tablespoons, to taste – I used two parts curry powder to one part of seven spice, an Arab spice mixture that has a variety of spices (I think this had allspice, coriander, and cardamom)
Salt – at least 1/2 tsp of kosher salt. I think I used 1 tsp.

Preheat the oven to 400F (or 450F if you can be a little more observant).

Note – you can also place the sheet pan in the oven while it is preheating and while you are chopping the vegetables. Right before you’re ready to put the veggies in, pour olive oil into the pan and spread it around a bit, then give it 2-3 more minutes in the oven. This’ll recreate the sizzle of a hot pan or grill when you put the veggies into the pan.

Put the eggplant, tomatoes, corn (still frozen is okay), and bell pepper into a big bowl and add some olive oil. Sprinkle in almost one tablespoon of spices and a 1/2 – 1 tsp of salt. I kind of go by smell – if I can smell the spices well, I figure there’s enough there.

When I’m roasting eggplant, I add about 2-3 tablespoons of oil to the eggplant itself because it’ll suck up all the oil on the sheet pan and then stick there. If it has some oil on it already, it’ll roast nicely.


Spread the veggies into the sheet pan and roast for 20 minutes. While those are roasting, chop the kale, put it in a bowl and sprinkle some of the spice mixture and salt onto it. After 20 minutes, poke a fork into the eggplant to see if it is soft enough for your liking. Stir the veggies around and spread them back out, then toss the kale on top of the mixture. Put it back in the oven for 5-10 minutes until the kale is as cooked as you like.


The first day, I served this as-is with quinoa. The second day, I pulsed it in the food processor and served it as a dip with pita bread. The third day, I used that spread as a base on a pita, then melted some cheese on top for a quick pizza.

Other ideas – Pull the vegetables a bit early and then simmer in tomato sauce for a stew, or broth for a soup. You could puree the soup and make a cream of vegetable soup. It’s completely versatile!

Yogurt with Brown Butter Fruit

2015 March 31
by taiyyaba

Yogurt with Brown Butter Fruit

Our new Keto diet is not about what we can’t eat. (Well…it was in the beginning when it was very hard to start). It’s about creating a healthier lifestyle for ourselves that we can model for our son. And though I’m not as strict as my husband is (more power to him!) I’ve still found that I can’t carb load like I used to. It just makes me feel icky. I eat as low-carb as I can and feel healthier for it.

So, breakfast? As the parents out there will know, half of your diet (and many of my carbs, actually) comes from finishing your kids’ leftovers. Hamza’s half-eaten banana was staring at me from the fruit bowl, so I combined that with my recent browned butter obsession for this breakfast.

With regard to posting these recipes – I’ll try to differentiate in the tags when something is just low-carb or when it’s truly Keto, or suggestions on how to lower the carb count even more. Please use your own judgement in what works for your body.

Yogurt with Pan-Roasted Brown Butter Fruit.

Half a banana, toddler chew marks cut off and cut in half lengthwise
Three strawberries, sliced
Spoonfull of chopped nuts
About a tablespoon of butter
A bowlful of whole milk yogurt

Heat a non-stick frying pan to medium-high heat. When it’s almost there, add the butter and let it melt. (That is, I don’t add the butter to a cold pan or an all-the-way-hot pan. While it’s still heating up). Wait until it’s just a bit past the melted stage – you’ll see it turn a little blond and start to smell the difference. Add the banana on one side of the pan, cut side down, and the strawberries and nuts on the other. Don’t touch for 20-30 seconds, then lift the banana to see if it’s getting deliciously brown. Stir the strawberries around a little. When the banana is browned to your liking, spoon the lot over your yogurt.

More Keto-compliant would be to omit the banana and up the nuts.

Brown butter is kinda magic for low-carb sweets, in my opinion. Butter is very Keto-friendly (ghee is better) and browning it brings out a caramel-like flavor that makes things taste sweet without sugar. I also can’t wait to try browned butter mixed into a cauliflower puree with some parmesan….yes, child.

On my way back

2015 March 31
by taiyyaba

Wow, it’s been a long time. Where have I been? Mostly in service to a now 16-month old dictator/toddler. It’s wonderful, even on hard days, but I haven’t had the energy to blog. But, I miss it, so I’m making my way back.

Culinarily, there has been a big development in our family. For health reasons, we’ve gone mostly Keto (low carb, high fat, high protein). It was a hard start, and sometimes can still be a challenge, but it’s working for us. I’m appreciating the chance to stretch my culinary wings and come up with delicious and balanced recipes that keep my family healthy. I’ll hopefully start sharing the successes and failures in this new lifestyle.

Love y’all!

I succumb. Quinoa stuffed peppers.

2014 May 23
by taiyyaba
Beef and Quinoa Stuffed Peppers (pre-baking)

Beef and Quinoa Stuffed Peppers (pre-baking)

So, I’m Desi, right? This means that rice runs through my veins. Most babies start with rice cereal, but Desis go on to pilau, biryani, gur dai chowl, kheer, firni… get the picture. This also means that in my mind, any grain that doesn’t come in a 20-lb burlap sack like basmati seems like kind of a waste of money.

So, quinoa. Originally, it freaked me out (why is it translucent?). But I came around, especially after a veggie and quinoa soup by my friend Sadia. And now, I’ve joined the quinoa cult. Whooooooo. One of us. One of us.

This was a really flavorful meal and it came together really quickly. I made the quinoa and beef before Hamza’s first nap, stuffed the peppers during the second nap, and baked them while I was putting him to bed, just in time for friends to come over for dinner.

Peppers stuffed with beef and quinoa
Inspired by Damn Delicious’ One Pan Mexican Quinoa

I had a lot of plain quinoa left over, so half the recipe if you just want enough for the stuffing. I served the quinoa along with the peppers.

1 lb ground beef (I think this would be delicious with turkey as well)
2 cups quinoa
2 bunch scallions, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 can diced tomatoes (fire roasted or plain)
4 cups broth (or as much as you need according to the quinoa package’s directions)
1 cup corn kernels (cook frozen kernels in boiling water for 2-3 min or use canned).
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch fresh cilantro
Chipotle in adobo
Cumin, coriander, chili powder, salt
4 poblano peppers (they’re usually skinny)
2 red bell peppers (these were kind of skinny as well)

PeppersIn a large nonstick pan, sautee one bunch of chopped scallions and 1 minced garlic clove until soft. Add the black beans, 1 can of tomatoes, corn, quinoa and broth along with 1 tsp of cumin, coriander, and chili powder. Stir well to incorporate the liquids into the quinoa. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and cover it. Simmer for 20-25 minutes. The quinoa is cooked through when it is transparent and you can see the circular germ. Fluff it with a fork, put into a bowl, and set aside.

In the same pan (yay, less dishes! just wipe it clean), sautee the second bunch of chopped scallions, red onion, and 2 cloves of garlic. Once these are soft, turn the heat up a bit and add the meat in a single layer and brown on one side. Before turning it over, add (depending on your spice/flavor preferences) 1-2 tsp of cumin, coriander, and chili powder as well as 1 tsp of kosher salt. Also, chop the cilantro stems and add those in (I do this every time I cook ground beef – it really gives a beautiful flavor. Learned it from my Daadi!). Turn the meat over and break it up to mix in and incorporate the spices, cilantro and onions. Add one or two tsp of chipotle-in-adobo (either puree the can and add that, or chop a couple of peppers and add a spoonful of the sauce, too). Add a bit of broth or water to help clean the good stuff off the bottom of the pan and cover. Turn the heat down and cook for 10 min or so until the meat is cooked through and the liquid is absorbed (you may have to remove the lid for the liquid to cook out).

Mix the meat mixture with half of the quinoa and add fresh chopped cilantro.

For the peppers: I used a mixture of poblanos and red bell peppers because, as you know, Ameir hates bell peppers. Lop off the stem/top of each pepper, then cut each pepper in half and remove the seeds. If there’s any pepper still attached to the stem, just chop it and add it to the filling or into the pan that you’ll bake the mixture in.

Stuff each pepper half with the quinoa-meat mixture. Spray a 13×9 dish with cooking spray or coat with olive oil. Pour in a can of diced tomatoes and any chopped pepper pieces. Arrange the stuffed peppers in the pan. Cover and bake at 350F for 45 min, or until the peppers are as soft as you like them. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro and serve with sour cream.

Also, this is what you do with your leftover quinoa.

Black bean and corn quinoa with sauteed spinach and poached egg

Black bean and corn quinoa with sauteed spinach and poached egg

coconut pudding with berry & brown butter coconut topping

2014 March 3
by taiyyaba


i like a challenge in the kitchen. i also think it’s very important to respect special diets as much as possible. so, with many of my friends eating gluten and/or dairy free, i like thinking of new ways to feed them!

this recipe emerged from previous success based on the kitchn’s diy pudding recipe, plus a gluten free friend coming over for tea, plus a can each of coconut cream and milk hanging out in my pantry. this was beyond delicious and i can’t wait to make it again. it’s classy enough to entertain with and simple enough to eat the leftovers for breakfast. it is delicious served hot, warm, or cold. the pudding also stores well as long as you press plastic wrap onto the surface so it doesn’t develop a skin.


coconut pudding with blueberry sauce and brown butter toasted coconut
(about 6 cups)

coconut pudding:
1 can coconut milk
1 can coconut cream (or, all coconut milk to make it lighter)
a bit more milk (coconut or dairy)
3/4 cup sugar
3/8 cup cornstarch (that’s 1/4 cup plus another half of the fourth)
2 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

blueberries (or whatever is in season and/or on sale)

coconut topping:
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1/2 stick of butter

coconut pudding (rich. creamy. sweet.)
1. mix together the coconut cream, milk, and a bit more milk to create 6 cups of liquid.
2. pour into a saucepan and mix in the sugar over low/medium heat. i actually used vanilla sugar (easy! cut open a vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds into a pot of sugar. store it this way for vanilla-scented sweetness).
3. whisk the sweet coconut milk mixture over the heat until it’s quite warm and seems to all come together, but not so long that it is starting to simmer.
4. put the cornstarch into a separate bowl. pull out a cup and a half of the hot milk and slowly whisk it into the cornstarch. mix as thoroughly as possible so there are no lumps. pour the thickened milk back into the pot through a sieve so you reduce the possibility of cornstarch lumps. if you want the pudding very thick, feel free to repeat this process with any cornstarch that gets caught in the sieve. (in retrospect, i think i could’ve mixed this into cold milk and poured that into the final mixture).
5. cook the mixture again until it gets thick (stick a spoon in it – if it coats the spoon, it’s ready!).
6. turn the heat to low, cover the pot (crack the lid a bit), and let it sit there for 10 minutes. it will develop a bit of a skin, but whisk in the vanilla and it’ll look fresh again!

blueberry topping (this is ridiculously easy)
1. wash the blueberries. drain, but don’t pat dry.
2. heat a small saucepan to high. pour in the blueberries and stir, then turn the heat to low and simmer until the berries release juices, about 5 min. you can squish it around but i like the berries to be more whole.
3. stir in a couple pinches of cinnamon. this really doesn’t need sugar since the pudding is very sweet.

brown butter coconut (try not to eat all this with a spoon before you serve the pudding)
1. i use a stainless steel pan to brown butter, since you can’t see the color of the butter in a black teflon-coated pan. in this, use more butter than you think you’ll need because the coconut absorbs the butter. [if you’re doing dairy free, use olive or coconut oil and i think it’ll still be delicious!]
2. slice the butter into pats. turn the pan on low heat (or higher if you promise to be vigilant). watch it, stirring gently, until it turns pale blond and starts to smell nutty. you don’t want it to get as dark as you usually would for a brown butter sauce because it will keep cooking when you….
3. pour in the coconut and stir to combine. toast the coconut, still over low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent it from burning and to let it toast evenly.
4. once the coconut is as dark as you want it to be, spread onto some parchment paper and let it cool (this helps the coconut dry out and separate again so it won’t stay in a lump).

sunday night roast chicken, orzo’d up

2014 February 24
by taiyyaba


A month or so after Hamza was born, his Uncle Joey and Aunt Marcy and Cousin Ellie came to visit. Before they came, I took one day to prepare and put away several meals so I could spend more time with the family and less time in the kitchen. I’ve always had success making this chicken meatball mixture ahead of time and freezing it, and this time I turned it into meatball and mozzarella subs (by the way – searing them and then baking in a tomato sauce to serve with rice = also excellent). I made a killer shepherd’s pie filling which Ameir loved (semi-problematic because I can’t really remember what I put into it….) and refrigerated it in a 13×9 pan, so all I had to do was make mashed potatoes, top it, and bake when ready. And, in my standard people-coming-over meal, I froze three spatchcocked chickens that I had stuffed with herb butter. Defrost and surround with veggies to bake.

Fast-forward a couple of months to Raleigh’s own personal SNOWMAGEDDON. (This was a real snowstorm, okay? 6+ inches y’all. Yankees, stop hating.) Hamza and I were both sick before it started, so I really didn’t have the time or energy to think ahead about what to get from the grocery store. Add to this that I’m trying have us eat through the freezer before I restock. I had one of those frozen chickens leftover, plus some frozen veggies and a pack of orzo (which is possibly my favorite pasta).

I threw all those things into my dutch oven and a big ol’ pot of yummy resulted. This meal has many of my favorite elements – roast chicken, butter, garlic, herbs, stuff cooked in savory broth, one pot meals, comfort foods, and lovely leftovers. It’s Sunday night dinner, pumped up.

IMG_0016 One-Pot Roast Chicken and Orzo

1 whole chicken, butterflied
garlic-herb butter
1 pack of orzo
at least 2 cups of frozen mixed veggies
2 cups of broth
fresh parsley

IMG_0018_2(to butterfly a chicken, place the chicken breast-side down on a board and use sharp kitchen shears to cut out the spine. push down to flatten and then snip out the ribs from behind the breast.)

1. stuff the garlic-herb butter under the chicken skin and sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper.
2. heat some olive oil in a dutch oven. sear the chicken on both sides and remove to a plate.
3. in the leftover oil (and now a bit of melted butter), add the uncooked orzo and stir to cover with the oil. i prefer to leave it in there for a bit till some of the orzo get golden brown.
4. add in the frozen mixed veggies and stir around until the frostiness goes away. pour in the broth and add a teaspoon of salt or so (to taste, really).
5. kind of but not really flatten the orzo and veggie mixture. don’t compact it but spread it into an even layer. place the chicken on top and place the cover on the dutch oven.
IMG_00216. bake covered in a 350F oven for 1 hour. uncover and broil for just a minute or two if you want the skin to be more crispy. scatter with fresh chopped parsley and serve with fresh cracked black pepper on top.

when i store this, i shred the chicken and take out the bones (and freeze so you can make odds and ends broth) so you just yummy chicken orzo for leftovers.


…. oft go awry.

2014 February 19
by taiyyaba

Okay, but now what do I do with the marinated salmon? Well, eat it, of course!

I really recommend this recipe – the only thing I did differently was to add more lemon zest to the harissa topping on the salmon. I think this would be fantastic on chicken or rolled into a flank steak as well. I served it with a saffron and pea rice. Approximate recipe below.

Remember when I tried to be a food photographer?

Remember when I tried to be a food photographer?

IMG_0009Saffron and Pea Pilau

1 measure of basmati rice
2 measures of water or broth
[Note: like many Desis, I measure rice with a “mugga” (a tea mug). One standard tea mug makes more than enough rice for two people. My super big tea mug will make four meals worth of rice.]
Pinch of saffron
1/4 – 1/2 tsp turmeric, cumin, and coriander powder
1/4 to 1/2 cup of frozen peas, depending on how much you like peas
1 small onion, chopped, or a few tablespoons of fried onions [this is a great place to use up that can leftover from Thanksgiving]
Fresh mint and cilantro

1. Wash the rice until the water runs clear – you’re getting rid of the extra starch here so the grains don’t stick together too much. Drain to remove as much liquid as possible. Meanwhile, bloom the saffron in a few tablespoons of warm water until the water is a lovely yellow-orange color.
2. In a pot, heat some oil, add your chopped onions, and fry till they’re light brown. (Or, just toss in pre-fried onions).
3. Add in the powdered spices and let cook for a few seconds until fragrant.
4. Add in the rice and peas and stir to cover with the flavored oil.
5. Pour in the broth and saffron water and turn the heat to high. Boil, stirring occasionally and very carefully, until most of the water has evaporated. You’ll see the water bubbles getting smaller and smaller, and when they’re almost gone, you’re ready for the next step, called “dam” (steeping).
6. Top the rice with fresh mint and coriander. Put a paper towel over the pot and cover with the lid. Turn the heat to low and let the rice steam to finish cooking for about 10 minutes.
7. When the rice is finished, toast some nuts in a pan with some oil. Toss the rice with the pan-toasted nuts and more fresh cilantro and mint.

The best laid plans of mice and men….

2014 February 14
by taiyyaba


our friend firas came over for lunch today. he’s a bit of a foodie so i was looking forward to trying out a new recipe on him. i was trying to make this harissa-roast salmon with lemon couscous – so i got some harissa and some lovely fresh fish. i marinated the salmon as directed while cooking up some grains. just as i put the harissa back into the fridge, my eye fell on the ingredients and i saw…dun dun dunnnnn! CARROTS.

firas is allergic to carrots.


thankfully, i had some frozen shrimp. i defrosted them in some warm water, shelled them, and roasted them with lemon and garlic like i did for hana’s bridal shower. mixed with the grains, it was a beautiful light lunch. and we had the salmon for dinner. more on that later.

Roast Shrimp with Lemon-Parsley Grain Salad (or, how to compensate for the untimely discovery of an allergen)
this would be great with some arugala mixed in. i’d also like to try it with other grains – bulgur, especially!

1 pack trader joe’s harvest grains mix
1/2 lb shrimp (defrosted or fresh, shelled)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced.
red pepper flakes
2 lemons
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
6 or 7 sundried tomatoes
olive oil
black pepper and salt

makes 6-8 servings

1. this was the first time i used this TJ’s harvest grains mix. it has pearl couscous, red quinoa, orzo, and yellow split peas. cook this according to package directions (in broth and butter). i found that the yellow peas were still a little too toothsome, but otherwise i quite liked this. substitute any grain or pasta cooked in broth or bullion. (remember that this may affect the salt content of the whole dish so cut back on salting the shrimp if the grains end up salty.) as soon as they’re cooked to you liking, fluff the frains with a fork so they won’t cool in one big lump. let the grains cool a little.

2. in a bowl, mix the shrimp with a couple glugs of olive oil (or the oil from the jar of sundried tomatoes if you’re luckily at the end of the jar!), the zest of two lemons, minced garlic, red pepper flakes, a pinch of salt, and a few cracks of black pepper.

3. put the shrimp in a roasting pan (preferably in a single layer) and roast at 425F for 10-12 minutes. if they still seem a little bit underdone, just remove them from the oven, cover with foil and let them steam for 5 more minutes.

4. pour the shrimp, along with any broth they created in the pan, into the grains. chop and add the fresh parsley and the juice of half a lemon.

serve at room temperature!