On the weekend episode of the Roughly Speaking podcast, my foodie friends John Shields and Henry Hong discuss the cuisine of the seven banned nations targeted in President Trump’s controversial executive order on immigration — Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Iraq and Iran.
In an unanimous 3-0 vote Thursday, a federal appeals court in California refused to reinstate Trump’s temporary ban on travel from those countries and his indefinite ban on Syrian refugees. A lot of Americans were happy to hear the court’s decision. It reassures that we remain, in the words of John Adams, “a country of laws, not of men.” It means the courts serve as a check on the power of the president. And it means that the millions of people our president offended with what amounted to a Muslim ban -- something he had promised as a candidate - might breathe a little easier about the state of the United States.
There are, after all, millions of people in the seven banned nations, and we should not regard them as our enemies. While we remain vigilant, and trust our national security agencies and military to keep us safe from attacks by foreign extremists -- as has been the case since 9/11 -- life goes on.
We have to live in this world.
And everybody has to eat.
So, as our monthly “eats” session with Hong and Shields approached, we thought -- let’s talk about the food of the seven banned nations on the podcast.
Here are the recipes discussed on the show, with some helpful links and references for those who want a taste of the Middle East at home.
From John Shields, Gertrude’s restaurant, Baltimore: “This recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks in the the whole world, ‘Recipes and Remembrances from an Eastern Mediterranean Kitchen’ by Sonia Uvezian. It is a Syrian cookbook filled with tales and beautiful recipes from a beautiful culture.”
Lentil Soup with Swiss Chard and Potatoes (Shurbat Adas bi Silq)
1 1/2 pounds Swiss chard
1 1/2 cups brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
8 cups beef or vegetable broth (chicken broth would work as well)
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh coriander leaves, finely minced with 3 medium garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice
Wash the chard thoroughly in several changes of cold water. Cut the leaves from the stems, discard the stems, and slice the leaves into 1/2-inch wide strips. Set the chard strips aside.
In a large, heavy saucepan combine the lentils with the broth and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer five minutes. Add the potatoes and chard, cover and simmer about 30 minutes or until the lentils and potatoes are tender, adding more broth if necessary.
Meanwhile, in a small skillet heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the onion and saute, stirring frequently, until soft and lightly golden. Add the coriander and garlic mixture and saute gently, stirring frequently for a few minutes. Add the contents of the skillet to the lentil mixture. Stir in the cumin, salt and pepper, and lemon juice and simmer about five minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot with the lemon wedges. Serves 6
From Henry Hong, aka The Food Nerd; food and beverage manager, Baltimore Country Club: “This is a kabob marinade from Iran. Use the ingredients in the measures listed for each pound of protein -- beef, chicken or lamb -- that you need to marinate.”
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp fresh lime juice or white vinegar
1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic
Small pinch saffron threads
Salt and pepper to taste
Ground sumac to taste
Steep the saffron threads in a bit of hot water for a few minutes, add with the other ingredients to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Marinate meat at least overnight before grilling. Note: Especially for chicken kabob, the olive oil can be replaced with yogurt.
Sabzi Khordan: “This is a super easy, ubiquitous side dish from Iran -- offered as a condiment or as a palate cleanser -- and very similar to a side offered in neighboring Afghanistan.
Herb Assortment (choose any or all): Basil, parsley, scallions, mint, cilantro, dill, tarragon, sliced radish, walnuts, feta.
Wash the herbs thoroughly and arrange all ingredients on a platter, choosing the nicest sprigs and tearing into bite-size pieces. Serve alongside main dishes, such as kebabs, with flatbread such as pita or lavash.
Ful Medames: A fava bean-and-vegetable dish common in the seven banned nations, and elsewhere. This basic recipe comes from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, by Claudia Roden.
2 cups small fava beans, soaked overnight (and left unpeeled)
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Extra-virgin olive oil
3 lemons, quartered
Salt and pepper
4–6 cloves garlic, crushed
Cook the drained beans in a fresh portion of unsalted water in a large saucepan with the lid on until tender, adding water to keep them covered, and salt when the beans have softened. They take 2 to 2 1/2 hours of gentle simmering. When the beans are soft, let the liquid reduce. Take out a ladle or two of the beans and mash them with some of the cooking liquid, then stir this back into the beans to thicken the sauce.
Serve the beans in soup bowls sprinkled with chopped parsley and accompanied by pita bread.
Pass around the dressing ingredients for everyone at your table: A bottle of extra-virgin olive oil, quartered lemons, salt and pepper, a little saucer with the crushed garlic, one with chili-pepper flakes, one with ground cumin.
The beans are eaten gently crushed with the fork, so that they absorb the dressing.
Peel hard-boiled eggs (one per person) to cut up in the bowl with the beans.
Top the beans with a chopped cucumber-and-tomato salad and thinly sliced mild onions or scallions. Otherwise, pass around scallions and quartered tomatoes and cucumbers cut into sticks.
Serve with tahini cream sauce or salad, with pickles and sliced onions soaked in vinegar for 30 minutes.
In Syria, they eat ful medames with yogurt or feta cheese, olives and small cucumbers. A traditional way of thickening the sauce is to throw a handful of red lentils (1/4 cup) into the water at the start of the cooking. In Iraq, large brown beans are used, in a dish called badkila, which is also sold for breakfast in the street.