Recap: Thanksgiving Abroad in Jerusalem + Being Thankful Everyday

A twist on my traditional Thanksgiving meal inspired by local ingredients.

Every year that I spend Thanksgiving abroad, it’s always a new and unique experience. Sometimes we celebrate it with a big group of people and other times it’s just my husband and me celebrating it together. Regardless, it is still a good celebration. Since my husband is from Europe, our focal point for Thanksgiving is really about reflecting and giving thanks. Thinking about all that we have to be thankful for. Undoubtedly, there is always so much to be thankful for.

Also I was inspired to create a Thanksgiving meal based off of the local ingredients in Jerusalem. Instead of using butter and herbs for my turkey, I used labneh (a thick, strained, creamy yogurt) and za’atar (a blend of spices found commonly throughout the Middle East and North Africa). For my stuffing, traditionally I would prepare a cornbread stuffing, but this year I used “Jerusalem Bagels.” They are very long (nearly three or four times the length of a traditional “American bagel,” the texture is softer and they are coated with sesame seeds. It’s very common to see vendors selling them throughout the Old City and I have a favorite bakery just beyond Damascus Gate that sells them hot and fresh.

Preparing this meal reminded me of my first Thanksgiving abroad in New Zealand. I went searching everywhere for turkey only to finally “settle” for a sushi feast (not a bad Thanksgiving option if you ask me). It was not what traditional according to what I would consider traditional, but it was a nice change.

What I’ve learned about celebrating Thanksgiving and other holidays abroad is:

  • Change Can Be Good: It doesn’t have to look exactly like your typical celebration and that’s okay. It brings you back into awareness that you are in a new culture.
  • Going Local is Best: In terms of buying ingredients, local ingredients are the way to go. It’s true that you probably will not find a local equivalent for everything on your list but you can find something else that is equally (if not more) delicious. Plus, going local is more environmentally friendly, supports the local economy and is much friendlier on your wallet.
  • Expand Your Celebration: Invite others to experience a feast. Last year I had the privilege of inviting many guests to our house. I was cooking all day long and it was so rewarding to see so many people gathered and just having a great time. Our group represented nearly 10 different countries.

Everyday is Thanksgiving day.

Everyday is Thanksgiving day. As cheesy as that may sound, it is true in the spirit of celebrating the holiday as a day of truly giving thanks for all that you have. Today and everyday, I always have many things to be grateful for and I am sure if you’re reading this right now, then you do too. Thanks for reading. Remember you are loved, you are cherished, you are unique and special.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Fresh Fig Tart Recipe

Ripe & sweet fresh figs, layered on a butter-crust and drizzled with a cinnamon-honey butter!

Figs are one of the oldest fruits recorded in human history and I think one of the most underrated. They are sweet and satisfying to eat a couple but I also love creating recipes around them.

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For this recipe, it is important to have fresh figs so if you cannot find them, try substituting another fruit like apples, peaches or plums.

Here’s the recipe:

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Fresh Fig Tart

  • 15-20 fresh figs (cut into quarters)
  • 1 pre-prepared pie crust
  • 4 TBSP melted butter
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 TBSP honey
  • flour (for dusting & rolling out the dough)

Preparation:

Pre-heat the oven to 375F/190C.

Cut the figs into quarters.

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Dust a large countertop with a bit of flour and proceed to roll out your pie crust until it forms a nice circular shape (approx. 14 inches in diameter).

Then brush 1 TBSP of butter onto a parchment lined baking sheet and transfer the dough onto the parchment paper.

Brush the center of the dough with 1 TBSP of melter butter.

Then arrange the fig quarters to create a beautiful design. Note: I like to go in a circular shape with the figs facing flesh side upward.

Then in a small bowl, whisk together the honey, butter and cinnamon. Using a pastry brush, brush the figs with the cinnamon-honey butter.

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Then fold up the sides of the tart, piece by piece towards the figs. Note: there’s no science to this but I love to overlap of the dough as I fold. I think this creates a really rustic but beautiful end product.

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Then bake until the dough is lightly browned and the figs are bubbly and delicious (approximately 20-30 minutes)

Allow the tart to cool for about 10-15 minutes and then cut slices (like a pizza), enjoy with a dollop of whipped cream (if you wish) and enjoy!DSC09286IMG_5260

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Kohlrouladen (German Stuffed Cabbage) – Abendessen für Zwei (Dinner for Two)

Tender ground beef, seasoned to perfection and wrapped in a large cabbage leaf, Kohlrouladen is an edible gift that your tastebuds can unwrap.

This dish is a favorite of mine and I think it is because it is such a simple but delicious German comfort food. The meat is kept tender and juicy thanks to the cabbage and in my version, I season it with spices and a bit of dijon mustard.

It also is perfect for preparing ahead of time and/or making for guests because everyone gets their own individual serving. Paired with some boiled potatoes and steamed veggies, this is the type of meal that makes a great day even better.

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I tailored my normal recipe in this case to make Abendessen für Zwei or Dinner for Two. It is perfect for enjoying a meal at home with the one you love.

Here’s the recipe:

Kohlrouladen (German Stuffed Cabbage)

  • 2 large cabbage leaves (about 8-9 inches)
  • 1/3 lb ground beef
  • 1/4 c finely chopped white onion
  • 1 TBSP dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 3-4 TBSP plain bread crumbs
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1/4 c fresh chopped parsley
  • salt & pepper (to taste)

For the cooking process:

  • 2 T butter
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 3 c beef broth

For the gravy:

  • 2 T butter
  • 2 T flour
  • remaining beef stock/cooking liquid

Preparation:

Blanch the cabbage leaves in boiling water by placing them in the water for 15-30 seconds and then placing in a cold water bath to immediately cool the cabbage leaves. NOTE: the cabbage leaves should be soft and tender but still quite green.

To prepare the meat: place all of the ingredients (except for the cabbage) in a bowl and mix it together with your hands until it is well incorporrated.

Then divide the meat mixture in half and create two large meatballs.

Lay the cabbage leaves open and place one meatball at the bottom (near the stem) in each of the pieces of cabbage. Fold the sides in on top of the meatball and then roll the cabbage to create a little package for the meatball.

Melt the butter and olive oil in a large pot. Then add the kohlrouladen, seam side down and lightly brown them on both sides.

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Then add 1 cup of the beef broth and cover with a lid and allow the kohlrouladen to cook for 15-20 minutes or until the meat is well done, adding more broth as needed.

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When they are done cooking, remove from the pan and make the gravy.

Melt the butter, then sprinkle over the flour and whisk until smooth. Then add the remaining beef stock and/or cooking liquid and keep whisking to make a smooth gravy.

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Plate each of the kohlrouladen and top with the gravy.

Guten Appetit!

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Oma Erika’s Pilz (Mushroom) Pasta: How to Cook Like a German

There’s nothing like a recipe from a grandma and this recipe from Oma Erika is so good and yet so simple to prepare.

As a kid and even to this day, I have always heard the marvelous stories about my grandmothers and great-grandmothers. They were marvelous cooks and just marvelous women in my opinion. But unfortunately, I never really got to know them because they passed away when I was relatively young.

I love grandparents and elderly people in general. I believe they have such a wealth of knowledge to share with the younger generations.

I am so blessed to have another grandma and this time it is through marriage. My husband’s grandma, Oma Erika, is wonderful. Plus, we just so happen to share the same name, lol! I admire many things about her including her amazing cooking skills. This recipe is one that she prepared for us while we were in Germany and we ate so much because it was so good. There’s nothing like a recipe by Oma.

Here’s the recipe:

Oma Erika’s Pilz (Mushroom) Pasta

  • 3 c sliced mushrooms
  • 1 small onion (finely diced)
  • 1 c dry spiral pasta
  • 1 c chicken broth
  • 1 T flour
  • 2 T butter
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1/2 T oregano
  • salt & pepper (to taste)

Preparation:

Slice the mushrooms and finely chop the onion.

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Boil the pasta in salted water until it is tender. Drain, rinse and set aside.

In a large frying pan, melt the butter and olive oil. Add the onions and saute until transluscent.

Then add the mushrooms and saute until browned.

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Sprinkle over the flour and stir well. Then add the chicken broth and keep stirring until it is well incorporated.

Bring up to a light simmer and then cook on low heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.

Season with salt, pepper and oregano and cook for another minute.

Remove from the heat.

To serve: plate the pasta and then top with the mushrooms. Garnish with fresh herbs and enjoy!

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Guten Appetit!

The Simplest Lentil Soup (Just 3 Ingredients)

Making lentil soup is as easy as 1, 2, 3 with this great recipe. Everything goes in one pot and it is minimal prep, minimal clean up but with maximum flavor and taste.

I have more than one lentil soup recipe but I love this one because it is much simpler than my other one (made with brown lentils, tomato, onion, garlic, etc.) All you need are the lentils, chicken broth and an onion.

It’s quite a healthy soup, low in fat and packed with nutritious vitamins and fiber. Plus it’s really affordable to make especially if you’re feeding a crowd. Also, it’s so simple. Even if you despise cooking, I think you might like this recipe.

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Here’s the recipe:

Simple Lentil Soup (Just 3 Ingredients)

  • 1 c dry red lentils
  • 4 c chicken broth*
  • 1 onion (diced)

*Vegetarian? No problem, just substitute the chicken broth for veggie broth.

Preparation:

Sort through the lentils to ensure that there are no small stones or anything else (yes, it can happen).

Finely dice the onion and set aside.

Pour the chicken broth in a large pot.

Add the lentils and the onion. Season with salt and pepper and stir well.

Cover partially and allow it to simmer for 15-25 minutes or until the lentils and the onions are tender.

Then using an immersion blender, blend until smooth.

Garnish with some red pepper flakes and a lemon wedge.

Serve & Enjoy!

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Soy Tahini Rice Noodle Salad

Light and tender rice noodles coated with a soy-tahini dressing and packed with fresh veggies.

I love noodles. But I love noodles with soy sauce and tahini (combined or separately). There’s just something about the flavor of this type of food that I absolutely crave and love. This rice noodle salad was inspired by wanted to make something quick and delicious with my leftover rice noodles. Thus, this recipe was created and it’s really so, so good. Perfect for picnics? Of course! Perfect for potluck dinners? Absolutely! Perfect for a packed lunch? Certainly! Perfect for anytime? Yep, without a doubt.

Here’s the recipe:

Soy Tahini Rice Noodle Salad

  • 1.5 c rice noodles (pre-cooked)
  • 2 scallions (chopped)
  • 1 small carrot (peeled & shredded)
  • 1/4 c fresh parsley (chopped)
  • 1/2 small red bell pepper (chopped)

For the dressing:

  • 1 T tahini
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 1.5 T soy sauce
  • 1/2 T rice wine vinegar

Preparation: 

To make the dressing: pour all of the ingredients in a bowl and whisk until smooth and well incorporated.

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Add all of the veggies to the dressing and stir well.DSC03134

Place the rice noodles in a large bowl.

Pour over the veggies and the dressing and toss well to insure that the noodles are well coated.

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Serve & Enjoy immediately or pop in the fridge for later. Sooo good.

*Note: This recipe makes one (1) big salad or two (2) small salads.

Guten Appetit!

Swiss Chard Bulgur Rissoto (Pancarli As)

Tender swiss chard is cooked with peppers, onions, bulgur, tomato paste and bulgur to create this comforting dish. 

Here’s the recipe:

  • 10 oz ground beef
  • 1 bunch of chard (cleaned and chopped)
  • 1/2 c medium sized bulgur
  • 1 onion (diced)
  • 1 TBSP butter
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 TBSP tomato paste
  • 1/2 TBSP red pepper paste
  • 1 green pepper (medium sized, sweet or bell)
  • 1 red pepper (medium sized, sweet or bell)
  • salt & pepper (to taste)

Preparation:

In a large stock pot, sauté the ground beef until browned.

Add the olive oil and butter and then stir in the onions, red pepper and green pepper. Sauté until the onions and peppers are tender.

Then add the tomato paste, red pepper paste, salt and pepper.

Add the chard and over with 2 cups of hot water. Simmer for 10 minutes then stir in the bulgur and cook for another 5-10 minutes.

When it’s ready, it will be a thick mixture with little water remaining. Also, it will smell amazing.

Serve and enjoy!

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Afiyet Olsun!

This recipe is from the culinary classes at the Gaziantep Mutfak Sanatları Eğitim Merkezi. For more information or to take a class, visit their website