A short while ago, I received a bunch of Middle Eastern spices and spice blends. After experimenting with some of these exotic tastes, I decided to incorporate them in my next “dazzling dinner.” I chose Egypt as the theme, first, because I was interested in learning more about the cuisine and second, because many years ago, in East Jerusalem, I had the pleasure of dining in an Egyptian restaurant, where I was served a lemon and onion chicken dish that in my memory remains the best chicken dish I ever ate.
To familiarize myself with Egyptian cuisine, I naturally started searching online. It seemed as though every site about Egyptian cooking on the Internet was referring me to one book: Eat Habibi - Fresh Recipes for Modern Egyptian Cooking by chef Shamir Massoud.
Another name I came across with connection to Egyptian cuisine was Claudia Roden, an Egyptian-born author of many Middle Eastern cookbooks.
At home, I browsed through Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s book Jerusalem. It was helpful as it includes some Egyptian recipes.
Finally, I learned a lot from a blog called The Mediterranean Dish by Suzy Karadsheh, a cook who celebrates the foods of the Mediterranean, especially those of her native Egypt.
Although I wasn’t able to find a recipe for the chicken with onions and lemons that I remembered, I did find one that came close: Chicken with Freekeh in Claudia Roden’s Mediterranean.
Here’s the full menu I created for my dinner:
May 19, 2023
/== Cumin Eggs ==\
/Spinach, Sweet Pea, and Chickpea\
/=========== Fattoush Salad ===========\
/=========== Chicken with Freekeh ===========\
/=========== Sweet and Sour Turnips ===========\
/= Pan-Fried Wild Cod with Harissa and Rose Water =\
/============ Pistachio Tart with Blueberries ============\
/============= Dates Stuffed with Goat Cheese =============\
Luci made the wonderful, refreshing fattoush salad. It had tomatoes, skinny cucumbers, parsley, lettuce, red onion, mint, bell peppers, and pita chips.
The following three recipes were my other favorites of the night:
(From Eat Habibi)
3/4 cup Moroccan black olives
3/4 cup Lebanese green olives
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes julienned
1 and 1/2 cups mango juice
1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Combine the olives, sun-dried tomatoes, mango juice, and chili flakes in a pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook until all the liquid has evaporated and the olives are evenly coated in the glaze, about 10 minutes. Finish by stirring in the fresh parsley and serve warm or at room temperature.
Note: These had a wonderful, complex, sweet and sour taste.
Pan-Fried Sea Bass with Harissa and Rose Water
3 tablespoons harissa paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 sea bass fillets, skinned (I used wild cod, instead)
All-purpose flour, for dusting
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
6 and 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Scant 1 cup water
1 and 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon rose water
Scant 1/2 cup currants (optional - I used raisins)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
First marinate the fish. Mix together half the harissa paste, the ground cumin, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Rub the paste all over the fish fillets and leave them to marinate 2 hours in the fridge.
Dust the fillets with a little flour and shake off the excess. Heat the olive oil in a wide frying pan over medium-high heat and fry the fillets for 2 minutes on each side. You may need to do this in two batches. Set the fish aside, leave the oil in the pan, and add the onions. Stir as you cook, for about 8 minutes, until the onions are golden.
Add the remaining harissa, the vinegar, the cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and plenty of black pepper. Pour in the water, lower the heat, and let the sauce simmer gently for 10-15 minutes, until quite thick.
Add the honey and rose water to the pan along with the currants, if using, and simmer gently for a couple more minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning and then return the fish fillets to the pan; you can slightly overlap them if they don’t fit. Spoon the sauce over the fish and leave them to warm up in the simmering sauce for 3 minutes; you may need to add a few tablespoons of water if the sauce is very thick. Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with cilantro, if using.
Note: This is a sweet and spicy dish, redolent with flavor.
The third recipe I really liked was the one for Stuffed Dates. You can view it here:
Note: Although this dish is listed as an appetizer, I thought it made a wonderful light dessert that nicely complemented the heavier pistachio and blueberry tart.
Here’s what some of the other dishes looked like:
The eggplant was roasted until very tender. The Egyptian tomato sauce on top gave it an exotic flavor.
These cumin eggs were somewhat similar to deviled eggs, except that they were served warm. Before they were stuffed, I dipped them in cumin and sauteed them until the cumin turned color.
Spinach, sweet pea, and chickpea is an unusual combination of flavors. The soup was topped with diced roasted carrots and roasted chickpeas. Greek yogurt was piped unto it somewhat in the shape of a triangle.
In addition, I served a limonana, which is an Egyptian-style mint lemonade. It is unusual in that it uses entire lemons, not just the juice.
Accompanying dessert (and also as a favor) there was Egyptian licorice mint tea.
To set the mood, I created a playlist of music videos that mentioned Egypt: Walk Like an Egyptian by the Bangles https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vth-T1u7A58, You Belong to Me (See the Pyramids…) by Jo Stafford https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xu-WZQJx77s, and Katy Perry’s Dark Horse https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KSOMA3QBU0. There were also brief excerpts from the top 20 Egyptian music videos https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yu-AI4GWBDU.
The table colors were gold and white. Napkins were folded pyramid-style and the centerpiece was a paper pyramid that contained Egyptian trivia questions.
Here's the trivia quiz (scroll down for answers):
1. What percentage of Egyptians live along the river Nile?
2. How old was King Tut when he became pharaoh and got married?
a) 9 years old
b) 13 years old
c) 16 years old
d) 19 years old
3. How many items were found in King Tut’s tomb?
4. Which Italian opera had its premiere on Christmas Eve, 1871, in Cairo, Egypt? a) Aida
b) Madam Butterfly
5. Which African country has the most pyramids?
6. What is the only organ left inside the body during the mummification process?
a) The brain
b) The heart
c) The pancreas
d) The spleen
7. The population of Egypt is closest to
a) 19 million.
b) 39 million.
c) 109 million.
d) 399 million.
8. The Nile is the world's longest river. How long is it?
a) 649 miles
b) 1,056 miles
c) 4,132 miles
d) 7,055 miles
9. In which movie does James Bond visit the pyramid at Giza?
a) Dr. No
c) The Spy Who Loved Me
d) You Only Live Twice
10. The main drink in ancient Egypt was
a) a beer made with barley.
b) a drink made with corn.
c) a wine sweetened with honey.
d) watered-down sour wine or vinegar.
11. Which of the following items was invented in Egypt:
12. Which breed of dog did ancient Egyptians use for hunting?
b) Golden Retriever
d) Cocker spaniel
d) 95% of all Egyptians live along the Nile River.
a) King Tut was 9 years old when he became pharaoh. He died at 19, either as a result of a hippopotamus attack while hunting or from malaria.
d) There were 5,398 items recovered from the tomb.
a) Aida, which is Verdi's opera that is set in ancient Egypt, was commissioned to celebrate the new Khedival Opera House of Cairo.
c) Sudan has over 200 pyramids, Egypt has 130.
b) The heart was the only organ left in place as it was believed to be the center of a person's being and intelligence. All other organs were removed, preserved in jars, and buried with the body.
c) The population of Egypt (as of 2021) is 109.3 million.
c) The Nile river is 4,132 miles in length.
c) The Spy Who Loved Me was filmed on location in Egypt, Italy, and the Bahamas.
a) The main drink of ancient Egypt was heqet, a beer made from barley. Chicha, a beer made of corn was drunk by the Incas. Mulsum, a drink made of wine and honey was popular in ancient Rome. Posca, a drink made of watered down wine or sour vinegar was drank by the peasants and soldiers in ancient Rome.
c) Toothpaste was first invented in Egypt. It was made up of rock salt, dried flowers, mint, and burnt egg shells. Eyeglasses were invented in Italy in the 13th century. The oldest flute was found in a cave in what is today Slovenia. It is believed to be 60,000 and used by Neanderthals. The umbrella was invented in China in 11th century BC.
c) The Egyptians used greyhounds to hunt.