Maureen Abood left her big-city job in Chicago to follow her heart to culinary school.
After training in San Francisco, Abood came back home to Michigan and has dedicated her life to cooking and writing about Lebanese food.
Rose Water & Orange Blossoms: Fresh and Classic Recipes From My Lebanese Kitchen (Running Press) is the title of her first cookbook.
This is not just a love letter to Lebanese cooking and food. It’s also love letter to her family.
“It was such a special way to be raised in a Lebanese American family where we are so connected to our cousins to our relatives back in Lebanon and of course to the cuisine, which is so wonderful and delicious.”
Abood talks about the fragrant spices, flavors and ingredients used in Lebanese cooking.
“I love how the Lebanese use a spice like cinnamon in a savory way. Cinnamon is laced throughout many of my recipes and that’s a classic thing … and it’s fun to serve someone a dish like Lebanese hushweh, which is a pilaf of rice with ground beef or lamb with some chicken and it has delicious butter toasted nuts, and it has cinnamon in it and someone eating it might not know, might not be able to put their finger on what this unusually wonderful flavor is that they’re eating and it’s fun to say ‘hey, that’s cinnamon.’”
Fresh herbs such as mint, parsley and cilantro are used a great deal in her recipes.
“And the mint in particular, which you might recognize in a well-known dish like tabbouleh, which is a parsley and mint salad with a little bit of bulgur wheat and lots of lemon and tomato. This shining example of mint is not unlike the way we use mint through the cooking.”
Avocado Tabbouleh in Little Gems
Makes 8 Servings
1⁄3 cup / 65 g bulgur, #1 fine grade
3 bunches curly parsley
1 pint cherry tomatoes, diced into 1⁄4-inch / .5 cm pieces
1 ripe avocado, diced into 1⁄4-inch / .5 cm pieces
5 scallions, sliced thinly crosswise
4 sprigs fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
Juice of 2 lemons
1⁄4 cup / 60 mL extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
1⁄4 teaspoon granulated garlic powder
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 heads Little Gem romaine, rinsed and dried
Rinse the bulgur twice in a small bowl, letting the bulgur settle for a few seconds before pouring off the water. Add enough fresh water just to cover the bulgur. Soak it for 30 minutes, or until it is softened. Pour off and squeeze out any excess water. While the bulgur softens, prepare the parsley. Wash the parsley by dunking and shaking it in a sink full of cool water two or three times, changing the water between rinses.
Wrap the parsley in clean kitchen towels and gently squeeze, soaking up as much water as possible, and then change out the towels for dry ones and squeeze again. Or, dry the parsley in a salad spinner, and then squeeze it in towels to soak up any remaining water. The drier the parsley, the easier it will be to chop and the nicer the tabbouleh will be.
If you are prepping the parsley in advance, which is ideal for dryness, let it sit out on the towels for a few hours after it has been patted dry, and then bundle the parsley up in paper towels and refrigerate it until you are ready. Pinch off the curls of parsley from their stems. Chop the curls in two or three batches with a large chef’s knife, gathering the parsley up as you chop to form a more compact mound, until it is finely chopped.
In a medium bowl, combine the parsley, tomato, avocado, scallions, mint, and bulgur. Stir in the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, garlic powder, and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more lemon and salt if needed. Let the tabbouleh rest for about 15 minutes so the bulgur will soak up, and be flavored by, the juices. Pull the Little Gem leaves from their stems and arrange the nicest, cup-like leaves on a platter. Fill each cup with a big spoonful of the tabbouleh, and serve immediately.
Warm Dates with Almonds and Lime Zest
Makes 12 stuffed dates
12 Medjool dates
24 whole roasted, salted almonds, toasted
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to finish
Grated zest of 1 organic lime
Pull open the tip of each date with your fingertips and pull out the pit. Push two almonds into the cavity and close the opening back together. The dates may look and feel messy at first, but they are malleable back to their original shape.
To warm the dates, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a skillet. Add the dates and cook, shaking the pan so they are lightly coated in oil and warmed through, about 2 minutes. Place the dates on a platter and sprinkle with salt and lime zest, and serve them right away, warm.
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Recipes reprinted with permission from Rose Water & Orange Blossoms © 2015 by Maureen Abood, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.