My favorite comfort foods: Macaroni beh Laban

You can credit my microbiology teacher who gave me serious craves for yogurt during a lecture on fermented food 😉 

Being of Lebanese/Syrian descent, I grew up in kitchens where dairy products were omnipresent. I did not realize how much we loved milk and cheese until I evoked our traditional dishes to my Moroccan Friend who casually mentioned that apart one popular brand of cheese spread, people in Morocco used little dairy.

When I would visit my Lebanese Teta (grammy) in Canada, I knew I would find, in her fridge, a plastic pot of commercial yogurt filled with her homemade yogurt, that she would prepare in batches large enough to supply her needs for all the Middle-Eastern recipes calling for yogurt. We have yogurt-based soup served with a side of rice (shakrieh w rez); traditional tzatziki (yogurt with fresh or dried mint leaves, diced cucumbers and a small amount of grated garlic) that is served with hot meals such as mujaddara or any kind of rice; we mince salad and blend it with yogurt and mint. We also have a densier, creamier version of yogurt-lebneh, drizzled with olive oil and garnished with olives, and, you guess it, mint again. And the list could expand as we have cheese-based dessert such as kunafeh and halawet b jeben- mozzarella and ricotta-based cheesecake, you could say.

It never fails to surprise my French friends when I tell them that we use yogurt as an ingredient in salted dishes, as in our Western culture it is eaten as such, or topped with fruit/cereals. But yogurt used in main courses or served aside in a little cup, scooped with some of your steaming rice, has this way of bringing a refreshing, light touch to a variety of meals.

Today, I am sharing with you a super easy recipe that has been one of the most loved comfort food here at home: macaroni beh laban, literally, « pasta with yogurt ».

 

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Tonight’s dinner ! 

 

Basically, macaroni beh laban is a dish made of pasta topped with a refreshing minty, garlicey yogurt sauce. The choice of pasta is left to your discretion; while my mom is fond of spaghetti, I prefer Farfalle, or Fetuccini, at least not some « elongated » pasta, as I feel like the sauce coats smaller pasta better and it just tastes more savoury, for some reason.

The nice thing is that you can eat two ways- either with your steaming pasta covered with this fresh sauce, or prepare your macaroni beh laban as a cold pasta salad, i.e, cook the pasta and allow to cool in the fridge and then incorporate your sauce.

The latter option was chosen by my mom when this summer, we attended our local assembly potluck and my mom wanted something quick to make and that could feed a crowd. While I have tested in the past a variety of Lebanese recipes on my non-levantine friends, and it was usually a hit, I was curious to see what reaction this dish would trigger as it is fairly different from the well-known Arabic/Israeli dishes that, if you ever went to a Middle-Eastern restaurant, you were likely to have had on the table (mezze dishes such as houmous, falafels, tabbouleh
). I doubt you would eat Macaroni beh Laban somewhere out of home as it is the comfort food that your mom and your teta make when you are really hungry or sick.

So I was pretty pleased when someone approached me at lunch and asked me if my mom did the pasta pot, because it was delicious ! The contrast between the hot pasta, the tanginess of yogurt, the refreshing mint and the little « stinginess » of grated garlic, that brings out the flavor of this dish, is ah-mazing ! You can now curl up on your couch and enjoy your Saturday evening with this effortless comfort food.

 

MACARONI BEH LABAN

Recipe courtesy of antoniotahhan.com

approx 4-6 servings

Ingredients

‱1 lb pasta

‱24 oz plain, whole milk yogurt (3/4 large container)

‱1 1/2 – 2 tbsp dried mint (StĂ©phanie’s note: I use both dried and fresh when possible)

‱1-2 cloves of garlic, finely minced (or more !!)

‱salt, to taste

‱extra-virgin olive oil, optional

Directions 

  1. Make sauce by mixing together yogurt, garlic and mint. Set aside at room temperature.
  2. Bring water to a boil, season with plenty of salt (1-2 tbsp), and cook pasta according to instructions on the box.
  3. Once pasta is done cooking, drain very well and mix with yogurt sauce that has been sitting at room temperature.
  4. Season with salt and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil.
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Good morning y’all

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Good morning everyone ! I’m blogging from the bus stop right now. We are slowly transitioning from a soft autumn to cold mornings here in France, and when you exit the house, it’s still dark, and you come back, well, it’s darker !

yay for autumn and French bakeries 🙂 

I’ve never been more grateful for my handmixer that now allows me to have a daily dose of fruity goodness every morning (smoothies are so cool lol). Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day but this year I rarely get to sit down and eat it so- why not drink it instead ? Here is the green smoothie recipe  I whipped up this morning: 2 bananas (1 would have been enough- see how the whole mixture splattered everywhere ?, 1/2 avocado, 1 cup of vanilla soy milk (or any milk of your choice plus something to sweeten it).

In the kitchen: Indian food !

Since I don’t have a lot of time to post these days… Just sharing tonight’s dinner- butter chicken and an Indian bread I baked this week, chapati- this bread is definitely worth a try since it is easy, without yeast so no rising time; it is baked in a skillet without oil or butter; and it is pretty amazing AND filling with Nutella too ! I now keep a bag of that dough in the fridge for mornings when I am in a rush. The recipe in the book only calls for whole wheat flour/salt/water-easy peasy !

My frugal week

You know, far from being synonymous with a miserable life, I think frugality -making the most of what you have, learning skills in order to save- teaches you a lot. I think it taught me to pause, to stop, and no longer jump from one shopping spree to another. It taught me to work with my own hands, to be grateful for the clothes I had, to take care of them, to cook my own food and be grateful for it, to not take anything for granted… I am no longer in that rush that keeps me thinking, what should I buy next. I am learning to be content with what I have and I feel, honestly, richer that I have ever been, more that when I allowed myself to buy tons of stuff…

Also, I really think that as Christians, frugality is something we ought to aim for, in the sense, that we ought to be good stewards of what we have and not waste things. Think about what the Lord did with the loaves of bread…

Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted. 12When they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost.”  (John 6: 11-13)

 

Little steps I have been taking, and things I have been doing recently in order to save money, increase my creativity and take care of the environment…

 

  •  I started carrying a small fabric tote bag in my purse so I would be able to say “no” to another plastic bag when I buy something
  • I made sushi for my family last week-end.
  • I have started adopting the need it or not ? mentality. Last day, I was considering purchasing on Amazon a makeup palette and I gave myself a few days to think about it. Eventually, I realized that I had tons of makeup and that I actually did not need that palette at all.
  • I am learning to say “no, I’m good” when pressured to buy something.
  • I have started making my own bread. Bread was something I avoided trying as I thought it was something too fancy and that you could not do unless you had a bread making machine… But trust me, it is really easy ! I don’t eat a lot of bread so I thought making my own small breads would be a good alternative:

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  • I used what I have in the pantry to blend my own chai latte mix. In France, we don’t have that Starbucks/Tim Hortons culture so we don’t really have that budget hole due to Frappucinos and other drinks.

 

What frugal steps will you be taking this week ? I would love to hear your ideas !

 

Getting organized ! #1 The fridge

Last time I wrote a quite long post about why I was trying to spend less time on social media. Some days after I posted this article, I got rid of the app to which I was most addicted: Instagram. And one of the results of that is that my appartement has never been so tidy and organized ;). I have even printed a little ebook on homemaking and the new cleaning routines I have adopted are making my life much easier these days !

These new series of posts, Getting Organized, are just images from Pinterest that I find useful, within the context of my situation, to help me as I acquire new homemaking skills. I had just no idea how having a real routine, helps alleviate the stress and makes you more productive throughout the day. I hope you enjoy these series and again, everyone has a different home, organization, schedule… You just got to figure out what works for you !

For me, the one thing to remember here is to have baskets in which to put the food. They make a world of difference !

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This “dollar store makeover” is definitely helpful: I am putting everything as well into baskets. That keeps everything visible before your eyes without risk of having that tomato hidden behind something else and ending up… rotten.
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The ultimate fridge chart !

 

In the kitchen: my first Challah !

I clearly remember that Friday night, during our summer vacation last year, when we met some elderly people from Israel. They had just celebrated Shabbat and wanted us to try the Challah, the braided bread they traditionally have before dinner. I heard numerous times about it and saw pictures on the Internet yet it did not seem appealing to me: it reminded me of the heavy French brioche which my mom would buy us for school when we were kids.

This week, I was determined to bake my first bread. I have no idea how I thought of Challah but I remembered that Friday night, when that old architect handed me with a big smile a piece of that bread, I tasted something that was approximatively the culinary incarnation of a childhood dream: eating a cloud.

(Yea, weird: I imagined that if one could eat the moon, he would eat something like a cookie and clouds could be a more dense version of candy floss. It’s called imagination).

Challah has a crust that is sure to please even those who remove the crust from their bread because it is so thin, and the inside of the loaf is to DIE for: it’s so fluffy and moist, I ate plain chunks of it but I imagine it would be the perfect match with everything: jam, butter, Nutella, and toasted, I think it would make a really good bruchetta or french toast.

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Can you see the clouds ?

This recipe calls for honey (like most Challahs I guess) and I though I added 3 or 4 spoon of a very strong thyme honey a friend brought us from Greece, it just gave it the sweetness that made the loaf so decadent; if you really want a sweeter version of a Challah I think you would have to add more honey or even sugar…

 

In the kitchen: thai chicken

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Ladies… Y’all know that feeling when you’re finally able to replicate that dish you were drooling over at the restaurant once, right ?

It just happened tonight as I cooked this ThaĂŻ chicken stew I once had at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant…

 

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The well-known Pho I eat every time I go there
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The dreamy decorations…

Thanks to this restaurant, l’Indochine, I discovered two things: spring rolls, which I thought were bland and tasteless because in the great majority of Chinese/Asian buffets, springs rolls often consists in a sheet of rice rolled around a pound of noodles with a piece of chicken and a leaf of lettuce.

Boy I was wrong. At the Indochine, they make sure the beef in their beef spring rolls and bo-buns was coated in a citronella/lemongrass marinade and it makes a world of difference ! Oh, and they also put fresh mint leaves everywhere, in the Pho, the shrimp spring rolls, so that adds lots of flavor too and helps you digest the big roll you just swallowed.

The other dish I had there that led me to try my hand at replicating it was one of those hot main courses they serve under silver “cloches”. It was a thai cod simmered in a coconut sauce and served with rice, and I.was.smitten.

For this recipe, I replaced the cod with chicken and roughly (I never measure when it comes to food), I chopped one onion and sautĂ©ed it in a pan with olive oil, a garlic clove, one small bell pepper; I added the chicken, a bit of chili sauce+ red chili pepper powder, half a can of coconut milk, a bit of garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste, and the secret ingredient… Lemongrass (learn how to slice it here). What I love about this “herb” is that it gives to the dish that “lemon-y”, “citrusy” flavor that will not disappear in the sauce but stay distinct from it- from a gustative point of view it adds texture. Serve with basmati rice and bon appĂ©tit bien sĂ»r !

 

 

 

 

In the kitchen: vegan mayo

 

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Most of the time when I cook vegan/vegetarian “meat” with tofu, I don’t try to persuade people it tastes something it does not.Oh, of course, I once had tofu which, after a little trip in a plate full of flour and then into a frying pan, tasted like chicken nuggets but to be honest -it was a special tofu, stuffed with crow garlic that made it-well, special.

Tofu is tofu. Soy milk is soy milk. You can’t have your cake and eat it too (as a Frenchie I never got the point of that expression, I am buying the cake to eat it- what’s wrong with English guys ?!).  You become a vegetarian, though there are more and more bloggers that aim at recreating a “dupe” recipe of something, you either have to have a lot of time, imagination, exotic ingredients and perseverance to create a perfect replica of an authentic chicken. 

Today, my opinion on that slightly changed. I woke up at 5 AM and had a very busy day. My mom, who by the way is from Middle-East, saw that after the exams I shed a few pounds sent me a ton of food including real chicken. I had to have mayonnaise with it. And just for the challenge (and also because I never tried a real mayo-only the store bought one, which is a shame for a French), I wanted to try a vegan mayo; and for one of the first times, I had a vegan product which not only tasted exactly like the real mayo, but it was better: lighter yet still creamy. No picture here because the lighting was not good enough though ! I made the first recipe here and added a bit of pepper and garlic powder. To be honest, I think anyone who will try this recipe will never come back to the store-bought mayo.

In the kitchen: fancy desserts made easy (and vegan)

This year, I altered my diet a bit and became a part-time vegetarian.

Or a flexitarian, if you prefer.

The dreaded word. Vegetarian. The first time I heard that word, I was something like 8-9 years old, and when an adult in primary school told me that she did not eat meat because was vegetarian. And I clearly remembered thinking two things:

-I pictured her eating, every single day of her life, a bowl of lettuce leaves and tomatoes

-How can she live without a cheeseburger ?

A little more than a decade later, at 22, I am the one happily eating lettuce leaves and trying to eat less ditching cheeseburgers.

Surprisingly, this unexpected turn of events happenened for no reason: one of my friends is a vegetarian -for ethical reasons- and she just challenged me to use grains, cereals and vegetables to develop new recipes. Challenge accepted. I was bored with the perennial steak/chicken breast with a small side of rice and salad and realized that I was not eating enough cruditĂ©s. So just for fun, I started decreasing my meat consumption and sooner than expected- I coped without meat, and pretty well, I must add. I only have meat on week-ends when I visit my parents and family. And when it’s sushi time because raw salmon is one of the best thing in the world.

I really enjoy the way I eat now, I’m more creative in the kitchen and, being a student- it’s easier and faster to prepare than a 36-courses meal.

Another thing that changed (and for good) in my diet is that I now got rid of dairy products. I am not a doctor, but I noticed that when I went a little overboard with cheese (and little is a euphemism when it comes to French people !), I had less breakouts and my now my skin looks better than it ever did: even my younger sister, who used to make fun of me “She only eats veggies and tofu“, told me a few times that my skin looked nice after years of breakouts.

So I recently tried to make vegan desserts-and recently I added two recipes to my list:

This vegan, dairy-free avocado chocolate mousse: don’t let the avocado scare you away- it won’t taste like guacamole. Avocado absorbs the cocoa powder and you won’t even know it’s there. I did it without coconut milk/cream- simply blended the cocoa powder, honey, and pecans with the mashed avocado.

– You know those coconut balls/pearls you microwave in Chinese buffets ? I finally found, in a nearby Asian store, the glutinous rice flour the recipes calls for and ended up with nice pearls- my friend prepared the filling by mashing in a mortar canned chesnuts with sweet potato and honey. It was easier than expect, quick, fun, and a bit messy, too ;). In this recipe, I did not add the peanut oil or any oil for that matter, nor sugar for the coating- coconut was enough and I did not want it to taste too sweet..

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Here is the finished product !

In the kitchen: Sick day soup

I don’t quite remember if what I found the paragraph in the TIME magazine or somewhere else- but I once read a few pages about the culinary habits of some well-renowned chefs across the world. When they were asked what last dish they would choose to eat before dying, their answer was at the same time surprising and understandable.

I’d thought they would give the name of some elaborate dish, the one you’d find on their menu and that looks, on the paper, like a long, poetic introduction to the plate that is about to come on the table. After all, don’t they juggle all day with rare fishes, exotic ingredients like vanilla, tonka beans, and expensive white truffles ?

Instead, they all named a childhood recipe of spaghetti, of soup, something their mother made on Sundays- in short, really simple dishes.

My mom is an amazing cook, but if you were to ask me the same question the magazine asked the chef, I would reply in the same manner: I would not pick one of her sophisticated dishes, but probably the simplest: sick day soup. When we were younger, she would, when we had a cold and were bedridden, bring us a vermicelli bowl of soup on a tray- a really simple one: a chicken broth with vermicelli and, I never knew why, half a tomato.

Today, I made my little sister a similar soup – she wanted “little stars” instead of vermicelli, and I slightly altered the original recipe.

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I added some celery chopped stalks, turkey cubes, green onions, cinnamon and ginger powder, freshly ground pepper, sea salt, and the secret ingredient…clove. This soup is so autumny, and served along with bread and butter, it’s such a nice comfort food.

Bon appétit !

“I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.” – Laura Ingalls Wilder