October 16, 2009

Middle Eastern mezze cooking class / veganmofo 2009 / cookbook winner

Spiced olives
On Tuesday night my husband and I took another cooking class at PCC Natural Markets, and I can't say enough good things about it. Please excuse me if I blabber on and on about how wonderful the food was. The class was taught by Sureyya Gokeri, originally from Turkey, who taught us the Turkish versions of several well-known dishes. Sureyya teaches classes at PCC as well as at her family's business, Istanbul Imports, and if you live in the Seattle area I highly recommend taking one of her classes. Although the class syllabus (baba ghannouj, taboulleh salad, spiced olives, Turkish artichokes, flatbread from Jordan, stuffed dates from Iraq, and tahini sauce with bean salad) sounded very familiar, Sureyya's versions of these dishes were a revelation.

Mezze refers to food that comes to the table before the main course — Middle Eastern hors d'oeuvre. The main meal usually contains meat, but mezze consists of fresh vegetables, bread and olive oil. We started with zaytun musabbeh — spiced olives from Lebanon. In my mind you can hardly go wrong with olives - I always gravitate to the olive tray at parties — and this salad was an olive-lovers dream. Sureyya used marinated olives bought from the olive bar at PCC. The recipe contains pomegranate juice, and Sureyya also added fresh pomegranate arils. She showed us how to open the pomegranate by removing both ends and peeling carefully like an apple.

We learned a few cooking tricks to make the food more flavorful. For example, Sureyya always adds each dried herb to a small amount of olive oil to more thoroughly release its flavor. She then adds the oil and herb to the dish. She also told us her mother stored fresh herbs wrapped in tissue paper rather than in plastic. She said this keeps the herbs fresher longer.

When she made the taboulleh, she added paprika to color it, as well as ground cumin and crushed red pepper. It was served Turkish style in crisp leaves of romaine lettuce. (Do you see the pomegranate seeds in there?)

Bean salad with tahini sauce
Our teacher made a simple bean salad with lemon juice, olive oil, cumin and Italian parsley, to go on top of a thick and creamy tahini dressing. It was so good, just thinking about it makes me hungry.

baba ghannouj and khoubiz

I was most impressed with the baba ghannouj. Traditionally, eggplant for this dish is grilled over charcoal, imparting a smoky flavor. Sureyya roasted one eggplant in the oven, and grilled the other eggplant on the gas stove burner over very low heat until it was black and completely soft. She peeled off the blackened skin and chopped the eggplants by hand. The result was a smoky and fabulous dip. To go with the dip she made Khoubiz, flatbread from Jordan. The bread was very simple to make, and tasted amazing.

The enginar, or Turkish artichokes, was something I've never eaten before, but am sure to eat again now that I know how to make it. I've never seen a better use for peas and carrots!

I'm sorry to say the photos of our dessert, holwah tamar or stuffed date sweetmeats from Iraq, were too blurry to use. This was simply dates pureed in a food processor, mixed with chopped blanched almonds, rolled into balls and rolled in either toasted sesame seeds or shredded coconut. Very simple and delicious.

Sureyya has graciously allowed me to share her recipe for olive salad.

Zaytun Musabbeh (Spiced olives from Lebanon) serves 6 to 8
  • 1 lb. pitted green olives or marinated olives
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 3/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate juice (or more to taste)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 firm tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 cup fresh red or green pepper, chopped
  1. Place olives in a bowl (rinsing the brine is optional) and chop into small pieces.
  2. Add the dried spices to olive oil and then rub into the olives by hand.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the tomatoes and peppers.
  4. Add the tomatoes and peppers just before serving.
  1. Instead of olives you can use one of the following: potatoes, cucumbers, roasted eggplant, beans such as chickpeas or kidney beans, or mushrooms.
  2. Add chopped walnuts to the salad.
  3. Add fresh pomegranate arils.
  4. If tomatoes are out of season, use 1 tablespoon of tomato paste or red pepper paste.


The winner of the cookbook giveaway is Courtney. Courtney, please send me your address and I'll send the book to you. Congrats!


  1. Your cooking classes always sound so incredibly good! The method for the baba ganouj is a great idea--I am going to char my eggplant on the stove next time. :)

  2. Wow, what a great class! I like all of those dishes, and what awesome tips! Thanks! :-)

  3. Debra, Ricki, Chow,
    This was a particularly good class - great tips and ideas. I was happy to be able to pass them along. Our next class is a holiday cooking class. That should be fun!

  4. That class looks amazing. I'm bummed because there is another vegan cooking class with Paul Tseng this weekend and I can't go! I hope he has more!

  5. Oh how I love a great cooking class! Everything sounds spectacular. I had read somewhere that crushing the eggplants instead of pureeing them made the best baba ganoush - that's how I made my last batch.

  6. Andrea, that sounds like such a great cooking class! Middle eastern cuisine is one of my favourites, the food is always so flavourful. You are so lucky.

  7. Claire,
    Too bad about the class. Call and request another - that's how they get added into the schedule.

    The teacher chopped them up with a chef's knife which is probably the same as crushing. Grilling over the flame also boosted the flavor a lot.

    I'm glad we took the class. Now we have to make the food at home!

  8. Heavenly! We love your photos and descriptions, they are making us drool.

    We especially love the bean salad with tahini dressing--we're always trying to find new ways to use tahini. Of course tabbouleh is always delicious. Putting the herbs in oil sounds like a nice way to infuse flavor!

    Lebanese food is so delicious! (In fact, we just wrote about our favorite Lebanese restaurant on today's blog post)

  9. Wow, I wish I lived in your city... I would love that class

    1. If you have a food co-op, check to see if they have classes. We love our co-op classes!


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