Tabbouleh (Lebanese parsley and burghul salad)


Tabbouleh is the second in this series of three recipes, coming from my 1980’s cooking class on Middle Eastern cuisine.  Our 21st century food processor affords an easy preparation of this healthy, traditional taste-treat, a recurrent dish in my kitchen.

For all 32 years I have lived in Oregon, I have been indulging in this treasured salad at the Mediterranean establishment Nicholas’, one of my favorite Portland restaurants.  Presently it has three locations in our metropolitan area, with my current choice being the upscale version on N.E. Broadway, with its comfortable decor.

Nicholas’ original place on Grand Ave-Portland’s first Middle Eastern restaurant-was, however, a mere hole in the wall, until the late-nineties when it was first remodeled.  The owners opened its two other locations in 2003 and 2010, with the exact same menus and prices, but with much more modern, “posh” environments.

When I started going to the original eatery on Grand, before its remodel, I would be instantly transplanted back to the romance of the small cafes I knew in impoverished Peru-there I had the opportunity to study Peruvian food for three weeks in 1985 to augment my food history business (see Bolitos de Chocolat y Coco, 2016/11/28).  Even though I like more comfort now, it was actually this original Nicholas’ restaurant on Grand that thrilled my heart the most, with its quaint poverty contrasted by incredible food-oh the glorious, abundant food!

Back then, with pride in my city, I always took my out-of-town visitors to my three favorite restaurants: Bread and Ink, The Original Pancake House (listed as one of James Beard’s top ten in the nation in the 70’s), and finally Nicolas’-all of these have been serving great food since my 1986 arrival.  Hands down, my guests always proclaimed the exquisite, poorer Nicholas’ as by far the best.

In those early days, our order always remained the same: humus, tabbouleh, and falafels, all of which came with their ever-present, gigantic, hot-from-the-oven pita bread, crowding the entire center of the table.  Though only consisting of three individual servings, this elegant, vegetarian repast was so abundant that if there were less than four of us, we took leftovers home-all for a pittance.  My guests marveled at the quality of both the food and experience, for it was definitely like being transported to a Third World country.

Age has mellowed me some, for today I love to frequent the more dignified Nicolas’ on N.E. Broadway.  Still wowing my guests with its exceptional food, I now order their incredible chicken kabobs, humus, and tabbouleth, of course, while ending with their exceptional baklava.  This amply pleases my friend’s great expectations, which I have encouraged, for there is great romance here-though perhaps not as pronounced as that of their captivating 1980’s café.

Tabbouleh is mostly widely known as a Lebanese recipe, though it is popular throughout the Levant, the large area east of the Mediterranean Sea, including such countries as Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, present-day Israel, etc.  The Levantine Arabic word tabbule is derived from tabil, which means “seasoning”; its literal translation is “dip”.  This salad is traditionally a part of the mezze, or first course of appetizers; it originated in the mountains of Lebanon and Syria, where they have favored qadb, or edible herbs, in their diet since the Middle Ages.

One of tabbouleh’s main ingredients is burghul, or bulgur, an ancient preparation of wheat-usually durum; it is made by partially cooking wheat berries, then drying them, producing a glassy hard interior.  Next, they are moistened again to toughen the outer bran area; then, ground into large chunks, removing the bran and germ in the process, while leaving the endosperm.   These pieces are then sifted and classified according to grade.  Coarse bulgur (to 3.5 mm across) is commonly used in pilafs and salads, while a fine bulgur (o.5 mm) is utilized in making sweets, such as puddings.  This particular wheat product is most prevalent in the Middle East and North Africa.  It has both long-shelf life and a quick-cooking features, thus making it is an ideal, basic ingredient for this time-tested salad.


Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 468.

finished product

Tabbouleh (Lebanese burghul and parsley salad)  Yields: 6 servings.  Total prep time: 35 min plus 1 hr for chilling.

3/4 c burghul, bulgur wheat  (Available in bulk at our local Winco, or organic bulgur may be found at the national upscale New Season’s.)

2 c chopped curly parsley, 1 lg bunch  (Organic is best, which is only slightly more expensive.)

1 bunch green onions, chopped

2 firm, ripe med tomatoes  (May use organic Roma tomatoes, which are relatively inexpensive.)

Scant 1/4 c fresh lemon juice  (2 small lemons needed.)

1/4 c olive oil  (Avocado oil will also work; good olive oil, however is really healthy, when not heated to high temperatures, which makes it carcinogenic.)

1/4 c fresh mint, chopped  (May substitute 2 tsp dried mint, or to taste.)

1 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is important for optimum health; an inexpensive Himalayan salt is available in bulk at our local Winco.)

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper, or to taste

  1. juicing lemons the easy way

    Boil 1 1/2 c water, stir in burghul, set aside to cool.

  2. Clean parsley, onions, and tomatoes with an inexpensive, safe, effective vegetable spray (combine 97% distilled white vinegar with 3% hydrogen peroxide).  Let sit for 3 minutes; then, rinse well in a sink full of water three times.
  3. Juice lemons, by first rolling them on counter, pressing down hard with hand, to loosen meat; extract juices; set aside.  (See above photo of easy hand-held juicer, available at our local Bob’s Red Mill.)
  4. Break stems off parsley and place in a food processor.  Chop small, by repeatedly pressing the pulse button-this may also be done with a knife, which is more laborious.  Place in a large bowl.
  5. Chop green onions (may include the green part, in addition); add to bowl.
  6. For ease in slicing, cut tomatoes with the skin side down (see photo below).  Mix in with parsley and onions.
  7. chopping tomatoes so to conserve juices

    Place lemon juice in a glass measuring cup (should be a scant 1/4 c); fill the rest with olive oil to measure 1/2 c.  Add mint, salt, and pepper; beat well with a fork.

  8. Drain burghul when cool, add to vegetables, pour beaten dressing over top, and blend well.  Chill for 1 hour before serving (see photo of finished product at top of recipe).  This is so healthy and good!

Munazalla (a Syrian lamb, eggplant, and tomato dish)


This prized dish came to me in the early 1980’s, during my initial catering days in Billings, Montana; there I taught this recipe, the first in this series, in one of my cooking classes, as part of a complete Middle Eastern dinner.  It still graces my table today, especially when I am trying to impress guests, as it is par excellence.

Its origin is Syrian; thus, recently I was excited about serving it to company, with an Assyrian heritage, not understanding that these are two very different cultures. Research proved their distinct differences: Syria, officially known as the Syrian Arab Republic, is a nation in southwestern Asia, on the eastern Mediterranean coast, with the capital of Damascus.  This delicious dish is from that republic, which was birthed in 1946; it was originally part of an ancient country by that name, of western Asia, that also included Lebanon and the Palestinian region.

On the other hand, Semitic Assyria was an ancient empire, which was by far larger than the early country of Syria.  This was considered to be the greatest of the Mesopotamian empires, which had its start at the beginning of creation, as accounted for in the second chapter of Genesis.

This Syrian lamb, eggplant, and tomato recipe, calls for well-known cilantro, which is the leaf of the plant Coriandrum sativum, while the spice coriander is its seed.  Cilantro, sometimes botanically referred to as coriander, is said to be the most widely consumed fresh herb worldwide. As a native to the Middle East, its seed was found in the tomb of King Tut (I got to see the tour of these ancient Egyptian remains in Seattle in the mid 70’s).

Early on, this plant was taken to China, India, and Southeast Asia, and later to Latin America, being highly favored in all these regions.  In the New World, cilantro replaced culantro, Eryngium, its relative with a similar taste which is indigenous to Central and South America.  The latter has larger, thicker, tougher leaves, than those of the cilantro plant, with its rounded, notched, tender greenery; nevertheless, the flavor in both is almost the same.  Culantro, or saw-leaf herb, is still used in the Caribbean, but is most commonly found in Asian cuisine, especially that of Vietnam.

Coriander leaf, cilantro, is sometimes described as having a soapy aroma; for this reason, it is not very popular in traditional European cooking.  The main component of the aroma is a fatty alehyde, decenal, which is very reactive; thus, this herb quickly looses this sense-element when heated.  As a result, it is used most predominantly in uncooked preparations, or as a garnish.

This low-cholesterol herb, which is a good source of dietary fiber, has a practically non-existent caloric value, and it is high in minerals (including potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium) and vitamins (such as A, C, K, E, and B vitamins).  Its health benefits are highly acclaimed by experts.  Among many health-promoting characteristics, it is said to: rid the body of heavy metals, lower bad-while increasing good-cholesterol, help reduce swelling caused by arthritis and rheumatic diseases, lower blood sugar levels, and provide antioxidant, antiseptic, disinfectant, and antibacterial properties.

As with the Europeans, this leaf’s pungency is offensive to me; thus, for flavoring in our munazalla, I give the option of substituting ground coriander seed, with its simultaneous flowery and lemony tastes.  Who knows?  This superb receipt may even excel more with fresh cilantro, for those who love it.


The Holy Bible, KJV, Genesis 2:14.

Harold McGee, pp. 390, 407, 408.

Munazzala (a Syrian lamb, eggplant, and tomato dish)  Yields: 5-6 servings.  Total prep time: 2 1/3 hr/  active prep time: 1 hour/  inactive cooking time: 1 1/3 hr.

10 large minced garlic cloves, or the equivalent

1 lb ground lamb  (Our local Grocer Outlet generally has a great deal on lamb.)

1/4 tsp allspice

1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

1 1/4 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink or Real Salt is important for optimum health; an inexpensive Himalayan salt can be found in bulk at our local Winco.)

2 tbsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is best, as olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)

1 lg onion, chopped

2 lb eggplant

4 med tomatoes

1/3 c cilantro, chopped  (May substitute 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander, or to taste.)

  1. forming meatballs

    Spray vegetables with an inexpensive, safe, effective vegetable spray (combine 97% distilled white vinegar with 3 % hydrogen peroxide).  Leave spray on for 3 minutes; then, rinse well.

  2. Mince garlic cloves by hand, or in a food processor; set aside.
  3. Using your hand, combine: lamb, 1/4 of minced garlic, allspice, pepper, and 3/4 tsp salt in a bowl; form meatballs the size of cherry tomatoes (see above photo).
  4. Over medium heat, fry meatballs in 1 tbsp hot oil, stirring with spatula until they stiffen.  Add chopped onion and cook until golden brown; drain fat and set aside (see photo).  Deglaze pan with 2 tbsp water-scrape fond, or

    cooked meatballs and onions

    cooked-on juices, off bottom of hot pan with a spatula.  (Note: a coffee measure is 2 tbsp.)  Set aside.

  5. Chop eggplant in small cubes (see photo below).  Heat remaining tbsp of oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  When a small piece of eggplant sizzles in oil, mix in remaining eggplant; add 1/4 c water, cover, and cook until pieces begin to soften, stirring occasionally.  Be sure to cover pan.
  6. Cut tomatoes in small chunks, chop cilantro-dried coriander may be substituted.
  7. chopping eggplant

    Mix meat, remaining garlic, tomatoes, cilantro, and 1/2 tsp salt into partially cooked eggplant.  Cover, reduce heat to med/low, and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.  (After cooking for 1 hour, if preparing for company, you may wish to set this mixture aside, before the final 15-20 minutes of cooking).

  8. Raise heat to medium, adjust seasonings, and cook uncovered for 15-20 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently.  (See photo of finished product at top of recipe.)
  9. Serve with pleasure!

The Best Corned Beef

corned beef and cabbage

In Ireland, they do not celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with corned beef and cabbage, but rather lamb or bacon, on what has long been a religious holiday there. Why therefore does the rest of the world, in particular the U.S., count this dish synonymous with this day that has become so filled with frolic?  It was through numerous developments that the Irish immigrants in America adopted this tradition, with its actual Gaelic roots.

These immigrants first arrived here when fleeing the Great Famine, which was brought about by the European potato blight that desperately hit their homeland, starting in 1845.  They disembarked knowing only “about” the corn beef of their forefathers, and that differing greatly from what they began to eat in the U.S.

This dish has a complicated history.  Beef was originally not regarded as an option in the old country, but rather pork and bacon provided the rare meat at a meal (pig is still their favored animal bred only for food).  From ancient times on, the common Irishman regarded the cow as a work animal, consuming only its milk products, not its flesh; this latter was primarily reserved only for the wealthy few, and even for them, merely on celebrations and festivals.  Salting was their typical means of preserving this meat.

When the English conquered this country in the 16th century, the cow turned into a food commodity.  Since the time of Roman invasion, the English have had a voracious appetite for beef, hence their need to outsource for this.  After their conquest of the Gaelic land, tens of thousands of live cattle were exported yearly across the Irish Sea, until the mid-17th century, when a series of Cattle Acts enacted by the English Parliament put a stop to this export; thus, providing the fuel that ignited the Irish corned beef industry.  These Cattle Acts left Ireland with an inundation of cows, bringing meat prices down, and making it affordable and abundant for their salted beef production, their means of preservation; thus, now even the peasant could consume this food.

It was around this time that the term corned beef became popular, because of the large size of the salt crystals used to cure it, as they looked like a kernel of corn.  The word kernel is derived from the Old English crynel, meaning seed or kernel, a diminutive of corn.

Subsequently Ireland became known for its abundant, high quality salted beef, now called corned beef, which tasted more like salt than beef.  In addition to the overflow of cows due to the Cattle Acts, they also had access to the highest quality of imported salt, as their salt tax was one tenth that of England.  (In good corned beef, the quality of salt is almost as important as the cut of beef.)  The demand for this best-on-the-market Irish corned beef soared in Europe and the Americas, spiking the price so high that the common Irishman could no longer afford to eat it; thus, the potato, which the English had introduced in the 1580’s, became their major food source.

This high demand for Irish salted beef continued until the end of the 18th century, when the North American colonies began producing their own; the glory days of Irish corned beef came to a close over the next 50 years; hence, the economy in Ireland was affected greatly.  This coupled with the Great Famine-brought by the European potato blight starting in 1845-resulted in great destruction in this land, as this latter completely destroyed the Irish food source.  As a result, about a million people sought refuge in America; being the land of plenty, they could now afford meat, a first in their lifetimes.  That which they chose happened to be the affordable corn beef.  Here, however, it greatly differed from that of the corned or salted beef of their ancestors 200 years prior.

These immigrants settled in the urban centers of New York and Philadelphia, next to their Jewish neighbors, who had kosher butcher shops, where the Irish bought this product.  The Jewish butchers used brisket, a kosher cut of beef, for this.  Being a tougher cut, it called for the salting and cooking processes that rendered the extremely tender corn beef, with its exceptional flavors, such as we know today.  The Irish paired this with their beloved potato and the inexpensive vegetable cabbage.  This “Jewish” corned beef then became the celebratory meal for the American Irish on their religious holiday St. Patrick’s Day.  Time transformed this hallowed feast day into its present, grand celebration of Irish heritage.

Today this beef brisket cut is generally cured or pickled by injecting seasoned brine (this brisket cut comes from the area just above the front legs; it rests on top of the shank cut, which is immediately above these legs in the forefront).  Hence today most of our savory corned briskets never actually touch any salt grains, the size of corn kernels or otherwise, like that of the famous salted beef of old.

Laura Kumin in The Hamilton Cookbook, 2017, cites Richard Briggs’ 1792 recipe “To Stew a Brisket of Beef”, from The English Art of Cookery: “a pint of red wine, or strong beer, a half of pound of butter, a bunch of sweet herbs, three or four shallots, some pepper and half a nutmeg grated.”  At the end, browned, boiled turnips were added to the thickened “liquor”, or gravy.

The following is my sister’s modern recipe, which calls for braising, resulting in super tender morsels of meat.  Enjoy this effortless receipt, while wearing-the-green this year.


Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), pp. 289-291.

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 2004, 1984), p. 175.

Laura Kumin, The Hamilton Cookbook (New York, Nashville: Post Hill Press, 2017), p. 81.

glazed meat

Corned Beef Brisket  Yields: 6-8 servings.  Total prep time: 7 1/4 hr for 3 1/2-lb brisket/  active prep time: 30 min/  cooking time: 7 hr (or 2 hr for each lb of meat).

3 1/2 lb corned beef brisket

1 lg yellow onion  (Organic vegetables are best.)

8 extra lg cloves garlic, or the equivalent

6-8 red or Yukon gold potatoes, cut in halves

1 1/2 lb green cabbage, cut in sixths or eighths, leaving root on

1-1 1/4 lb carrots, cut in large pieces

2 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is important for optimum health; an inexpensive Himalayan salt is available in bulk at our local Winco.)

Yellow mustard

Brown sugar  (Organic is best; available at Trader Joe’s or Costco.)

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees; take veggies out of refrigerator to warm.
  2. preparation for initial braising

    Rub spice packet on brisket.  Place in oven-proof stock pot with onions and garlic.  Barely submerge in water (see photo), cover with lid, and braise for 1 hour in oven at 375 degrees.  Then lower temperature to 325 degrees if normal size (3 1/2 to 4 lbs); if brisket is larger, only lower heat to 350.  Cook meat for 6 hours for 3 1/2 lbs-the TOTAL cooking time should be determined by figuring 2 hrs per lb (which includes the replacement of vegetables for the meat for the last hour of cooking).

  3. 1 1/3 hour before serving, spray vegetables with an inexpensive, safe, effective vegetable spray (a mixture of 97% distilled white vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide); let sit 3 minutes; rinse really well.  Scrape carrots with a sharp knife (this preserves vitamins, as opposed to peeling); cut in halves or large pieces; peel the potatoes; cut in halves, if large.  Cut cabbage in sixths or eighths, leaving the root on, and set this aside separately.
  4. 1 hour before serving, remove brisket from braising water, place in a baking dish, covered with tin foil, and set aside.  This should be extremely tender; if not, put a little liquid in bottom of dish, cover well with foil, and place back in oven while veggies are cooking (see photo below).
  5. preparing brisket for further cooking if needed

    Turn the heat up to 375 degrees.  Add potatoes, carrots, and salt to hot broth, cover with additional water, and return to oven to cook until tender, checking periodically.  As vegetables are done, remove to a baking dish, with small amount of broth in bottom, cover with foil, and place in oven to keep warm.

  6. Add cabbage to pot 30 minutes before serving if you like it soft; for a crisper version, add 20 minutes before dinner.  (Be sure to check vegetables to see if cooked, remove to baking dish as needed, and return to oven to keep hot.)
  7. About 30 minutes before serving, prep the glaze, by generously spreading yellow mustard over brisket, sprinkle with brown sugar, and place in oven at 375 degrees.  Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until it bubbles and glaze is formed (see photo at top of recipe).
  8. Cut meat, cover with foil, and place back in oven, if not ready to serve yet.  When all cooking is done, turn oven down to 200 degrees for keeping meal hot.
  9. To serve, place on platter or plates and surround with vegetables (see top photo).  This dish is best accompanied with Irish Soda Bread, last week’s post.

Irish Soda Bread

Irish soda bread

It is an understatement to say that my mother Pat, who now resides in heaven, loved her Irish heritage while sojourning on earth: I grew up, during every March, with a month’s worth of corned beef and cabbage; on St. Patrick’s Day itself, sometimes there were scrambled eggs colored with green food dye, or toilet bowl water tinted likewise, and always a mandatory wearing-of-the-green.  (She would have to dash in the bathroom to revive the toilet water following each use.)  Mom will always be remembered by all, for her passion for green; year-round she favored this color in her clothing, home decorations, and above all God’s splendid paintings in nature.

I am honoring her during her month, by sharing our family’s recipes for Irish Soda Bread and of course, corn beef and cabbage, which will be next week’s entry.  Irish soda bread is a quick bread, traditionally made without fat; it calls for soft flour-made from soft winter wheat berries-which is marketed as whole wheat pastry flour.

There are two varieties of wheat flour: soft and hard.  This recipe uses the soft whole wheat pastry flour, with low-gluten content; cake flour, which is the other soft flour, is even lower in this mixture of plant proteins.  Hard, all-purpose, or bread flour is the other variety, which is high in gluten.

All wheat flour contains two proteins, gliadin and glutenin, which combined form the gluten.  When dough is initially mixed, these proteins are mangled and knotted together in a relatively unorderly fashion.  Kneading lines these up; bonds are developed between neighbors; thus, gluten chains form, creating the surrounding substance within which the dough can develop.  In this way strength and structure are established, which trap gases and allow the dough to rise; this process is critical in producing a good loaf of yeast bread.

Unlike yeast bread, such manipulative action is minimal in its soda counterpart, providing for little  gluten development; its soft flour, being comparatively low in these proteins, produces a quick bread with its own appeal, which is a fine, tender crumb.  Being fast to prepare, it must be eaten with haste as well, as it becomes stale swiftly.

Irish soda bread has simplicity and a basic composition; it is leavened with the rapid-acting chemical baking soda, and as it has been said, brief mixing minimizes its gluten development.  This luscious loaf may be enhanced by adding either raisins or currants (see Mor Monsen’s Kaker, 2017/11/27, for the history of currants).


Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 521-523, 537-538, 549-550.

bread with Kerrygold butter from Ireland

Irish Soda Bread  Yields: 6 servings.  Total prep time: 45 min/  active prep time: 20 min/  baking time: 20-30 min.

3/4 cup milk  (Alternative milks will do, or may purchase buttermilk.)

4 squirts from plastic lemon ball, for souring milk

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour  (Bob’s Red Mill flour is ideal; may grind 1 1/3 cup organic soft winter wheat berries, to make 2 cups fresh flour.)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

3 tbsp sugar  (Organic is best; available at Trader Joe’s, or more inexpensively, in a 10-lb package at Costco.)

4 tbsp butter, softened

1/2 cup raisins or currants  (Currants available in bulk at upscale grocers, such as the national chain New Season’s.)

Spray oil  (Pam coconut spray oil is ideal; our local Winco brand, however, is far cheaper.)

  1. cutting butter into flour until mealy

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  2. If grinding fresh flour, begin to do so now with 1 1/3 c soft winter white wheat berries; wait to preheat oven with this option.
  3. Sour milk by placing it in a medium bowl, squeezing about 4 squirts from lemon ball over surface; set aside.
  4. In a large bowl blend flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar, with a fork.
  5. Cut 3 tbsp softened butter into flour mixture, until mixture is mealy and butter is well incorporated (see above photo).
  6. dough after kneading for 1 minute

    Stir in soured milk and raisins or currants.  Knead dough gently for 1 minute; if necessary flour counter and hands to keep dough from sticking.  (Note: if grinding flour fresh, be sure to let dough sit in bowl, covered, for 45 minutes before kneading, to absorb excess moisture present in the coarser fresh-grind.)  See photo.

  7. Form into a round loaf and place on a cookie sheet sprayed with oil.  With a sharp knife, cut an X on top of loaf about 1/2-inch deep.  Dot with softened butter (see photo below).
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes (a fresh-ground loaf takes about 30 minutes to bake), or until golden brown and there is a hollow sound when tapped on bottom; see top photo.  Cool on rack.
  9. loaf ready to be baked

    This is best served with imported Irish Kerrygold butter-this treat is available many places, but the best buy is at Costco, when in stock.

Prune Cake, A Cake to Be baked in Secret (Keeps Well if You Hide It)

prune cake

My mother loved to entertain; she went to elaborate ends preparing for her dinner parties, many of which had international themes-for these foreign affairs, she often employed recipes from the Time-Life Books collection Foods of the World, which came out in 1968.

Though I don’t know its origin, this prune cake was among my favorite desserts that Mom served to her many guests.  I recall her making it in the sixties; perhaps she acquired it from beloved friends, while we were living in Tucson, Arizona, during several winters in this decade.

Its subtitle boasts: A Cake to Bake in Secret (Keeps Well if You Hide It).  How true this is, for this confection melts in one’s mouth, with its butterscotch glaze seeping into the entire cake; thus, it stays moist for weeks, if you don’t eat it first.

In Biblical times, in the hot Mediterranean countries, drying was the most expedient way for preserving fruit and vegetables; grapes became “raisins of the sun”, plums became prunes, dates and figs likewise intensified in flavor as they shriveled up.  There, this basic technology employed the powerful sun, with either spreading the juicy produce out on trays or the rooftop, or burying it in the hot sand; this latter means of preservation became apparent at the beginning of time, with naturally dried fruit, which had fallen from trees and vines in the hot dessert.

Such sun-drying methods didn’t work well in the cooler climates of Eastern Europe; thus, more sophisticated means of dehydrating developed here.  Beginning in the Middle Ages, in Moravia and Slovakia, special drying-houses were filled with wicker frames, on which prepared fruit was laid out; constantly-burning stoves, underneath these frames, produced the necessary dry heat to transform the food.

Medieval Scandinavia discovered that cool, crisp air, aided by a stiff breeze, could be utilized to dry Norwegian stokkfisk-cod that had been gutted and hung to dry on wooden racks.  This dried ailment provided these people with an almost indestructible, cheap food reserve.

During this time, means for food preservation were also developing in England.  The rich Englishmen, however, had cool stillrooms, where they candied nuts and citrus peel, bottled fruits-present day canning methods were discovered inl the early 19th century-and made marmalades, jams, and sweetmeats (this last, in Webster’s, is any delicacy made with a sweetening agent; “meat” here refers to food-sweet foods-such as candied fruit).  Indeed, the English employed the art of candying, or preserving with sugar, although they adhered to many alchemical superstitions and “secrets”, such as walnuts should be preserved on June 24th, St. John’s Day.

This memorable cake calls for dried plums that have been resuscitated.  These stewed prunes, along with the rich butterscotch glaze oozing into the whole, allow for an incredibly moist dessert that keeps for weeks, providing it is hidden from sight.

Bee Wilson, Consider the Fork (New York: Basic Books, 2012), pp. 218, 219.

Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), pp. 54, 180, 181.

prune cake

Prune Cake  Yields: 12 servings.  Total prep time: 1 1/2 hr/  active prep time: 30 min/  baking time: 1 hr.  Note: this recipe calls for a 9” tube pan, with a removable bottom.

2 c flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic unbleached white flour is ideal; may grind 1 2/3 cup organic soft winter white wheat berries, to make 2 c  fresh flour.)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is important for optimum health; an inexpensive Himalayan salt is available in bulk at our local Winco.)

1 1/2 tbsp cinnamon  (Our local Fred Meyer-Kroger-store has an excellent organic Korintje cinnamon in bulk.)

1 1/2 tbsp nutmeg

1 1/2 tbsp allspice

1 c oil  (Recipe calls for corn oil, but I used grapeseed oil, as it can be heated to high temperatures without damage.)

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 c sugar  (May substitute coconut sugar, which has a lower glycemic index.)

3 lg eggs, beaten

1 c buttermilk

1 1/3 c dried, PITTED prunes, soaked and coarsely chopped  (May be done ahead, see step 3.)

1 c walnuts, chopped

Hot Butterscotch Glaze

1 c sugar  (Cane sugar is important here; organic is best.)

1/2 c buttermilk

1/4 c butter

1/4 c lite Karo syrup  (For easy pouring, rub measuring cup with butter first.)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp vanilla

  1. 1980’s nutmeg grinder

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  2. If using freshly ground flour, begin grinding wheat berries now.
  3. Pour boiling water over prunes; let sit for 13-15 minutes, or until soft, but not mushy; drain, cool, and cut fruit in halves.  Note: unsulfured prunes will take longer to cook.
  4. In a sealed gallon-size storage bag, vigorously shake flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.  (This recipe calls for LOTS of spice; freshly ground nutmeg is superb; see above photo for my 1980’s nutmeg grinder.)
  5. Mix oil, 1 tsp vanilla, and 1 1/2 c sugar together in a large bowl; beat in eggs, one at a time; mix in flour mixture and buttermilk alternately.  Stir in the prune halves and nuts.  (If using fresh ground flour, know that it is a coarser grind and thus absorbs moisture more slowly; therefore, if grinding flour fresh, be sure to let batter rest in bowl for 45 minutes before baking, to absorb liquids.)
  6. glaze at soft ball stage before rolling together with fingers

    Pour batter into an ungreased 9” tube pan, with a removable bottom.  Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean, and cake lightly responds when pressed with finger.  Meanwhile get ready to cook the glaze.

  7. In a medium saucepan, measure the ingredients for the butterscotch glaze.  Set aside, until 10 minutes before cake is done.  After cake has been baking for 50 minutes, boil glaze over medium heat, until a candy thermometer registers 235 degrees F, or a soft ball is formed-using a clean spoon, place a small amount of the cooked sugar in a cup of cold water; then, squish together with fingers to form a soft, pliable ball that doesn’t hold its shape (see photo above).
  8. Immediately pour hot glaze over hot cake; piercing it repeatedly with a skewer or toothpick, so it can easily soak up glaze (see photo below).
  9. piercing glazed cake with skewer

    After cooling on rack, slide a knife down all sides and under removable bottom; then, gently transfer pastry to plate.

  10. Remember this is a cake to be baked in secret, for it keeps a long time, if you hide it.

Nutty/Lemon/Coconut Bars

nutty/lemon/coconut bars

This recipe for nutty/lemon/coconut bars is from the mid-1960’s, given to me by my beautiful aunt Sheila.  She made them for her family, while living in East Glacier Park, Montana.

A decade later, after moving 90 miles away to Kalispell, this same aunt watched over me like a hen over her chick, as I was recovering from bulimia and anorexia then.  Having overcome much in her own life, she was willing to share her victories.  She approached her covering of me, as a humble friend, coming along side me gently. We spent numerous hours in each others company, usually over food, while we frequently perused the daily reading from her treasured God Calling, an inspired devotional written by two women in England.  How I recall our immense excitement over the accuracy, with which these prophetic, living words touched our souls!

Sheila loved good edibles.  From the seventies on, after her move to the city, however, her delight was to indulge in fine cuisine at restaurants, rather than spending the necessary preparatory time in a kitchen.  Her constant discovery of new establishments blessed us here in Portland, Oregon, where we both resided before she passed away in the 90’s.

Unlike my aunt, for me the height of indulgence in food is found in the strength imparted by the whole hands-on process, from the beginning to end stages, present in receiving nourishing substance.  This starts initially with the act of shopping, it intensifies as I press in over a stove, and it culminates in a grand finale as I partake of pleasures at the table.  For me, each level is essential in the mastery of the art of fine cuisine; likewise all require diligence in their practice,

For instance, shopping can bring joyful breakthrough, i.e., the hunting for specials at Fred Meyer recently benefited me greatly: the produce worker John and I were chatting, while he was doing his work and I was examining artichokes; he suddenly broke out excitedly, “I can teach you how to test this vegetable for freshness.”  He proceeded to show me how to squeeze its middle, instructing that if it flattens out it is past its prime.  Eagerly he promised that when watermelon season arrives, his expertise will be at its prime, for he never misses with this fruit-I can’t wait to share this tidbit with you also.

From the grocery store, I go to my kitchen, equipped with the best.  There I purpose to set my day’s thoughts aside, as I settle into cooking, striving for peace, which is critical, or mistakes get made, and our Father’s intended gratification is lost.

Julia Child comes to mind, with her passion for every aspect of fine food, especially her fervency in sharing her knowledge with the world; this can be seen clearly in her approach to helping young, aspiring chefs.  As with so many others, I was taken under her wings, with five encouraging letters in the 80’s and 90’s.  Her covering was a gift from God, who longs to envelop us with such protective shelter, as he did for me with my aunt in earlier years.  Indeed, I have become who I am today, by humbly receiving such guidance from authorities.

Sheila’s nutty coconut bars satisfy the child within, with their lemon savor; it’s my joy to share these with you.  Bon appetit!

finished product

Nutty/Lemon/Coconut Bars  Yields: about 30 bars.  Total prep time: 1 hr.

1 c plus 2 tbsp flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic unbleached white flour is ideal.)

1/2 c butter, softened

1 1/2 c brown sugar  (Organic is preferable, available at Costco, also at Trader Joe’s in an 1 1/2 lb bag.)

1/2 tsp baking powder

2 large eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp salt

1 c unsweetened coconut  (This is available in Bob’s Red Mill packages at most grocery stores, where it is also frequently sold in bulk.)

1 c pecans

1 1/2 c powdered sugar  (Organic can be found at Costco and Trader’s.)

1/3 c fresh lemon juice  (3 small/med lemons will be needed.)

  1. baked crust

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  2. Cream butter and 1/2 c brown sugar in a bowl; add 1 c flour, over which baking powder is sprinkled evenly; work together with a fork, until it becomes mealy, like pie crust.  Pat this down firmly in the bottom of an ungreased 9” x 12” pan (this size pan is out-dated; you may substitute the equivalent in square inches, such as 2-8” x 8” pans; 2-9″ x 9″ pans, however, will be too large).  Bake for 12 minutes; then, remove from oven; see photo above.
  3. Meanwhile beat eggs well; mix in vanilla and salt; blend in 1 cup brown sugar, 2 tbsp flour, coconut, and pecans.  Spread this mixture over baked-crust (see photo below).  Return to oven and bake for 25 minutes more, or until golden brown (see photo at top of recipe).  Prepare frosting next.
  4. spreading coconut mixture over crust

    First, place 1 1/2 c powdered sugar in a medium bowl; then, measure and pour lemon juice over sugar; beat with a spatula until lumps are gone; set aside.

  5. When bars are through baking, immediately pour lemon frosting over top; cool before cutting.  How I love these!

Quick Pasta with Red Sauce and Ricotta

pasta with red sauce and ricotta

With our hurried society, we are always trying to conserve on time; thus, I try to respect this need for efficiency with my cooking instructions, where provision of optimum health is also a major focus.  My mind is made for details; henceforth, I spell out shortcuts that streamline cooking; this can make a particular recipe look long, but indeed it is concise, with an abundance of clock-conserving treasures.

This quick version of red sauce can be made in just 30 minutes, thus honoring our crowded schedules; it pleases with its added topping of ricotta cheese.

A dear friend always blesses me with gifts from her home, when she visits.  I never know what new gadget or food item she will introduce upon her arrival.  Several weeks ago, Wanda came bearing homemade ricotta, which she had made in a crock pot, with her suggestion to put it on top of spaghetti sauce.  As she cooks for a diabetic challenged husband, she serves just a little gluten-free pasta with lots of red sauce, topped with her ricotta; you may choose similar adjustments.  (A 5-star receipt for simple homemade ricotta cheese can be found at

Discipline is called for in any recipe, whether it be in the kitchen or life, with the constant need for balance between demands and desires.  Always we long for the best taste to be left in our mouths, but oh the challenge in allowing the time required for such quality.  Here I sacrifice some of the depth of flavor, which can be found in my moderately-more-lengthy instructions for Red Sauce for Pasta or Spaghetti Squash (2017/04/10).

Italian comes to mind when we think of red sauce; tomatoes, however, are a relatively new food in Italy.  In the 16th century, conquistadors introduced these to Europe, where they took centuries to become a leading world vegetable.  America didn’t fully accept this fruit-it is actually a fruit, not a vegetable-until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a time that simultaneously saw an inundation of Italian immigrants on our shores.  For more on this history, see Spicy Sausage and Tomatoes (2017/09/25) and Ropa Vieja (2017/10/09).

If you are wanting a fine-textured red sauce, know that canned tomatoes, unlike fresh tomatoes, usually don’t boil down to a smooth puree, as calcium salts are added by many canners-this calcium firms the cell walls of tomatoes and keeps the pieces in tact.  Since these salts interfere with the disintegration process during cooking, be sure to check the labels on all canned whole tomatoes, only buying brands that don’t list calcium, unless a chunky sauce is desired.  I use canned tomato sauce here.

Pressured agendas bring loss of strength, while slowing down to smell the roses allows for the discovery of innate gifts, which were positioned by divine ordinance long ago.  We get to open these daily, if we but exercise patience.


Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), p. 206.

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 2004, 1984), p. 331.

Quick Pasta with Red Sauce and Ricotta  Yields: 2-3 servings.  Total prep time: 30 minutes.  Note: may double the recipe.

15-oz can tomato sauce  (Organic is best, which is only slightly more expensive; available at most supermarkets.)

3/4 tsp dried oregano  (Trader Joe’s has an excellent organic bottle for $1.99.)

1 tsp dried basil  (Also found at Trader’s.)

3/4 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is important for optimum health; an inexpensive Himalayan salt is available in bulk at our local Winco.)

4 med/lg cloves garlic  (For easy prep, use 2 cubes frozen garlic from Trader’s.)

1 tsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is best, as olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)

1 med yellow onion, chopped small

2-3 servings of pasta

2 sausage links  (Natural sausage is best; I used Fence Line Hot Italian Style here.)

Spray oil  (Coconut is best for health; Pam is available in most supermarkets; our local Winco brand, however, is much cheaper.)

2 tbsp tomato paste  (Freeze remaining paste in individual 1/4 c bags, to be thawed conveniently.)

Avocado slices

Ricotta cheese for topping

  1. tomato sauce simmering

    Take ricotta out of refrigerator, to warm it for serving.

  2. In a medium saucepan, place tomato sauce and 1/2 can of water, to which you have added seasonings and garlic.  Bring to a boil over medium heat; reduce heat to med/low and simmer, stirring occasionally.
  3. Heat oil in a sauté pan; sweat onion in hot oil (cook only until translucent); add to sauce.
  4. Fill a 3-quart saucepan 4/5th full of water, to which you have added a small amount of salt and oil (any kind will do).   Place over medium heat; when water boils, add pasta, and cook for 7 minutes, or until al dente.
  5. Meanwhile cut sausage diagonally and sauté until light brown, in a frying pan sprayed with oil.  When done, add to tomato sauce.
  6. Slice avocados, set aside.
  7. When pasta is finished, drain in a colander, rinsing well.
  8. prepping pasta

    Finish the sauce, by adding tomato paste, stirring until thickened.

  9. Rinse pasta under hot tap water to warm it.  Place pasta on individual plates; pour sauce over top; garnish with large dollop of ricotta and a slice of avocado.
  10. Quick, easy, delightful!