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

munazalla

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, birthed in 1946, which 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 1970’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 traditional 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.

References:

The Holy Bible, KJV, Genesis 2:14.

Harold McGee, pp. 390, 407, 408.

https://draxe.com/cilantro-benefits/

https://articles.mercola.com/herbs-spices/cilantro.aspx

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 fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

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 small amount of water, scraping fond, or

    cooked meatballs and onions

    cooked-on juices, off bottom of hot pan with a spatula.  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!

Natural Sausage with Zucchini and Eggplant

natural sausage with zucchini and eggplant

At this time of year, we are wondering what to do with all the zucchini.  Using natural sausage and Chinese eggplant, I transformed this ordinary vegetable, which is actually a fruit, into a memorable dish.

Garlic and Aidells’ Spicy Mango with Jalapeno Chicken Sausages give this common garden plant a dramatic bite, with a sweet aftertaste.  Eggplant is a perfect accompaniment to zucchini, and carmelized onions compliment all.  This is a simple, mouth-watering treat indeed.

My pastors are bringing their prolific zucchini to our services now, and I am thrilled. Our church body experiences this benefit every growing season.

Throughout the year, we experience the results of what this couple’s hands accomplish in the realm of the Spirit, but during harvest time we reap what these same faithful hands produce in natural soil.  Their charitable action is steadfast, and it can be concretely seen in the vegetables and fruits, with which they fed our physical bodies.

This particular squash reproduces rapidly; it can quickly grow beyond what is satisfactory.  When it gets over-sized: it contains too much water, its seeds are large and tough, there aren’t enough recipes to utilize this inundation.  (Learn more about its biology and history at Zucchini Bread, 2017/07/31.)

Our pastors watch this fruit/vegetable prudently; thus, readily picking it before it grows beyond its prime-whenever possible.  Our church is like a prototype of their healthy garden.  Pastors Monte and Dawn care for us like prized plants: watering with the word, observing diligently, pruning with exceptional wisdom and love.  We are indeed well-tended.

I can’t express gratitude enough that our Lord saw fit to place me under their protection; it is here that I became equipped to fulfill my purpose as a food historian.  I invite you to access this bread of life at our church website alfc.net

Meanwhile eat heartily, by cooking this delicious recipe.

Aidells’ Spicy Mango with Jalapeno Chicken Sausages

Natural Sausage with Zucchini and Eggplant  Yields: 4-5 servings.  Total active prep time: 45 min.

2 1/3 tbsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is best; olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)

1 med yellow onion, cut evenly in 1/8″ slices

12 oz natural sausage, cut diagonally  (Aidells’ Spicy Mango with Jalapeno Chicken Sausages are the best here; available at most local supermarkets.)

1 lb Chinese eggplant, cut in 1/2″ cubes  (See photo below.)

4 lg cloves of garlic, minced  (For convenience, use 2 frozen cubes of garlic from Trader Joe’s.)

1 tsp salt, or to taste  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; a fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco for $4.95 for 5 lbs.)

3/4 tsp freshly ground pepper, or to taste

chopping eggplant

2 carrots, thinly sliced at a diagonal

1 1/2 lbs of zucchini, cut in 1/2″ cubes

  1. Clean vegetables, using an inexpensive, effective spray of 93% distilled white vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide; let sit 3 minutes and rinse well.  Meanwhile go to next step.
  2. In a sauté pan, heat 1/2 tsp of oil.  When a small piece of onion sizzles, add all onions and caramelize over med/low heat, stirring every 2 minutes until color starts to form; then, stir every minute, until dark brown.  When finished, deglaze pan with 2 tbsp or more of water (scrape the fond, or cooked-on juices, off the bottom of pan with a spatula); then, add to the bowl of meat described below.  Watch onions carefully, while performing the next steps.
  3. Cut vegetables and meat, as described in the above list of ingredients; set all aside in separate bowls.  Mince garlic, if using fresh.
  4. finished product

    Heat 2 tsp of oil in another frying pan over medium heat.  When a piece of sausage sizzles in pan, add the other sausage slices and brown quickly, watching carefully, so as not to burn.  Place in a large bowl, carefully saving juices in the pan.

  5. When meat is removed, heat 2 tsp more of oil, with the left-over juices. Add eggplant, mix oil in well, and deglaze pan (scrape off fond left over by meat with 2 tbsp or more of water added to hot pan).  Cook covered until soft, stirring every couple of minutes; deglaze pan again; transfer eggplant to the bowl of meat.
  6. Heat 2 tsp of oil in same pan, add carrots, and cook for 3 minutes, or just until tender, stirring occasionally.  Mix zucchini into carrots; cook covered until limp, stirring several times.
  7. When vegetable is done, blend in garlic, salt and pepper; cook until you can smell the garlic.  (If using frozen garlic, make sure it is melted and distributed well.)  Mix in meat, onions, and eggplant; adjust seasonings; heat thoroughly.  Serve with delight.

Ahi Tuna with Black Bean & Eggplant Dish

When I require a firm fish for creating recipes, I prefer ahi tuna over halibut, as the later tends to be drier.  I discovered in Culinary Artistry, by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, that the excellence of tuna steaks is enhanced by both eggplant and black beans; lemon and garlic also compliment ahi.  It took courage for me to experiment with blending all the above together in a dish needed for a special occasion, during which I honored the Lomilos from Uganda.  1

Cooking takes risks, as life does; nothing comes automatically.  A patient, pressing-in is required to foster creative mastery.

I learned an important lesson in my early thirties when I moved to Portland, for then I was struggling to overcome an addiction to alcohol.  In the process of sobering up, I was taught to trust in the history of old-timers in areas that I didn’t yet have enough victory of my own.  As a result, I listened carefully to my elders’ testimonies, holding fast to their professed truths.  The pay-off was great, for I haven’t had a drink since 02/06/86.

In like manner, I have reached out to experts in the culinary field over the years; thus, amplifying my own inherent strengths.  The outcome is an acquired proficiency in successfully combining foods, as exemplified here.

I see parallels between skills gained in cooking and those procured in living.  Continuing with these teachings in my blog holds promise that ability, in both these areas, will be attained.

I can’t stress enough that patience and trust are essential elements, as we walk in the light each of us has, taking baby steps of courage to rise to our next level.

True to form, I sought help from experts in writing this recipe and its history.  For instance, I needed to know more about not overcooking tuna.  Harold McGee teaches about the meat-red-color of certain tunas in On Food and Cooking; it is caused by the oxygen-storing pigment myoglobin, which is needed for this fish’s nonstop, high-velocity life.  This deep red color is lost, if this fish is not frozen well below minus 22 degrees F, which helps explain the brownish color of some frozen tunas.  When cooked, it looses this blood red color at about the same temperature that beef does, between 140-160 degrees F.  2

It is best to under cook this food, or dryness will result.  If you like your meat rare, you will probably also like rare tuna; thus, be careful to check for color during its preparation.

Let’s humbly learn from the masters, purposing to keep all seeds of knowledge protected in fertile soil.

Eat hearty, this is a delicious fish!

  1. Andrew Dorenburg and Karen Page, Culinary Artistry (Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996), pp. 187, 273.
  2. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 194.

finished black beans and eggplant

Ahi Tuna with Black Beans and Eggplant Dish  Yields: 4 servings.  Total active prep time: 1 1/4 hr.

6 tbsp oil  (Avocado oil is best, coconut oil will do; olive oil produces carcinogens when heated to high temperatures.)

1 med yellow onion, halved and cut in 1/8 inch slices

1 lb eggplant

1/4 c water

3 tbsp lemon juice, fresh squeezed  (2 small lemons needed.)

4 tsp salt, or to taste  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; a fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco for $4.95 for 5 lbs.)

2 tsp fresh ground pepper, or to taste

5 lg cloves of garlic, minced  (3 frozen cubes of garlic from Trader Joe’s makes preparation easier.)

1-15 oz can of black beans  (Organic is best; Simple Truth brand at our local Fred Meyer’s is very economical.)

2 tsp crushed dried red pepper

2 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp dried ginger

2 tsp dried oregano  (Organic is available for $1.99 at Trader’s!)

4 ahi tuna steaks, or about 1 1/3 lb

1 tsp sesame oil

  1. fond on bottom of pan of eggplant

    For caramelizing onions, halve onion and cut into even 1/8″ slices.  Heat 1/2 tsp oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat; place a small piece of onion in oil; when it sizzles, add rest of onion and turn heat down to med/low (do not crowd your pan with too many onions, or they will steam, producing water, and it will take longer to cook them). Cook, stirring about every two minutes, until color begins to change.  At this point, stir every minute, until dark brown in color.  Onions should cook long enough to stick to the pan, in order to brown, but not be left so long that they burn; you may have to lower temperature and add a little more oil.  When cooking is complete, deglaze pan with a little water, stock, wine, or vinegar.  Meanwhile go to next step.

  2. Cut eggplant in small 1″ cubes, set aside.
  3. Roll lemons on counter, pressing down hard with your hand to loosen juices.  Juice lemon and set aside 3 tbsp.
  4. If using fresh garlic, mince now.
  5. In another large pan, heat 1 1/2 tbsp oil in pan; place piece of eggplant in oil; when it sizzles, add rest of eggplant.  Cook until soft, stirring frequently; then, add 1/4 cup of water and deglaze pan (scrape bottom with a wooden or heat resistance plastic spatula to loosen cooked on fond, see photo).  Cook until water is evaporated; this vegetable will be rather mushy.
  6. Stir in onions, lemon juice, and garlic; salt and pepper to taste.  If garlic is fresh, cook only until you can smell it; see Tomato/Feta Chicken-2016/07/25-for tips on cooking with garlic.  If using the frozen cubes, cook just until melted and blended in well.
  7. Gently stir in the can of black beans, which has been drained; do not over-stir, as this breaks down beans.  Adjust seasonings.  May set aside to finish just before serving.  If serving immediately, proceed to step 8, in which case turn down heat to med/low under eggplant (see photo at top of recipe for finished product).
  8. If finishing later, began this step 15 minutes before serving time, otherwise proceed now.  Blend together 4 tsp salt, 2 tsp fresh ground pepper, dried red pepper, garlic powder, ginger, and oregano; rub seasoning into tuna steaks.  (If bean mixture is cold, begin reheating it for 8-10 minutes over medium heat before sautéing tuna, stirring occasionally.)
  9. Melt 4 tbsp oil and 1 tsp sesame oil in a large sauté pan over med/high heat (this must be a heavy-bottom pan).  When oil is sizzling hot, sear steaks 2 minutes per side for med/rare, give or take 1/2 minute for rare or medium.  The time may need adjusting as thickness of steaks varies; you can check the color of tuna, by piercing thickest part of fish with a sharp knife to check for doneness (it should be somewhat red for med/rare).  The color will also show on the sides of the steak.  Do not overcook tuna.
  10. Serve with caramelized onions and carrots (next week’s post).  Enjoy!