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Tomato Cucumber Middle Eastern Salad

This is a delicious salad that goes with many rice dishes in Arab countries. It is so good and so easy.

Ingredients

2 cucumbers, peeled, cut lengthwise and into thin strips, then cut into little pieces.

4 Roma tomatoes, wash and chop into small pieces

1 carrot, peeled and grated

1 garlic clove minced

1/2 bunch of fresh parsley chopped

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juice of 2 lemons

3 Tbs. Olive oil

salt to taste

Mix all ingredients and chill

Morning villa

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Kitchen area, fan and brown window

That night our 10 boxes had been lined up along the empty living room wall. As tired as we were the kids and I ripped open tape and rummaged through each box to find the new, fresh pillows I had purchased and brought along. At the time it seemed like a strange idea to buy pillows, but I did anyway. I also packed 2 blankets passed on to us years before by a man who finished school and left everything he owned in his vacant apartment to go back home. They were big rough blankets, light and dark browns with images of horses or some type of animal. We found the blankets and pillows and made a make shift bed on the floor. We slept in the men’s mejalis (sitting room for male guests) or any other room, it didn’t much matter as each was interchangeable with the other.

Sleep came easily to us after hours of traveling, the kids had laid on their seats resting their heads against each other. They slept intermittently throughout each flight. For me it was different, my 20 month old daughter had no seat so she sat on my lap,which at this point had shrunk down to a small space. I shifted between having her on my lap and letting her sleep on the floor in front of me in the bed the airline provided. This meant a quite ridiculous picture of a woman, 8 months pregnant resting her legs up near the food tray because there was no other place to put them! Then when Foof woke, having her sit on my small space of a lap while I rested my weary feet back on the floor. What a site!  I didn’t sleep much just a nod off here and there when my head would jerk forward waking me from the few minutes of sleep I was able to catch. So, sleep overtook me quite easily that night. We all snuggled up next to each other as we always did at home and slept on our make shift bed.

I awoke with that feeling when you are on vacation or visiting Grama when you think you are home but then realize your surroundings are not the same. I peered out of one eye to see that things had not changed and were as I had remembered them when I went to sleep. My two older children were not there so this woke me from my heavy sleep. I turned on my side, hips throbbing, I crawled to a position that would enable use of my hands. I slowly stood and straightened out my body.  I roamed around the villa to see in the light of day that things looked the same, but every line on the walls, each crack through the plywood and lack of furniture was much more evident. I felt a sudden twinge, that sick feeling when you panic and question, your mind bolts and races and wanders. I then composed myself and tried to remember that I was a God fearing, good woman, we came to this place not for glamour or fun but to start a new life, to raise the kids in a safe environment, to learn a new language and culture. Yes, this was the right choice and I would carry on and make things the very best.

I called for my boys and finally they answered, they had been used to playing in their play house in the back yard, running through the green grass and riding bikes. So, they had gone exploring looking for that place to play. Directly out of the brown door were the stairs that had led us to this place, going up was the roof which was surrounded by tall ( 5 to 6 foot) cement walls. Downstairs was a small courtyard where a car would be parked, but now was empty.

With the boys safe and occupied, I made my way back into the living room. It was hot in the villa with no a/c and everything closed up. I walked to the wall and peered up to the brown, plastic window. I reached up and pulled until it opened.

A small breeze gently caressed my face, the sweat beads dried on my forehead and I felt a momentary relief. The next thing was water and food, I went to the kitchen, a room with a sink and a counter next to it, a small drain in the middle of the floor. Where would I find food or water? Was the water in the sink drinkable? The children would wake soon and they would be hungry. On the counter a small sack from the local bukala (neighborhood store) inside were several bottles of water and a melted container of sticky mango ice cream.

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My BBQ Chicken Pizza

The first time I tried BBQ Chicken Pizza was at a pizza place in Riyadh. I loved it and set to making my own signature pizza. I have made it ever since and my kids just love it. I hope you will too! I cut the recipe way down and put approximate measurements. Like many cooks I usually don’t measure but go by the look of the dough etc. So this is an estimate!

Ingredients

Crust

3 cups flour

1/2 cup warm water for dissolving yeast mixed with 1 tsp. sugar

1 envelope  yeast

1 cup warm water

1 tsp. salt

3 Tbs.Olive oil

Topping

1 Chicken breast chopped into bite size pieces

1 large onion chopped

1 bottle BBQ sauce of choice

1/8 cup water

Mozzarella cheese grated

Directions

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Put flour, salt and oil in mixer. Add yeast and water to flour and mix. Use a dough hook and knead or use your hands. Knead for a few minutes, shape into a ball, cover and let rise to double in size. Add a little more flour a spoon at a time only if needed to make dough easier to work with.

Chop onions and place in large frying pan and saute in olive oil, add chicken and let cook, add 1 cup of BBQ sauce (reserve 1/2 cup to put on pizza crust) and water, bring to a boil, turn heat down, cover and simmer. Let the chicken cook until done and simmer so it soaks up the flavor. These are approximate measurements.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

When dough has risen, punch down. Shape into a ball.  Prepare pan using cooking spray or  use a non stick pan. I use the pans with holes in the bottom, they give a crunchier crust. Roll dough out and shape into circle, lay in pan.

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Top with BBQ sauce left over from bottle, spread evenly over crust as you would if you were using pizza sauce.Using a slotted spoon scoop up onions and chicken and some sauce and place around over crust.

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Place on bottom rack of oven for 12-15 minutes. Take out of oven, sprinkle cheese on pizza lightly. Move to top rack and cook another 10 minutes or until done. Remove and cut. Watch pizza carefully so that it doesn’t burn. Make sure it has had enough time on bottom rack before moving it to top rack so that crust is crunchy.

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Our favorite Quiche, three different kinds

My mother always made quiche with bits of bacon, Swiss cheese and the other usual ingredients. Years later when I had children of my own she started making a vegetarian quiche with broccoli and carrots. Most of my children loved quiche and so I made a few variations of my own. I have always cooked for my kids and tend to adjust things so they will like or love! My son wasn’t a huge fan of quiche so I made one heavy with onions and sausage and now it’s a favorite!  The three quiche recipes I will be passing on today are favorites for us,  sausage and onions, veggie, spinach and feta

Ingredients

1 single pie crust of your choice

Sausage Onion Quiche

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1 onion chopped and sauteed

brown and serve type sausage, prepared according to directions and chopped up.

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Veggie Quiche

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1 crown of broccoli cut into small pieces boiled and drained

2 carrots peeled, thinly sliced, boiled and drained

1/2 onion chopped sauteed in Olive Oil

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Feta and Spinach Quiche

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2 cloves garlic chopped and sauteed in olive oil, add 2 cups fresh spinach chopped. Saute until done.

1 cup feta cheese

Filling

This amount is for one pie only, 4 eggs- whisk well, add 2 cups half and half, 1 tsp. salt, dash of pepper, whisk very well.

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For each Quiche, roll out crust thin, place in pie plate.Put toppings on crust. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

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Pour filling mixture over crust.

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Bake for 40 minutes or until done.

Let cool for a bit. Cut and serve.

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Egg Spinach breakfast wrap

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I am not a big fan of breakfast and can be picky when I go out and eat breakfast at restaurants. I usually go with something safe like french toast or pancakes, but when I was out once having breakfast with my grandparents I accidentally tried something similar to this egg spinach wrap. It’s flavor and ingredients were very different but had the same concept of the recipe I have come up with!

Ingredients

3 tomatoes

1 1/2 cups fresh spinach

1 1/2 tsp basil

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup feta cheese

olive oil

Pita bread or wrap

3 eggs (1 egg per wrap)

Directions

Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a pan and put it on medium. Cut your tomatoes into large chunks, about 4 pieces each. Place them in the pan with the olive oil and let them saute about 15 minutes so they are saucy. Add your fresh spinach and also let that cook for a couple of minutes until it has broken down. Add your basil, salt and feta cheese. Mix all of that up just until it is blended together.

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In a bowl crack one egg and salt it like you would if you were making normal eggs. Put a fry pan on high with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Once it heats up, pour your egg into the fry pan and DO NOT SCRAMBLE IT! You want to make it like you would if you were making an omelette.

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When your egg is cooked you will want to fold it over and place it on the pita bread. Add the spinach and tomato sauce on top! ENJOY!!!

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Foof

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The first of my 9 children who will share one their recipes, is Foof. She was a darling little girl who ran around inside the safe walls of the compound playing and riding her bike. I hollered out the door for her and had to track her down quite frequently. She attended the American school in Riyadh for one year in Kindergarten. She refused to wear socks with her shoes and crawled under the bathroom stalls (her teacher called to inform me!) locking the doors so students were locked out!

Foof never cooked or stayed in much at all, she was always with her friends playing school (she was the teacher, helper and principal), One day about 4 years ago she made some brownies and started looking through recipes. She loves baking and now cooking as well.

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Family Food

I’ve already introduced myself as a mom of 9 and home cook! But, living the Middle Eastern life style you must cook and that means from scratch, often times all day, big cooking!  While living in Seattle my friends and I traded recipes, tips and stories until we perfected homemade Arabic bread, cheese and even yogurt. While living in Saudi that meant cooking many American dishes totally from scratch without key ingredients.

When my kids and I relocated to the U.S. 6 years ago, I worked to support the family at various jobs, a paper route at 2 a.m., a cook for a local girl’s college co-op and cleaning buildings. At that time I had 7 kids at home, and had little time or interest in cooking. Cooking had also become a chore, a drag! So cooking meant chicken nuggets and mac and cheese, which wasn’t bad but not what we were used to.

After things settled down a bit I was able to stay home and work on getting my kids into school and adjusted to our new life. My daughter worked on her GED as well as working at a local restaurant. I had two boys and a girl that were now attending public school and two little ones at home being schooled by me!! My daughter Fattima invited her boss, his wife and kids for dinner. I hadn’t done “real” cooking for about 3 years! Of course we ate, just not the kind of food it takes hours to cook. I thought about what I would make and came up with a Palestinian rice dish, Maclube or upside down. It is a rice dish layered with eggplant and chicken. I decided that would be fine for a main dish.

I set to work and made the dish. I had about 5 chicken legs left over that would not fit into my baking dish. They were spiced with the typical Middle Eastern flavors, cinnamon, allspice, cumin etc.  and had been cooked to a tender falling off the bone point. I didn’t think the kids would have much interest in a pile of chicken legs but told them just the same.

I sat in my chair, the mom recliner, for a break. I put my feet up, sipped on my coffee and laid my head back. A few minutes went past, I heard hurried footsteps in the kitchen, cupboards jiggling, laughing and playful arguing. I had to see what was going on. I entered the kitchen to find my 21, 19,17, 15 and 13 year old children all gathered around a baking dish lined with the bones of chicken legs. Their faces were covered in broth dripping from the chicken. They were laughing and reminiscing about mom standing in the kitchen holding a baby, little ones tugging on her shirt wanting to “help” in the kitchen, which meant taste anything that was cooking! They said their fondest memories were of mom waiting for their return from school with a smile, the smell of onions, garlic and spices, fresh baked cake, cookies, those smells greeting them at the door. They argued over the last bit of chicken as they laughed and joked!  I decided that is was time to get back to family cooking and that is where it all started. Now four years and many chicken legs later, I have embraced my love for cooking again!

One day after my son and I finished a phone call where we discussed many things but always got back to …. cooking, I found it very exciting, wow he loves to cook! And he is a fantastic cook, makes homemade pies, pizza, calzone, and he puts his own signature on each dish! I started thinking of each of my children from oldest to youngest and I was amazed, the oldest ones all have excellent cooking skills, and several of them have a creative and passionate interest in cooking! I told each of my kids how strange it was that so many of them loved to cook, they looked at me and laughed and then reminded  me that they were raised in a house that revolved around cooking, baking, dessert nights for neighbors, huge dinner parties and COOKING!

For this reason, I think it would be fun to feature one of my kids every couple weeks and a dish they love to cook! So we will start with my daughter.