Saturday, 17 February 2018


Caramelised onion and the nuttiness of cooked lentils. A familiar scent that wafted through my grandparents' home every Friday without fail. Growing up amongst Maronite Catholics, Fridays were meat free all year around. That didn't mean that my Tayta was going to let us go without a phenomenal feast. Mjadra was always on the table.

This is a go to dish for those of you who are fasting, experimenting with plant based foods or trying to reduce your meat intake. It's also gluten free and lactose free. Do not be fooled by mjadra's humble appearance and simplicity. There is a reason why families all over the Middle East serve this (and its many variations) every week without fail. Even my carnivorous in-laws and my fussy five year old nephew request 'special rice' at every family get together.

You'll be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to make.

3 sliced onions
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup green lentils -washed and drained
1 cup basmati rice -washed three times and drained
3 cups of boiled water
salt to taste

1) In a medium sized pot, fry the onions in olive oil. Start on a low/medium heat until the onions soften, then increase the heat until the onions are caramelised. After this, argue with your mother about whether or not the onions should be burned. True story, many people prefer the onions completely blackened. It's entirely up to your taste. If you are going to take the onions further, you will need more olive oil.

2) Remove the onions from the pot, leaving the oil behind. If a few stray onions remain, let them be. They'll just boost the flavour.

3) Add the drained lentils to the pot carefully, as the residual moisture from the lentils will make the oil spit. Add the boiled water and salt. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Taste the broth for salt at this point. Adjust to taste.

4) Add rice, cover the pot and simmer for a further 10 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Leave the pot to stand for 10 minutes.

5) Spread the rice on a platter and smother with caramelised onions.

Tip: This dish can be served hot or at room temperature. My personal preference is to eat it piping hot, with fresh garden salad dressed in lemon and crushed garlic.

When you eat this dish, I ask that you think of my talented Tayta's legacy. Meat free doesn't have to be taste free!


For more videos and recipe ideas, find me on Instagram: @maryj_1

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Lebanese Vine Leaves

What did the Lebanese Mamma say to the vine leaves growing in her garden?

"Get stuffed!"

And the rest is history.

Before any nation or region tries to claims the origins of this brilliant concept, allow me to say that I adore stuffed vine leaves in its various forms. Don't care who started it! Just glad that it happened. Shout out to the cabbages, onions, capsicums and zucchinis out there. They may not appear in this dish's title, but they hold a special place in my heart/ stomach (same same).

The variation that I'm sharing is, of course, my Tayta's. No surprises, you're in for a whole lot of lemon and garlic. There are plenty of other versions, so if you enjoy this recipe, don't stop here! Try using capsicum paste, pomegranate molasses or change up the stuffing. The possibilities are deliciously endless.

Why share this recipe? Annual Lemon Juicing Day (it's a real thing in my family) just passed. Right when I had 60kg of freshly juiced lemons at my disposal, my colleague delivered the last of her vine leaves to my classroom. It was a sign.

50 vine leaves (fresh or preserved)
3 onions
1 capsicum
2 cups of washed rice (of your own choosing. I prefer basmati)
500g mince lamb
A few lamb chops
1 cup lemon juice (to taste)
1 head of garlic
1 tablespoon of baharat (Lebanese 7 Spice)
Boiled water
salt to taste
1) If using fresh vine leaves, place in a bowl and cover with boiled water. Allow to blanch until the colour changes and the leaves are softer to the touch. Drain and cut off stems.

If you do not have an awesome colleague who delivers fresh vine leaves, you can purchase preserved vine leaves from any Mediterranean grocery store. Be sure to wash and soak them in cool water for 15 minutes to an hour. This will remove some of the briny flavour.
2) Peel the onions and make one cut into the core. Microwave for 7 minutes. Peel apart the layers.
3) Hollow a capsicum or any other vegetables that you wish to stuff.

4) Prepare the stuffing by mixing the rice, meat, baharat and some salt (to taste).  Don't be shy. Get those hands dirty! It may appear that the meat to rice ratio is off balance. Rest assured, the rice will expand and the meat will shrink.

5) Start rolling and stuffing, as below. Lebanese friends, judge me all you like. When I visited the Motherland back in 2010, it was a battle of the finest fingers. The smaller and tighter the rolling, the more acclaimed the cook. Sorry Aunties and Mammas, but ain't nobody got time for that!


6) Assemble, starting with lamb chops at the bottom. Try to pack the other ingredients in tightly and place a heavy plate over the top. This will stop the ingredients from moving while boiling.

7) Cover with boiled water, by about 2 centimetres. You can add water throughout the process if it absorbs too quickly. Simmer for 40 minutes, with the lid on.
8) Crush garlic, using salt to create friction. Bring lemon juice to room temperature (if you keep it stored in the refrigerator or freezer).

9) Remove the lid and plate. Cut a vine leaf open to check if the rice is close to being cooked. Add water if necessary. Otherwise, tip the lemon juice in and cover with crushed garlic and salt to taste. Put the plate back on the ingredients and simmer for another 15 minutes.

10) Remove the plate and serve. Don't be concerned if the garlic turns blue :)

As promised, the meat the rice ratio is juuuust right after cooking.

And would you look at those chops...

If you ask me, it tastes even better the next day after soaking up all of the lemony goodness . Perfect for lunch boxes. Just reheat and eat.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Lemon and Garlic Chicken Soup

Whenever I caught a cold my Jedo would always say that I needed to drink Araq (Lebanese moonshine) and eat more lemon and garlic. The great man lived for 96 years. He knew his stuff. 

Now, I can't reveal his Araq recipe, but I can share a tip or two about cooking with lemon and garlic. Lemon contains a significant amount of Vitamin C, and garlic has been used as a natural antibiotic for centuries. It's used in a variety of Lebanese recipe bases. As the cold and flu season rears its ugly head, it makes perfect sense to get this traditional soup on the stove. In my grandparents' village in Lebanon (Rachine) the name of this dish translates to 'Potato with Lemon and Garlic'. That's right, no mention of chicken. It's all about that base. 

A word of advice. If you want to keep up with the lemon needs in my family, buy boxes of lemons when they're in season. Squeeze, jar, freeze.

Another word of advice. Get to Flemington Markets before my family. No lemon will be left behind.

1 whole chicken 
1/2 kg potatoes
6 cloves of garlic
2 tsp salt
300mL lemon juice
2L water
Olive oil for frying
Salt to taste

The awesome foursome that make this dish magical

1) Butcher the chicken into smaller pieces, leaving the skin on. Cut the potatoes in half or quarters. You may wish to peel the potatoes, but I like to take advantage of all the goodness in the skins.

2) Brown the chicken and potatoes in a lightly oiled pan.

3) Flip the chicken and potatoes, ensuring that all sides are browned.

4) Crush the cloves of garlic and salt in a mortar and pestle. Adding the salt at this stage creates friction, turning the garlic into a fine paste.

5) Boil the water in a large stockpot and add the crushed garlic to it. Place the cooked chicken and potatoes to the pot. Allow to boil for 15 to 20 minutes.

6) If you do not have frozen jars of lemon juice handy (seriously, why not?) squeeze fresh lemons. For 300 mL, you will need about 5 medium lemons.

7) Add the lemon juice to the boiling stockpot, and allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Salt to taste, then serve!

For the fussier eaters out there, you may wish to remove the chicken from the bone, or even swap the whole chicken for fillets. You won't get the same full bodied stock, but it will do the job!

Whether you need a rescue remedy, or you just love lemon, sahtein! 

Sunday, 20 November 2016


Duckers, I have something for you that you will not regret or forget. Sambousek. These little pockets of lamb (or your preferred filling) will leave even the fussiest of eaters smiling. It's no wonder that they're made all over the Middle East. The version that I bring to you today is Lebanese. My tayta, aunties and my mamma have been rolling them out just like this for decades. When you first start, you won't be quite as quick as my aunties, aka the sambousek ninja warriors. Don't be put off. Once you get the hang of it, it will be worth it.

Sambousek with my (in)famous houmous- recipe to come. 

NOTE: When you make sambousek in Lebanese proportions, it's best to have a production line (made up of 20 of your closest cousins of course!) In case cousins aren't available, I have provided measurements for about one tenth of what my family would make in a sitting. 

These do freeze beautifully. If you have the time and freezer space,  I recommend that you stock up.

4 cups plain flour
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 tablespoon salt
Water as required
Extra flour for dusting

1/2 kg coarsely minced lamb 
1/2 onion chopped
1 tsp baharat (Lebanese spice mix found in any good continental grocery store)
1/2 tsp salt
Black pepper (to taste)
Handful pinenuts
Handful roughly chopped almonds (optional non-traditional delicious addition)
1 tsp ghee


1) Combine all of the dough ingredients and knead by hand. When the dough binds, separate it into 2 or 3 balls of dough, dust with flour, and place under a damp tea towel. Allow to rest, however this step isn't entirely necessary, considering that this recipe contains no yeast. It will make the dough easier to roll out.

2) While the dough rests, prepare your filling. I ask my butcher to cut up a few lamb chops by hand, or I do it myself. I find that it adds a bit of extra texture. Other people (including my mamma) prefer mince. Either way, cook off the lamb slowly until most of the juices are absorbed back into the lamb. Add the onion, baharat, salt and black pepper. Cook for a few more minutes then turn off the heat.

3) Toast the nuts in ghee and add them to the mix. If you don't wish to use ghee, butter or oil will do. I figure that if I'm going to deep fry these pretty parcels, I'd better make the artery clogging process count. Ghee for the win!

4) Dust a rolling pin with flour, and roll out one of the balls of dough. I like about 2mm of thickness. Use a mug or a cup to cut out circles of your desired size.

 5) Start shaping! I like to be generous with filling, however there can be some explosions if you get a bit carried away.

Check out the video below for a bit of help with shaping.

If you really don't like the process, just fork it.

Keep on going.

Aaaand going...

6) Fry on medium heat until the sambousek is golden. Turn once.

 7) Drain on paper towel.

8) Serve alone or with your favourite mezza. Houmous recipe coming soon :)

And what about that left over dough you ask? Get creative.

Here are some cheesy pizza bites. I just used some pepperoni, pizza blend cheese and oregano.

And here is a giant Nutella triangle.

 Dust with icing sugar, and serve hot.

Let me know if you come up with any other delicious fillings. Enjoy!