Spinach & Sumac TurnoversThe allure of sumac and bulgur and tamarind and orange blossom water led me head first into Pomegranates & Pine Nuts, a 2013 cookbook by Bethany Kehdy. The book promised me “a stunning collection of Lebanese, Moroccan and Persian recipes” -- all current buzzwords in the realm of cookbooks.

First, I tried the “Spinach & Sumac Turnovers,” eased into the task by the assurances of premade Wholly Wholesome organic pie dough, which I could roll out and cut myself. The recipe’s meticulous measurements (2.75 oz. spinach!) made me giggle. I suggest you chop your spinach and your onion in the food processor, so your stuffing is as compact as possible. The agony of this recipe is in all of the massaging and squeezing and crying (onion!), to dry the filling. I did have leftover filling, but enjoyed the rolling/pinching process with the dough.

I baked these for 11:30 minutes. The sumac and allspice gave us a sour/tangy filling, which was totally fine and totally kid-friendly. Turnovers are crowd-pleasers, always.

Lentil, Bulgur & Tamarind PilafNext, I made the “Lentil, Bulgur & Tamarind Pilaf,” which became a surprising collection of “spicy” garlic and familiar flavors. The hand-mashing of tamarind pulp is a bit tedious, but I managed through it. After that, the recipe includes the reassurances of lentils and bulgur, both easy and both forgiving.

Honestly, I gasped at the amounts of onion and garlic and cilantro here: like a dare or a test. My onions needed more than 5 minutes to “lightly color.” After all the wilting, I added 2 1/2 tsp. kosher salt to my pilaf. I did indeed toast some panko breadcrumbs to sprinkle on top: a necessary addition. My audience gobbled up this pilaf, a winner for all.

Ginger & Molasses Semolina Marble CakeFinally, I made the “Ginger & Molasses Semolina Marble Cake” from the same cookbook (recipe below). I was intrigued by the inclusion of fine semolina, fresh ginger, date molasses, and orange blossom water.

Ginger & Molasses Semolina Marble Cake
Pomegranates & Pine Nuts
Serves 4

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 cups fine semolina
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/3 cup plain yogurt
3 1/4-inch piece gingerroot, peeled and shredded
zest of 1 lemon
2 tsp. date molasses
1/3 cup blanched almonds

For the syrup:
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. superfine sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. orange blossom water

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 1/2-inch square baking pan with a little butter and line the bottom with parchment paper. Melt the remaining butter in a small saucepan, then set aside to cool.

Put the semolina, sugar and baking soda in a large mixing bowl. Pour in the melted butter and rub well with your fingers to combine.

Pour the yogurt into a pitcher, add the ginger and lemon zest and mix well. Pour the mixture over the semolina mixture and mix again.

Put the date molasses in a ramekin and dilute it with a few drops of water, so that it will be easier to drizzle off the teaspoon.

Spoon one-third of the semolina mixture into the prepared baking pan and shake gently to even out the surface, then drizzle one-third of the diluted molasses over the top. Repeat with another third of the semolina mixture and molasses. Top with the remaining mixture and molasses.

Using a skewer, knife or fork, gently swirl the mixture around in the baking pan a few times to create a marbled effect. Don’t overmix. Smooth the surface, then, using a sharp knife, score the surface into diamond or square patterns (you’ll have to slice again after baking, but this is to make sure the almonds will not be randomly placed), then place an almond in the middle of each diamond or square. Bake the cake in the oven 30 to 45 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Meanwhile, if making the syrup, put 4 Tbsp. water, the sugar, lemon juice and orange blossom water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat and stir well. Bring to a boil and keep at a rolling boil about 5 minutes, stirring often until well incorporated, thickened and syrupy. Stir well and set aside.

Remove the cake from the oven, leave to cool for a few minutes, then turn it out onto a plate. Gently peel off the parchment paper. Slice into diamonds or squares, as marked earlier. Taste a small piece, adding syrup if liked.

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Let me say I had mixed feelings about this cake, once I cooked it and tasted it. I also resented not having a photo of the cake in the cookbook. My baking self-esteem is low enough, that I benefit from seeing the final cake goal.

The cake did indeed smell great as it baked. The batter was too thick though, due to the high-gluten semolina flour, typically used to make pasta. I chopped my ginger in the food processor, to ensure that I had no clumps of it in my cake, but I believe it conveyed a bitterness to my flavor, which was not sweet, overall. And I tried to accept this, convincing myself that a Middle Eastern cake may not be as sweet as my American mouth wants.

The salvation, here, was that orange blossom water in the syrup. Oh the scent of it made me swoon, made me dizzy with happy dreams. The syrup drizzle could save this cake…just make sure not to burn the syrup!

Spinach (2.75 oz.) = .74¢
Onion = .51¢
Pie Dough = $4.49
Red Onions (3) = .93¢
Garlic Bulb = .47¢
Lemon = .37¢

PREP TIMES: turnovers require massaging, squeezing, then rolling, filling, baking (less than an hour, total); pilaf requires tamarind mashing, lots of chopping, then an hour of cooking; the cake will take two hours of your time, with all the prep, molasses, almonds, and syrup
turnovers = sour/tangy; pilaf = spicy and satisfyingly familiar; cake = odd

Next time, I will once again try a recipe from this cookbook, Pomegranates & Pine Nuts. This time, it’ll be the “Chicken Basteeya” (recipe below), which indulges in chicken legs, phyllo pastry, and -- once again -- orange blossom water. Come back to my site next week, to see how this one works.

Chicken Basteeya
Pomegranates & Pine Nuts
Serves 4

2 Tbsp. sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 lb. 2 oz. chicken legs and thighs
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
4 eggs
1 handful cilantro, finely chopped
1 handful parsley, finely chopped
juice and zest of 1 small lemon
1 cup blanched almonds
3 Tbsp. confectioners’ sugar
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp. orange blossom water
7 or 8 sheets phyllo pastry dough, thawed if frozen
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed skillet pan over medium heat. Add the onion and fry 5 minutes, or until soft and translucent.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add it to the pan. Sear 3 to 4 minutes, browning on both sides, then drain off any excess fat. Add the garlic, ginger and turmeric and cook 1 minute, or until aromatic, tossing the chicken to coat. Cover with 2 cups water and simmer 30 minutes, or until the chicken juices run clear when the thickest part of a thigh is pierced with the tip of a sharp knife.

Remove the chicken from the broth, leaving the broth in the pan, and set the chicken aside to cool in a bowl. Boil the chicken broth until it reduces by about half, then whisk in the eggs one at a time until the eggs and broth form a scramble. You might find you don’t need to use all the eggs. Set aside to cool.

Once the chicken is slightly cooler, shred the meat and discard the bones. Add the herbs and lemon zest and juice to the chicken.

Grind the almonds into a rough paste in a food processor, then mix in the confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon and orange blossom water and stir to combine. Add this to the chicken along with the egg mixture. Stir to combine. If convenient, you can prepare the recipe to this stage one day in advance.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Remove the sheets of phyllo dough from their packaging and cover them quickly with a damp dish towel to stop them drying out. Working with one sheet at a time, evenly spoon 4 or 5 Tbsp. of the chicken mixture along the long edge of the dough. Roll the dough tightly into a long tube. Repeat with the remaining phyllo sheets and chicken mixture.

Transfer the phyllo rolls to a 12-inch square or round baking pan. Starting from the outer edge, add the phyllo rolls as you work inward to cover the bottom of the pan like a coiled snake. Drizzle the melted butter over the coiled dough and bake 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown. Lightly dust with cinnamon and confectioners’ sugar, then slice into bite-size pieces. Serve warm.