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Egyptian massak’aa is easily one the tastiest dishes out there. In this version, sliced eggplants and peppers are lightly fried and then cooked in an irresistible tomato sauce simmering with garlic, onions, cumin, and vinegar. It’s really a simple dish to prepare with complex flavors that will have you mopping your plate spotless with your pita bread. Traditionally, massak’aa is made with ground beef between the layers of eggplant, but the beef can be omitted completely for a vegetarian version. I sub-in parboiled lentils to simmer away with the sauce, so that it is a hearty meal rich in antioxidants and satisfying protein. We love this vegan version and with the pandemic and shortage of beef, I think many of you will enjoy this flavorful option! My version becomes even easier because I make it all in one pan, skipping the deep frying step, but none of the flavor.
During the worldwide pandemic forcing us to stay home and having limited trips to the grocery store, I found myself stocking up on eggplants and peppers as they are among some of the vegetables that hold up quite well first being left outside until it is safe to bring into the home, and then even longer in the refrigerator crisper. Another eggplant favorite recipe that my kids enjoy is the maqlooba, a one pot dish of aromatic spiced rice layered with eggplant, cauliflower, potatoes, and some tomato. So YUM.
I like to use Asian eggplants because the skin is thinner and they have a milder flavor. You need about 3 Asian eggplants for this recipe, or 2 of the globe variety. Traditionally, Egyptians peel strips of the outer skin, which probably helps the eggplant cook down better, but I like to retain the nutrients as much as possible. I only cut off parts that appear like they need to go. I do strip off a few stripes if it is the fatter, globe eggplant, because the skin is thicker on those. The eggplant can carry a lot of water inside that can make them cook tough, and taste bitter. To remedy this, they need to be sprinkled with salt, which draws out all these bitter juices. They can then be blotted up of those juices before sautéing.
For peppers, you can use any combination of green, red, or yellow peppers. I always have all three types, as I love them all. When I cook Middle Eastern dishes I prefer the longer green cubanelle peppers, as they have a milder flavor that goes nicely with the dish. I throw in one jalapeño, sliced open in half so that it can slightly kick up the flavor of the sauce just a little bit, without making it unbearable for the kids in the house. You could definitely add in 2 more if you like more spice, and dicing it will allow the flavor to permeate throughout more of the dish.
Use a red pepper paste by roasting the red bell peppers, peel them, and puree with olive oil and a dash of cayenne. Or simply use a jar like Mina’s Red Pepper Harissa paste. This really adds dimension and flavor to the dish.
This is the perfect recipe to put your soft, overripe tomatoes to work in. I used about 4 really juicy tomatoes, quartered them, and just let them char and get golden before melting into a flavorful chunky tomato sauce. I then supplement 1.5 cups of tomato sauce when I am ready to let it all simmer together.
Cumin, garlic, vinegar, salt and pepper are all the essential flavor agents here. The peppers and tomatoes sauté and sizzle in the pan until they char and develop some color, which releases incredible flavor to this dish. It all comes together once I pour on the tomato sauce all over everything and let them simmer away until they are amalgamated into one creamy and flavorful dish ready for the licking–with some pita bread of course!
You can use beef in this recipe, as is the classic Egyptian method. To do so, prepare the beef by cooking it first in a pot with a whole diced onion, some minced garlic, 1 tbsp of all spice, and some finely diced bell pepper. I do not include this step in my recipe because I always make it vegan. Instead, I throw in 1 cup of parboiled green lentils simmered with a teaspoon of cumin. I boil them for about 10 minutes just so they are halfway cooked so they can cook all the way through with the remainder of the massa’kaa pan.
Per Serving: Calories 188 kcal, Carbohydrates 28g, Protein 9.5g, Saturated Fat0.8g, Sodium 423 mg, Fiber 6g, Sugars 4g
- 3 medium eggplants, sliced in circles 1/2 inch thick 2 cups
- 1 green pepper, diced 1/2 cup
- 1 red or yellow onion, diced 1/2 cup
- 1/2 onion, sliced 1/2 cup
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced
- 4 tomatoes, quartered 1-2 cups, based on preference
- 1.5 c crushed or strained tomatoes
- 2 tbsp olive oil or sunflower oil
- 1 tbsp cumin, ground
- 2 tbsp white vinegar
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 cup brown or green lentils, washed
- Bring a pot of 6 cups of water to a boil. Add the lentils and allow to boil for about 10 minutes, until halfway cooked, but not completely. Drain completely. If you bite one, it should be soft on the outside but firm on the inside. It will continue to cook once added to the massak'a pan.
- Lay the sliced eggplant on a kitchen towel or paper towel and salt it so that the bitter water is drawn out. After about 10 minutes, blot them with a clean towel, brushing off as much salt as possible.
- In a large pan, at least 10" in diameter, add 2 tbsp of oil. Place the onions, peppers, and tomatoes, eggplants throughout and leave them for about 3 minutes to build some color and char. Check them to make sure they do not burn, and slowly turn them over once a golden color is achieved.
- Once all the vegetables have gained some golden color, sprinkle in the cumin, garlic slices, salt and pepper. Allow them to continue to build color. The tomatoes and onions will be all soft and releasing juices by now.
- Add the lentils on top of the sautéed vegetables, and gently fold them in.
- Pour the tomato sauce and vinegar all over the top, gently mix it all in, or simply leave it to cover the top. Cover the pan and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes, until the lentils are cooked through. If you have an oven-safe pan you may also place this in the oven as the classic method bakes the combined layers in the oven at 350 degrees (f).
- Serve hot, or at room temperature, or even cold with pita bread. This is a dish eaten with pita bread sopping up all of the delicious flavors. Enjoy!
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This is one delicious dish unique to North African cuisine. The deep green cilantro and chard stew the vegetables simmer in is a vibrant green hue for good reason. You can see the nutrition in its gorgeous color, and you can be sure that the flavor of this stew will inspire so many new dishes to add to your dinner repertoire! This green stew of chard and cilantro tastes fantastic and has that fragrant aroma of toasted garlic and cilantro common in some of my favorite dishes such as mulokhia, fasulya, or Syrian lentils with pasta. The stew is a broth braised with sautéed green chard, cilantro leaves, and garlic that is pureed into a fine green paste. This is truly a uniquely flavorful and nutrient dense stew to incorporate with many recipes, whether you wish to add fish, meat, or other vegetables. In the traditional Egyptian recipe of my grandmother, this healthful green broth is cooked with the nutritious root vegetable, taro, for a hearty stew to ladle over rice or quinoa for a delicious and complete plant-based meal.
What on earth is COLCASS or TARO?
Colcass is a common stew made in Egypt during the winter months. Colcass is simply the Arabic name for taro. It is a hardy root vegetable that is brown on the outside, but white flesh on the interior, with pink or purple striations. I could not find it fresh here in Chicago, although it is sold in the frozen aisle in any Middle Eastern market. I’d like to take minute to describe the incredible health benefits of taro below, but if you have no access to fresh taro or a Middle Eastern grocery store, then you could simply use potatoes or parsnips as I mention in the recipe.
Taro is commonly used in Asian and North African cuisines. Used as a local winter vegetable, it reflects the natural habit of eating what is in season. The vegetable is a brown tuber root that must be peeled. Once peeled, it is washed thoroughly to remove the slimy texture. The resulting vegetable is a gorgeous white and fibrous root that is similar to a parsnip and potato if they were cross-bred. There are pink striations throughout giving it a lovely color. Taro is high in fiber, antioxidants vitamins A, C, E, B6, folate, and it is even an excellent source for potassium, iron, and magnesium. Because of all of its high nutrient contents, taro is an excellent source of carbohydrates, and can help prevent heart disease and improve gut health due to all of the polyphenols found in the vegetable. It is definitely worth trying it, and is easy to implement if you use the frozen version from the Middle Eastern grocery aisles.
The Basic Ingredients
Taro, Parsnips, or Potatoes, the choice is yours!
As I mentioned, you may have a hard time finding taro. If you find it in the Middle Eastern market, you only need the vegetables in the bag, and not the frozen green herbs packet included (this recipe makes it from scratch!) Aside from using taro, you could use diced potatoes or parsnips. The most significant part of this recipe is the green broth made from the cilantro and chard. It’s important to use local and seasonable vegetables on hand, and because potatoes and parsnips are plentiful during the winters in Chicago, it makes for an excellent and delicious substitute. This dish inspires so many others because the broth is so tasty with many things. My kids could not stop licking up the broth from their spoons! I plan to cook this again with fish, cauliflower, chickpeas, and many other vegetables in this very broth. You will really love the base!
Colcass in Egypt, is originally made with the broth of stew beef. My mom simmers meat with cardamom, bay leaves, coriander, salt and pepper when she makes this dish. Because I make this colcass as a plant-based version, I use vegetable broth but add on the referenced spices. I still sometimes cook stew beef on the side to offer it to my girls. They love this recipe with meat, and if you are a meat eater, please know that the meat is so incredible with the green stew of colcass!
Green chard and cilantro
To make the stew, you need one bunch of green chard, with the thick stems removed. You also need one bunch of cilantro leaves. Some cilantro stems are fine to include, as they are so full of flavor. You need to chop all the leaves in a food processor and then set them in a sieve to drain the water. This is so that you can easily sauté the greens to a crisp. If there is excess water, you will merely boil the leaves, but we want to toast them crispy. Once you add the garlic to the toasted greens, you will add some ground coriander, and the fragrant scent of garlic and cilantro will have you mesmerized. At this point, some broth is added and it is all pureed fine with an immersion blender, or a pestle if you have the patience and want to do it like my Teta (grandma in Arabic) did.
Once the remainder of the broth is added, I add cardamom, salt, and pepper and let it simmer for about 5 minutes.
Large, diced root vegetables are added, and if you are making the traditional Egyptian recipe, the cooked stew beef goes in at this point as well. The stew simmers for 5-10 minutes until the diced vegetables are fork tender. Potatoes can crumble, so you want to be sure to use a firm potato and not over cook it. The green stew is so flavorful and nutritious, I cannot wait to make this stew again with parsnips, potatoes, and even drizzled over white fish.
Check out my how-to video below:
Taro in Chard and Cilantro Stew
- 2 tbsp olive oil or safflower oil
- 1 bunch green chard (2 cups chopped)
- 1 bunch cilantro (1 c chopped)
- 2 tbsp minced fresh garlic
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp cardamom
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 cups vegetable or meat broth
- 2 cups diced taro, peeled and washed well or substitute peeled and diced parsnips or potatoes
- In a large pot over high heat, heat the oil.
- Strain the chopped chard and cilantro and then saute in the hot oil. Stir it around every 2 minutes for about 6-10 minutes, until it becomes dark green and crispy.
- Add the minced garlic with the ground coriander and mix well until fragrant.
- Add 1 cup of broth. Grind the leaves against the pot with a pestle, or use an immersion blender until the greens become fine in the broth.
- Add the remainder of the broth, along with the cardamom, bay leaves, salt and pepper and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add the diced vegetables and cooked stew meat, if you are adding meat. Simmer for 5-10minutes until the taro, potatoes, or parsnips are fork tender. Be careful not to overcook.
- Serve with rice and a lemon wedge and enjoy!
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The weather outside is frightful….and soup sounds so delightful! These cold winter days are perfect for a steaming hot bowl of quinoa lentil soup. This tomato based soup is a hearty, filling, protein packed, and super flavorful meal that echoes the flavors of my famous Egyptian kushary! Nutritious lentils and quinoa simmer away in a delectable broth of tomatoes, onions, garlic, lemon, and cilantro. It can be easily prepared in an Instant Pot to save time and cook all legumes from scratch.
This quinoa lentil soup is actually inspired by kushary, a hearty and flavorful meal that is famous as Egyptian street food. Kushary is a classic comfort food comprised of cooked lentils, layered over a bed of rice, pasta, and garlic and topped with crispy onions and a spicy, zesty, garlicky, lemon-vinegar tomato sauce. It is a delicious bowl of comfort, and big on carbs. This soup has a similar flavor profile, but it is much lighter and made with more plant protein. I cut down the carbs by swapping out the rice for protein-packed quinoa, and kept the pasta minimal with little vermicelli noodles (sometimes I use orzo too). I even serve up this soup topped with crispy caramelized onions. This is such a treat!
I use dried chickpeas and lentils and cook them fresh. The flavor and bite is substantially improved and really does not compare to canned. If you have an Instant Pot, it is a cinch to prep the chickpeas. I usually cook 2-3 cups in advance for the week and I save them in the fridge or the freezer, depending how soon I will use them.
I only use green or brown lentils for this recipe. They cook instantly in 3 minutes in the instant pot. Red lentils do not work for this soup. They are actually shelled so they will cook down too quickly and become mushy in this recipe.
I love using quinoa in this soup instead of the rice that is in kushary. Quinoa has more of a bite to it and keeps its shape, even when you serve this soup a few days later. White or rainbow quinoa works in this recipe. When I add the quinoa, I turn the pot setting to saute, so that it is only simmering lightly. I simmer the quinoa for only 10 minutes so it does not become too soft. Of course, this can all be done in a regular pot. The lentils will just take a longer amount of time to cook.
The texture of these superfood grains simmering in the lemony tomato broth is so delicious! This soup is naturally vegan, plant-based, and can be gluten free. It is nothing short on flavor! I use a lot of lemon, onions, and garlic to reflect the flavor profile of kushary and its zesty tomato sauce. You can optionally kick up the soup a notch by sprinkling in some cayenne pepper too. Check out my video recipe to see how quick and easy this recipe is.Jump to Video
Quinoa Lentil Soup
- Instant Pot
- 1 c cooked or dry chickpeas See step 1 to cook the chickpeas in Instant Pot
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion half sliced, half diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1-2 tomatoes, diced
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 1 tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tbsp salt, more to taste
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 2 c strained tomatoes
- 3 c broth vegetable or chicken
- 4 c water, plus more as needed
- 1 tbsp corn starch
- 1 c lentils
- 1/2 c quinoa
- 1/2 c vermicelli or orzo
- 1 fresh lemon, juiced
- 1 bunch of cilantro, minced
- pita bread *optional
- I start with cooking chickpeas from scratch. Use 1 cup of dry chickpeas and cook them in the Instant Pot by covering them with water and pressure cook for 60 minutes (high pressure). Drain and set aside 1 cup of cooked chickpeas for the soup and store the rest.
- Over high heat, or on the saute setting of an Instant Pot, cook the diced onion in 2 tbsp of olive oil until yellow. Add the garlic and diced tomatoes.
- Add the cumin, coriander, and pepper and stir well for about 2 minutes until tomatoes have softened.
- Add 4 cups of water, followed by the lentils. Close the lid of the Instant pot and pressure cook by pressing manual and adjust to 3 minutes (high pressure). If using a regular pot, simmer on low for 20 minutes until lentils are cooked.
- While the lentils cook, fry the sliced onions in a sauce pan with the remaining 2 tbsp of oil. Once the onions begin to soften, sprinkle on the corn starch to help them crisp up. Saute over medium-high heat until the onions become golden and crispy. Set aside for serving.
- Once the lentils have cooked, stir the soup and make sure there is still enough liquid. If it has thickened too much, add 1 more cup of water.
- Make sure the pot is now set to saute setting (15 minutes) to simmer the soup. Add the strained tomatoes and broth, along with the salt.
- Add the quinoa. Allow the soup to simmer for 10 minutes more so that the quinoa cooks.
- Add the vermicelli or orzo pasta and cook for about 5 minutes more.
- Add most of the cilantro, reserving some for garnishing. Turn off the heat. Add the lemon juice and serve.
- Garnish with fried onions, cilantro, and serve with pita.
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