Middle Eastern Sun and Salad

May 8 – May 14, 2023

Monday:                      Tuscan White Bean Soup with Parmesan Toasts

Tuesday:                      Pino’s Restaurant with Tim and Hilda and Sandy and Gene

Wednesday:                Berbere Spiced Chicken and Pepper Skewers with

Crispy Chick Pea, Cucumber and Mint Salad

Thursday:                    Pasta “Ncasciata (Sicilan Baked Pasta)

Friday:        Here is one of Andrew’s photos from Bucharest, the Paris of the East

Sunday:                        Barbecued Ribs and Beans with Cole Slaw

Horse Chestnut in Full Bloom in the hood

Middle Eastern Sun and Salad

The Big (spring) Chill in Pittsburgh is over.  Pasty-faced people who haven’t seen the sun since last summer are walking through our neighborhoods like the ghosts of winter past.  The loud, hysterical laughter of children and the insistent barking of dogs fills the air.  Grass needs to be cut, blooms and flowers to be harvested, gardens to be planted and winter fencing (the damn deer) taken down.  As a traditional English poem has it:

Sumer is icomen in / Lhud sing cuccu / Groweth sed and bloweth med / And springeth the wud nu

Sung cuccu

Awe bleteth after lomb / Loweth after calve cu / Bulluc sterteth, buck verteth

Murie sing cuccu

Cuccu, cuccu / Well singeth thu cuccu / Ne swik thu naver nu

Sing cuccu nu, sing cuccu

Sing cuccu nu, sing cuccu

Note:  If you need help with Middle English, start reading Chaucer and you’ll pick it up in a day or two.

I apologize for the buck in that poem.  Ruminants have never been known for their manners, but I don’t care because I am basking in the near Mediterranean sun that has spread across Western Pennsylvania for much of the last two weeks.  And that same sun, last week, turned my mind to Middle Eastern spices and food.  Well – it turned my mind to Milk Street Magazine which has been focused on Middle Eastern flavors and foods for some time.  And I came across a page with kabobs and a salad of chickpeas and cucumbers and I thought, what the heck, this fits perfectly with the Easter/Passover season.  And, in fact, that meal was delicious, partly because of the company, partly because of the cook, partly because the ingredients and flavorings were perfect for the weather and the mood of us northern mole-people in the spring.

You’re on your own with the kabob – but, really, you could just grill chicken or a burger to go along with this fantastic salad –the recipe is below.


Adapted from Milk Street Magazine, May-June, 2023

 Note:  It turns out that Milk Street lists this as a savory South Asian street snack, but I’m not buying it.  Chickpeas are a staple of the Middle East – whoever heard of a Cambodian or Thai hummus?

Timing:                                                            20-25 minutes

Ingredients:                                           Serves 4-6

1 English cucumber cut into ¼-inch pieces or 1 ½ pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and finely chopped.

Note:  We used cucumber and tossed in some diced cherry tomatoes.  If you quarter the cucumber lengthwise and then cut into ¼” pieces you’ll have the perfect size to match the chickpeas and the salad will be easier to eat.

15 ½ ounce can chickpeas drained and rinsed.  (Usually, I drain but do not rinse chickpeas.  But in this case, you’ll be frying the chickpeas and will find it easier to dry them after rinsing.  After they sit in a colander for a minute or so, pour them onto a paper towel and gently pat dry.  You will not get them perfectly dry and that’s okay.

2 tablespoons cornstarch / ¼ cup neutral oil / 2 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest or lime zest, plus 2 tablespoons of juice from either fruit.

1 cup roughly chopped mint or cilantro.  We used mint and did not pack the cup.

Kosher salt and ground black pepper*

Optional garnish – thinly sliced Fresno or jalapeño peppers, sliced into thin rings.

*’Ground’ as opposed to ‘milled’, that super fine pepper dust you often get in diners.  All modern recipes call for ‘fresh’ ground black pepper, but I think the coarse grind you can buy in the spice aisle, is just fine.


Cut up the cucumber and toss it in a colander set over a medium bowl with some salt.  Let this stand for at least 15 minutes.

Drain, rinse and pat the chickpeas dry.  Then, in a medium bowl toss them with the cornstarch and after you’ve tossed enough to get them all coated, put them into a sieve and shake to remove any excess cornstarch.

Crisp the Chickpeas:

In a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat the oil until it shimmers.  Add the chickpeas and cook until golden brown and crisp, 5-7 minutes.  (Move them around a bit to get all sides golden.)  Add the curry powder and cook until fragrant – maybe 1 minute.

Off the heat, stir in ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper (we used maybe ½ teaspoon of each).

Transfer the chickpeas to a paper towel-lined plate.

Assemble the Salad:

Discard the liquid in the bowl beneath the cucumbers and wipe the bowl clean before adding the cucumber along with the zest and juices and mint.  Toss.  Now stir in the chickpeas and correct for salt and pepper if needed.  Optional garnish:  thinly sliced Fresno or jalapeño peppers.

Viburnum in the woods behind Casa Stuarti

Irises in bloom always strike me as quite regal, but a little bit obscene