Every Fridays are "lunchbox day" at my daughter's preschool. I usually pack riceballs and some leftovers from previous day, or simple ham and cheese sandwiches, but lately she started asking me to make "character bento" or "kyara-ben" that she saw on Japanese kids show. OH NO!

Search "character bento" and see how Japanese people go far to make lunch box "kawaii." Even my mom occasionally made panda-shaped rice balls for my kindergarten lunch box. I had to stop her when she tried to decorate my rice ball into heart shape with a boy's name I liked with nori....

Anyways here's the results of my attempt of "kyara-ben" making by waking up 30 min earlier on Fridays...

Rirakkuma Inari-sushi



My daughter is super excited when she opened her lunchbox, and teachers keep on telling me how her lunch looks yummy, but interestingly enough whenever I add some "character" to her bento my daughter never finishes her lunch. The two rirakkumas came home totally untouched. Maybe they're too cute to eat? 

Kohlrabi, watercress, yogurt and sumac. More I cook from the book, I feel I started understanding some patterns/rules about Middle Eastern cooking, how to combine the ingredients and spices. It's still just a gut feeling, but maybe I will figure out more when I finish cooking everything from the book? 
I've been cooking more from the book but haven't updated the blog for a while. I cooked this one back in - January!

Burned eggplant with garlic, lemon and pomegranate seeds

Root vegetable slaw

This has been the most refreshing dish so far from the cookbook. While some other vegetable dishes can be somewhat on the heavy side because of the tahini, yogurt or spices, this one is completely raw and so light, and felt super healthy. Never eaten beets raw, but I love it...and so did my friends and family. Since January I made this dish 4 times, most frequently cooked recipe so far. Great for potluck.
Lamb-stuffed quince with pomegranate

Hollowing out quince was such a pain in the butt probably I won't do this again, but what a fragrant dish! Combination of meat and such aromatic fruits and spices is so middle eastern (or more like Persian I guess?) and unconventional for my Asian taste, but my 3 year old loved it. 

Spicy beet, leek & walnut salad

Should have cut leeks a bit shorter. Takes time to roast beets. A bit soggy for my taste, next time will try with less oil and cook leeks differently rather than poaching. Overall good combination. 

Always grateful that we can celebrate new year in Japanese style with friends in the Bay Area. We're miles and miles away from home, but keep the tradition going!!
In September we made a very short trip to Japan - first time in 4 years, first time since the earthquake, and first time with our 3 year old. 9 days stay was too short to meet all my friends, and eat all the good food I've been thinking about...

This time my "to eat" list was filled with nothing but traditional, classical Japanese food like sushi, tempura and unagi - sounds like the first time tourist - but I just had a craving for back to basic, non-fusion, non-California-rollish, just good, simple classic Japanese dishes which are surprisingly hard to find even in Bay Area.

...and my wish was granted. It's just great that back home we can get this quality of sushi and unagi (not those frozen packaged one smothered in disgustingly sweet sauce) at local hall in the wall, without paying premium...

Baby spinach salad with dates & almonds

Baby spinach, tossed with roasted pita bread, almonds, red onion slices, dates, sumac and white wine vinegar. The dates and red onion were marinated with small amount of vinegar beforehand. That really "opened up" the flavor and I really didn't need to add anything else to dress the salad, besides a little bit of lemon and olive oil. Not too sure about the almonds though - the taste of the almond kinda stood out from the rest of the ingredients. But really loved the crunchiness of the pita bread - will make this again for a potluck.

Roasted eggplant with fried onion & chopped lemon

This recipe didn't come with a photo and I'm not really sure if I did this right. I burned the onion pretty much (but it tasted sweet nonetheless) and everything looked just....brownish. I also used Asian eggplants lying around in our fridge - if I used much meatier, bigger eggplant maybe it looked completely different. BUT don't be deceived by the look! Actually it tasted amazing. It's just the combination of fried onion, lemon, feta cheese and grilled eggplant (I omitted adding chili for my 3 year old)..but I never imagined putting them altogether tastes that good. This is why I love this book, it gives me completely new ideas and experience to cook vegetables with ordinary ingredients!

Turkey & zucchini burgers with green onion & cumin 

3 year old approved! It contains all the good stuff like grated zucchini, lots of mint and cilantro, green onion and ground cumin. Topped with yogurt sauce with sumac. 
Couscous with tomato and onion (with crispy bottom)

Yes, as you can see in the book I intentionally burned the couscous! So far all of the starch recipes from this book are amazing. But this is one of the best, and the easiest one to make. So easy I already cooked this 3 times for dinner. All you need is some onions, fresh tomatoes and tomato paste. The combination of the fresh, ripen tomatoes from farmers market, sautéed onions and little bit of sugar makes the dish slightly sweet - and it tastes even better on the second day. Surprisingly my daughter who hates tomatoes loved the dish.

Roasted sweet potatoes and fresh figs

Figs are finally in season! I've been waiting to cook this dish for a long time. The combination of figs, goat cheese and balsamic reduction is just classic - you can never go wrong with that!

I actually had exactly the same combo as a dessert night before - fig tart with goat cheese, balsamic reduction (and candied ham!). 

Not the best photo but it was another hit from the book! Despite the look, it was dangerously light and fluffy.

Fried eggplant, chopped salad, tahini sauce and homemade Zhoug, Israeli chili paste. According to the book this dish (also spelled as sabich) is developed by Iraqi Jews settling in 1950s near Tel Aviv.
Sweet and Sour Fish

When I looked at the recipe I exactly knew how this dish would taste like. In Japan, we have almost identical recipe called marinated fish "Southern Barbarian" style. In this case "Southern Barbarian" means Europeans, most likely Spanish/Portuguese/Dutch people and culture brought by them to Japan during 16th centuries and later. In this dish, the fish is deep-fried then marinated with sugar/vinegar, topped with shredded peppers and onions. In Japan, we use smelts, sardines, salmon and sometimes chicken for this dish. Amazing how food culture spreads around the world!

Fried Cauliflower with Tahini

Never imagined the combination of tahini, greek yogurt and tart pomegranate molasses can be this addictive. Since it's rather easy to prepare, this is one of the most frequently cooked dish from the book so far (but be careful the dish can be a bit heavy for your stomach).

In every culture, there are paparazzi parents....but with smartphones and tablets nowadays ;)

Our little monster turned 3 and I baked 100+ sugar cookies to bring to her preschool...on that very day. Since my kid rather prefers savory types of food (and nobody eats cookies at home anyways), I will probably bring beef jerky next year.

The weather has been crazy in bay area, at one point we had almost 90F - the perfect dry heat to cook something from the book!

Chicken with basmati rice, cooked with fried onions, cardamon, clove and currants. Very classic. Familiar taste. Even 2 year old loved it.

Carrots are marinated with harissa. I ended up burning the onions and our annoying hyper sensitive smoke detector decided we're having major fire. Arugula's from local CSA box.

Dinner was ready but husband wasn't home yet, so just to cross out from the list I made this. The puree became a bit runny as I added too much yogurt (the book recommends to add mashed potato to help thicken it). I used only 3 beets I got from local farmers market, but it makes plenty for 3-4 people. Trying to consume it by putting on toast for breakfast. (The picture on the left is from the book :)

One thing I like about this cookbook is herb becomes the main ingredients, not just used for garnishing - so far I used up entire 3 bunches of mint and 4 bunches of parsley leaves! 

In this salad chicken is grilled then marinated with orange sauce. To make the sauce you need to boil a whole orange for an hour with saffron, vinegar and some honey then use food processor to blitz everything. But it's all worth the effort! I also could get fennels from farmers market - love eating locally grown, seasonal vegetables! 

Definitely will make this again. It will be great for parties, lunch/dinner with guests.
Parsley and Barley Salad

So far I'm really enjoying cooking from the Jerusalem cookbook, but I really can't break a bank while doing this! So sometimes I need to make a minor tweak to the recipe depends on what I have in the fridge. The original recipe uses green pepper and chopped cashew nuts, but I only had red pepper and hazelnuts. The red color from the pepper made the dish looks much prettier than original recipe. This is a nice variation of tabbouleh salad. 

Rigatoni with Yogurt, Peas, Pine Nuts and Basil

In the book it's "Conchigle with yogurt, peas & chile." Just couldn't find that shape of pasta in my local store and as I need to feed 2 year old I omitted chile part. Oh my this dish is so addictive. The key ingredients are nothing new - just greek yogurt, garlic, green peas, pine nuts, basil leaves and feta cheese - but the dish is so flavorful and light, we killed the dish in a split second. Will try with conchigle next time!

Lemony Leek Meatballs 

This recipe did not come with photos and I wasn't quite sure how it will turn out visually, but here it is! It's a very fluffy version of hamburger patty with lots of leeks and bread crumbs, braised with lemon juice and chicken stock. So far one of my favorite! I sometimes make Japanese version of braised hamburger steak with worcester sauce and ketchup (and maybe red wine), and I think I will add this lighter version to my repertoire.

Wheat Berries & Swiss Chard with Pomegranate Molasses 

Some friends asked me if it's hard for me to find ingredients for this cookbook, but this book really doesn't require any exotic spices you never heard of...so far I could find most of the spices I need from pantry, but two key ingredients I had to purchase for the book were dates syrup and pomegranate molasses (and I could easily find them in local Middle Eastern market or Berkeley Bowl). 

Interesting combination of salty, sweet and tart from pomegranate. Also it was a bit heavy. It was not bad but not sure if I want to eat this regularly..

Butternut squash & tahini spread

Made this for Easter potluck. The combination of pureed butternut squash and cinnamon (and other ingredients such as Greek yogurt and tahini sauce) almost makes this dish like Middle Eastern version of pumpkin pie fillings. The butternut squash I got was not ripe enough and had a bit bitter flavor when it was still hot, but this dense, super sweet date syrup totally helped to boost the flavor.

Semolina, coconut & marmalade cake

So far this is my favorite dessert recipe in general! In order to make this cake a friend of mine made a trip to local supermarket to find a bottle of orange blossom water for me. I also used a jar of orange confit another friend of mine made from oranges from her backyard. A dessert made possible by all the help from my friends :)

The ingredients in the recipe are for two 1 pound loaf cakes, but when I divided all the ingredients in half to make just one loaf, the cake dough only went half way up on the cake pan.

Here's my second attempt - I used ingredients for two loafs for one loaf pan. Looking much better!

The cake is soaked in syrup with orange blossom water - initially I was afraid of the amount of syrup required for the recipe - but do not hesitate! The cake soaks up the syrup pretty well, and it makes the cake totally moist...and very dense.

As I post the pictures of my "Jerusalem" cooking on Facebook, I start getting comments from both Arab and Israeli friends. And just as the cookbook particularly spent a whole page discussing about the issue on ownership, I started seeing them making small comments about the origin of the dishes. 

Mejadra, or Mujaddara is such a dish that the cookbook mentioned that it's traditional Arab dish, then my Israeli friend corrected me that it's been popular traditionally both in Arab AND Jewish kitchens. Combination of cooked lentils, rice and fried onions also reminded me of kosheri, which is a mixture of lentils, rice, chickpeas, short macaroni, fried onions, spicy tomato sauce and vinegar I had in Egypt. Or kichari, another similar dish from India. Well, wherever the origin is, as long as it's tasty, I don't care ;)

 kosheri in Cairo

Compared to kosheri which involves more ingredients, mejadra is much simpler and had cleaner taste. I really loved the sweetness coming from deep fried onions, and the combination of spice used in here (turmeric, allspice and cinnamon). I will definitely cook this again. 

Roasted Cauliflower and Hazelnut Salad

This recipe was perfect as I had few stalks of celery and small amount of maple syrup left in the fridge. I didn't have sherry vinegar and used white wine vinegar instead. Not sure how much it altered the original taste, but as you can imagine from the combination of cinnamon and maple syrup, this dish is on a sweet side, which was interesting for a person from land of soy sauce (surely it won't go well with rice! haha). I liked it, but I'm also curious how others going to react to the cauliflower being sweet.
I forgot to add in the previous post that with our first meal from the Jerusalem cookbook, we had roasted pork - so traif, but what do you expect from a Chinese/Japanese household? Our dining table is truly global ;-p 

Mixed bean salad

I love Berkeley Bowl. I can get almost all the ingredients I need to cook from this book. The recipe suggests to make all an effort to find yellow beans for the texture, but all I needed to do is to drive up to Berkeley. 

This recipe requires good amount of herbs and spices, and the aroma coming out during the chopping process was just heavenly. Unfortunately, when they all tossed with the beans and red pepper mix, the flavor died down than I expected. Probably next time I will adjust the amount of capers. It was a beautiful dish nontheless!

Spiced chickpeas & fresh vegetable salad

I boiled chickpeas for the first time in my life and noticed I've been missing a lot. You really won't get this nutty, sweet flavor from canned chickpeas. This is something I should do more often and I should be better at...we recently moved to a new place which has electronic stove top and I'm still figuring out about temperature control - I almost ended up burning the pot and chickpeas got little bit mushy at the end. They are spiced with ground cardamon, allspice and cumin so they are not  spicy hot, so it's even good for snacks for kids! I will definitely cook this again. 

at Muslim Quarter, Old Jerusalem 2006

Recently my husband got me the "Jerusalem" cookbook published by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, Jewish and Palestinian guys from Jerusalem running restaurants together in London. How cool is that! 

Middle Eastern food is something I've been always fascinated with, but I don't cook them at home that often. The last time I visited the area was already 7 years ago (!) and just eating from Middle Eastern restaurants in the US with average selection of menus, I know I'm missing a lot. So this book made me simply curious, and just made me want to try all the combination of spices and flavors I haven't experienced yet, with familiar and unfamiliar ingredients listed in the recipes. And all the pictures in the book look damn tasty!! So without any intention of soul searching just like Julie and Julia, I just decided to cook everything in the book. Well, maybe not everything, but most of them. I will keep my bar low...but I will try. 


Na'ama's Fattoush 

Unlike usual fattoush salad the pita breads are not toasted, and it requires buttermilk for creaminess. Tomatoes are not in season yet so the flavor wasn't that explosive as I wanted, but it was a good start!

Roasted butternut squash and red onion with home made tahini and za'atar

We get a lot of butternut squash from our CSA box, and I was quite tired of cooking them into soups or oven roasts - but after trying the combination of tahini sauce and the squash, I ended up buying more from local supermarket. The recipe suggest to drizzle the sauce on the top, but I liked it better when completely tossed together with the squash. The squash flavor roasted together with red onion was quite intense (maybe the organic squash I got was really good one!), it worked so well with the sauce. 

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