Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb and Pine Nuts


There are some dishes that just don’t photograph well. This is one of them. No matter how much I tried to make it pretty, it comes out like a brown and black mess when I take its picture. I guess I could have sprinkled some fresh parsley on it or nestled a few lemon wedges between the eggplant pieces in order to give it some color. But I decided not to. It’s not necessary. Because no matter what the photos look like, this is one of the best dishes you will ever taste. It is, by far, my favorite recipe out of Jerusalem: A Cookbook. And that says a lot. I love just about every recipe in that book.


For starters, it’s an easy eggplant recipe. I don’t know why, but as soon as I see a recipe that calls for salting eggplant pieces and letting them drain in a colander before cooking them, I have an instant reaction of “no way!” I just don’t have the patience for that. The great thing about this recipe is that it simply calls for cutting the eggplant down the middle, scoring the flesh and brushing it with olive oil. From that point on, it just cooks in the oven for a long time, at first on its own and then covered with the ground meat mixture, until it becomes melt-in-your-mouth soft.


If I’ve learned one thing out of this amazing cookbook (and I’ve learned a lot), it is the power of the holy trinity of Middle Eastern spices: cumin, paprika, and cinnamon. When combined, they produce an intoxicating mix that is sweet (from the paprika), earthy (from the cumin), and spicy (from the cinnamon), all at the same time. Along with onions, pine nuts, and parsley, they turn the ground lamb “stuffing” of this dish into something entirely exotic but wonderfully comforting as well.



Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb and Pine Nuts – From Jerusalem: A Cookbook


4 medium eggplants 
(about 2 pounds/1.2 kg), halved lengthwise
6 tablespoons/90 ml olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 medium onions (12 ounces/340 grams in total), finely chopped
1 pound/500 grams ground lamb
7 tablespoons/50 grams pine nuts
2/3 ounces/20 grams flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons tomato paste
3 teaspoons superfine sugar
2/3 cup/150 ml water
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon tamarind paste
4 cinnamon sticks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C. Place the eggplant halves, skin side down, in a roasting pan large enough to accommodate them snugly. Brush the flesh with 4 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with 1 teaspoon salt and plenty of black pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

While the eggplants are cooking, you can start making the stuffing by heating the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large frying pan. Mix together the cumin, paprika, and ground cinnamon and add half of this spice mix to the pan, along with the onions. Cook over medium-high heat for about 8 minutes, stirring often, before adding the lamb, pine nuts, parsley, tomato paste, 1 teaspoon of the sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and some black pepper. Continue to cook and stir for another 8 minutes, until the meat is cooked.

Place the remaining spice mix in a bowl and add the water, lemon juice, tamarind, the remaining 2 teaspoons sugar, the cinnamon sticks, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; mix well.

Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F/195°C. Pour the spice mix into the bottom of the eggplant roasting pan. Spoon the lamb mixture on top of each eggplant. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil, return to the oven, and roast for 1 1/2 hours, by which point the eggplants should be completely soft and the sauce thick; twice during the cooking, remove the foil and baste the eggplants with the sauce, adding some water if the sauce dries out. Serve warm, not hot, or at room temperature.

Lamb Stir-Fry with Pomegranate and Yogurt


I wasn’t especially close to my grandparents. My maternal grandfather died when I was really young and my dad’s parents lived far away so we saw them rarely. The only grandparent I saw fairly often was my maternal grandmother. For as long as I can remember, she lived in a little house behind my aunt’s house. She was a refugee, having lost her home in the war of 74, and a widow. We saw her a few times a year when we would go and visit.


My grandmother looked like a typical old Greek woman from the movies. Always dressed in black (perpetually in mourning for her husband, as old customs required), her hair always covered in a large black headscarf. It was a source of great mystery to me, her hair, when I was little. The couple of times I caught a glimpse of her without the headscarf, I could see a torrent of white hair cascading down her black-clad back. It seemed magical somehow.


I have few memories of the times I spent with her. I remember that my sister and I, influenced by American movies and cartoons we watched on TV, always wanted her to tell us stories and fairytales. When she would tell us that she didn’t know any stories (she was a farmer’s wife who raised nine children in hard, village conditions) we would explain to her that she must, she was a grandmother after all, and all grandmothers know all kinds of fables. Inevitably, she would give in and tell us the same one or two stories she knew, none of which satisfied our hunger for fantastical beings. One of those stories involved a cockroach who convinced a cow to let it ride on its back to cross a muddy field, but then somehow fell in the deep impression that the cow’s hoof left in the mud, at which point the cow, unaware of the cockroach’s fall, started to pee, filling the impression with pee and drowning the unfortunate cockroach to death.

Yeah, she wasn’t kidding when she said that she really didn’t know any fairytales.


One fond memory I have with her involves pomegranates. There was a small pomegranate tree growing in her front yard and when the fruit was ripe, she would pick one and painstakingly peel and deseed it for us. My sister and I loved receiving our small bowls filled with the sweet-tart fuchsia-colored seeds, eating them with a spoon, feeling their juices burst in our mouths, always wary of eating too many lest they make us constipated as the adults always warned us.


Pomegranates always make me think of my grandmother. I didn’t often eat them, however, because I hated the process of picking the tiny seeds from their intricate web of pith. It was only recently that I discovered a much easier way to deseed a pomegranate by whacking it with a wooden spoon. So, when I saw this recipe for a lamb stir-fry with pomegranate and yogurt in Bon Appétit, I bought a pomegranate and tried it. It turned out to be fantastic. The lamb is intensely fragrant with cumin and coriander, while the yogurt and pomegranate add a buoyant and sweet coolness to the dish.



Lamb Stir-Fry with Pomegranate and Yogurt – Adapted from Bon Appétit

Serves 2


1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1 pound boneless leg of lamb, thinly sliced against the grain
1 teaspoon paprika
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1½ tablespoons olive oil
½ cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon water
zest from half a lemon, finely chopped
1 medium red onion, cut into ½” wedges
½ cup water
¼ cup pomegranate seeds
2 tablespoons chopped pistachios
Fresh oregano and mint leaves (for serving)


In a medium bowl, mix together cumin, coriander, paprika, garlic, vinegar, salt, pepper, and 1½ Tbsp. oil in a large bowl. Add lamb and toss to coat. Cover and let it marinade in the fridge for at least two hours, or up to 24 hours.

Whisk yogurt, lemon zest, and 1 Tbsp. water in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook lamb (do not overcrowd in pan), tossing occasionally, until browned, about 3 minutes per batch; transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Add onion to skillet and cook, stirring often, until beginning to brown and soften, about 4 minutes. Add ½ cup water; season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender and water is almost completely evaporated, about 4 minutes. Return lamb to skillet and toss to combine.

Serve lamb topped with yogurt, pomegranate seeds, pistachios, and herbs.

Iceland: The Land of Volcanoes, Ice, Waterfalls, and Soup

For our honeymoon, we chose Iceland. We wanted a place that was different, that we’d never visited before, and that was relatively close. We also aren’t big beach goers so a place that was cool and cloudy was fine with us.

In the end, Iceland proved to be not just a great honeymoon destination but one of the best vacations we’ve ever taken. We rented a 4×4 to drive around the country and we ended up putting over 1,000 miles on it. And yet, we were never bored while driving. Not for a second. On every corner and every off-road there was something spectacular to see.

Iceland has a lot of water. There are waterfalls everywhere. Some are huge and majestic, like Gulfoss and Godafoss that we visited. But many others are just small waterfalls sprinkled around the countryside. We must have driven by dozens of them. Water is also important because there is a lot of geothermal activity in Iceland. Most energy produced in the country is 100% clean and uses steam from geothermal sources. And of course, there are thermal baths everywhere. We visited the Blue Lagoon, the famous one outside Reykjavik, which was impressive, though a little touristy.

The other thing you notice in Iceland are the mountains. They are also everywhere, some covered by glaciers, and they resemble giant boulders thrown from the sky. Many of them have flat tops. That’s because almost all of them are volcanic. They whole island of Iceland is actually in flux. It sits right where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, so there is constant activity. Volcanoes and earthquakes are part of the country’s character.

And along with the imposing mountains come the skies. The climate in Iceland is more temperate than most people think, but it is also constantly changing. Clouds and rain came and went at amazing speeds. We saw cloud formations we had never seen before. And rainbows. Lots of rainbows.

No photograph can do justice to the Icelandic landscape. We walked among lava fields that were barely 30 years old. We could see just where the charcoal black lava ended its destructive run and cooled. We toured bubbling mud pits, where the water literally boils in big holes in the ground. The earth there takes on shades of orange and terracotta, creating an otherworldly view, made even stranger by the strong sulphuric smells.

But enough about the landscape. You’re here for the food, right?

Icelandic cuisine, or at least what we experienced, is representative of the harsh conditions of the island. There’s little local produce (though we heard there’s an area filled with greenhouses) and the most prominent meat is lamb. In fact, we saw sheep everywhere, grazing freely in the vast uninhabited countryside. We wondered often if anyone even owned them, but upon close inspection, we saw they were tagged.

If there’s one thing that is distinctly Icelandic, it’s soup. Soup and bread was an option at every establishment we visited, from restaurants to rest stops to gas station eateries. Pretty much everywhere, the soup was excellent. Even in places you wouldn’t expect it, like souvenir shops in remote areas. We especially loved the lamb soup and asparagus soup we had at the tiny place at the entrance of a volcanic column park we visited. It came with a dark, sweet bread, that was a cross between rye bread and pain d’épices. 

On our first night, we had dinner at a really nice restaurant in Reykjavik called Fridrik V. We got the 5-course tasting menu, which was too much food, but featured ingredients from different regions of Iceland. The staff, all members of one family, proudly explained where everything came from by pointing at a map of Iceland. We got to try puffin (though we never saw any live ones…hmmmm) and reindeer. They also served us something they called lobster bisque cappuccino, which was one of the best things we’ve ever tasted.

At a tiny port town called Stykkisholmur, we got even more adventurous. We had an appetizer that featured shark, dried fish, kelp, and mussels. The shark had such a strong fermented taste, we compared it to formaldehyde. We asked the waiter about it and he explained that it had been buried in the ground and allowed to ferment.

For my main dish, I chose whale. I was surprised to find that whale meet is red and has the texture of beef. In fact, if I hadn’t known it was whale I would have thought it was a regular steak.

Overall, the food in Iceland was really good everywhere. We had one bad meal and that was at a Thai takeout place that we went to because everything else was booked and we were very hungry.

Oh, and one more thing. We discovered Maltextrakt, a delicious soft drink made with malt. It’s non-alcoholic and sweet, with the distinctive toasted taste of malt. We ordered it a lot, when we didn’t want alcohol with our meal.