Earlier this week my 17-year-old twins made their own dinner. To my horror (and they know it!) it consisted of two boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese and nothing else.
Now, it’s not like the only food we eat at home is healthy, or low fat, or in reasonable quantity. But it is always (a) real food, not made out of unrecognizable yellow powder, and (b) I could never, ever, no matter how long it’s been since we moved to the U.S., serve my kids mac and cheese. In my mind it became the evil of all American foods, a frightening combination of processed carbs and fat. And as it turns out, my kids developed an infinite yearning to eat exactly that - mac and cheese. From a box.
To save face, I had to come up with a Middle Eastern version. I’m not saying it’s healthy, or low fat, or in reasonable quantity, but it’s made with real ingredients and it tastes so good.
Middle Eastern mac and cheese
Feta instead of cheddar, with the comforting richness of heavy cream. Middle Eastern comfort food at its best.
1 lb. elbow pasta
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 cup skim milk
1 cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon kosher salt
12 oz. feta
¾ cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leave and sprigs (optional)
* Oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 inch by 11 inch pan or a 9 inch by 9 inch pan.
* Cook pasta according to directions on box until al dente. Strain and put back in pot.
* Add 2 tablespoons butter to pasta and mix until melted. Add milk, heavy cream and salt and mix. Crumble feta into pasta and mix gently, leaving some feta chunks.
* Pour pasta into pan and bake for 10 minutes. Take out of the oven, mix to make sure the sauce covers pasta evenly, and bake for extra 10 minutes. Take out the oven and mix once again, and bake for 10 minutes longer.
* In the meantime prepare breadcrumbs. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Add breadcrumbs and fresh thyme (if using) and cook until golden-brown. Top mac n’ cheese in pan with bread crumbs and bake for 10 extra minutes (total baking time will be 30 minutes.) Take out the oven, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let stand for 10 minutes. Serve.
Spicy eggplant and chicken noodles
Middle Eastern with a strong Asian influence.
2 regular eggplants
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into ½ inch pieces
10 oz. lo mein egg noodles
Bunch green onion, chopped
1 cup cilantro leaves
For the sauce:
¼ cup fresh lime juice
¼ cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon tahini
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons white miso paste
1 garlic clove
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon Sambal Oelek (Thai chili sauce) or ½ Serrano pepper (with seeds)
* Peel eggplant, cut to ¾ inch thick cubes. Layer in a colander over a large bowl, generously sprinkle each layer with kosher salt. Let stand for 30 minutes.
* Oven to 400 degrees. Wash eggplant to remove salt and pat dry with paper towels. Put eggplant in a bowl, sprinkle with 3 tablespoons olive oil and quickly mix to coat. Transfer to a parchment paper layered baking sheet and bake for 45-50 minutes, flipping eggplant at half time, until golden brown and tender. Set aside.
* In the meantime prepare the chicken. Heat a pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, rotate pan to coat with oil, and cook chicken slices until golden, mixing occasionally. Turn heat off, cover with lid, and let stand for 5-10 minutes. Check chicken pieces to make sure they’re fully cooked. Keep aside until ready to serve.
* To make the sauce, put juices from the chicken pan into blender. Add the rest of sauce ingredients and blend until smooth.
* Cook lo mein according to instructions, strain, transfer to a large bowl and mix with sauce. Add Eggplant and chicken and mix gently. Sprinkle with green onion and cilantro leaves and serve.
Roasted tomato and balsamic vinegar pasta
2 lb. cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb. fusilli or rotini pasta
4 tablespoons butter
3-4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
* Oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
* Mix tomatoes, sugar, salt and olive oil in a bowl, spread on baking sheet and roast for 60-70 minutes, flipping tomatoes at half time, until some tomatoes are nicely charred. Remove from oven and set aside.
* Cook fusilli according to instructions, strain and put back in pot. Add butter, put pot over medium-heat and mix until butter melts. Add balsamic vinegar (depending on the thickness and quality of your vinegar, determine how much of it you want to use.) Let balsamic vinegar evaporate and make sure it coats the fusilli. Add Roasted tomatoes and their juices, mix gently, add salt to taste and serve.