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Milk Street Israel New and Old (Ep 505)

Lebanese Baked Kafta with Potatoes and Tomatoes
Start to finish: 11⁄2 hours (1 hour active), plus cooling
Servings: 4 to 6

It’s easy to see why kafta bil sanieh, a casserole, if you will, of sliced potatoes, rounds of
tomatoes and flavorful kafta (seasoned meatballs or meat patties), is Lebanese comfort
food. The ingredients are shingled into a baking dish and baked until the flavors meld and the textures become deliciously succulent and tender. Our rendition, based on a recipe from “The Palestinian Table” by Reem Kassis, starts with a simple no-cook tomato sauce in the bottom of the baking dish, where juices collect during baking and form a delicious sauce. To ensure the potatoes cook evenly and thoroughly, we precook them by roasting them for about 10 minutes, enough time to begin making the kafta. We especially like the flavor of ground lamb kafta, but if you prefer, use 80 percent lean ground beef instead. Serve with Lebanese rice and vermicelli pilaf.

Don’t overmix the meat mixture or the kafta will cook up with a firm, bouncy texture. Using a light hand when mixing and shaping will keep the kafta tender. The patties don’t need to be perfectly round, but do try to keep them about 1⁄4 inch thick, as they’ll puff a little when baked. And if one or two (or a few) fall apart while you layer the ingredients into the baking dish, not to worry—gently smoosh the patties back together.

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, not peeled, sliced into 1⁄4-inch rounds
2 tablespoons plus 1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 pound ground lamb or 80 percent lean ground beef
1 medium yellow onion, halved and grated on the large holes of a box grater
1⁄2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1⁄2 teaspoon ground allspice
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
141⁄2-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 pound plum tomatoes, cored and sliced into 1⁄4-inch rounds
1 small green bell pepper or Anaheim chili, stemmed, seeded and sliced
into thin rings

Heat the oven to 450°F with a rack in the middle position. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the potatoes with 1 tablespoon of oil and 1⁄4 teaspoon salt. Distribute in a single layer and roast without stirring just until a skewer inserted into the potatoes meets no resistance, 10 to 13 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly. Leave the oven on.

While the potatoes cook, line a second baking sheet with kitchen parchment. In a medium bowl, combine the lamb, onion, parsley, allspice, cinnamon, 3⁄4 teaspoon salt and 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper. Using your hands, mix gently until just combined; do not overmix. Divide the mixture into about 20 golf ball-size portions (11⁄2 to 13⁄4 inches in diameter) and place on the prepared baking sheet. Flatten each ball into a patty about 21⁄2 inches wide and 1⁄4 inch thick (it’s fine the patties are not perfectly round); set aside until ready to assemble.

In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, combine the crushed tomatoes, garlic, the 1⁄4 cup oil, 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper. Stir well, then distribute in an even layer. Shingle the potatoes, tomato slices, green pepper rings and meat patties in 3 or 4 rows down the length of the baking dish, alternating the ingredients. Drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with pepper.

Bake, uncovered, until the kafta and potatoes are browned and the juices are bubbling, 25 to 35 minutes. Cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Hummus with Chipotle Black Beans and Tomato Salsa
Start to finish: 45 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6

Family-owned Shlomo & Doron in Tel Aviv’s Yemenite Quarter is famous for its hummus, both classic and unconventional. The eatery’s Mexican-inspired hummus—complete with toppings of black beans, salsa and tortilla chips—inspired us to make our own version at home. For ease, we use canned chickpeas to make the hummus base, but first we simmer them with a little baking soda, which softens the legumes along with their skins so they break down into a perfectly smooth puree. Processing the chickpeas while warm for a full three minutes also helps achieve the finest, silkiest consistency. The hummus is topped with a black bean puree made subtly smoky and spicy by the addition of chipotle chili in adobo sauce, followed by a fresh pico de gallo salsa and crushed tortilla chips for texture. Serve with warmed flatbread and, if you like, with additional tortilla chips.

Don’t forget to reserve some of the liquid from the chickpeas and black beans before draining. You’ll need 2 cups and 2 tablespoons, respectively. Also, don’t rinse the chickpeas and black beans after draining. The residual liquid gives the purees a smoother, silkier consistency.

Three 151⁄2-ounce cans chickpeas, 2 cups liquid reserved, drained
1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
151⁄2-ounce can black beans, 2 tablespoons liquid reserved, drained
8 tablespoons lime juice, divided
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce, plus 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
1⁄2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro, divided
1⁄2 cup tahini
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, finely chopped
1⁄2 small red onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeño chili, stemmed, seeded and minced
2 cups tortilla chips, roughly crushed

In a large saucepan over high, combine the chickpeas and their 2 cups reserved liquid, the baking soda, 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until very tender and the chickpea skins begin to fall off, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the black beans and their 2 tablespoons reserved liquid, 2 tablespoons of the lime juice, the cumin, chipotle chilie and adobo sauce and 1⁄4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Process until smooth, scraping the bowl as needed, 20 to 30 seconds. Add 1⁄4 cup of the cilantro and pulse 2 or 3 times to combine. Transfer to a medium bowl, then taste and season with salt and pepper; set aside. Wipe out the food processor.

When the chickpeas are done, drain them in a colander set in a large bowl. Reserve 3⁄4 cup of the chickpea cooking liquid; discard the remainder. Let the chickpeas drain for about 1 minute, shaking the colander to drain as much liquid as possible. Add the warm chickpeas to the processor along with 1⁄2 teaspoon salt. Process until completely smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the tahini and continue to process until the mixture is lightened and very smooth, about 1 minute. Scrape the sides and bottom of the processor bowl. With the machine running, add the reserved cooking liquid and 4 tablespoons (1⁄4 cup) of the remaining lime juice, then process until well combined, about 1 minute. Taste and season with salt.

Transfer the hummus to a shallow serving bowl. Spread the black bean mixture on top in an even layer. Wipe out the bowl used for the black beans, then add to it the tomatoes, onion, jalapeño, the remaining 2 tablespoons lime juice and 1⁄4 teaspoon salt; stir to combine.

Distribute the tortilla chips over the black-bean layer and spoon the tomato salsa on top. Sprinkle with the remaining 1⁄4 cup cilantro and serve immediately.

Yeasted Flatbreads with Za’atar Oil
Start to finish: 11⁄4 hours active time over the course of 11⁄2 to 21⁄2 days
Makes four 6-inch flatbreads

At Magdalena restaurant in Migdal, Israel, chef Yousef (Zuzu) Hanna offers a house-baked flatbread that’s a hybrid of Yemeni saluf and Moroccan frena. Soft and chewy, with a puffy, open crumb and golden brown crust, the breads, shaped like slightly flattened mini boules, have a texture somewhere between naan and ciabatta. To re-create it at home, we use a moderately wet yeasted dough and give it multiple rises, including a 24- to 48-hour rise in the refrigerator, so be sure to read the recipe before beginning so you can plan accordingly. Immediately after baking, we brush the surface of the breads with a za’atar-infused oil that also can be served alongside the bread for dipping. Za’atar is a Levantine spice, seed and herb blend; look for it in the spice aisle of the supermarket or in Middle Eastern markets. You will need a baking steel or stone for this recipe, plus a baking peel for sliding the dough onto and off the steel.

Don’t forget to heat the oven with a baking steel or stone on the middle rack about 1 hour before baking. The best time to do this is immediately upon removing the dough balls from the refrigerator after their three-hour rise. When placing the dough rounds on the baking peel, don’t position them in the center of the peel. Rather, place them as close as possible to the edge so they slide off the peel and onto the steel with minimal effort.

548 grams (4 cups) bread flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
11⁄2 cups water, cool room temperature (65°F)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
8 grams (11⁄4 teaspoons) table salt
Semolina flour or fine cornmeal, for dusting the pizza peel
Za’atar oil (recipe below)

In a stand mixer with the dough hook, mix the flour, sugar and yeast on low until combined, about 15 seconds. With the mixer running, gradually add the water and 2 tablespoons of oil. Mix on low until the ingredients form a strong dough that clears the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes.

Uncover the bowl, sprinkle the salt over the dough and mix on low until smooth and elastic, 5 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile, coat a large bowl with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil.

Transfer the dough to the prepared bowl. Dip your fingers into the oil pooled at the sides and dab the surface of the dough until completely coated. Using your hands, turn the dough over. Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until the dough is doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Transfer to the refrigerator and let rise for at least 24 or up to 48 hours.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with kitchen parchment and mist with cooking spray. Lightly flour the counter and turn out the dough. Using a chef’s knife or bench scraper, divide the dough into 4 even pieces, each about 8 ounces. Shape each into a taut, smooth ball and place seam side down, evenly spaced, on the prepared baking sheet. Mist the tops of the dough with cooking spray, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 hours.

Heat the oven to 500°F with a baking steel or stone on the middle rack. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Generously flour the counter and set the dough balls on top; reserve the baking sheet. Dust the dough with flour and, using your fingertips, press each into a dimpled disk about 51⁄2 inches wide and 1⁄2 inch thick. Return the dough to the baking sheet, evenly spacing the disks. Mist the dough with cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until slightly puffy, about 1 hour.

Generously dust a baking peel with semolina. Flour your hands, then gently slide your fingers under one round of dough, lift and transfer to the prepared peel, placing the round near the edge so it will be easier to slide onto the baking steel. Repeat with another
round of dough, making sure the two don’t touch. Gently shake the peel back and forth to ensure the dough is not sticking, then, working quickly, open the oven and slide the rounds onto the steel.

Bake until the dough is puffed and golden brown, 7 to 10 minutes. Using the peel, transfer the breads to a wire rack. Lightly brush the tops with some of the za’atar oil. Bake the 2 remaining rounds in the same way. Serve the breads warm or at room temperature with the remaining za’atar oil for dipping.

Za’atar Oil
Start to finish: 5 minutes
Makes 1⁄2 cup

1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon za’atar
1⁄4 to 1⁄2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt

In a small saucepan over medium, cook the oil, za’atar and pepper flakes, stirring, until the mixture is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the salt and let cool. Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 1 week.