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Hearty Harira Soup

28 Aug

Meaty soups are good all year round, summer included. Or in my case, I was feeling under the weather, and a can of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup left me incredibly disappointed – I didn’t recall supermarket chicken soup being so…bland, yet tinny. So I decided to make this harira soup and set it to cook in my slow cooker overnight, so I could awake to its hearty aroma. You can also make this soup over the stove.


This recipe calls for boneless lamb, but I got a nice 0.86 lb hunk of lamb shoulder with a large bone in the middle. I cooked with the bone in the soup – just remember to remove it before serving!


  • 1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup dried red lentils, washed and rinsed
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • ¾ cup celery, diced (about 3 ribs)
  • 28oz canned tomatoes, chopped, with juice
  • 5 cups chicken stock or water
  • ~ ¾ lb boneless lamb rack or shoulder, cut into 1-centimeter dice
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp tumeric
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • pinch saffron threads
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2-3 cups baby spinach leaves
  • 4 Tbsp coarsely chopped cilantro




  1. In a large pan, sautee onion in olive oil until soft, about 2 minutes.DSC02305
  2. Add lamb, and cook 2-3 minutes until lamb pieces are seared.
  3. In a large (6 quart or larger) slow cooker, add chickpeas, lentils, celery, canned tomatoes, chicken stock and water, sugar, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, and ginger.  Add the onions and lamb.
  4. Stir lightly to combine.Harira soup
  5. Cook on LOW for 8-10 hours, or HIGH for 4-5 hours.
  6. Add lemon juice, spinach, and saffron threads. Stir.DSC02307
  7. Serve, with chopped cilantro.

Makes about 3 quarts


Trendy and Yummy: Cook, Newton

8 Feb

Newtonville finally has a spot worthy of gastronomes, and it’s called Cook. It’s no wonder this place is packed on weekends, even when it’s bitterly cold outside. It can sometimes take a while to be greeted by a host when you first walk through the door, and then wait times for a table easily exceed half an hour.  But it’s all worth it. After my husband and I first visited Cook, we came back for a second meal within a week!

While waiting for a table, we’ll usually grab drinks at the bar – I love the unique habanero blood orange margarita (which I ask for on the milder side because I’m weak sauce when it comes to spice). Cook’s beer and cider list has many of our favorites – Jack’s Abby’s Hoponius Union, Kentucky Bourbon Ale, and Downeast cider, to name a few.

We always kick off our dinner with a couple shrimp tacos – the best I’ve had in the Boston area. The lightly breaded shrimp are delicate and fresh, with avocado, red onion, and crema on a soft tortilla.

Cook, Newton - shrimp taco

The fried calamari is a large portion, with fried pickle slices and mild peppers. Again, lightly breaded. It’s a solid dish, though it doesn’t particularly stand out against the versions at other good restaurants.Cook - calamari

One appetizer that does really stand out is the French onion soup, where melt-in-your-mouth beef accompanies the Gruyere and bread.

Hubby always orders the Bolognese for his main. Hand cut tagliatelle is tossed with veal, pork, beef, and marscapone. We can’t order Bolognese anywhere else now, because it can’t come close to the version at Cook!

Cook - Bolognese

Every night there is a list of specials. I’ve had haddock with hearty heirloom carrots, a chorizo flatbread with goat cheese and cute fingerling potato chips, as well as this lamb sandwich on pitas that are fluffy on the inside but crispy on the outside. Yum!


One popular dish which I forgot to nab a photo of is the NFC – three gigantic pieces of delicious fried chicken with a flaky biscuit, fluffy mashed potatoes, and awesome coleslaw. During a recent visit to Cook, 3 out of 4 patrons at the next table all ordered the NFC!

My husband and I usually don’t order dessert at Cook (because we’re stuffed after the appies and mains!) but on one occasion we got the brownie sundae – a big brownie square topped with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, crunchy chocolate pearls, and a cherry. Definitely large enough to share, though you might not want to.

Servers and bartenders are always attentive each time we’ve dined at Cook .The decor is unpretentious and the atmosphere is warm and lively. My only gripe is that the bench seats at Cook are a bit low and soft, making me feel a bit like a child when I first sit down. All in all, Cook is one of my favourite restaurants in Newton – that ‘s why I keep going back!

Info: Cook, 825 Washington Street, Newton, MA 02460 USA

Cook Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Lebanese Cusine in Kuala Lumpur: Al-Amar

30 Dec

I had initially wanted to dine at a street-level, local restaurant in Kuala Lumpur’s Golden Triangle district, but was turned off by questionable cleanliness standards – I wasn’t sure my North American stomach could handle it. I ended up stumbling upon Al-Amar in the shiny Pavillion Kuala Lumpur mall. Only later did I find out that the restaurant has won awards in the Time Out KL Food Awards in the past four consecutive years and is ranked in the top 20 of over 1000 KL restaurants on TripAdvisor. It may very well be Kuala Lumpur’s best Lebanese restaurant.

Our meal kicked off with complementary pita bread served with olive oil and spices for dipping.


Kebbeh Kras is a delicious hot mezze: minced meat, onions and pine nuts are stuffed in a ground beef and bulgur wheat shell, and then fried. The shell is crispy on the outside, reminiscent of a falafel. The only thing that would have made this dish better would have been a bit of cool cucumber raita.

Ground beef fritters

Lamb Mechwe is a platter of 3 large grilled lamb skewers marinated with spices. The lamb pieces are served between two large grilled pita, and topped with onions.

Lamb kabobs

We also ordered the half grilled chicken, which was marinated in a garlic lemon sauce. The portion was equally as large – three large sheets of pounded chicken served between grilled pita.  Unfortunately, the chicken was not de-boned, so it was a bit challenging to eat.

The Final Word: Al-Amar serves large portions of delicious, marinated meats in a spacious and elegant dining room. It’s a good place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Address: Level 6, Pavillion, 55100 168 Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Flavourful Afghan cuisine: The Helmand

18 Nov

The Helmand (143 First St., Cambridge, MA) has great ratings on Zagat, so I was not surprised to find it packed at 9 pm on a Friday night.  The waiting area has a large comfy couch and a coffee table lined with issues of Bon Apetit  and other foodie magazines. The open, main dining room also has a good view of the wood-fired brick oven. This place obviously takes food seriously.

Like many Boston area restaurants with good, moderately-priced food, tables are rather close together. I wondered if it was a pain for waiters to get to our table – that would explain the slow, inattentive service. My boyfriend and I sat awkwardly for a while, waiting for menus. When they finally arrived, they were crinkled, ratty, folded sheets of paper – not a great first impression.  When our server returned, he didn’t even ask to take our drink order.

I was delighted however, when flatbread arrived –  warm, and served with a trio of sauces you often see served at Indian restaurants: cucumber raita, a green chutney, and  a hot chili sauce.

Our appetizers arrived quickly. The bowlawni consisted of two filo pastries, one filled with leeks and scallions, the other filled with potatoes.

We also had the aushak: two triangular raviolis filled with leeks and scallions, topped with ground beef sauce. The raviolis themselves reminded me of Chinese dumplings.

Entrees ranged from $15-27. Lamb Lawand (below): chunks of tender leg of lamb in a spiced onion and tomato sauce, served with sauteed spinach and fluffy challow rice (white basmati rice boiled and drained, then tossed in Canola oil and cumin seeds, then baked).

The server neglected to bring us our side dish. When I did arrive, it was worth the delay. The banjan was melt-in-your-mouth yummy:  a thick slice of eggplant, pan-fried and then baked with tomatoes and served with a yogurt sauce.

The Final Word: The food at The Helmand is delicious and well-priced, and the menu offers flavours not often seen elsewhere. Too bad the service is lacking. Otherwise, I’d come here more often.
Helmand on Urbanspoon

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