The Austin Food Blogger Alliance, of which I’m proud to be a member, has created a community cookbook. Two of my recipes, Persian Lamb Stew and Ginger Cookies, are in it! If you’d like to own what I’m sure will be your new go-to cookbook, today is the last day to pre-order at the discounted rate. Order your copy today!
Me and my fellow foodies of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance are putting together the 2013 City Guide of all our favorite places in Austin. For last year’s city guide I wrote about Persian Restaurants and North Austin Vegetarian. This year I’m expanding from just the Persian options to include all of the great Middle Eastern eats in town. While this list isn’t exhaustive, these are the majority, and I have tried each unless otherwise noted. I’ve also included some of the great Middle Eastern markets in town in case you’d like make your own at home. So, without further ado …
The 2013 Austin Middle Eastern Food Guide
Alborz Persian Cuisine (Anderson @ Shoal Creek)
This is a traditional spot for Iranian food. They have a great buffet that lets you sample a variety of Persian dishes from appetizers to desserts. Must try at Alborz: joojeh kabob (chicken), zereshk pollow (barberry and saffron rice), and the albaloo pollow (sour cherry rice). If you go with a group of four or more for dinner I would suggest getting the family plate so you can try a most of their grilled options.
Dream Bakery (Anderson Mill between 183 and Pond Springs)
The only bakery in Austin that has fresh baked Persian treats is Dream Bakery. Owner Azar Owlia and team make traditional cookies, cakes, pastries, and ice cream. In additional to Persian sweets they make traditional French pastries, fantastic kolaches, perfect cookies, and cakes of all shapes, sizes, and tastes. The wedding and party cakes are simply beautiful and tasty.
Kebabalicious (2 locations - Congress @ 7th & 7th @ Trinity)
Kebabalicious is a great trailer for Turkish style kebabs.Their wraps are fresh, quick, and tasty. The spices are prominent and they will tailor the spiciness to your taste. My favorite: The beef/lamb kebab, medium spicy with extra tzatziki. I’ve also heard good things about their zucchini fries. This is fantastic late-night food for those closing out their night on dirty 6th or Red River.
Kismet Cafe (On 24th just off Guadalupe)
Sadly, I wasn’t able to try out Kismet recently, but they have been a staple of the university food scene for years. They have quick serve traditional middle eastern standards. From shawarma to gyros to falafel and kafta, Kismet has your favorite middle eastern dish, and it’s halal.
Marakesh Cafe & Grill (Steck @ Shoal Creek)
Marakesh has reopened! What once was the downtown middle eastern food authority has now found a new home in north Austin. I haven’t been up to their new location yet, but I will be soon! When they were downtown I loved their chicken shawarma wrap. The new chef is Kurt Ramborger, the Eater National Hottest Chef in America of 2012. Good meal and eye candy? Yes, please!
Pars Mediterranean Supermarket & Deli (Burnet @ 183)
Pars Deli is the casual dining option for Persian food here in town. They do grilled meat really, really well. I recommend the koobideh kabob (ground beef and/or lamb) either with pita bread or rice. The meat is always flavorful and juicy. My mouth is watering thinking of the kabob at Pars. The make perfect fluffy basmati rice which is good on its own. The shaker of ground maroon spice you see on the table is sumac. It is a sour spice that makes the kabob even better. Try it, you’ll like it.
Phara’s Mediterranean Cuisine (North Loop @ Avenue F-just east of Lamar)
Phara’s has great food in a wonderful atmosphere. Their back dining area is worth going alone, but the food makes for an even better experience. On the weekend they have belly dancing and the audience is encouraged to participate. This is a great place for large parties. I recommend the lamb shish kebab. Tender, juicy, flavorful, yum! They also have great vegetarian options. It’s BYOB with a very reasonable corking fee, and they have a hookah lounge associated with the restaurant. It’s so nice after you have a great meal to sit under the stars with a glass of wine and aromatic hookah. Highly recommended!
Phoenicia Bakery and Deli (2 locations - Burnet just north of 45th & S. Lamar @ Barton Skyway)
Phoenicia is my go-to market for middle eastern staples. They also have a great bakery and deli. My favorite pita bread, hummus, and tabouli salad are made fresh daily at Phoenicia. At the deli counter you can buy a variety of fresh cheeses and meats. I love the French sheep’s milk feta and the halal mortadela. At the bakery counter you can get wonderful baklava and other sweets. They have hot middle eastern plates and sandwiches you can eat there or take on the go. Get there early for fresh pita bread, especially on the weekends as they sell out quick!
Sarah’s Mediterranean Grill & Market (Burnet near North Loop)
I recently tried Sarah’s and had a fantastic meal. They have delicious middle eastern food in a welcoming atmosphere. The family who owns Sarah’s felt like my own. It was as if I was having dinner at my aunt and uncle’s rather than at a cafe. I had the lamb shank and picked the bone clean it was so delicious! My sister had the chicken kebab plate, which also was great. They have the creamiest hummus I’ve ever tasted and serve it with fresh olive oil and roasted garlic. The market was well stocked and has nearly all of the middle eastern groceries I buy. I will be back very soon!
Shandeez Grill (Anderson Mill north of Pond Springs)
Shandeez Grill is as traditional of an Iranian restaurant as you’ll find. They have slow cooked khoreshts (stews) served over fluffy steamed rice, delicious grilled meats, and some yummy snacks I usually only have at home. My favorite is the tahdig topped with khoreshte (shown below). Tadig is the crispy fried bottom part of the rice. It is soooo delicious. The khoreshte fesenjoon, a beef, walnut, and pomegranate stew is really good. I recommend getting an order of mahsto khiar, yogurt and cucumber dip. Yogurt is like the ketchup of Iranian food, we eat it with everything!
Tarbouch Lebanese Grill & Hookah (Oltorf east of S. Congress)
Tarbouch comes recommended to me by several of my food blogger friends. They have traditional Lebanese options as well as a hookah lounge. I haven’t been to taste yet, but I’ve been told to try the fattoush salad and any of their shawarma plates. Looking forward to making it down there soon!
Tom’s Tabooley (Guadalupe just north of 29th)
Tom’s Tabooley offers Americanized versions of middle eastern classics. They have a brick and mortar on the Drag, plus you can find many of their meals at Whole Foods and Central Market. If you need a quick middle eastern fix, Tom’s is the place for you.
Wholly Kabob (2 trailers - E. 6th @ Waller, and the other is on-the-go)
Wholly Kabob is the new kid on the middle eastern food block. Opened for only a few months, they are making a name for themselves by taking a modern twist on Persian classics. Owner Nanaz Ahmadi is a dietitian and nutritionist and has found a way to make awesome food that is organic and gluten-free. Her spices are spot-on delicious, and flavorful without being greasy. I had Da Persian and after the first bite I could have been in a kabobi in Tehran. Beef kabob grilled to perfection in a pita topped with yogurt-shallot sauce, chopped herbs, and sumac. I had to try some of the other offerings so I got a side of basmati rice and the salad Shirazi. The rice was perfect, and I’m a rice snob. The salad Shirazi was fresh and dressed lightly with lemon juice and olive oil. I also got a sample of of the kuku. I grew up eating kuku and love seeing other interpretations of it. She adds currents and walnuts in addition to the spinach, onion, herbs, and eggs, and I really like the texture and flavor of the kuku. The staff is friendly and had great recommendations. Next time I’m going to try one of the bowls and get the jalacado sauce on it for a little Tex-Mex twist.
Flying Carpet (Oltorf near S. 1st)
While not Middle Eastern, the Moroccan food at Flying Carpet is a spicy cousin. Still operating out of their food trailer, they are now adjacent to a small indoor eating area. The food is delicious! I recommend The Moroccan and Le Dajaj Maghrebi. You also have to get the dates for dessert with some hot Moroccan mint tea.
Verts (7 locations in Austin)
Verts is Berlin style kebap. That’s basically the German version of the Turkish doner kebab street food. However it came about, it’s damn good! I got the doner kebap with beef/lamb, veggies, and both the garlic and hot sauces, as recommended to me by the man who made my kebap. That combination was genius if you like things that are creamy, garlicky, and spicy all at once. If you’re on the go and see a Vert’s, stop in a try it. I’m sure you’ll like it.
Tomorrow is my birthday. Yes, I’m a New Years Eve baby. Having a birthday during the holidays can suck, but luckily, everyone is partying on my birthday, so I love it! I usually celebrate the night before with my family, and my sister made me a fantastic early birthday dinner tonight that I had to share!
Braised lamb shoulder in pomegranate molasses, saffron rice, and grilled asparagus. No restaurant could have done better!
Raspberry truffle cake filled with whipped cream was a perfect sweet ending to a great meal. Happy Birthday to Me!
My bakapalooza is in full force and my kitchen it littered with sprinkles, candy, and remnants of flour everywhere. It’s a beautiful sight to behold! One of the simplest holiday treats I make, and crowd favorite, is my Ginger Cookies. These cookies are crispy on the edge and chewy in the center. They have about four times more spices than the typical ginger cookie, so they pack a delicious punch. I’ve tweaked this recipe over the past decade and think that they are as close to perfect as possible. I get requests for these cookies every year, and for the recipe, too. So without further ado …
1 cup of granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temp
1/2 cup (1 stick) margarine, at room temp
1/3 cup of molasses
2 1/4 cups of flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 Tablespoons ground ginger
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon of salt
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 2-3 cookie sheets with parchment paper. (or use a Silpat mat)
With an electric mixer (or in your stand mixer with the paddle attachment), cream 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar, the brown sugar, butter, and margarine until light and fluffy. Add the egg and continue beating to blend well. Add the molasses.
Sift the dry ingredients 3 times, then stir into the butter mixture 1/2 cup at a time. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Place the remaining sugar in a shallow dish. Roll tablespoonfuls of the dough into balls and then in the sugar coat.
Place the balls 2 inches apart on the prepared sheets and flatten slightly. Bake until golden around the edges but soft in the middle, 12-15 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool.
If all goes well, you’ll have perfect ginger cookies!
Baked goods season is in full force, so ahead of my own personal bakapalooza I decided to do a little experiment. How important is the type of sugar you use?
The whole thing started during my last trip to Costco. BTW, Costco is the devil, but it’s a devil I’m happy to have a part of my shopping life. Kinda like Target. They both get way too much of my money. So, while lugging my giant cart around Costco, I came across coconut sugar. Never having used it, I of course had to buy a 10 pound bag so I could try. That got the gears turning, so I decided to test out the coconut sugar against the other sugars I regularly use. And thus, The Sugar Cookie Showdown was created!
Organic turbinado sugar, old-fashioned white granulated sugar, stevia blended with cane sugar granules, and organic coconut sugar.
My mom got a copy of The Great Big Baking Book on the sale rack at Barnes and Noble about 20 years ago. Since then, it’s been our go-to for all basic baking recipes. I used the exact sugar cookie recipe for each batch, only changing the sugar. I did paint two of the cookies with diluted food coloring after they baked.
Circle-White granulated sugar, Star-Organic turbinado sugar, Little Man-Coconut sugar, Heart-Stevia.
And the winner is …
Old-Fashioned Granulated Sugar!
It was a close very unscientific vote. I gave 10 bags of cookies out and asked everyone what their favorite was. The granulated sugar received 4 votes, the coconut sugar received 3 votes, the organic turbinado sugar received 2, and the stevia received 1.
I also had everyone rank the cookies and the coconut sugar was the 2nd favorite for 8 of the 10 testers. Almost everyone disliked the stevia cookies saying they were dry. The turbinado sugar tasted less sweet, which is what I think swayed the vote toward granulated sugar. I personally preferred the coconut sugar cookies. The sweetness wasn’t cloying and it had a bit of an earthy flavor. I think it would be the perfect sugar for gingerbread.
When I made each of the cookie doughs, I was surprised by how changing the type of sugar altered the creaming process and the texture of the dough. The granulated sugar made the ‘typical’ dough that most of us are used to. The turbinado sugar was a bit stickier. The coconut sugar had the firmest dough, and the stevia made very sticky, almost wet, dough.
Honestly, none of the cookies were bad. In fact, I’d happily eat any of them, especially with some hot tea. This little experiment was fun! I hope it helps you in your cookie making, or at the very least held your interest to read this far. ;o)
“Run, run, as fast as you can. You can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man!”
Delicious Goat Balls. No not the testicles of my favorite hooven animal, though those are tasty. These goat balls are brussels sprouts stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in prosciutto; all on a stick no less. Who doesn’t like food on a stick? These are inspired by similar yumminess I had at Luke’s Inside Out trailer on South Lamar not too long ago. They deep fried theirs and served them with a filet and truffle mashed potatoes. I broil mine and have turned them into an hors d’oeuvres. Either way they are delicious!
1 lb brussels sprouts, washed and trimmed
1/2 lb thinly sliced prosciutto
3 oz chevre, room temperature
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and place the brussels sprouts in. Let them cook for 6-8 minutes until bright green. Once cooked scoop out the sprouts and drop them into an ice bath to stop the cooking, preserve the color, and cool them off. After a minute or two take the sprouts out of the ice bath and lay on a towel to dry.
While they dry, in a small bowl mix the pepper into the goat cheese and set aside.
Take a sprout and cut the top of it off like a little hat.
With a paring knife, hollow out the center of the sprout.
Fill the hollowed sprout with the peppered goat cheese and put it’s top back on.
Take a slice of prosciutto and, depending up on the size of the slice, cut a piece large enough to wrap around the cheese filled sprout. Once wrapped, skewer with a toothpick from the top to secure everything together. I prefer bamboo picks as they hold up better in the oven than standard toothpicks.
Repeat with the remaining brussels sprouts.
Line all of the goat balls on a baking sheet and place into an oven set to broil.
Broil for about 10 minutes or until the prosciutto is crispy.
You can serve them warm or at room temperature.
I recently served these at a holiday party and they were a hit! Hope you and your guests enjoy. :o)
Every Thanksgiving I try a new recipe in order to mix up the holiday table. A few years ago I tried a turkey recipe with butter, white wine, and thyme and it’s now our turkey standard. This year I tried Brussels sprouts gratin and I’m certain this one is a keeper. I found this recipe on FoodNetwork.com and, as with any recipe I find, I had to make it my own. You can check out my changes below.
This gratin is so delicious! It’s creamy, full of flavor, and the Brussels sprouts retain a good texture. I plan on making this recipe throughout the year. It would be great with roast chicken, baked fish, or a hearty main course if you’re going meatless.
Brussels Sprouts Gratin
1 pound Brussels sprouts,trimmed
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese (I prefer caved aged)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for the dish
With the gluttony of turkey day upon us, I’ve been looking for a lighter Thanksgiving morning breakfast option. Something that will be satisfying, but not too filling. Last year I decided to save all of my calories for the feast and ended up constantly “tasting” while I cooked since I was starved. I was so full by dinner I barely made a dent in my heaping plate. The year before that my mother made her amazing biscuits and sausage gravy, but that made me so lethargic I barely wanted to cook.
I’ll be honest, I’m really new to the whole granola thing. I only discovered a way to like it (with yogurt and fruit) in the past year. Granola bars are gross, and the boxed cereals claiming to be granola are so sugary I crash and burn shortly after eating. With my picky palate and the need for low sugar in mind I searched the web for recipes. After reading about 20 or so I decided I didn’t like any of them and made my own up. Surprisingly, the first attempt was good enough that I’m happy to share. The coconut and agave nectar give sweetness without the blood sugar spike. I love the textural combination of the pecans and almonds, and the flax seeds give a bit of an earthly flavor, plus they are good for you.
You can eat it by itself, as a cereal with milk, with yogurt and fruit, or however you like. It’s light, tasty, and will keep you going without dragging you down. Next time I think I’ll add dried cherries to it after it comes out of the oven. Yum!
Agave Coconut Granola
4 cups rolled oats (not quick cook)
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/4 cup whole flax seeds
1/2 cup agave nectar
1/2 cup coconut oil (melted)
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
Thanksgiving is just around the corner so I thought I’d share my grandmother’s traditional corn bread dressing. This recipe was a staple at our gigantic holiday table. Because our family is really, really big (my mom is one of 10 children so you do the math now that we’re on the 4th generation) this recipe was made in quantities larger than most families need, so I’ve adjusted it down for the average sized Thanksgiving gathering. This dressing is moist and very sage-y without being overpowering. It’s a great addition to a simple roast turkey and is delicious with giblet gravy.
Lucyle’s Thanksgiving Dressing
2 boxes of Jiffy Corn Muffin mix prepared
1/2 large onion diced
4 large celery stalks diced
3-5 cloves garlic minced
1 tbsp vegetable oil
5 cups chicken broth
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp rubbed sage
2 tbsp poultry seasoning
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
Prepare the corn bread and let it cool. You can make it up the night before. Crumble finely in a large bowl.
Saute the onion, celery, and garlic in oil until the onions are translucent.
Mix the crumbled corn bread, sauteed vegetables, chicken broth, eggs, and spices thoroughly. Make sure there are no lumps of spices, a mouthful of sage isn’t very tasty. The batter will be very wet, this is good so the dressing will be moist.
Grease a 9x13 pan. This pan is the one my grandmother used for decades and it’s still going strong.
Pour the batter in and bake at 350 degrees for approximately one hour. You’ll know it’s done when a toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean. Also, the top should be golden and a little crispy.
Slice into squares or however you prefer. You can serve warm or at room temperature. It’s delicious either way. To make Thanksgiving day even easier, you can cook this up the night before and reheat while your turkey is resting.
Homemade chili and corn bread. My favorite meal on a rainy day.