Sfouf bi Debes (Carob Molasses Cake)

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Sfouf is the most popular recipe on my blog: it’s a semolina anise seed tea cake that’s fluffy, moist, incredibly flavorful and vegan. The baking time is actually longer than the time it takes to mix all the ingredients together; it’s no wonder why it is the most viewed page on this site!

This version of sfouf is made with carob molasses (also known as debes el kharrub in Arabic) instead of refined white sugar. It’s a healthy and popular alternative to regular turmeric sfouf especially during Easter lent.

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Since the carob tree is native to the Mediterranean region, carob molasses is widely consumed in Lebanon. The pods of the carob fruit are mashed with water to release their sugar, then strained and boiled down until a dark thick syrup is formed. In fact it is very common in these regions to make syrups from fruits and there’s an incredible variety ranging from pomegranates, dates, grapes, to mulberry, prickly pears, and figs.

Carob molasses has a very distinctive earthy flavor that’s almost reminiscent of cocoa. That’s why it’s a great alternative to chocolate in many recipes, especially when you taste it in its raw form (I think it looses the rich cocoa taste when baked). So there you have it: an even healthier vegan sfouf cake that’s naturally sweetened. Feel free to experiment with other types of molasses if you can’t find carob at your local food market.

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Ingredients:

1 tbsp tahini paste
1 cup boiling water
2 tsp anise seed
2 cups fine semolina flour
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground anise seed
1 cup carob molasses
1 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup toasted white sesame seeds for decoration (you can also substitute with pine nuts or halved blanched almonds)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 180ºC (355ºF) and grease a 11″ (28cm) round tin pan with the tbsp of tahini.
2. Seep anise seeds in the boiling water for 5 minutes, then strain and set aside to cool.
3. Meanwhile, toast the white sesame seeds in a non stick pan on medium high heat until fragrant and barely golden. Set aside to cool.
4. In a large bowl, mix the fine semolina, flour, baking powder, and ground anise seeds until homogeneous.
5. Slowly add the anise tea, carob molasses, and vegetable oil to the dry ingredients and mix until no lumps remain. The batter will be slightly thick.
6. Pour batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top with sesame seeds.

7. Bake for 30-35 min, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

9. Let cool in the pan completely before inverting onto a wire rack.
10. Cut into square or diamond shapes, and store in an airtight container (cake can be frozen up to 3 months).

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Mini mana’eesh with homemade labneh

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There’s nothing better than a hot manousheh right off the saj, a domed large cast iron griddle. The flatbread dough recipe is a mix of water, flour, yeast, and salt, rolled out and smothered with a za’atar* olive oil paste or shredded white cheese. Sounds very simple right? But it’s not common to make homemade mana’eesh (plural of manousheh) in Lebanon since local bakeries have the best tools and techniques to create a perfect manousheh every single time. It’s also very fresh, cheap, and accessible in Beirut city or the suburbs. It’s available literally everywhere for breakfast, lunch, or at dawn after a long night of partying.

*za’atar is a mix of dried thyme, sumac, roasted sesame seeds, and salt. It’s one of those ingredients that can be used in any meal – sprinkled on eggs, dairy, meats, or roasted vegetables.

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When taken off the saj, the flatbread slightly deflates then it is topped with sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and mint leaves and served rolled up in parchment paper. The key characteristics of a great manousheh is a flat bubbly surface, crisp edges, and most importantly a very chewy center with just the right amount of filling.

My favorite way to eat a za’atar manousheh for breakfast is usually with sour labneh and cherry tomatoes. I posted step by step instructions at the bottom of the page explaining how to turn regular yogurt into creamy and tangy labneh. I almost never eat labneh without a good amount of za’atar, olive oil, and fresh hot bread –making it a wonderful accompaniment to manousheh. You can sweep it, mound it, shmear it, or eat it in a spoonful. It’s THAT good.

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I used to eat mana’eesh on a weekly basis back home in Lebanon but it is hard to find a fresh manousheh bakery in NYC, and sometimes all I want are just a couple of bites of that magically chewy dough in the morning with Arabic coffee. So I found an easy and quick way to make mini mana’eesh that hit the spot every time.

A lot of recipes online call for eggs, milk, or butter for the dough. But the truth is you don’t need any of these ingredients to make a traditional manousheh dough. Also, try to avoid all-purpose flour because the secret for a wonderfully chewy bread texture is gluten, lots of it. That’s why a high protein strong bread flour is essential here; it results in a more elastic and dense dough.

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Manousheh – Recipe adapted from Mediterranean Cookbook, makes about 44, 2.5″ mana’eesh
7g instant dried yeast (¼ ounce package, about 2¼ tsp)
½ tsp sugar
15ml lukewarm water
450g (1lb) strong bread flour, plus extra for dusting
½ tsp salt
300ml lukewarm water
6 tbsp za’atar
4½ tbsp olive oil (or just enough to turn za’atar into a paste)

Directions:
1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar in 20ml lukewarm water (85°F to 95°F). Leave to cream for 10 minutes.

2. Sift the bread flour and salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the creamed yeast. Gradually add 300ml lukewarm water and draw the flour in from the sides to form a dough.

3. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic (alternatively, you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook) then shape into a ball. Pour a drop of olive oil into the base of a bowl, spread around with fingers, then roll the dough in the oil to coat it all around. Cover with a damp cloth or cling film and place in a warm place for one hour until it has doubled in size.

4. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F) for at least 30 minutes before starting to bake. In a small bowl, pour olive oil over the za’atar until it turns into a paste. You don’t want the mix to be too oily. Knock back the dough and knead it lightly, then divide it into 44 parts (approximately 15g each) using a bench scraper or sharp knife. Space out the equal parts of dough and cover with a damp cloth to prevent forming a crust.

5. Take a small piece of dough, shape lightly into a ball and roll it out into a 2.5″ inch circle using a rolling pin. Smear about 1/2 tsp of the za’atar paste on top and, using two fingers, create a small indent in the middle. Lightly dab the edges with olive oil to give it a golden color and place on a large parchment-lined baking sheet. Continue working with the rest of the dough to fit as many as possible on a single sheet. Bake in batches, one sheet at a time to prevent the prepared mana’eesh from rising.

6. Bake for 10 minutes, until barely golden. Do not overbake the mana’eesh or they will turn out very tough and crispy and instead of soft and chewy (I usually like to test the baking time for one manousheh before proceeding with the rest). While the first batch is the oven, start shaping the rest of the dough balls into mana’eesh and place on a second parchment lined baking sheet. Proceed with baking until you’re all done.

7. Mana’eesh can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature, or frozen for up to 2 months. Simply heat them up for a few minutes before serving.


Homemade Labneh
32 ounces of organic plain yogurt (I like Seven Stars Farm)
generous pinch of salt
tsp fresh lemon juice

Directions:
1. Line a mesh strainer with 3 to 4 layers of cheesecloth and set over a deep bowl.

2. Add the salt and lemon juice to the yogurt and stir. Pour the yogurt mixture into the cheesecloth-lined strainer and gather the edges of the cheesecloth together to tie with a string or elastic band.

3. Place the bowl as it is in the fridge. Alternatively, you can place a long piece of wood or 2 sturdy chopsticks across the top part of the bowl and tie the cheesecloth in the middle to let it hang without touching the bottom.

4. Strain for 8 to 12 hours for a smooth and soft labneh consistency or 24-48 for a thick and firm consistency (I prefer the latter, but it’s really up to you!).

5. Take out the labneh from the fridge and transfer to a glass container. Store in the fridge for up to a week.

 

Light Banana Bread

Brownie Box | Light Banana Bread

Would you believe me if I said that I can never get banana bread recipes right? Whenever I have overripe bananas on hand I prefer making pancakes, muffins, or ice cream because I used to dread ending up with a failed banana bread. No matter how many recipes I tried, the result is always the same: a cooked outside with a dense/raw center. But I recently decided to give it another try, after all it should be in every baker’s repertoire.

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In a desperate attempt to bake the perfect loaf, I tried Joanne Chang’s recipe from her book Baking with Less Sugar. While, yes, the technique of whipping the eggs and heating bananas are extra steps to a seemingly easy banana bread recipe, they made me wonder if the end result will be successful. And to my surprise it turned out perfect from the first time! Moderately sweet, airy, tender and fool-proof. I added a streusel-ish topping consisting of walnuts, oats, and cinnamon to give an extra chew, but you can leave it out if you prefer a simpler version.

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Recipe adapted from Baking with Less Sugar

Ingredients:

• 80g (¾ cup) raw walnuts, coarsely chopped
• 175g (1¼ cups) all-purpose flour
• ½ tsp baking soda
• 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
• ¼ tsp kosher salt
• 3 large eggs, room temperature
• 80g (6 tablespoon) sugar
• 70g (1/3 cup) vegetable oil
• 4 medium very ripe bananas
• 90g yogurt
• 2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Topping:
• 2 tbsp rolled oats
• 2 tbsp chopped toasted walnuts
• 2 tsp coconut oil
• 2 tsp honey

Directions:
1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and pre-heat to 325°F (165°C). Butter and line the bottom and sides of a 9″x5″ (23×13 cm) loaf pan with parchment paper.
2. Put the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
3. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
4. Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and sugar on medium speed for 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy.
5. With the mixer on low speed, slowly drizzle in the vegetable oil. Be sure to pour it carefully to avoid deflating the air in the batter.
6. In a microwave safe bowl, mash 3 bananas with a fork (I prefer leaving a few chunks) and microwave for one minute until they are hot. Alternatively, cook in a saucepan on medium-high heat until soft and mushy for 2 minutes. Whisk in the yogurt and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Mash the remaining banana and add it to the mixture.
7. Add the banana mixture to the egg mixture and mix on low speed until just combined.
8. Fold in your dry ingredients and nuts by hand with a rubber spatula until combined, making sure that there are no white streaks in the batter. Then pour the batter into the prepared pan.
9. Mix the oats, walnuts, coconut oil, and honey in a separate bowl and sprinkle over cake batter.
10. Bake for 55-60 minutes until the top of the banana bread is golden and springs back when you poke the center.
11. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before turning it on a wire rack.
12. Banana bread can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 day, or tightly wrapped in the freezer for up to two weeks then thawed overnight at room temperature.

Note: If you have a loaf pan that’s smaller than 9″x5″ pour less of the batter in the pan and bake the remaining mixture in a muffin pan.

No-Bake Granola Bars

No-Bake Granola Bars | Brownie Box

These no-bake healthy and energizing granola bars have my favorite ratio of oats, nuts, and dried fruits.

No-Bake Granola Bars | Brownie Box

You can get really creative with the recipe by adding more oats or a mashed banana, omitting the nuts, mixing in chocolate chips, drizzling melted chocolate on top, or adding more honey for a sweeter taste. You basically have complete control of what you’re using in the mixture as long as you stick to the same ratio of liquid to dry ingredients. What I also love about this recipe is that it doesn’t require turning on the oven because the honey, coconut oil, and nut butter holds all the ingredients together ensuring insanely delicious and chewy bars.

No-Bake Granola Bars | Brownie Box

No-Bake Granola Bars | Brownie Box

They’re great as a topping for your morning greek yogurt bowl or as an afternoon snack. But I found it incredibly hard to stop nibbling on them all day (and then feel bad about it), that’s why I always freeze them individually and let them thaw in the fridge for when I need them!

No-Bake Granola Bars | Brownie Box

Recipe adapted from Bowl of Delicious – Makes 12/15 bars

Ingredients

4 Tbsp coconut oil
4 Tbsp organic honey (or other sweetener, such as molasses, agave, maple syrup)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp almond butter (or peanut butter)
1 cup organic old fashioned rolled oats
½ cup sliced walnuts
½ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup pumpkin seeds
¼ cup shredded coconut, unsweetened
½ cup chopped dried apricots
1 Tbsp chia seeds

Directions

1. Melt the coconut oil, honey, and cinnamon over medium heat and bring to a boil.
2. Let it bubble for a minute then turn the heat down to low, and stir in the vanilla, almond butter, and oats. Stir to coat.
3. Add the nuts/seeds, shredded coconut, and dried apricots, then mix until fully incorporated.
5. Continue cooking on low heat for 2 minutes then remove from heat.
6. Meanwhile, line a 6″x8″ (15 x 20 cm) baking dish with parchment paper, leaving the sides of the paper long.
7. Add the mixture to the dish; press with the back of a wooden spoon so it is evenly spread out.
8. Fold the parchment paper wrap over the granola so the top is covered (get more if necessary). Press the granola aggressively, so it is as packed as you can make it. You can use the wooden spoon, the palm of your hands, a dish/cup, or a glass mason jar. Just make sure it is well packed and evenly distributed!
9. Place in refrigerator and allow to cool completely – at least two hours up to overnight.
10. Remove granola from parchment paper –  it should be in one big block. Cut into bars, and wrap individually in plastic wrap. Store in the fridge for about 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Flourless Butternut Squash Loaf

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I roll out of bed each day thinking about food. I love starting my day with cooked cinnamon banana steel cut oatmeal, boiled egg on avocado toast, any of Nature Path’s gluten free cereal with Califia almond milk, and of course organic decaffeinated green tea. Ever since I started eating and living a healthier lifestyle, I’ve been interested in incorporating what I learn about “green food” in baking: such as looking for recipes that are naturally sweetened, gluten free, and focused on vegetables or fruits as main ingredients instead of butter, sugar, and dairy.

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People always ask me if I’m vegan or on a constant “diet” but the truth is I don’t follow a specific lifestyle because I love eating healthy whole foods and enjoy everything in moderation. Nothing gets me more excited than plant-based recipes like wholesome salads made with seasonal ingredients, fish or lean meats, beans, and nuts. Eating this way gives me a better body image and makes me feel great inside out. Don’t get me wrong, I still love eating cakes, cookies, and ice cream in small quantities but I’m more mindful about the quality of food that I put in my body everyday.

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This butternut squash loaf is a new favorite and totally guilt-less. It’s made with pureed squash, honey, ground almonds, oat flour, eggs, and cinnamon– basically everything that’s good for you! I love eating a slice in the morning or as an afternoon snack with a tiny sliver of butter or jam.

Ingredients:
120g (1 cup) ground almonds (grind in food processor until a meal forms)
60g (2/3 cups) oat flour (you can also grind rolled oats in a food processor)
113g (1/3 cup) honey
180g (2/3 cup) puréed butternut squash*
2 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
1½ ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp sea salt
Extra rolled oats/chopped walnuts/sliced almonds/pumpkin seeds for garnish (optional)

*Can be replaced with sweet potatoes

Directions:

For the butternut squash purée: (can be made 5 days in advance)
1. Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Cut a medium squash in half and remove the seeds.
2. Place the squash facing up on a lined baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes until the flesh is fork-tender.
3. Take out of the oven and let it cool down for 15 minutes.
3. Scoop out the flesh and place in a food processor, then purée until smooth.

For the cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) and grease a 3.5×7.5 in (9×19 cm) loaf pan with vegetable oil and line with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients together until homogeneous.
3. Pour the batter into the loaf pan and add your preferred garnish.
4. Bake for 40 minutes until the cake is browned and a tester inserted into the middle comes out clean.
5. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 15 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Blackberry Muffins

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Blackberry muffins are great for breakfast or as a mid-day snack. They are healthy because they do not contain a lot of butter and sugar, and blackberries are low in calories, carbohydrates, and fat, making them one of the best fruits for a balanced diet – and these muffins are loaded with them!blackberry muffins 5 blackberry muffins 4I also omitted the crumble that the original William Sonoma recipe called for because I didn’t want them to turn out too sweet. By the way did I mention how much I adore their recipes? They are just foolproof! The results are always picture perfect.blackberry muffins 3

These muffins taste reaaally good, and what’s amazing about them is the center that is slightly dry, contrasting with the bursting, juicy blackberries. This actually prevents super soggy muffins. You don’t want that.

You can always substitute the blackberries with blueberries, raspberries, or strawberries. Remember to treat soft berries very gently because they will break and bleed in the batter. If the berries that you bought are too soft, follow this technique: Wash the berries, pat them dry, then place them on a baking sheet in the freezer for ≈ 15 minutes. This will firm up the berries before mixing them in the batter.

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Ingredients: (Recipe from William Sonoma) – Makes 16 muffins.
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1⁄2 tsp. baking soda
1⁄2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Grated zest of 1⁄2 lemon
1⁄4 tsp. salt
1 egg room temperature, beaten
5 Tbs.(70 grams) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup buttermilk (check substitute)
2 cups fresh blackberries or 2 1⁄2 cups frozen unsweetened blackberries, unthawed

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375 °F (190 °C)
2. Grease 12 standard muffin cups with butter, or line with paper liners.
3. In a bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, lemon zest and salt.
4. Make a well in the center and add the egg, melted butter, and buttermilk.
5. Stir just until evenly moistened. The batter will be slightly lumpy.
6. Sprinkle with the blackberries and gently fold in with a large rubber spatula just until evenly distributed, no more than a few strokes. Take care not to break up the fruit. Do not overmix.
7. Fill the prepared muffin cups with the batter, filling each to the rim of the cup.
8. Bake until the muffins are golden, dry and springy to the touch, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (25 to 30 minutes).
9. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Unmold the muffins. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Homemade Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is good… Homemade peanut butter is delicious!

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I recently found out that peanut butter is simply ground peanuts. It never crossed my mind to make my own because I always thought that thick peanut butter contained ingredients that are not available in my pantry. Surprisingly, you only need roasted peanuts, peanut oil, and honey (to add a touch of sweetness). Since I love making things from scratch, I had to try it out.

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But first, I decided to do some research about peanut butter: where did it originate? why is it called peanut “butter”?

I found out that peanuts are actually legumes! Yup, I was surprised too. Unlike walnuts or almonds that grow on trees, peanuts grow underground and they provide the best source of concentrated protein. Its origin goes back to the Aztecs who used to crush roasted peanuts into a paste. It wasn’t until 1908 that it came to the U.S. market. It’s called peanut “butter” simply because its consistency resembles softened butter.

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What I love about this recipe is that I can enjoy eating peanut butter without worrying about the amount of sugar, salt, or additives in my food. I usually buy high quality freshly roasted peanuts from the local roastery, but you should always check the ingredients for any harmful additives since the peanuts are the main ingredient.

I noticed on foodgawker and a few other blogs that the color of  homemade peanut butter differs from one person to another. That’s because the color depends on the type of the peanuts used for processing. So it can turn out darker or lighter than the store brought version.

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I love eating peanut butter with toast, bananas, or apples! I usually slice an apple into rings, spread some peanut butter, and top it off with homemade granola. Yum! You’ll get the healthy fiber, fats, and whole grain servings with this nutritious and filling snack.

It’s really fun to make your own peanut butter 🙂 Let me know what you think!

Ingredients:

200 grams, about 1+1/3 cups, lightly salted roasted peanuts (you can also roast your own peanuts)
2 Tablespoons peanut oil (or walnut, canola, but not olive oil)
1 Tablespoon raw honey

Directions:

1. Put the peanuts in the food processor.
2. Process for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
3. Add the oil and honey, then process until smooth (about 3-4 minutes), or until you reach the desired consistency. (be careful the machine could overheat)
4. Transfer to an air tight container and refrigerate up to 2 months.

Note: For crunchy peanut butter, stir in 1/2 cup chopped roasted peanuts after processing is complete.