Embrace Fall with Middle Eastern Comfort Food: Apple Dumplings with Fig Jam

Thursday September 22, 2011

Dallas, TX - Beat the end-of-summer blues with the warmth of simmering spices and comforting flavors.

The best comfort food tastes like home. Here to inspire you with hers is Chef Joumana Accad, sharing both classic and innovative Middle Eastern fall recipes.

Top your meal off with a a classic southern dessert made with a Lebanese twist to create an intriguing blend of culinary traditions.

Joumana Accad was born in Beirut, Lebanon. She left the Middle East in 1975 and began an international journey. She moved to Paris in the mid-'70s where she finished her formal education.

Upon graduation, Joumana became a pastry chef for a German restaurant, worked as a caterer, and sold her decorated cookies and cakes. Whole Foods Markets asked her to teach classes on Lebanese cuisine at several of their local markets.

Today she runs the popular food blog www.tasteofbeirut.com where she explores the cuisine of the Levant as well as the Middle East. Her recipes have been featured in newspapers and magazines across the country and she is a frequent guest on radio and television.

Celebrate fall with Chef Joumana Accad's inviting family-friendly recipes.

Apple Dumplings with Fig Jam
8 servings

An apple covered in pie dough is not a Middle Eastern tradition; it is something I discovered in the South. I stuffed the apple with a Lebanese/Levantine fig jam [made from dried figs, anise, sesame seeds, and walnuts], which can be bought at stores specializing in Middle-Eastern or ethnic foods, or made at home quite easily (see following recipe).
The apple peels can be recycled into apple-flavored syrup which can be used over several days and stored in the refrigerator.


For the crust:
2 1/2 cups of flour
1 cup of softened butter
1 egg yolk (from a large egg)
1 or 2 Tablespoons of cream
3/4 cups of powdered sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla or rose water or orange blossom water

"An apple covered in pie dough is not a Middle Eastern tradition; it is something I discovered in the South."

For the apples:
8 small apples of similar size
8 tablespoons of fig jam
8 pats of unsalted butter

For the fig jam:
The fig jam can easily be made instead of being store-bought and will last several months. To sum it up, here is what you will do: You will cook cut-up figs in a simple anise-scented sugar syrup along with some walnuts, until the figs are totally imbibed with the syrup; you will "finish" it off with a swirl of toasted sesame seeds and a dash of mastic (optional).

INGREDIENTS:
• 1 pound of dried figs
• 1 cup of walnuts
• 3/4 cup of sesame seeds
• 1/2 tablespoon of ground anise
• 1/4 teaspoon of mastic pebbles (optional)
• 1 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 1/2 cups of water
• 1/2 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice

What you can do ahead of time:
1. Cut up the figs in little pieces and discard the hard tips.
2. Chop the walnuts in coarse bits.
3. Place the sesame seeds on a baking sheet or in a skillet and toast gently for a few minutes till golden.
4. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon and measure to get one half of a tablespoon.
5. Place the mastic pebbles in a small mortar and crush with a pinch of sugar till powdery.

When you are ready:
1. Place the sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed pan. As soon as the syrup boils, add the lemon juice and stir. If you find some froth at the top, remove it and discard it.
2. Add the anise and the walnuts. Let them simmer for a minute, then add the cut up figs.
3. Simmer the mixture gently for about 15 minutes or so, stirring frequently so as not to let it stick to the bottom of the pot. When the syrup has almost evaporated, add the sesame seeds.
4. Stir for a few minutes until the mixture is very thick. Turn off the heat, add the ground mastic and stir vigorously to mix it well.
5. Let the mixture cool. Pour into a sterilized jar and close tightly. It will keep for up to one year.

To decorate:
Two egg yolks, beaten lightly, with a tablespoon of milk or water.

1. Peel and core the apples (try to leave the bottom 1/4 inch closed); keep the stems if using later to garnish the apples; keep the apple peels if using for the apple-flavored syrup later in a basin of cold water with the juice of half a lemon.
2. Stuff the opening of each apple with a tablespoon of fig jam.
3. Place a tablespoon of butter on top of each apple; set the apples on a piece of foil in a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, until the apples are soft. Remove from the oven and cool.

For the crust:

1. Place the flour and powdered sugar and dash of salt in the bowl of a food processor. Run the machine 30 seconds till mixed well.
2. Add the butter, cut in large chunks and process for a few seconds until the flour and butter look well mixed. Add the egg yolk and, if still dry, one tablespoon of cream (or two); when the dough starts to clump, stop the machine, gather into a ball, wrap in paper or plastic and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. (The dough can be frozen for two weeks).
3. Roll out the dough between two sheets of baking paper. Get it as thin as possible (about 1/8 inch or 2 mm). Remove the top layer of paper, lay an apple on the dough, cut a circle around the apple, wide enough to come up to the sides. Seal the dough, rolling it between the palms of your hand until smoothed out. Do the same for all the apples, and when they are all covered, roll out scraps of dough to make the leaves. Place the leaves on the apples and score them with a knife to simulate real veins.
4. Beat the egg yolks lightly in a small bowl and brush onto the apples all over if possible, in order to give them a nice sheen. Bake the apples at 375F for about 20-30 minutes until the crust is crisp and golden. Insert an apple stem in each dumpling if desired. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream if desired.

NOTE: You can make apple-flavored syrup with the apple peels instead of throwing them away. Place the apple peels in a large pot; sprinkle the juice of half a lemon on them; add 1 1/2 cup of raw sugar (or white sugar) on the peels, a cinnamon stick if desired or a couple of green cardamom pods (optional); pour 4 cups of water and bring to a simmer. Let it simmer until a light syrup consistency is reached. Strain and serve with additional water if desired.


Recipes reprinted courtesy of Joumana Accad

To create other traditional Lebanese dishes for your fall feast, go to www.TasteofBeirut.com.