Interview: Faith of An Edible Mosaic + Kousa Mahshi (Stuffed Zucchini)

I want to tell you a little bit about how I came across Faith’s blog. You see, I was browsing the  blogosphere to spot other Middle-Eastern-focused blogs (as I normally do on lazy Sunday afternoons), and came across this post on molokhia. I was under the impression that molokhia is like alien food to Americans, completely unknown to the Western world (hence, my detailed molokhia post on midEATS was written as an introduction of the slimy green soup). It turns out that not only is Faith familiar with it, she also cooks it regularly in her kitchen in Upstate New York. She also cooks a plethora of other Middle Eastern specialties that she creatively writes about on her blog, An Edible Mosaic. An Edible Mosaic isn’t limited to Middle Eastern fare though; it features American classics, spin-offs on French cooking, Indian recipes and original raw desserts, among many other flavors and traditional recipes – (check out the impressive list of recipes Faith has published there!)

Throughout Faith’s blog, you’ll see a love for photography and a love for food and family shine through. One can get lost for hours browsing through her pages, becoming inspired by the ‘mosaic’ of recipes from around the world that she has so carefully documented.  Perhaps the most appealing thing about Faith’s site is her enthusiasm for trying new dishes: her affinity particularly for Middle Eastern food traditions is refreshing to see, especially in the U.S. In this interview, Faith shares with us what draws her to traditional cooking, how she got into blogging (and her favorite posts to date!), and what her experience was of completing her first cookbook about none other than Middle Eastern food! 

– Heba of midEATS

Interview with Food Blogger Faith Gorsky of

An Edible Mosaic

Faith_Gorsky

What got you into blogging in the first place? How long have you been at it? 

I’ve been blogging since May 11, 2009. I started my blog the day after Mother’s Day to share the Mother’s Day meal that my family and I made for my mom. I wanted to show that someone like me – who is by no means a professional chef – can make a decent meal to share with loved ones. After that it was my passion for cooking along with the inspiration I got from readers and other food bloggers that kept my blog going.

 An Edible Mosaic represents cuisines from different parts of the world – what inspires you to cook traditionally? 

I grew up eating classic American food; cozy meals like pot roast, roast chicken, and chowder in the winter, and grilled dishes like barbecued chicken, hamburgers, fish, and corn on the cob in the summer (and of course eggs or pancakes on Sundays!). Because of this I have a real love for traditional foods and the sense of family that they represent, and this isn’t limited to just American fare. I have a number of friends from different ethnicities who have taught me so much, and my favorite way of exploring other cultures is through their classic dishes. Then once I’m familiar with the classics, I like to play with flavors and mix things up (like adding za’atar to croissants!).

We got excited when we saw Middle Eastern recipes on your site – even Egyptian specialties like molokhia that aren’t well known in the Western world! When did you get introduced to cooking Middle Eastern specialties? 

After I was married, I had the opportunity to spend six months living in Damascus where I discovered a love for Middle Eastern cuisine. Luckily, my Syrian mother-in-law (who is a true artist when it comes to cooking) was willing to teach me how to cook traditional Arabic fare. During the past six years, I’ve been able to visit the Middle East four different times, each time expanding my passion for the cuisine and culture.

What’s the hardest thing about blogging, in your opinion? What about the most exciting thing?

Hmm, good question. Other than the common challenges that food bloggers talk about (like photography and struggling with what to write in a post to accompany a recipe), it can be a challenge not to let blogging leak into other aspects of your life (it’s addictive like that!). Also, you sometimes wonder if your stuff is being read by anyone…and you hope that your recipes are being made!

Blogging is a thrill in so many ways, but the most exciting thing for me is the creative outlet that it provides. Whether it’s coming up with a one-of-a-kind recipe, or making sure that the way I photograph it clearly portrays the story I’m trying to tell, blogging lets me share my passion. And I get ecstatic every time I get a comment or email from a reader telling me that they tried a recipe, shared it with their family (what an honor for me!), and it was a hit.

 What are your favorite ingredients to work with in the kitchen? 

Unique things. You name it, the less well known it is, the more I love to work with it! Ingredients like nutritional yeast, mastic, and rose petals excite me, and I love using ordinary ingredients in recipes that they aren’t normally used in, like parsnip in cake, chestnut in pastry cream, grapes in a chicken dish, and sauerkraut in chocolate cupcakes (promise, these really are delicious!). I also love giving a fresh new twist to classic ingredient combos, like remaking peanut butter and jelly into cupcakes.

 Seasonal eating – yay (worth the trouble of sourcing food locally) or nay (too inconvenient to figure out)? 

I think seasonal eating is the easiest, most natural way to go. (Plus it’s exciting! Every time summer comes bringing cherries with it, or fall rolls around with its many squashes, I get happy all over again.) Just go to your local farmers’ market and pick up whatever looks good. And if there isn’t a famers’ market in your area, look for the produce that’s on sale at the grocery store – most likely, it’s what’s in season!

 On your About page, you mention that you particularly like travelling to the Middle East! What cities have you visited, what experiences were the most memorable, and what was the most striking thing about Middle Eastern culture, in your opinion?

My husband and I were married in Amman, Jordan, so I would have to say that that was my most memorable experience! Other than Amman, most of my time in the Middle East has been spent in Damascus, a city that is easy to fall in love with; its culture, history, energy, and people are endearing from the moment you set foot there. Walking through the streets of Old Damascus and shopping in the old markets literally was like discovering a whole new world, and seeing Crac des Chevaliers in Syria took my breath away. Other than the sites, what always impacts me is peoples’ generosity and hospitality; on my first visit to Damascus I remember a taxi driver asking me where I was from. When I told him I was from the States he refused payment for the taxi ride, saying I was a guest there. I was touched.

Our weakness here at midEATS is baking – we love the creativity of cooking, but we find following baking directions to be tricky. We noticed that it’s your strength from posts like this one and this one, which look incredible! What advice do you have for those of us who are baking-challenged?

You are so sweet! Honestly, I really have to be in the mood for baking to make it work (it’s so technical and precise)…the rest of the time when I just want to get in the kitchen and be creative without worrying that the end result won’t work, I just cook.

But I do have a few tricks for baking! As I’m sure you know, baking is a formula, so to make it work you need a certain amount of dry ingredients, usually including some kind of leavening (depending on what you’re making). (The dry ingredients should be measured very precisely, which is why I prefer measuring them by weight.) After that, the other stuff that goes in (like sugar and wet ingredients) varies depending on what you’re making. For example, a cake will have more sugar than muffins, and muffins will generally have a thicker batter (so less wet ingredients) than cake. Once you understand the formula, really the best thing to do is get into the kitchen and experiment…play around with whatever you want to make!

As far as cakes go, the secret is to come up with even just one amazing cake recipe because then you can work off that to make pretty much any flavor you like! I’ve used my basic recipe for classic yellow cake to make linzer cupcakes, strawberry shortcake cupcakes, spumone pudding cake, cherry-vanilla cheese danish cupcakes, and chai-spiced ricotta cake, to name just a few!

Congratulations on completing your first cookbook about none other than Middle Eastern food! (You can tell we’re excited) How was your experience of putting it together?  

Aww, thanks! I was incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to spend about a month and a half in the Middle East before I had to start writing my cookbook. That gave me the chance to get in the kitchen with my mother-in-law and completely immerse myself in Middle Eastern cuisine. I observed everything she did, asked a ton of questions, and wrote down volumes of information. Then when I got back to the States I replicated everything, for both testing and photographing purposes, of course calling my mother-in-law with questions just about every day. She really is the sweetest woman!

I know it’s hard to choose (joking!), but what are your favorite blog posts on midEATS

It really is so hard to choose!  🙂  Here are a few though…

What are your favorite blog posts on An Edible Mosaic

Again, hard to choose!  Here are a few…

If you can share any Middle Eastern recipe with a Western audience, which would it be, and why?

Coffee, prepared Turkish-style. Because it’s so much more than a drink…it’s culture and tradition. It’s a laid-back morning of talking over pastries or a relaxing afternoon full of stories and laughter…or even a heated debate about politics. And it’s usually served with sweets like Ma’amoul, Graybeh, or Barazek, so can I share those along with it?  🙂

Featured Recipe from An Edible Mosaic: Kousa Mahshi

Stuffing vegetables (and meats!) is a Middle Eastern food trend that has been popular for … oh, about a few thousand years? Something about stuffed foods is comforting to Middle Easterners, or maybe it’s a way to show culinary sophistication. Whatever the reason, it’s one tenet of Arabic cooking that we’ve all learned to embrace despite the long hours it takes to prepare these meals. For every occasion it is customary to have at least one stuffed vegetable or meat – usually it’s stuffed grape (vine) leaves or kibbe (bulgur stuffed with ground beef and pine nuts).

Other popular stuffed foods include kousa mahshi (stuffed zucchini), stuffed white eggplants, stuffed tomatoes, onions and bell peppers, stuffed artichokes and stuffed phyllo dough pies (usually with meat or cheese and spinach).  Faith shares with midEATS readers a Middle Eastern favorite, stuffed zucchinis cooked in red sauce. One can also make a vegetarian version of this by omitting the meat and using vegetable stock or simply tomato sauce and extra spices for a strong flavor, instead of the beef/chicken stock. Try this next time you have some zucchinis in the fridge! 

Faith_An_Edible_Mosaic_Koussa_Mahshi

Kousa Mahshi (Arabic Stuffed Zucchini)

Serves  8-10, allow the equivalent of 1 zucchini per serving

  • 8-10 zucchini (each  zucchini should be 8-12” long and ~1 ½” in diameter)
  • 1 ½ cup medium-grain rice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • ~3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups peeled and diced tomatoes, with their juices (you can use fresh or canned)
  • 3 oz tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • ¾ teaspoon ground black pepper, divided
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¼ c chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 lb ground beef or lamb (meat that is between 80-90% lean works well)
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • Fresh lemons, cut into wedges (for garnish)

Other equipment you need:

  • Sharp-tipped vegetable peeler (see picture below)
  • Heavy-bottomed 5-quart pot with a cover

Directions:

(1) Clean the zucchini and trim off the ends.  Cut each zucchini into 2 or 3 equal pieces; the number of pieces you cut the zucchini into will be determined by the zucchini’s size – each piece should be 4-5” long.  Use a sharp-tipped vegetable peeler to hollow out each piece, being careful to leave one end of the zucchini intact.  The zucchini shells should be ~.5 cm thick when you’re done hollowing them out.

(2) In a 5-quart pot with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium heat; add the onion and sauté for 6-8 minutes, or until softened; add the garlic and sauté another minute.  Remove ¾ of the onion/garlic mixture and reserve in a separate bowl.  For the tomato broth, to the pot, add the tomatoes, tomato paste, ½ tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper, bay leaves, fresh parsley, and enough water (or homemade chicken/beef stock) to fill the pot so that it is somewhere between 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full.  Heat the tomato broth over low heat until it comes to a simmer.

(3) For the zucchini filling, mix together the reserved onion and garlic, raw ground meat, uncooked rice, melted butter, 1 ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper, and allspice.  Stuff each zucchini shell with the meat and rice mixture; pack the mixture down so that when turned upside-down the mixture doesn’t fall out of the zucchini; leave a gap of ~¾” at the top of each zucchini because the rice will expand when cooking.

(4) Add the stuffed zucchini to the simmering tomato broth and cook with the lid on for 60-75 minutes.  If the zucchini doesn’t all fit in the pot because there’s too much liquid, you can just ladle some out.  To check if the zucchini is done, remove a piece and cut it in half.  Serve the zucchini garnished with fresh lemon, alongside the tomato broth if you like (you can eat the tomato broth like soup).

About the Cook

An_Edible_Mosaic_Logo

I’m Faith and I live in Upstate New York.  I don’t have any formal cooking training; actually my degree (a Juris Doctor) is probably as unrelated to cooking as you can get!  I learned how to cook from friends, family (namely, my wonderful mother and Syrian mother-in-law), reading (cookbooks/magazines), television, and mostly trial and error.  But cooking truly is my heart and soul, and I’ve never been happier than when I got to make my passion my career.

I love to travel, cook, write, and photograph everything along the way.  My favorite travel destination is the Middle East (specifically Damascus), but I enjoy going anywhere with a rich culture and deep history.  I consider myself very blessed in that cooking is my hobby, favorite pastime, and my job.  I blog at An Edible Mosaic, sharing my recipes from all over the globe, photography, and life stories.

7 Comments

  1. Wonderful interview! I love Faith’s blog so much and am delighted to learn more about her, her family and her adventures that have led to her delish recipes and endearing character.

  2. I subscribe to Faith’s excellent Blog, An Edible Mosaic. I live in Cairo, and love to cook all kinds of Middle-Eastern food, and I enjoy collecting recipes. I clicked over here from Faith’s Blog, and am happy to have discovered another interesting site. Love this recipe which has interesting spices!

  3. Faith’s recipe for Kousa Mahshi is just what I needed, as today I bought a huge bag of white zucchinis at one of our local Asian stores and wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with them all, I just couldn’t resist an absolute bargain for such freshly picked veg!

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Bell Peppers and Squash Stuffed with Quinoa, Beans and Vegetables (Vegan and Gluten-Free) | mideats.com
  2. Baked Kibbeh (Cardamom-Scented Meat and Bulgur Pie with Toasted Pine Nuts) | mideats.com
  3. An Edible Mosaic Cookbook: Review + Giveaway (2 Copies - Enter by Dec. 24th) | mideats.com

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