Queen of Sheba

The Portland Metropolitan Area is a diamond mine of grocers- everything from the Indian grocer-bazaars in Beaverton, Vietnamese/Korean/Pan-Asian grocers up on 82nd street, several local community-oriented chains (New Seasons Market, Zupan’s, Market of Choice), the regular repertoire of massive Whole Foods and neighbourhood Trader Joe’s to a plethora of bountiful farmer’s markets

However, my absolute favourite grocer is Barbur World Foods; a 70-year old decently-sized grocery store near the border of Portland and Tigard currently run by a Lebanese family. Besides having a vast selection of Indian/Iranian/East African/European products; it has one of the best selections of Middle Eastern goods I have seen on the west coast. In fact, I am regular sent there on missions by my mother to fill an Express Mail box with 16-20 packets of Medjool dates baking packs (for her famous Ma’amoul- an Arabic date pastry).

With my mama currently being in town; she was more than happy to go support this local business (and fully stock my cabinets with homely foods for after she leaves). So now, if you open my pantry you’ll be seeing: several packets of Lebanese thyme, sumac, cans of Foul Mudammas/Fava Beans (both Saudi style and Lebanese), cans of Cortas Hummus and Baba Ghanouj, orange blossom water, pistachios, Shatta (spicy sauce), Tahini, HUMONGOUS Arabic bread and a freezer full of filo dough and Toum (that epic garlic sauce eaten alongside shish tawouk/chicken kebabs). Perhaps an Arabic-food themed dinner party is in the cards soon?

Besides selling everything an Arab kitchen can ever need; there is a delightful ready food/deli section where I just discovered (thanks to mama) that you can have a filling and delightful meal for under $6 (mark that PDX budget-istas)

What kind of meal you ask?

There are also chicken kebab plates, chicken shawarma sandwiches, and other options, but sometimes you just want a whole lot of falafel; and boy is Barbur World Foods generous with how much they stuff in there- tonnes of the spiced chickpea patties encased with lettuce, tomato, and doused in tahini sauce (I also added some garlic sauce and hummus for necessary dippage) and wrapped in a chewy flatbread. What I also loved about this particular falafel: Not salty or greasy AT ALL, absolutely fresh and more surface area of chickpea filling rather than fried-outsideness

I made a simple Arabic salad for accompaniment consisting of chopped parsley, mint, Persian cucumbers, tomatoes, sumac, olive oil, lemon juice, and vinegar

Mama had also picked up a mini eggplant-gorgonzola pizza which I incorporated into my Saturday lunch:

And to add a little more Arabic pizzazz I topped it with some za’atar:

Za’atar is a traditional herb mix made from sumac, sesame, thyme (and other herbs). This particular brand I bought from a fair trade shop on Granville Island in Vancouver, Canada several months back

And as I’m sure you can see I also added some more hummus and garlic sauce on the side of the pizza; on that note did you know that parsley is a good deodorant for garlic? It helps eliminate the rather unpleasant odor; which I suppose might be one of the reasons (beside being a killer flavour combo) that you see the two so often together

Barbur World Foods on Urbanspoon


So let’s talk dessert now; I am sure you have heard of baklava

Not to brag; but my mama makes the queen bee of baklavas; the calibre that the Queen of Sheba would demand if she were still around and at her throne

And Naz; well she loves baklava so naturally she came over to learn the secrets behind my mother’s filo-layered delight

What do you need to make baklava?

*Filo dough sheet (the number of layers depends on the thickness of the sheets)

*Finely chopped walnuts (Mama hand chopped them all since I am yet to possess a food processor) mixed with a tad of sugar

*1-2 sticks of melted butter

*Orange blossom water

*Chopped pistachios for decoration

And sorry to let you all down; but I really can’t divulge the exact directions as to how you make the baklava; not because I am being coy and secretive but because I fail to remember the complicated process of layering- I just know that you start with filo on the bottom, top with chopped walnuts then add several more layers with melted butter brushed on for every two layers then cut diagonally into little triangles

While it’s baking till browned in the oven, make a syrup out of orange blossom water, lemon juice, water, and sugar (the thickness of the syrup is dependent on how you want it)- after the baklava has browned, take it out spoon all the syrup and let it soak into the crevices and thus add some sweet moisture into the layers/walnuts.

And the final touch? Decorate with chopped pistachios!

The scrumptious handiwork of Mama and Nazneen

And really my mama’s version of baklava is not OVERLY sweet and so saccharine that your teeth feel like they took on a sugar blanket- yes there is a decent amount of butter; but for anything desserty to be good you’ve GOT to have a little happy fat in their, no? Plus it has walnuts, which are good for your hair/skin/nails and brain. And most of all it’s delectable!

Do you like baklava?

Does your mother/father/grandma/whoever have a famous dessert specialty?


23 thoughts on “Queen of Sheba

  1. I LOVE Barbur World Foods! In my capacity as SOAN work study student I had to go there once to pick up food for one of Oren’s lectures and I almost died. jealous.

    1. Isn’t it incredible? They have everything! San Marzano tomatoes, all the rare spices, an amazing array of breads, etc! Please come back and we’ll go 🙂

  2. Oh my God. This is not good – you’re making me preemptively nostalgic for Arabic food before I leave for the UK tomorrow! Your falafel wrap reminds me of one I got from a stall in Portobello Market once – it was beyond amazing. The baklawa looks pretty good too but I to be honest I’m not a big fan of Arabic sweets (yes I know, shock horror!) – although I am partial to anything with dates in it so ma’amoul = win!

    My mom isn’t much of a dessert person but food wise she makes the BEST Koshary and Mahshi (malfoof) known to man, often spoken about in hushed reverent tones. Okay I kid, but her Mahshi is impeccable.

    1. I love koshary and Mahshi! Those are two of my favourite Arabic dishes- as a child koshary with shatta was my #1 comfort food- with the little macaronis on top 🙂 There is so much delicious Arabic food that most people don’t know about since Middle Eastern restaurants all tend to have the same stuff- the regular mezze options/kafta/falafel/etc. And I LOVE mahshi- especially the aubergine or the koosa ones!
      I agree with you about Arabic desserts- they tend to be too sweet for me; though I do like some of the pistachio-fied ones and ones with date- as for baklawa I can only have a tinyyyy piece

  3. Your mum’s baklava looks yummy! My first baklava put me off it completely…so sweet. I haven’t had one since, maybe I should give it a try again except from a different place!
    Your kebab made me crave a falafel kebab 🙂

    Fave family signature dish is Polenta Pudding aka Poudine Mais!

    1. Polenta pudding sounds delicious! Yeah, I’m normally not a fan of baklava since it can be overly saccharine but I love my mum’s since she doesn’t put too much sugariness in it.

  4. Who doesn’t love baklava?? And my grandmother used to make the most amazing iced almond cookies in the world…

    Good to know about the parsley!

    1. You’re half Turkish?! That’s awesome, wayyyy back somewhere on my mum’s side we have some Turkish in us too; and I LOVE Turkish food! Have you ever been there?

  5. Sara you evil woman–> you’ve gotten me CRAVING Arabic food…oh i could go to town with all of this! I have zaatar powder at home so I am going to make use of it ASAP! I actually am not a fan of Baklava but I think I just haven’t eaten it well-made! I am sure your mom’s kind would change my mind in a heartbeat….sweet carbs with nuts: what’s not to like? ;)!

    My mom makes fabulous carrot cake–> perfect sweetness and texture! When I try to wind her up that a restaurant makes it equally good/better, she gets SO defensive–> it’s hilarious ha!

    1. Yes Zaatar is amazing, I love it even on a pita/flatbread with some olive oil and then put in the oven; delicious!
      Carrot cake….yummmmmm; haha my mama gets super defensive about her baked goods too 😉

  6. Love baklava! My mom’s friend is from Turkey and visits there frequently.. she always brings us back some baklava! Your arabic food looks fabulous. I’m showing my roommate your food now.. she’s an Arabic major! She’s in love 😀

  7. Mmmmm baklava. Yum. Such a sweet thing, so it’s a treat, but so good.

    My mom used to make an awesome cheesecake apple pie. Yum.

  8. The balava looks so artistic! Can’t believe it should be that easy to make. And sounds like I can veganize it without problems. So since christmas bakery is going to be a lot more difficult in my first year vegan, I might get a little crazy and throw some baklava in 😉

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