Azerbaijani-Style Novruz Spring Celebrations in California

The Vernal Equinox today marks the beginning of Novruz. A joyous holiday celebrating spring, peace, friendship, life in harmony with nature and as it literally translates, a new day.

Novruz is celebrated in Iran, Azerbaijan, Central and Western Asia, the Caucasus, the Black Sea Basin, and the Balkans. The California Azerbaijani Friendship Association, headed up by Ms. Kimiya Mammadova, held their Novruz Gala last Saturday night and we were thrilled to participate in the festivities.

Music and dance followed a lavish feast that included all the flavors of spring. Honoring of the the new season is best represented by the famous leek and herb laden egg dish called Kuku Sabzi. This healthy treat enlivens the senses with copious amounts of seasonal herbs including cilantro, parsley and dill. It can be eaten for breakfast, brunch, as an appetizer, side-dish or final touch to a holiday meal. We found the light, abundantly fragrant slices reminiscent of an overstuffed frittata and wouldn’t mind wedging some into freshly baked bread with yogurt and radishes, as recommended by Bon Appetit.

We were regaled with plates of stuffed pastries scattered across the table including the badambura above. Azerbaijani cuisine specializes in some of the best nut and fruit filled delicacies we’ve tasted. Their baklava’s cake like texture makes for a moist, balanced, unique interpretation of the filo dough encased sweet we tend to find in local Middle Eastern and Mediterranean establishments.

Stuffed grape leaves were a beefy powerhouse representing the elusive Azerbaijani cuisine served at the event. The delicacies were lovingly transported to Santa Ana from San Diego’s Cafe 21. An Azerbaijani owned Mediterranean gem that boasts two locations serving exceptional renditions of old and new favorites.

It is tradition to serve Plov during Novruz. The staple consists of crusted, perfectly cooked basmati rice, tender lamb, dried fruit and nuts that all blend into a symphony of sweet and savory satisfaction.

And no spring celebration is complete without a nod to the fresh fruit that is beginning to emerge as the weather transforms from winters chill into spring’s warmth and abundance. If you happen to be near a restaurant of the region, we strongly recommend you check out some of the holiday dishes and take full advantage of natures awesome blossoming.

Wishing everyone a joyous spring and Novruz Bayraminiz Mübarek, which means Happy Novruz.

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Julie Taboulie Celebrates the Lebanese Kitchen

In her new book, Julie Taboulie’s Lebanese Kitchen, Julie honors her mother, tells family stories and showcases her love of the cuisine. Her highest hope is that fans will embrace Lebanese food with the same passion she does. The host of Cooking with Julie Taboulie makes that exceptionally easy to do with 295 pages of straightforward recipes, enticing food photography, highlighted staples and a resources section designed to guide readers to speciality ingredients.

Her namesake dish can be made traditionally or loaded up with quinoa. Both versions result in a refreshing salad that is a must have for every occasion.

The Makbouseh is a summer squash stew that celebrates the bounty of the season. It can be eaten hot or cold and pairs well with homemade pasta called Macaroune b Toum (a hand rolled pasta in garlic sauce), found in the side dish section of the book. Yum.

We adore the mezza pages which showcases our favorite middle eastern small plates including a variety of flavored hummus, baba ghanouj and mouhamarah. The stuffed grape leaves, from the main meals section, can be tailored to accommodate vegetarians or omnivores whether served as a starter or main course.

And no Lebanese meal feels complete to us without a hot beverage and sweets.  For those wishing to indulge, it doesn’t get much better than diving into Maamoul, semolina cookies with a variety of fillings, between sips of Arabic coffee or spiced tea.

For those looking to further explore the Lebanese table, Julie Taboulie’s Lebanese Kitchen is a capitavting addition to the Middle Eastern section of your cooking library.

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Middle Eastern Market Extraordinaire


Duarte is home to one of the most comprehensive Middle Eastern markets we have encountered.  The clean, bright, expansive space satisfies all our needs.


Colorful produce and an abundance of herbs grace the stands.


Armenian, Persian and other cultures of the region rely heavily on fresh radish, onion, scallion, mint and other greens which are an integral part of meals.


Traditional and exotic fruits are also on display.


Reasonable prices and a wide variety of hard to find beans and grains make this a must stop shop for ingredients essential to the Mediterranean diet.


The dairy section is loaded with wonderful creamy offerings such a shallot yogurt dip, mascarpone and a multitude of yogurt and cheese products.


Hibiscus flower, a challenging item to locate, is found along an entire wall devoted to dried herbs and spices.


Appetizers from stuffed olives to sausage fill a refrigerated deli display.


Nuts and seeds are piled high, a must at every Middle Eastern party and an integral part of the dining experience.


We were intrigued by the colorful packaging and beautiful script.


One entire wall is dedicated to their service deli.


Smoked fish, deli meats and cheese are just the tip of the iceberg here.


A butcher section makes life easy with seasoned meats and chicken for forming onto skewers when making kabob.


We took home one of their famous basturma sandwiches and it re-toasted beautifully. The mild cheese poured out and had to be scooped back onto the thin slices of cured meat heavy laden with spice and garlic. Green pepper and tomato brought everything together in  heavenly unison on a crisp crusted, chewy, middle eastern flat bread.


On top of the deli counter we found labneh in oil.  We chose the za’ atar spiked one which incorporates thyme and other dried spices into the thick yogurt balls. Spreading easily on crackers for a tart and exciting snack or incorporated into a sandwich, melted into an omelet, we love brainstorming all the options for this exciting yogurt product.


At the check out counter we found cheese or spinach stuffed pastries called panos that remind us of Turkish borek.


We have to say that Tropicana Market was one of our most pleasant, diverse and delicious Middle Eastern shopping experiences and that we recommend it to everyone we know and love for a journey deep into the savory and sweet secrets of Middle Eastern cooking and culture.

Tropicana Market, 1406 East Huntington Drive, Duarte, CA 91010
Phone – 626-357-4580

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Persian Kitchen Extraordinaire


We are always amazed at the high quality, scrumptious food that comes out of tight little kitchens around town.  Bibi Sara is a wonder of Persian and Middle Eastern cuisine that makes exceptional use of their little space.


The short menu covers the basics, plus they have some secret menu items that you can inquire about, including tahdig, the famous crispy rice dish topped with Persian stew.


The petit kitchen, where all the magic happens, is in full view allowing us to watch the masters in action.


A lot of the business is takeout, but we find the small dining room to be more than adequate and downright cozy on cold winter nights.


The cooler is self serve and contains small tubs of appetizers, salads and drinks, including the Middle Eastern yogurt beverage called doogh, in both plain and mint.


The buttery baba ghanoosh is tahini heavy, through which the tangy spices and eggplant shine through.


While the mast o’-khiar adds cucumber and dried mint to tart yogurt for a blast of refreshment. A yogurt laden with shallots called mast o’-moosir is also available.


We found the falafel to be some of the best we’ve had in Los Angeles. The garbanzo patties are spice and herb heavy, with makes for a serious party in the mouth that plays well against the green salad, tomato, pickle and tahini, all folded into a super fresh lavash wrap creating our dream falafel sandwich.


Hot sauce is available to add a jolt of heat if desired and we found it to be a great addition to the falafel.


We saw some tahdig in the kitchen and couldn’t resist the call.  the crisp browned thin servings of rice can be topped with a variety of stews.  As it was close to closing time, all that was left was a freshly made batch of the green herb stew called khoresht ghormeh sabzii. Greens and herbs in this amazing version are cooked down to their essence and strike the perfect balance with the supremely tender beef chunks and meaty red beans. This is a Persian delicacy not to be missed that reheats and crisps up well at home in the oven if you are taking out.

For a little sweetness they serve bite size baklava. Here the Middle Eastern pasty is scented with rose water and contains the precise blend of savory nuts and  sweet honey, with neither overpowering the other.


For some of the most memorable Persian food in the San Fernando Valley, from family recipes, we strongly recommend a visit to Bibi Sara where just a few dollars bags Persian delights a plenty.

Bibi Sara, 4878 Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Woodland Hills, CA 91364
Phone – 818-914-5298

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Chicken Galore in Hollywood


Since 1989, Al Wazir has been serving up chicken and Middle Eastern cuisine in Hollywood to loyal patrons.  The small, clean, functional space does a brisk take out business, while a few guests like ourselves, sit down to enjoy the food straight from the source.


The menu lists a number of chicken options including rotisserie, kabob, breast and shawarma. They also crank out lamb, beef and vegetarian entrees.


The kitchen runs on all cylinders from 11 AM to midnight, 7 days a week.


Pots bubble on the stove, meats sizzle on the grill, two vertical rotisseries rotate shawarma past the heating element, singeing the juicy meat, as fat drips from skin laid atop the thick pillars of flesh.


An enclosed horizontal rotisserie roasts chicken into golden-brown, crisp-skinned wonders.


All the while the staff are busy cutting, slicing, wrapping and preparing orders, almost nonstop.


Since chicken is in the name, we had to check out the birds and found the chicken shawarma to be a tender, juicy, spiced mix of both dark and light meat, with edges caramelized to a sweet, salty crunch.  The chicken shaved off the spit, is served on rice dotted with peas and alongside a big dollop of well blended hummus, a handful of pickled radish, hot green peppers, pita and a creamy dressed salad.  It’s a large plate with loads of exciting flavors that set us back $9.45.


The vegetarian combination includes the same silky hummus, green salad, radish and pita but features a smokey, addicting baba ganoush, a parsley heavy tabouli and spiced rice stuffed grape leaves.


Sandwiches come tightly wrapped in foil to keep them warm and when unfurled retain the shape of the bullet they have been fashioned into.


We ordered the falafel sandwich which arrived dripping in tahini, and then added hummus, babaganosh and tabouli as well a hot chilies, from the vegetarian plate, in order to up the flavor profile.


The lovely and accommodating staff go out of their way to make customers feel comfortable and well tended.  Charming service combined with healthy and tasty food, elevates this little establishment to one of our regular stops for Middle Eastern cuisine.


Al Wazir Chicken, 6051 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90028
Phone – 323-856-0660          web site –

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Mediterranean Oasis


Ancient scenes of affluence and color line the dining room walls at Almaza Fine Mediterranean Cuisine in Culver City.  It’s easy to drive right by the patio just a tad west from the corner of National and Venice and not even notice that a restaurant exists there.


After we slowed down a bit, we found an immaculately clean, ornate restaurant that specializes in Middle Eastern fare.  We like to eat light and stuck to appetizers for lunch.


The vegetarian combo platter consists of creamy hummus, seasoned rice and vegetable stuffed grape leaves, a fluffy parsley-heavy tabbouleh, crispy spiced falafel balls, and a smokey babagannouj, love that smokiness. We all found the plate to be marked by extreme freshness.  Everything smacked of straight from mother nature.


Warm pita triangles made scooping up the salads and appetizers all the more fun.  We love eating with our hands.  After all, that’s what people did before utensils, so why not dig in old school style. A side of yogurt salad embedded with cucumber and mint added a bit of tang to the appetizer plate.


We couldn’t resist the musakaa, healthy slices of eggplant with bell peppers, baked in a rich tomato sauce.


We were impressed with the freshness and reasonable prices at Almaza where appetizers are in the $5 to $6 range. Salads go from $4.99 to $8.99 for the Almaza special shrimp salad.  Entrees hover around $13.00. Three of us ate well and there were still leftovers.  Large plates of satisfying Mediterranean cuisine, an outdoor patio where they offer hookah, great value for our dollar and a laid back cafe ambiance make Almaza Fine Mediterranean a new favorite on our list.

Almaza Fine Mediterranean Cuisine, 8905 West Venice Boulevard, Ste 112, Los Angeles, CA 90034
Phone – 310-280-9006        web site –

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Icy Refreshment


Ice cream has evolved over the decades to embrace a wide breadth of interpretations, yet some remain dear no matter what new flavors come down the pike.


Mashti Maolne’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream is an oldie but a goodie as they say.  We revisited this old timer to check out their offerings.  Aside from the standards, we were called to investigate the unique flavors and found their sorbets to be especially enticing.


There are a few specials that need explanation.  The Mashti is a scoop of ice cream sandwiched between two wafers and a Malone is a rich funnel cake-like pastry onto which ice cream is placed.  They also have beautiful free form waffle cones in cups as well as more traditional ice cream cones to choose from.


Sampling is of course the way to go.  Be sure to get a lick of Turkish coffee, ginger rose water, lavender, saffron rose water with pistachio, sour cherry sorbet, cucumber sorbet or whatever else catches your fancy before you commit.


We ended up with a double scoop that included herbal snow, a mix of 14 herbs, poppy seed, basil seeds, lemon, rose water and cardamom that hits with a bouquet of roses followed by the crunch of basil seeds and a downpour of slushy herbal sweet and savory snow.  The second scoop, creamy mango, played off the herbal snow with its milky rich, full bodied mango puree to create a marriage of opposite flavors and textures that simply sing together.


In addition to ice cream and sorbet, Mashti Malone’s also carries Middle Eastern pastries and wafers if you care to create your own ice cream sandwiches or desserts at home.


Cartons, ready to go, fill the freezer if a party is imminent.


A refreshing testament to the power of high-quality exotic ingredients, Mashti Malone’s set the bar decades ago and continues to bring sweet, creamy and icy pleasure to a parched Los Angeles.

Mashti Malone’s Ice Cream, 1525 North La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90028
Phone – 323-874-0144      web site –

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Middle Eastern Market Experience


Elat Market is a Middle Eastern, kosher supermarket that draws customers in with great prices, specialty products and a central location near Pico and Robertson.


The busy aisles require some finesse to navigate and we have learned the hard way not to get in the way of elderly patrons hellbent on finding affordable flawless produce.


Once we got used to the assertive nature of the clientele, we found the shop to be a wonderful resource.  Elat is mid sized and easy to navigate, while also stocking everything we need.


Prices far below those at conventional markets are the norm, as are nontraditional items such as Persian cucumber which are referred to simply as cucumber.


Hard to find seasonal fruit, such as fresh dates are readily available.


The market is divided into sections that overflow with each particular item, such as the nut and dried fruit corner where bins as well as prepackaged items abound.


The deli counter lays out freshly made sushi as in most markets, so we don’t feel we are missing out in any way.


A preserved fuit and vegetable case offers olives and pickled vegetables to adorn the dinner table.


While the feta cheese case displays the tangy white dairy product from a variety of  countries.


Both the meat and fish counters provide an assortment of kosher products for the orthodox and nonreligious alike.


The beautiful meats and fish adhere to strict standards and tend, in our experience, to be of high quality and freshness.


A small area houses bread including challah, lavash and a number of other exotic loaves and flatbreads.


While pastries galore line the shelves.


We love Elat Market for its diversity, reasonable pricing, foreign ambiance and fresh produce, fish, meat and poultry.  They have everything we look for in a supermarket experience with the added benefit of Middle Eastern flair.


Elat Market, 8730 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90035
Phone _ 310- 659-7070  web site –

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Middle Eastern Sweets Emporium


Little Arabia in Anaheim has no shortage of bakeries.  As Ramadan (the Islamic holy month of fasting, introspection and prayer) continues until July 17, 2015, we are enjoying many of the specialty desserts available during this joyous time of year.


One of the standout bakeries in Little Arabia is Victory Sweets.  An immaculately clean shop where fresh Middle Eastern pastries are baked daily.


Cookies, stuffed dates, baklava and cases full of goodies encourage visitors to savor the delights of life.


Packaged dessert trays are ready to share at iftar celebrations, where family and friends break the daily fast each evening.


One of the specialities at Victory is knafeh, a miraculous combination that begins with a base of warm, gooey cheese, topped with finely cut crispy filo or noodles, sweet syrup and pistachio nuts.  At first bite we were in love with the rich, chewy, savory and sweet combination.


The best way to experience knafeh is to have the baker heat it for you, then you know it is being served in its optimal form.  Warming this hearty dessert at home proves challenging.  Heated too long produces rubbery cheese while undercooking leaves a cold unmelted foundation.  We tired, but the baker does it best.


The version we devoured at Victory Sweets varies from the semolina version.  You can tell by he vibrant orange color that you are getting the noodle version which we prefer over the semolina style.


Victory also sells the pancakes used to make the Ramadan delight qatayef, a Palestinian dumpling stuffed with either nuts and cinnamon or cheese, then fried and coated with sweet syrup.


Exploring Middle Eastern Sweets during holiday time makes the experience all the more exciting, educational and delicious as owners and patrons alike share the many traditions and foods celebrated at this time of year.

Victory Sweets, 9057 Cerritos Avenue, Anaheim, CA 92804
Phone – 714-229-0800    web site –

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Healthy Alternatives


We continue to be enthralled with ethnic markets.  There is something exciting about the abundance of unique products, low prices, exotic produce, and an introduction to unique cultures and cuisines. We find it extraordinary that a simple trip to an ethnic market expands our awareness, our pantry, our dinner table and our health.


Little Arabia in Anaheim has just such an eye-opening adventure in Altayebat Market.  This moderately sized Middle Eastern grocer offers everything we could desire from a well stocked and manned butcher counter, to a delicacy packed freezer section, a cold diary section of foreign cheeses and aisles of colorful products surprisingly free of preservatives, additives and artificial ingredients.  We can actually read and understand most of the labels and this is a huge advantage as we take responsibility for our health and wellness.


We are embracing eating traditions of distant cultures, loading the table with fresh herbs, vegetables and greens as do Middle Eastern and Vietnamese cuisines, where piles of the freshest produce always fill a portion of the table.   Adding fresh mint, basil, onion, cucumber, tomato, and sprouts to our dinner table prompts us to grab a handful, a refreshing addition to whatever we’re eating.  We also love the civilized northern African tradition of lounging after a meal over a bowl of nuts in their shell, fresh and dried fruits.


In our quest for the perfect balance of visual beauty, sensational taste, and stellar health we find many foreign cultures have practices that make eating healthy a joyful endeavor and that is the type of nutritional plan we choose to adopt.


Our lives have been greatly enhanced by our willingness to explore beyond the traditional American dining scenarios,  giving us more options and the freedom to choose whatever works best for us.


Exploring Altayebat Market offers delightful new options to consider. We hope you will join us on our quest for delicious meals and the best of health.

Altayebat Market, 1217 S Brookhurst St, Anaheim, CA 92804
Phone – 714-520-4723        web site –


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