Here’s another Lebanese inspired dish that we make once every week or so. My kids request this one. They absolutely love it. We all do. They literally want this dish at least once a week.
At this point, you may be wondering, “how do you get your kids to eat these amazing meals with vegetables?” The answer is pretty simple. I never made separate meals. From the time the older Els were little and currently with our toddler, we make a family meal and eat it together. Of course we have nights where people make their own dinner and eat whatever they want. But, as a practice, I make a meal for the family and offer it to everyone. I don’t like to make an issue out of food. So, we’ve never told our kids they had to clean their plates. We do encourage them to try new foods and at this point we’ve built up a good level of trust- I ((mostly)) serve them delicious dishes. There was that one time I made chick pea noodles in 2020. (Gross!) See below for the Lebanese Cauliflower, ground beef and rice directions and quick video. Please comment and let me know if you make this delicious dish!
Quick Video “How to make Lebanese cauliflower, ground beef and rice by El Momma”
Video: How to make this awesome dish in 90 seconds!
Lebanese Cauliflower & ground beef Ingredients
Makes approximately 8 servings
2-3 large whole cauliflowers. Cut to florets
Your choice of cooked white rice
 TB extra virgin olive oil
 chopped white onion
 pound ground beef
 TB 7 spices (recipe for seven spices included below)
 tsp kosher salt
 tsp ground pepper
1 jar 24 Oz of diced tomatoes (I prefer roasted garlic)
14 Oz crushed Tomatoes (I use Italian variety)
plain yogurt (optional) for garnish
*A very important ingredient of many lebanese dishes is 7 spices. 7 Spices are made with a mix of the following spices: all spice, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander, caraway and nutmeg. I buy this through our local grocer, Phoenicia. I’ve also purchased on Amazon. * Recipe for my homemade seven spices blend is included at the bottom of this post.
Step 1: Rinse and cut the cauliflower into florets. Set aside.
Step 2: In a separate pot, cook the rice per directions on rice bag/box.
Step 3: Using a 2 1/2 – 3 inch deep skillet that has a fitted glass lid, cook the chopped onion and ground beef at medium heat in the olive oil. Add the 7 spices, pepper and salt and mix well. Careful not to over cook the meat.
Step 4: fold in the cauliflower, crushed and diced tomatoes. Mix well. Cover and cook for an additional 30 minutes with lid on, stirring occasionally at medium low to medium heat.
Step 5: serve hot over a bed of rice. Add a dollop of plain yogurt when serving.
If you’ve been at home like most of us, you (likely) have tried new dishes, cleaned out closets, looked through and shared old photographs and gotten into Instagram inspired redecorating projects!
One of my favorite trends of this year is the Charcuterie Board. I actually started making Charcuterie Boards on the regular during the 2019 holiday season.
Charcuterie is a French word that means cut meats. First of all, let’s say it together. “Charr-coot-irree.” When we talk about a charcuterie board, we are talking about a display of Meats, cheeses and other finger foods.
Some of our best friends, who hosted my 40th birthday and (later) baby shower for Baby Jimmie at their home, make the best charcuterie boards. Literally if they ever ask me what I want to eat at their home- my answer is simple. Charcuterie! They are really good at knowing the best cheeses. I have another friend who WON a Charcuterie board contest. If you are serious Charcuterie connoisseur, this post is ((probably)) not for you!
Instead, if you are intimidated by all of the perfectly Insta-styled charcuterie boards across Pinterest and Instagram, I am here to tell you that you can create an amazing Charcuterie board that you and your guests will enjoy! Don’t be scared!
Meats- I typically use whatever I have on hand. Salami and prosciutto work fine.
Cheese- this is where I pay a little more focus. I love cheeses. I have baked Brie in the past, although that’s not what I do for a quick board. I usually have a Brie, goat cheese, assortment of Gouda, sharp cheddar, and cheese logs that many times involve honey. You can basically do whatever you like with cheeses, but most people like a variety.
Fruit: blueberries, raspberries, seedless grapes and strawberries
Most of what gets placed on the tray doesn’t need to be in a container. But, if you have some items that you want to contain or don’t want touching, you can use muffin papers. I buy muffin papers in bulk to use when I make breakfast ahead on the weekends. So, I have a lot of them laying around. Perfect to put a handful of m&ms in.
Some items that most charcuteries have are nuts (the Els don’t care for them and we have a nephew who is allergic) I also added Brazi Bites, Empanadas Black Bean Cheddar Gluten-Free, 10 Ounce https://www.amazon.com/dp/B083X741Y6/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_glc_fabc_Xp24FbWRN1J8G These are so good! I baked them for 20 minutes and just put them across in the middle of the board. Dips are great too. We make the creamiest, best hummus. Recipe here- https://pin.it/Yhvu5Jd If you are going to buy hummus- Grandma’s Hummus out of Austin, Texas is the best store bought hummus around. Guacamole is also a great addition to the board. Don’t forget to include corn tortilla chips!
All you need to do now is make your display. Think of it like a work of art where you want to have balance and symmetry- not all of the bright colors or same colors together. I usually place the meats first, then cheeses and then add the fruits throughout the board.
That’s it! As you can see, my (throw it together in 20 minutes) charcuterie board is not difficult, but it was devoured and makes our nights feel a little less blah and a little more voila!
Add this green beans, lamb and rice to the list of our family favorites. We make this dish every 1-2 weeks. I usually use about 3 pounds of green beans and 1 – 2 pounds of ground lamb. A very important ingredient of many lebanese dishes is 7 spices. 7 Spices are made with a mix of the following spices: all spice, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander, caraway and nutmeg. I buy this through our local grocer, Phoenicia. I’ve also purchased on Amazon.
Makes approximately 3 1/2 tablespoons of 7 spices
1t ground cloves,
1/2 t caraway
1/2 t nutmeg
How to make this awesome dish in 90 seconds!
LebaneseGreen Beans, Ground Lamb and Rice
Makes approximately 6 servings
3 pounds of fresh green beans, snapped and ends removed
 TB salt (for boiling green beans)
Your choice of cooked white rice
 TB extra virgin olive oil
 chopped white onion
 pound ground lamb
 TB 7 spices
 TB kosher salt
 tsp ground pepper
plain yogurt (optional) for garnish
Step 1: Rinse, drain, remove ends and snap the green beans. Prepare pot of water with 1 Tablespoon of salt. Add beans, bring to a boil and boil for 4-5 minutes. Prepare ice water bath. Drain cooked beans in colander. Submerge in ice bath. Drain and Pat dry.
Step 2: In a separate pot, cook the rice per directions on rice bag/box.
Step 3: Using a 2 1/2 – 3 inch deep skillet that has a fitted glass lid, cook the chopped onion and ground lamb at medium heat in the olive oil. Add the 7 spices, pepper and salt and mix well. Careful not to over cook the meat.
Step 4: fold in the green beans, cover and cook for an additional 20 minutes with lid on, stirring occasionally at medium low to medium heat.
Step 5: serve hot over a bed of rice. Add a dollop of plain yogurt when serving.
I posted these reminders in 2017, after our daughter died of a fetal maternal hemorrhage at 18 weeks gestation. Now, in 2020, there are so many grieving across our nation. They are grieving the loss of their livelihoods, their jobs, a family member, a loved one, the loss of so many experiences over the last 9 months, and many who will not be able to be with their families this Holiday season.
So, for all of those in our lives who may be grieving this Holiday season, a few kind reminders:
1. Lower your expectations.Your grieving family member might not be able to do things they “normally” do at the holidays. (Baking, cooking, gathering around the kitchen just to visit, or showing up etc.) Whatever they are able to do, should be okay. Let that be okay.
2. Be willing to change or alter traditions.In our family we usually take turns around the dinner table saying what we are thankful for. For someone who is grieving a loss, this can be especially difficult. We altered this tradition to have each family member have a spokesperson to “highlight” things the family was thankful for. This should also be mentioned in advance, so people are not caught off guard and can prepare.
3. Try to listen without offering a solution.It’s hard to see our loved ones sad. But, sometimes it can’t be helped and it is part of the grieving process. It’s better to just be there and say “I love you” and “I hurt for you” than to say the wrong thing.
Psalm 118 says “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;for his steadfast love endures forever!” I wrote and recorded this little tune of Thanksgiving, based on Psalm 118, a few years ago. Still giving thanks!
RECIPE and VIDEO BLOG INCLUDED I make this recipe several times a year, including Easter lunch for the last 10 years ! They are so delicious. (Dare I say that they are even better reheated the second day?!) This remains my most viewed blogpost. I know exactly why- these are the most amazing to eat and well worth all the work, love and effort to make them. Watch this youtube video for detailed instructions. And, Scroll down for directions on how to make the BEST LEBANESE GRAPE LEAVES IN THE WORLD! Seriously, they are so good.
<<El Momma Tip>> If you don’t want the history behind this recipe, or you’ve read this before, please scroll on down to The “INGREDIENTS List.” The ingredients are separated by what we need for the rice lamb mix, boiling the lamb shanks and the final touches for cooking the grape leaves and serving.
After the ingredients list, I’ve included photos of all the items you will need to shop for. You will also need a large pot for boiling the shanks and cooking the rolled, stuffed grape leaves. Be sure to clean out the pot in between. You will also need small plates to place on top of the pot of grape leaves. This will hold them down in the water, while letting them cook fully.
Let me give you a little history as to why you won’t regret making this recipe and consider this a recipe from an expert. After 10 years making these several times a year, I now am officially a Lebanese Grape Leaf making expert!
My husband’s father’s family is from Lebanon. My father-in-law moved to the United States in the 70’s to attend a university and met my mother-in-law. She is a fifth generation Texan. She was an adventurer and loved to travel abroad. So, while dating my father-in-law, she took off on a great adventure to meet his parents and learn about the Lebanese culture. While in Lebanon, she embraced the culture and his family. His family loved her, taught her many things and she was a bright shining star (and a blonde -aired beauty) who they enjoyed having in Lebanon very much!
Luckily, for all of us, she married my father-in-law and is an amazing cook! Many years later, she continues to be an expert in cooking Middle Eastern faire. I asked her to teach me and this is the result. I continue to look back at this recipe each and every time I make Grape Leaves.
Please note, if you have ever had grape leaves that were cold at a restaurant- you probably did not have grape leaves like this. These are served hot and they have lamb and rice in them- they are not vegetarian.
If you decide to try this, please reply to this post, comment here or on pinterest. I’d love to hear how it goes!
The first challenge: What to buy and where to shop. If you are in the Houston area- there are many grocers that specialize in Middle Eastern foods. A great one is Phoenicia. It is like a Sam’s Club for Middle Eastern food. It is huge. Their westheimer location even has fresh pita bread that comes down from a conveyer belt in the middle of the store. It’s entertaining for adults and kids alike.
INGREDIENTS list for 2 lbs of ground lamb mixture:
2 lbs of high quality ground lamb
2 Tablespoons of 7 spices for lamb/rice mixture 1T per lb of ground lamb)
2 Tablespoons of salt (1T per lb of ground lamb)
3 cups of Calrose Rice (Riz Masri)
2 jars of Orlando California Grape Leaves, 16 oz. each (rinsed thoroughly with stems removed)
INGREDIENTS list for boiling lamb shanks
4 pounds of lamb shank (approximately 4 shanks will fill the bottom of a large boiling pot or dutch oven)
1 Tablespoon 7 spices
1 Tablespoon of kosher salt
Remaining INGREDIENTS to prepare for serving
Juice of several lemons to make 1 cup of lemon juice to pour over pot just before serving
1 bunch of mint leaves for garnish
1 or 2 bunches of green onions for garnish
optional to serve with Labne (A Lebanese Yogurt spread) (top with olive oil and sliced tomatoes)
fresh lebanese hummus (recipe and How to Video HERE)
Grave leaves. Buy 2 jars of Orlando California Grape leaves. They are stored in a jar so that they will remain preserved. I used 2 jars of grape leaves to roll approximately 150 grape leaves. Remember the grape leaves must be washed thoroughly before you cook with them, or your result will be REALLY SALTY grape leaves! 7 spices. We will use this to season the lamb and the rice. I have made this in the past. Search up “Lebanese 7 spices” for recipes.
5 pound bag of Calrose Rice (Riz Masri)
Lamb Shanks Ground lamb
Lemons for garnish and lemon juice (which we will use for the last few minutes while cooking the grape leaves.)
We also need salt. That’s all we need for our ingredients. Now, it’s time to get to work!
First, we must rinse the grape leaves. As I mentioned above, this is a crucial step. Without rinsing the leaves, they will be very salty and not taste good at all. Now, let’s boil the lamb shanks. Get a large pot of water. Add one tablespoon of 7 spices And add one table spoon of kosher salt. Place the lamb shanks in the pot and bring water to a boil. Cover and simmer for half an hour. (if the shanks are frozen simmer for 1 hour) The shanks do not need to be completely cooked at this point, because they will cook more with the grape leaves.
In a separate bowl, we will make the rice/ground lamb mixture. We will start with rinsing the rice. Use 1.5 cups of rice per pound of ground lamb. Add water to the rice and rinse. This will make the rice easier to work with. I usually rinse the rice in a very fine colander. Add the ground lamb and a 1 tablespoon 7 spices per pound of ground lamb to the drained rinsed rice. Add 1 tablespoon of salt per pound of ground lamb. Mix this together well.
Lay the grape leaf (shiny side down) on a plate with the stem at the top. Cut the stem off the top. (To simplify this step, I pull off the stem as I wash each leaf individually) Pinch a small amount of the ground lamb/rice mixture, as pictured and place in the middle of one grape leaf
Wrap the grape leaf, like a present, bringing up the sides first and then loosely rolling the entire thing together. The shiny part of the leaf should be down so that it is the outside of the roll, once the grape leaf is rolled around the ground lamb and rice. Make sure to roll loosely. This will give the rice room to expand as it cooks in the grape leaf. If you roll too tightly, the grape leaves will not be able to stay together and they will pop open as they cook.Always remove the stem. Also, if the grape leaves are too large they can be cut in half. Carefully place the rolled grape leaves in a container.
Once the lamb shanks are finished with their first stage of cooking. Remove them from the pot.
Cut some of the meat off of the lamb shanks. The goal is to place the shanks and meat evenly at the bottom of a clean pot to make a nice even layer to place the rolled grape leaves. You can use the same pot where you boiled the shanks, just be sure to clean it before this next step. I usually just wipe it clean. This photo demonstrates the lamb shanks and meat in an even layer at the bottom of the pot. Ready to add the grape leaves. Take the rolled grape leaves and place them as evenly as possible in the pot on top of the lamb and lamb shanks. Make sure to place the rolled grape leaves down on the point of the leaf so they will not come unrolled while cooking.
The result is a beautiful pot full of grape leaves ready to cook! Add water to the pot until the grape leaves are completely covered. Place the pot on the stove top until bubbly. Simmer on medium to medium low for 2.5-3 hours. While cooking, place small plates (instead of a pot lid) directly on the grape leaves. This keeps them under the water, allows them to breathe and cook perfectly. The grape leaves must remain covered with water while cooking. I use a tea kettle on a separate burner to boil water on the stove top. and add this to the grape leaves pot as needed. Once the grape leaves are finished cooking turn off the stove (approximately 2.5 – 3 hours). Pour fresh lemon juice over the entire pot. Use a liberal amount of lemon juice- at least one half cup or one cup if cooking in a large pot. When the grape leaves are finished cooking, tender, delicious, easy to cut them with a fork, turn off the burner and pour the lemon juice over the top of the grape leaves.
To serve, slice lemons and wash and cut green onions. Grape leaves taste great with a sqeeze of lemon juice and a green onion.
Ready to serve. I’ve removed everything from the pot and placed the lamb in the center of the serving dish and the grape leaves around. It makes for a “wow” presentation. Save the juices from the pot. My husband likes to pour these over his grape leaves. You can also save the pot juices for later (leftovers) in the fridge and the oils will harden, so you can easily scrape them off the top. Grape leaves are also served with mint leaves. I’ve placed them in a small vase, so they double as decoration and as a garnish. I am so happy with the way my grape leaves turned out. They are so amazing. Thank you, to my dear Mother-in-Love, Mary for giving me this wonderful gift. I’m so thankful to carry on this tradition with my family for years to come. Love, El Momma
If I’ve been asked once, I have been asked a thousand times. How do you get your kids to …fill in the blank? Examples are: eat vegetables, eat a variety of foods, try new things, sleep in, talk early, be so verbal, perform in front of people, participate in activities they don’t want to do (at first), stay in an activity that they asked to sign up for, but now want to quit and so on?
Nearly ALL of the answers involve presenting options to our kids, being an example and talking, talking, talking. Many times the ultimate choice is theirs. For example, I will never force them to eat something which they have decided not to eat. However, I won’t let them quit an activity we have already committed to.
I’m going to spend the next few posts diving in to our family culture and telling stories. These are not meant to be formulas for you to follow in order to get your kids to behave a certain way. Believe me when I say, I do not have this parenting thing figured out. I don’t think I ever will. But, I do have a lot of kids (ages 16 months all the way to 15 years), with one special needs child and a lot of experience. I’m going to share more about our family and how our family experiences have shaped our kids. Right or wrong, we all have cultures in our families. It’s good to reflect on what those are and see where we can change or further explore the cultures we have developed as a family.
Every single time a friend of mine shares about their child starting middle school or ending elementary school, I bite my tongue. Every. Single. Time.
Why? Because, I don’t want to break her heart. Usually, she’s emotional about her baby starting middle school and ending an era- If your child starts elementary at pre-k 4, that’s 7 years in elementary before moving on up.
That’s also half way through your child’s primary and secondary education.
What!? You haven’t thought about that? I can understand why. I didn’t either. Until, I felt slapped in the face with the end of middle school for our oldest son. And. now he’s starting his sophomore year in high school.
In our school district, we have school choice, magnet schools, zoned schools, boundary schools, and more. Because your child doesn’t just automatically move up to the next neighborhood school- they can, but most people (at least) look into other options, at the beginning of fifth grade and again at the beginning of eighth grade, you apply for the next year/school.
I think that process really speeds things up. Because, like when your child applies for college, they do that at the beginning of the year BEFORE they go. So, this year, for my eighth grader, we will choose his high school in the next couple of months. For my high schooler, we will be applying to college in two years. Aaaaaaaah!
Time, please slow down.
My fifth grader will be applying to middle schools this fall. And, I guess my point is that we were just doing this for my now 10th grader. It has gone by so fast. Faster than any other period of his life. Those 3 years before prek. Slow. PreK 3? PreK 4? Kinder? Slow. Slow. Slow.
Fifth grade? Lightning fast. For every single one of my fifth graders. I have had three so far. The fourth one starts tomorrow. Feels like yesterday that the second one was choosing his middle school. Btw, haven’t had a repeat middle school yet. We let the Els be their own people around here and try to make the best choice, based on their individual needs.
So, I guess I’m feeling like I am about to blink and all of the Els, except for Jimmie, will be in and out of college.
I’m going to take a breath and try to enjoy this year. It’s clear that this one is a bit different. Maybe that will help us all slow down a little?
Our oldest El, in sixth grade (4 years ago!) at Meyerland Middle School HISD
This time last year, Moustapha and I just found out we were expecting. It was too early to have an ultrasound and to know if everything was going okay. But we knew we were pregnant. We’d been trying for a few months and tbh we were praying for a little girl. At our 9 week appointment, we got to see our little gummy bear, a strong heartbeat and all signs that he or she was doing great and growing as expected.
At 10 weeks, I could listen to the baby’s heartbeat at home. I did this most evenings. We had some blood work done around 10 weeks and got the results at our 13 week ultrasound.
We were told that our baby was a girl and she was growing perfectly. I loved that ultrasound so much. Our baby girl was dancing! Putting her hands to her mouth and gave me all the feels of a happy little baby!
We told the Els around this time but waited to tell them our baby’s sex until my 40th birthday. The kids were so excited to know either way and delighted to learn she was a she. 💗💗
After this, we treated the next three weeks as normal. We enjoyed family time and my baby bump continued to grow.
At just over 17 weeks, I couldn’t find her heartbeat at home. I was headed for my regular appointment the next morning and I didn’t let myself believe that she could be gone. But, the next day, my worst nightmare was confirmed. Our baby girl had passed, her heart had stopped beating. I now had to mother all of my children through a situation I never imagined for any of us. I had made promises to them- promises that they would hold their sister. Promises that we would be a family of seven. Promises of a life together.
This was not what I promised. But, I leaned on God and kept going. Should we let the Els see Mary-Linda? Hold her? We decided to let them decide. We had photos and when the Els arrived to the hospital the day Mary-Linda was born sleeping, we let the Els look at the photos first. We gave them the option to look and then if they wanted to see her after that, they could. And, if they wanted to hold her after that, they could. One by one, they made the decision. And we kept the promise that they would all be able to hold their sister.
It doesn’t stop there. I don’t get to mother Mary-Linda here on earth, the way I want to. But, losing her has changed the way I mother my other children. I don’t know if I’m doing it right. Is there even a right way to move through this? But, I haven’t stopped. I’m trying to love my children through it. I can’t say I’m looking forward to Mother’s Day this year. I can say I thank God for every single one of the precious souls who made me a mother.
Please know that I’m thinking of and praying for all of the mothers out there who’ve lost, who’ve longed for a baby on earth, who have loved ones in heaven. I’m thinking of you.
We had a list of possible names for our baby daughter. Fifty or more different combinations. We knew we wanted to give her a name that paid homage to both our mothers’.
I remember a day a couple of months ago. My husband texted me one name idea. I replied back with my very large list (which I started working on right after finding out we were pregnant). The list was full of girl names. So many names. All of which connected with our mothers. He replied to my text with: “Goodness me. This is going to be more difficult that I initially thought.”
We thought we had time to know for sure. The kids would often tell us of their name ideas.
Here are just a few: Caroline Evelyn Oreo
We told them, “God knows her name and when we need to know we will know.”
On August 15th, 2017 we knew. I remember laying there in the hospital bed, in labor with our daughter and I just knew.
Just say it and it sounds so beautiful. So meant to be. Our precious baby.
We named her “Mary” for my husband’s mother. Mary means “wished-for child.” She is our wished-for child in every way.
We named her “Linda” for my mother. Linda means “beautiful.” She is beautiful and perfect in every way.
We named her “Elizabeth” because Elizabeth means oath or promise of God. We hold tight to God’s promises. Especially that He never leaves us or forsakes us. Knowing I was giving birth to our daughter who was already in heaven was only something I could go through knowing I was not going through it alone. The Lord was with us. His presence was felt and known in so many ways in that hospital bed.
I often think back to that experience- the worst of my life. But, I can’t help but remember so much peace in the deep heartache and suffering. That’s only possible through God. There really is no other explanation.
We love you forever, our baby daughter in heaven, Mary-Linda Elizabeth.
…I find myself less likely to share. Less likely to want to write. At least, lately.
My dad has been in the hospital or in rehab for various reasons (including congestive heart failure, 2 hip surgeries, septic shock, a cracked femur) since before Thanksgiving. It’s been really hard on my mom and my sister, especially. But, also hard on my brother and his family and my family. We are all trying to help my mom and dad as much as possible and it turns out that “the system” stinks and just when we think we have it figured out, we are battling again. And, I’m exhausted. Like, mother of four, who works full time exhausted. Plus more. Remember when I did the whole30 in February? That was a pretty great month for me after day 11. But, what occurred around mid March (15 days post whole30) has us (my doctor(s) included) perplexed and worried about the answer. Around that time my hands (fingers, mostly) began to swell and I had to remove my rings. I’ve noticed since then that my feet were also swollen. I’ve now experienced this inflammation for over six weeks. It’s (hopefully) not that big of a deal. But, I can’t shake the feeling (and the reality) that it is something. This is not normal and I’m frustrated, tired and scared.
So, I share all this to say that I am feeling weak right now. Afraid to ask for help. But, I need it. I need your prayers. My family needs your prayers. Can I ask you to pray for me over the next week as I am taking steroids in the hopes that my Rheumatologist can find the answer? I pray for answers and I pray for healing.
I appreciate you. As a mom of four elementary school kids in May, there’s just no time to slow down and certainly no time for me to be sick…or down.
Thanks and I promise to update when we find the answer!