spiced gurdthu with fresh figs

Gurdthu with Cardamom, Vanilla, and Bay Leaves

When writing about Middle Eastern food, it's often impossible to assign particular dishes to particular cultures. For instance, baklawa, hummusgrape leaves, and labneh, (and many, many more) are central to many different cuisines throughout the region. But while there is a lot of overlap and influence, there are also some important differences and nuances, and each cuisine has its own specialties and unique creations.

That's all just to say that I often blog about dishes that Assyrian cuisine has in common with many other cultures (some are our own inventions that have become widespread, and some are dishes that we have adopted from the many nations we inhabit), but there are some things that we make that are unique to our culture. As far as I can tell, gurdthu is one of those things.

Yogurt and Rice

Gurdthu marries two of the most important staples of our cuisine, yogurt and rice, to create the creamiest rice porridge imaginable. To make very traditional gurdthu, we ferment yogurt from scratch, but we let it go extra long until it becomes very sour. Then we mix together the yogurt, rice, egg, and water and stir it constantly while bringing it to a simmer. Once it's simmering, we reduce the heat to low and let it cook until the rice becomes very soft and the whole thing thickens into a beautiful, rich, velvety custard.

cardamom, vanilla, bay leaves
Gurdthu

Gurdthu is delicious plain, but it's also traditionally served with a variety of toppings. If you tend to like sweet rice pudding, it's lovely with a drizzle of honey or date syrup. My favorite traditional gurdthu topping is melted butter, and swirling in both butter and honey makes this comfort food at its absolute best. Some people even like to eat gurdthu with Turkish coffee dusted on top, but that's just a little too efficient for my taste.

I'm currently working on a traditional gurdthu post, with homemade yogurt and the whole shebang, but for now I'll leave you with my current favorite, since I love finding new ways to enjoy gurdthu. Lately I've been steeping it with bay leaves, cardamom, and vanilla, and then drizzling honey on top and serving it with fresh figs, which are at their sweetest right now. Bay leaves seem to have become pigeon-holed in savory foods, but they can add flavor to a lot more things than a pot roast. They work perfectly with vanilla and cardamom, and give everything a floral flavor that's not too cloying. But the flavor of bay leaves is subtle, so it's important to make sure you're not using expired ones.

Figs
Gurdthu with Cardamom, Vanilla, and Bay Leaves

spiced gurdthu with fresh figs

yield: 8 servings
total time: 40 minutes
active time: 20 minutes
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  • 4 cups plain whole milk yogurt (1 quart container of non-Greek yogurt or 1/4 of a homemade batch)

  • 1 1/2 cups water

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 beaten egg

  • 2/3 cup medium grain rice, rinsed (e.g., Calrose)

  • 1 vanilla bean, scraped

  • 1 large or 2 small bay leaves

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom, plus more for sprinkling

  • Honey, for serving

  • 6 to 8 figs, cut into pieces (or another fruit if figs are not in season, such as berries or cherries).

  1. In a stock pot, whisk together the yogurt, water, and salt.

  2. Beat the egg in a small bowl and then whisk it into the yogurt mixture.

  3. Stir in the rice, vanilla bean pod and scrapings, bay leaves, and cardamom, and place the stockpot over medium heat. Stir constantly while you bring it to a simmer, about 10 to 15 minutes. Once it comes to a simmer, lower the heat until it is maintaining a bare simmer (low or medium-low heat).

  4. Continue to stir occasionally for 20 minutes, until the rice is cooked through and the yogurt has thickened. Remove the bay leaves and vanilla pod once it is done.

  5. Serve it hot or let it cool to room temperature. Serve with a drizzle of honey, a pinch of cardamom, and a few fig pieces.

Gurdthu with Cardamom, Vanilla, and Bay Leaves

shakshuka | beata't tdamata

eggs and tomatoes

Last month, my husband and I were getting ready for a big move. While I've always been a little on the fence about minimalism, we took this as an opportunity to dramatically pare down our belongings to just the essentials, and just things we really love.

It turns out, I really only need 4 pairs of jeans, 30 shirts, 3 skirts, 6 dresses, 5 jackets, and 5 pairs of shoes (hah! only...). It's not exactly a capsule wardrobe, but it comes out to just a couple boxes, and it makes choosing outfits absolutely effortless. We've donated our CDs, DVDs, old paperbacks, old furniture, and so much more. But the one thing I just cannot part with is every single thing in our kitchen. Literally half the moving boxes are full of kitchen things.

eggs

I've always aspired to have the kind of kitchen that is a no-nonsense, well-stocked, practical and efficient, yet aesthetic space. But these boxes are seriously questioning whether I actually practice this ideal in my daily life, and I'm not entirely ready to admit that this is a problem.

Yesterday, we finally finished moving (now, just to unpack), but right before the move, we were stuck in limbo, since most of our stuff was packed in boxes, ready to be loaded on the moving truck, with nowhere to go for a couple more days. But at this point, I started to remember how silly and unnecessary most kitchen equipment is when you're cooking really simple, delicious food. For instance, to make eggs and tomatoes, "beata't tdamata" in Assyrian, all you need is a knife, a cutting board, a skillet, and a wooden spoon.

eggs and tomatoes

Beata't tdamata is the Assyrian name for shakshuka, a delicious North African and Levantine dish that many Americans know about through Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. There are many different ways to make eggs and tomatoes, bur according to Tamimi, the crucial factor is that you cook the eggs in the tomatoes instead of frying them on the side. But everything else varies from dish to dish. My take on beata't tdamata has you fry the eggs in a thin layer of chunky tomato sauce, so that there is nothing left over after serving. But eggs and tomatoes—whether poached in a bucket of tomato sauce or fried on a thin layer of tomato chunks, whether tempered with spices or sizzled with garlic and onion, whether braised with greens or simmered with little meatballs—are always a perfect match.

For more shakshuka, visit my recipe for succotash shakshuka.

eggs and tomatoes

shakshuka | Beata't Tdamata

Yield: 3 eggs *

1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoon Lebanese spice blend (or equal parts black pepper, paprika, and cumin) + 1 pinch for garnish
1 1/2 cups diced tomatoes
Salt to taste
3 eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons crumbled feta
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped parsley
Serve with bread (your bread of choice, or samoonpita, or lawasha)

  • Pre-heat a 10-inch frying pan over medium-low heat for two minutes.

  • Add the tablespoon of oil, swirl it around in the pan, and add the spice blend. Cook, stirring frequently for 2 minutes.

  • Add the chopped tomatoes and some salt to taste.

  • Turn the heat to medium-high and stir the tomatoes around for about 4 minutes until they start to break down and turn into a chunky sauce.

  • Spread the chunky sauce into one even layer (about 1/2 inch) and lower the heat to medium. Crack the eggs directly onto the tomatoes, sprinkle them with some salt, don't disturb them, and immediately cover the frying pan with a lid.

  • Set a timer for 4 minutes if you prefer very runny egg yolks, or 5 minutes if you prefer slightly runny, custardy egg yolks.

  • Check the eggs by poking the white near the yolk with a knife and gently poking the yolk with your finger. If the whites do not ooze and the yolk still feels jiggly, they should be perfect. Once they are done, remove from the pan immediately. If the whites are not set, continue cooking them covered, checking every 45 seconds to see if they are done.

  • Garnish with feta, parsley, and a pinch of spices.

* You can easily make more or less, but make sure to use a wider or smaller pan accordingly. It should be just wide enough that the cooked tomatoes will cover the bottom by about a half inch. Here are the proportions for a single egg:

1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon spice blend
1/2 cup diced tomatoes
1 egg
1/2 tablespoon crumbled feta
1/2 teaspoon chopped parsley

eggs and tomatoes