Fort Wayne – Ramzi Saadeh was not expecting to be a finalist, much less win, when he entered the Mastodon Main Meal Makeover cooking contest, which took place during the IPFW Health Fair.
But the administrative assistant at the International Education office at IPFW won with a trio of appetizers that, when served together, could make a main meal.
The 52-year-old Allen County resident submitted recipes for tabbouleh, a green salad that originated in his native Jordan, along with humus and pita bread.
In the email (seeking entries), they mentioned to make it nutritious and easy. Those were the two elements – nutrition and easy, he says. I thought, Let me do something simple and easy.’ Tabbouleh, the ingredients are there and easy to mix up.
Instead of making the dishes at the Walb Student Union during the contest, Saadeh said he did most prep work for the tabbouleh at home. He wanted to make sure the salad didn’t become watered down with the juice from the fresh tomatoes.
Everything was ready to mix together before the tasting.
He prepared the hummus at home out of necessity.
Hummus has to be made the day before. It will thicken a little bit overnight. It stays in the refrigerator for a week. The thing is, it doesn’t stay a week in our refrigerator, he jokingly says with reference to his wife, Muna Khader, and son, Michael Saadeh.
Three days at the most. We can have it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. We make it once or twice a week here, he says.
The same is true with tabbouleh.
I make it at least once a week, if not twice a week. My son will ask if we have tabbouleh, and I’ll get the stuff myself and make it, he says.
Saadeh says he has always been interested in cooking, and he even attended culinary classes at Ivy Tech Community College-Northeast.
I am five courses short of becoming a chef. I had a food passion after watching food channels. I like seeing people make food. Chef Emeril (Lagasse), he’s good. He’s really good, he says.
Saadeh says that the Mastodon Main Meal Makeover was the first time he has entered a cooking contest, and he plans to do it again if the opportunity arises.
I already have things in mind for the next contest, he says, smiling.
Q. Do you have a favorite cookbook?
A. Not really. If I look at a cookbook and I like the recipes, I’ll buy it.
Q. What about family recipes from your native land? Do you have copies of those?
A. All the family recipes are up here (points to his head).
Q. How old were you when you started cooking?
A. I started cooking when I was here in college, back in the ’80s. It was rice and meat. When I started going to Ivy Tech, I started cooking more. I grill out a lot.
Q. Who does most of the cooking at home?
Ramzi: It’s a shared thing at home. She does the mixing of food, the main dishes. I do most of the preps. We have to keep in mind that Middle East food takes time to make.
Muna: Everything we do is from scratch.
Ramzi: Most of the time, we prep a day before.
Muna: We may grill the meat or put it in the oven.
Q. What’s something people would not find in your refrigerator?
A. Processed food. Frozen food – we hardly buy except peas. But frozen meals, I don’t buy. They’re high in sodium.
Q. If you were stuck on an island, what’s one food you would have to have?
A. Veggies. I’ll eat salads at any time.
1 bunch Italian or curly parsley
15 leaves fresh mint or 2 teaspoons dried crushed mint
1 large or 2 medium tomatoes
1 medium red or white onion, or 3 green onions
1 tablespoon of bulgur (may exclude if allergic to wheat)
1 large lemon, or as needed
4 to 6 tablespoon of virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sumac (spice)
Salt, as needed
Wash the parsley and mint leaves and put them aside to completely dry. Wash the tomatoes (and green onions, if using) and set aside. Soak the bulgur in cold water for 15 minutes, then drain and set aside. Squeeze the lemon and set aside. Chop the stems off the parsley and discard. Gather the leaves of the parsley and chop very fine. Chop the onion into very small cubes. Chop the tomatoes into very small cubes. Chop the mint leaves very fine. Mix the chopped mint, diced onions, olive oil and sumac; keep aside in a small bowl. Mix other ingredients in a large bowl, then add the chopped mint mixture and the bulgur. Add additional olive oil, lemon juice and salt to taste. Makes 1 to 2 servings.
1 pound dried chickpeas
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 to 1 cup tahini (sesame) paste, or as needed
Juice from 1 to 2 lemons
Salt, as needed
2 cloves of mashed garlic, optional
Olive oil, for garnish
5 to 6 leaves of chopped parsley, for garnish
1 teaspoon of paprika, for garnish
Soak the chickpeas in water overnight. The next morning, drain and wash the chickpeas. Place chickpeas in a cooking pot and fill with water. Add baking soda. Boil covered over medium heat for 60 to 90 minutes or until the chickpeas are soft and tender. When cooled, place the cooked chickpeas in a strainer, wash in cold water and set aside for 10 minutes to drain. Place cooked chickpeas in a food processor. Add tahini paste, lemon juice, salt and garlic. Grind until a paste is formed, and adjust the salt, tahini and lemon juice to taste. Spread the hummus in a large, flat dish and garnish with the chopped parsley, paprika and add olive oil. Makes 2 cups.
3 to 4 loaves of pita bread
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt, to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the pita bread into bite-size squares. Sprinkle with olive oil and add salt. Place the cubed pita bread on an ungreased tray and bake for 15 minutes or until roasted and dry. Makes 3 to 4 servings.
Feta Cheese Salad with Crackers or Roasted Pita Bread
1 pound feta white cheese
1/4 green bell pepper
1/4 yellow bell pepper
1 cup pitted black olives
1/2 cup olive oil, or as needed
3 tablespoons paprika
3 tablespoons dried crushed mint
Cut feta into bite-size pieces. Cut the peppers and tomatoes into bite-size pieces. Chop the olives. Mix ingredients in a large bowl. Add the olive oil, paprika and crushed mint and mix well. Spread on crackers or roasted pita bread. Makes 4 servings.