Nutrition and Fitness with Randa

Kafta Potato Bake: A Middle Eastern Dish

I will never forget my brother and sisters teasing me because of the many ringlets of hair that adorned my head when I was young. Their favorite nickname for me at one point was "kafta", and I cringed, if not cried, every time they called me that (even though I loved eating Kafta).

Kafta is a popular meat dish in the Middle East, and can be prepared in the form of patties, meatballs, or in long cylindrical "fingers"; the latter was the inspiration for the nickname I was given.

If the thought of using ground beef for another meatloaf or hamburger patty bores your taste buds, try this wonderful Lebanese preparation of ground beef and aromatic spices and herbs. The meat mixture can be made and used in a number of different ways, such as barbequed Kafta skewers (Kafta Mishwi), Kafta Potato Bake (Kafta Batata), and Kafta Pita Sandwiches. Here are two of those recipes:

Kafta Potato Bake


  • 2 lbs lean ground beef
  • 1 medium onion (finely chopped)
  • 1/2 cup parsley (finely chopped)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 4 medium potatoes
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 cups water
  • dash of salt and cinnamon

1. Set oven at 350 degrees. Thoroughly mix first 6 ingredients. Spread mixture into a greased 9 x 12 inch baking pan.

2. Peel potatoes and slice into 1/2 inch thick slices and place evenly on top of meat layer (you can also pan fry the potato slices in a little olive oil before placing them on the meat - this adds some extra flavor and texture)

3. Blend the tomato paste with the water and pour over the potato layer. Sprinkle a dash of salt and cinnamon over potatoes.

4. Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until meat is cooked.

5. Serve with a salad of fresh lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers and feta cheese and a lemon vinaigrette to round out the meal.

Before adding the potatoes, you can also top the meat with sliced tomatoes, sliced green bell peppers or zucchini, and sliced onions. Then add the potatoes.

Kafta Sandwiches or over Arabic Rice Pilaf

1. Using the same meat mixture, form the meat into long rolls resembling fingers or into balls like meatballs.

2. Cook on a cookie sheet under the broiler. Turn over to cook the other side. They may also be placed on the barbeque or grill formed around a skewer.

3. FOR PITAS: Put the Kafta in whole wheat pita breads that have been spread with hummus.  Place the kafta-filled pitas in a sprayed skillet on low to medium heat (you can also melt a little butter for flavor) and press down as the bread browns and turn over to brown the other side.

4. FOR RICE: Place Kafta balls or 'fingers' over rice pilaf*

5. Serve with cucumber mint yogurt*, sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper and fresh cucumber slices.

*For recipes, see my blog post on Cooking with Zucchini Lebanese Style.

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Cooking with Zucchini Lebanese-Style

It is the season for summer squash! While this dish is also great in the winter, it uses that extra zucchini in your garden very nicely!

One of our favorite Lebanese dishes is called Koussa. It is a tomato-based meat and zucchini stew served over Arabic rice*. My mother, cooked this satisfying, delicious meal for us growing up and I now cook it for my kids.

There were four of us siblings aged within 4 years of each other, so my mother wisely altered the original recipe to one that was easier to make and took a lot less time. This is the version I am sharing with you....... (You're welcome!)

It is an easy weeknight meal, and I have also served Koussa to guests on many occasions with a side of toasted pita bread, hummus, and cucumber mint yogurt**. Once again, it is a meal that takes few ingredients to make and not much time.

Let's get started!


  • 4 medium zucchini, cut in 4 lengthwise and chopped
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 lb. ground beef (I have used turkey, but preferred lean beef for a more authentic flavor)
  • 1 medium or large onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp all spice
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 18. oz. V8 juice (if you use low-sodium, add a little more salt at the end to taste)
  • 1/2 -1 cup toasted pine nuts (if you are a member at Costco, if is much cheaper to buy in bulk)

1. In a large pan, sautée zucchini in 1tbsp butter on medium heat with the lid on until zucchini is tender but not overcooked.

2. While zucchini cooks, season with spices and saute the meat and onions in 1Tbsp butter for 10-15 minutes until onions are tender and meat is browned.

3. When meat mixture is done, add in zucchini, V8 juice, and pine nuts. Bring to a boil, then simmer with lid on for 20-30 minutes.

4. Serve over Arabic rice and a dollop of laban, or plain, non-fat yogurt on top,  or a side of cucumber mint yogurt.

ARABIC RICE: Rice with Vermicelli (ruz bi shirieh)

  • 1 cup uncooked rice*
  • 2/3 cup vermicelli broken into small pieces
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 tsp salt

1. Melt the butter on high heat and toss the vermicelli until golden brown (be careful not to scorch!)

2. Add the rice and stir until it is well mixed with the vermicelli. Pour in the water and add the salt.

3. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until rice is done.

*White rice is typically used in Lebanon, and while not as authentic,  you can certainly use brown. My friend made this recipe with brown rice to try and "convert" her 5 year old from eating white, and he loved it. He now asks for "Randa's Rice"!

CUCUMBER MINT YOGURT: A refreshing addition to any meal or snack

  • 3 cups plain yogurt (I use non-fat)
  • 1 cucumber, chopped into small pieces
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed, or 3 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dried mint leaves

1. Stir yogurt until smooth. If using Greek Yogurt, add a little water to thin it. Blend in the garlic or garlic powder.

2. Add cucumber.

3. Season with salt and dried mint leaves and mix well.

4. Serve chilled sprinkled with fresh (or dried) mint leaves.

Enjoy! Sahtan!

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Moujadra (Lentils with rice): A Lebanese Vegetarian Dish

Being half Lebanese, the cuisine from Lebanon is definitely at the top of my list of favorites. Lebanese dishes typically draw on a wide variety of ingredients – grains, fresh vegetables, eggs and yogurt – all flavored and seasoned with various aromatic herbs. They form a very nutritious, healthy diet.

Hearty and Healthy

There are many delicious meat-based recipes, but often overlooked is the wonderful and satisfying vegetarian dishes.

Today’s recipe is one of my favorites and so easy to make. It is called Moujadra, a healthy mixture of three ingredients: lentils, rice and onions. I like to serve it with a fresh cabbage salad drizzled with Lebanese dressing. Most Lebanese dishes are served with yogurt on top – I use my all time favorite greek yogurt for an extra boost of protein.

Not only is it a wholesome and complete dinner, it can also be served cold for breakfast.

As we say in Arabic when enjoying a good meal: “Sahtan!”


  • 2 cups lentils
  • ¾ cup short grain rice (I like brown)
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt, to taste
  • Water, to cook lentils

For cabbage salad:

  • ½ head of cabbage, finely chopped or shredded
  • ½ cup of lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper


1. Wash the lentils in a colander, put in a pot and add 5-6 cups of water

approximately, over the lentils. Boil until soft.

3. While lentils are cooking, sauté the onions in a pan in oil until golden brown.

4. Cook rice according to package instructions.

5. When lentils are done, add onions and rice to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer over low heat for 10-20 minutes. Add salt for taste.

6. To make dressing, blend together the lemon juice, oil, garlic, salt and pepper and pour the dressing over the cabbage.

7. Serve Moujadra warm or cold with cabbage salad and Greek yogurt.

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