Hotel California Open for Business

Back in March 2020 (see 3-21-20 post), I started a thread referring to Hotel California, what has now become a prolonged situation of “sheltering in place.” The song reference (thank you Eagles) was stimulated by a memory of a conference at a golf club in the gorgeous mountains of Korea. Well, it seems that many of us are now emerging from the long, long months sequestered in our own personal Hotel Californias. In the past few weeks, we’ve once again opened our doors to entertaining that Constant Companion, Daughter, and I have so enjoyed in the “Time Before Covid.”

Of course, the majority of preparations are my responsibility. I especially enjoy the pleasure of sitting around a dinner table sharing with old and new friends.

the set table

Our first major breakout dinner was somewhat Middle Eastern for a group of health care professionals from Egypt. Constant Companion asked me not to try to cook anything vaguely Egyptian; I make a good mujadara. Instead, the main course was inspired by a dish featured in the recent film, “Breaking Bread” ( This remarkable film is the account of Israeli and Palestinian chefs working together, a “must see” for anyone interested in the region and the history of the food there.


Mussakhan is otherwise Palestinian Roast Chicken with Sumac* and Red Onions.  My recipe comes in part from Yasmin Khan’s cookbook Zaitoun: Recipes from the Palestinian Kitchen ( The menu was relatively simple including little spinach pies (courtesy of Aldi), steamed rice, okra cooked with tomato and onion (my mom’s recipe, bamia), and salad.

*No, this is not sumac, the poisonous plant whose red leaves dot the American landscape every fall, but a deep red powder made from the dried berries of the Middle Eastern sumac bush (Rhus coriaria) used to flavor pilafs, soups, fish and meat dishes, and more. I was introduced to sumac as a tangy, tart condiment flavoring Persian food.

Please give Mussakhan a try; maybe this dish will become a keeper in your cooking repertoire. I was so honored when one of the guests recognized the dish by name and said mine was done correctly, especially the pitas on which the chicken was served.

Just this past weekend, as the doors of Hotel California opened yet again, the fare was mixed Middle-terannean. I made one of my so-called keeper recipes, Roasted Chicken and Eggplant in Pomegranate and Date Molasses (for the recipe see the 6-14-21 post) and a pita that featured grape leaves, served with simple roasted vegetables, and the requisite salad.

Roasted Chicken and Eggplant in Pomegranate and Date Molasses

I was introduced to date molasses* a number of years ago when I traveled to Bahrain to conduct an assessment of educational programs at their National Museum. Also known as date honey or silan, date molasses has been produced in Bahrain since the early mid 2nd century BCE. Numerous archaeological excavations have revealed the areas in which the date juice was expelled.

*Note, date molasses is one of those newer foreign ingredients gaining popularity in our market. Read the labels and try to avoid product to which sugar has been added, ne need for the additional sweetener.


Spinach and Grape Leaf Pie (an excavated recipe from 2012, The recipe calls for making your own dough. I used the half box of filo saved in my freezer from some previous cooking adventure. As with any pita, follow the steps one-by-one.

For the filling, heat several tablespoons of olive oil in a deep skillet. Add one medium minced onion, and cook about 7 minutes, over a moderate heat.  Add 4 minced garlic cloves for another 3 minutes. Next, add one 10 ounce jar of grape leaves. (The recipe calls to thinly slice the grape leaves. I recommend finely chopping them.) Cover and cook over low heat about 10 minutes. Add 2 bunches of thinly sliced scallions for another 3 minutes. Add 6 boxes of thawed frozen spinach (squeezed dry) or 3 pounds of blanched fresh spinach. Cover and cook about 5 minutes. (I did not include the 2 cups of peas). Cool.

Mix 1 cup of ricotta (I used cottage cheese), ¼ cup grated parmesian cheese (I added 2 cups of crumbled feta cheese instead), and 1 beaten egg. Add to cooled greens and mix thoroughly. With all the cheeses and the grape leaves, no need for additional salt.

in the oven

To assemble, grease a spring form pan. Begin adding the filo sheets, lightly butter or spray with olive oil each sheet. Try to leave an overhang. Reserve 3 or 4 sheets of filo. Add the greens and cheese mixture to the pan. Top with the reserved sheets; butter or oil in between each sheet. Fold over the overlapping filo sheets  Brush the top and edges of the pita with beaten egg.

Bake for 10 minutes in a 425 degree F oven. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 50 minutes more. Cool to warm.

good enough to eat

If you make this pita early, reheat in a 375 oven. I served this pita with a side of yogurt, to temple the saltiness.

Who knows what, when, and who the next time our Hotel California will be opened.


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