We’ve recently returned from a honeymoon spent in Japan and France, and it was unbelievable. Since we’ve come back, I’ve been ticking over creating a special menu. It would incorporate elements of my trip and fuse them into a Lebanese menu. So, a couple of weeks ago, I invited five of our friends over for dinner after having finally decided what to cook. So what’s cooking?
Well, as in any good Lebanese menu, we must start with a salad, and what better salad to have than fattouch? To me fattouch is the king of Lebanese salads, followed by tabbouleh and in third place, the not so well known fresh thyme and shallots salad. I decided to go with Japanese for the fattouch, and called the dish fattouchi, which means a single fattouch 🙂
I emptied out a cherry tomato (well, it was slightly bigger than a cherry tomato – an Italian variety), stuffed it with finely diced cucumber, lettuce, purslane, mint and garlic all dressed with pomegranate molasses and an olive oil and parsley emulsion.
Then I fried the Lebanese bread that was cut up in squares in some Lescure butter. The result was beautiful, a single mouthful of fattouch that combined fresh and intense flavours. Apart from looking like the Japanese flag, I felt that the delicate presentation was typically Japanese inspired even though the flavours were undeniably Lebanese.
After having spent a few days in Nice, Elaine and I had the urge to go on a day trip to Italy and so we headed to San Remo which was less than 2 hours away. Although it was a brief trip, it was very memorable, and the pasta was great, and so I was determined to recreate a Lebanese dish with an Italian influence. Koussa Mihchi (Stuffed Zucchinis) lends itself beautifully to an Italian interpretation. And so using the basic elements of Koussa Mihchi (meat, rice, tomato and zucchini) I made a pancetta risotto served on a halved and hollowed green zucchini, with slow pan fried tomatoes and carrots. Even though the flavours were spot on, I have to work a lot on the presentation of this one. Next time, much smaller zucchinis, and perhaps only half a zucchini a person. But I was in a rush and this had to do 🙁 I think I will cut the zucchini in 4 equal parts served in a square and topped with sliced carrots and halved tomatoes.
Next came the French course. I thought hard about this one, but at the end, I decided to go for Moughrabbieh, one of my all time favourites. Moughrabbieh is possibly the greatest of comfort foods. It is an elaborately delicate chicken soup for the soul, served with balls of the only kind of dried Lebanese pasta after which the dish is named. You can pick up a 1 kilo pack for $3.50 from middle eastern stores, or if you feel like being ripped off, Simon Johnson and David Jones sell it for $12.50 or over.
My approach to the dish had to keep its integrity intact, so the only difference from a real moughrabbieh was that instead of making a roux, I made sauce soubise, flavoured with the essential, but often forgotten caraway spice. Chickpeas, browned whole shallots, and fresh parsley, the end result was a huge success. I made sure that the soubise was light enough for the dish not to be too heavy.
For dessert, a fantastic home made Zaatar ice cream (thyme and sesame seeds), a sweet and strong grape mollasses ice cream (could be the first ever made) and a Sea Sweet baklava, all eaten before we had the chance to take a photo.