Category Archives: lebanese breakfast

Baking Manakish in Ain el Delb, Lebanon

By | lebanese breakfast, lebanese food, Lebanon Trip 2011 | 14 Comments

I haven’t really written about the man’oushe (plural manakish) since 2009, though it features really strongly in the Lebanese diet today. Manakish are Lebanese pizzas, and they are much simpler than the Italian version. A Lebanese man’ousheh usually has only 1 topping, most commonly zaatar (thyme, sumac, sesame seeds, salt and olive oil) or a white cheese like akkawi, hallloumi or a mixture of both. Have a read here to read my earlier post to get a good idea about this Lebanese breakfast. The ones in the photo are made with akkawi cheese manakish and are most delicious when freshly baked. The cheese would still be stringy and stretchy and moist. We eat it with fresh cucumbers, tomatoes and mint. Have a look at the video to see these wonders getting baked.

Recently, I was invited to my friend, author and TV show host Barbara Abdeni Massaad’s for lunch, where we had a taste of her man’oushe. That was a great privilege, since Barbara actually wrote the book on the man’oushe, literally! Have a look at her wonderful book, entitled Man’oushe, Inside the Street Corner Lebanese Bakery. It’s a must own if you are interested in Lebanese food or pizzas. You can find more information here.

Cheese Knefe – The Ultimate Lebanese Breakfast

By | lebanese breakfast, lebanese food, lebanon food, Lebanon Trip 2011 | 16 Comments

I’ve been putting this post off for so long. I just didn’t want to write about knefe (or knefeh) in Australia because I couldn’t possibly have done it justice. Let me start by explaining what knefe is. First of all, though it is sweet, knefe is not considered to be dessert; it’s a meal all on its own and it’s most commonly eaten for breakfast. A layer of ground kataifi pastry is kneaded with ghee, laid on top of a layer of akkawi cheese (de-salted) and is baked until the cheese goes super-stretchy and the pastry a deep, golden brown. The huge tray the knefe is baked in is called a sidr, and the sidr is displayed outside most patisseries: showing off your knefe creates a swift trade. When you order a knefe, a special sesame seed bun called kaakeh is stuffed till it explodes with cheese and pastry and is then doused with sugar syrup. Knefe needs to be eaten on the spot, hot and stretchy.

To witness peak demand on knefe, you only need to go clubbing in Beirut till about 4am and then on your way back, find yourself a Sea Sweet patisserie. There you will see lines of Lebanese boys and gals queueing up for a post alcohol feast. In reality, nothing is as good as a knefe after a big night out. You really must watch the video of the talented knefe guy in Saida doing his thing. You’ll get an idea how raucous things can get when people are queueing up for the good stuff. I took this video at Jardali patisserie in Saida, but I buy my knefe from Al Basyooni, which has a great knefe and is much more civilised. The knefe cost 2,500LL, which is less than $3 AUD.

If you want a knefe in Sydney, go to Sea Sweet in Parrammatta, or try the Turkish kunefeh at Efendy in Balmain, which is absolutely amazing.

Making Markouk Bread

By | Bread, labneh, lebanese breakfast, lebanese food, lebanon food, Lebanon Trip 2011, zaatar | 4 Comments

My little village of Ain El Delb does try hard, you know. Today, they invited a prestigious army band over to commemorate the feast of the disciples of St Maroun, the patron of the local church. They organised a village style dinner: a simple spread of labneh (strained, salted yoghurt drizzled with olive oil), zaatar and fresh markouk bread. Markouk is our most traditional and loved bread. I’ve uploaded a video of the bread being made. Notice how thin it is. This thinness allows the sheets of bread to cook super quickly and since the bread has very little moisture, it lasts very well compared to bread loaves and the like. Check out the skill these ladies have, how they turn the dough to something seriously thin and evenly round. I thought it’s best to keep the church prayer in the background, just to give you a sense of the place.

Disasters and Adventures with Silver Beet

By | lebanese breakfast, lebanese food, lebanon food, Recipes | 7 Comments

silver beet stalks with tahini

I’m guilty of murder. Okay, not actual murder, more a culinary crime. You know what it’s like. You get an idea for a recipe and in your head it sounds brilliant. But when you execute your plan, the end result is so bloody awful that you feel you may get jail time for your misdeeds. Has this ever happened to you?

Well, it happens to me, and quite often. Last week, for example, I attempted a new approach to silver beet rolls. I had it all planned out. The stuffing would be burghul flavoured with lemon olive oil, raisins and pine nuts. The rolls would be piled and dolloped with thick ribbons of creamy labna. I imagined the velvety textures contrasting with the crisp bite of the roasted pine nuts. I imagined the balance of flavours, sweet, sour, earthy and the heady aroma of lemon and spice. I subsequently imagined myself at a ceremony where Lebanese president Michael Suleiman was granting me the Order of the Cedar for my contribution to and innovation in Lebanese cuisine. The crowd was cheering, and I was shaking the congratulatory hands of my numerous fans.

Unfortunately, the creation was a total disaster. No cheering crowd for me. I was devastated. I wanted to silver beet myself silly.

One consoling factor was that I was left with many silver beet stalks. To avoid further disasters, I resorted to the fool proof Lebanese classic, silver beet stalks in tahini. Tahini is the Lebanese culinary cure-all. If disaster befalls the Lebanese, we reach for tahini. Let me see; we’ve got chickpeas with tahini, eggplants with tahini, snails with tahini, fish with tahini, falafel with tahini, shawarma with tahini, molasses with tahini, kibbeh with tahini, eggs with tahini, cake with tahini. And of course, silver beet stalks with tahini.

This is a super easy dish and is a prime example of how necessity is truly the mother of invention. After making silver beet rolls stuffed with rice, the Lebanese cook is left with a large stack of silver beet stalks. Waste is avoided. The default setting of “smother the whole thing with tahini sauce” is applied. The end result is delicious.

So don’t underestimate this dish because of its simplicity. It really is wonderful, and its creator should have been bestowed the Order of the Cedar. To prepare, cut the cleaned stalks into squares, boil or steam them until just tender and mix into tahini sauce (tahini, lemon juice, crushed garlic, salt and some water for thinning). Sprinkle with roasted or fried pine nuts, drizzle a bit of olive oil and enjoy a disaster free dish.

Share your kitchen disasters. Leave a comment and tell me how horribly you have failed.

Heartache & Meat Pies – Lahm b’ Ajeen Recipe

By | lebanese breakfast, lebanese food, lebanon food, Recipes | 13 Comments

I must have been around 17 years old the first time I witnessed earnest, all-covering snow as it dropped lightly but persistently to create a carpet of whiteness over red-tiled roofs. We were at the ski village of Faraya, and I, with my friends, was there to spend New Year’s Eve. There must have been around twenty of us sardined into a room that could hardly sleep five. We didn’t mind. It was a night of celebration, and there was no intention of sleeping. And besides, how could I have slept when she was there, looking as beautiful as only she could? Ah yes. There she stood, with skin that outmatched the whiteness of the freshly fallen snow and hair darker than the charcoal that later glowed to keep us warm. Miss Faraya hardly noticed me but as far as I was concerned, that room only contained her – and the bottles of local red wine; so while she continued, oblivious of my presence, I paused and Château Kefraya and I became the best of friends.

I don’t remember what happened. I have these intoxicated flashbacks of myself after midnight, walking back from the center square alongside thousands of party people. How I got there, I don’t know, but every person I encountered was repeating the same phrase: baddna n’nem (we want to sleep). Baddna n’nem? What? Why? I woke up with a headache so titanic it had created its own gravitational pull, and in its orbit was complete confusion. It was only when I heard someone on the phone wishing a loved one a “Bonne Année” (French for Happy New Year) that I realised that all the people I had met during my hazy, drunken stroll weren’t kindly informing me that they wanted to sleep, but were giving me their wishes for the new year. “Bonne Année” not “baddna n’nem”. This total lack of recall confirmed my doubts. The previous night had been a disaster.

Angry with myself, Mr Château Kefraya (who was no longer a friend of mine) and the French-speaking Lebanese, I convinced my mate who had the car that we needed to return to Jbeil (Byblos). Escape is the easiest way to avoid shame, you can trust me on that one. We were starving and dehydrated but agreed to wait until we reached a well-known bakery that made lahm b’ ajeen. The bakery’s claim to fame was not the quality of its product but rather the character of its owner. We were told that when he served his lahm b’ ajeen, he would theatrically grab a lemon, slice it down the middle with a mighty strike of his butcher’s knife, toss the lemon onto the lahm b’ ajeen and offer it to the customer with the command: hrisa (destroy it)! The rumours proved true, and so it was that we witnessed a Lebanese legend in full-swing. The comedy temporarily soothed my aching brain and uplifted my spirit, and that lahm b ajeen, though not the best I’ve had, remains the most memorable. Maybe because I had suppressed around 24 hours of prior calamity.

Well, you may have guessed it, but thankfully, Miss Faraya and I never ended up together. I have since rekindled my relationship with red wine after a period of enmity while lahm b’ ajeen and I have never lost touch, remaining in close contact. Lahm b’ ajeen is a Middle-Eastern/Levantine pizza of sorts: a piece of flattened dough, usually with a hint of sweetness from sugar, covered with a mixture of hand-minced lamb shoulder, diced tomatoes and onions, salt and pepper and baked in a hot oven. When the sides are a crisp, golden brown, lahm b’ ajeen becomes one of the miracles of Lebanese food that needs to be eaten straight away as it comes out of the oven. Only then does it posses the right crunch, moisture, heat and aroma. A moment in time that needs to be given full attention and respect. Sharp and sweet drizzles of pomegranate molasses, dollops of creamy yoghurt, sprinklings of dried chilli or simply a squeeze of lemon juice: these are all suitable toppings, but the end aim is one. Seek a lahm b’ ajeen and destroy it!

Lahm b’ Ajeen Recipe

Make the topping by mixing 0.5 kilos of finely minced lamb shoulder, 1 large medium diced onion, 4 tomatoes (I used oxheart because of their dry texture), salt and pepper. Using your chef’s knife, mix the ingredients thoroughly using a chopping motion. Add a few handfuls of pine nuts on top.

Make some dough as you saw in my manakish recipe, but add 2 more tbsp sugar and use olive oil instead of vegetable oil. Let it rise and then make the pizzas. Add the topping to the dough and bake on the highest heat possible, until gold and crisp.

You say Tomato, I say Tomato. You say Labna, I say Labneh.

By | Bread, Ingredients, labneh, lebanese breakfast, lebanese food, lebanon food, Recipes | 13 Comments

Labna with olive oil, olives and rosemary sprig

Yoghurt. The oldest of all milk derived foods and the most feared. It is said (by me) that Genghis Khan’s only phobia was due to a recurring dream of drowning in a pool of horse milk yoghurt. The same goes for Alexander the Great, though he, against all odds, managed to overcome that fear through strenuous hypnosis and homeopathic practices, and in fact ended up loving the stuff. Throughout the ages, yoghurt has had many wonderful and amazing uses. Phoenicians used it for facials, and the ancient Egyptians used it in their mummification process in conjunction to consuming it with long grain Egyptian rice as they waited for the mummies to dry.  Allright, enough joking around. Let’s be serious for a minute. This multi-faceted ingredient has helped shape the face of Middle-Eastern gastronomy, yet its origins are shrouded in mystery. Legend has it that after slaughtering a newborn camel, desert travelling Bedouins would saddle the mother camel’s milk encased in the baby’s stomach sack, where the stomach bacteria, along with the heat of the sun, curdled the milk into, yes, yoghurt!

If you were to consider world cuisines distilled to a singular ingredient, would you be able to imagine French food sans beurre, Chinese food with no soy sauce, Italian food before Chris C brought back the first tomato? Well, you may not have guessed it, but when it comes to Middle- Eastern food, yoghurt is the reigning champion, the jamon to Arabia’s Serrano, and without it, Middle Eastern food just wouldn’t be Middle Eastern food. I grew up eating yoghurt. All Lebanese people have. In fact, It is so prevalent that there are Middle-Eastern cookbooks solely dedicated to cooking with yoghurt. When it comes to cooked yoghurt dishes, kibbeh b’ laban (yoghurt kibbeh) is an absolute favourite, but when eaten fresh, there’s nothing that beats labna. Strained through muslin, yoghurt lets go of its whey to become incredibly creamy, and the longer you strain it, the thicker and richer it gets. This is labna: wheyless yoghurt that is salted and eaten in every single Lebanese home, every single day at every single breakfast.  My memories as a child take me back to when dad would stack up the “troups” in the run down 70’s Mercedes (he loved that car) and drive us around. We’d whinge and complain about being hungry, and Mr Kassab would try to find somewhere cheap and cheerful to feed the family of six. Often, we’d end up at small makeshift bakeries with (as was usually the case) a weathered, slightly chubby but very cheerful grey-haired lady sitting cross legged in front of a saj, masterfully baking the thinnest sheets of bread, crisp and translucent. We would demolish a sheet in seconds, dunking shards and folds into most luscious olive oil drizzled labna decorated with sweet tomatoes, salty olives and fresh, fragrant mint. Pure joy.


Saj bread making

N.B. Make labna by straining yoghurt through a clean pillow case or muslin, or by pouring it over layers of absorbent paper towel. Depending on the quantity, it may take a few hours so keep it straining in the fridge. When it reaches the desired consistency, remove it, salt it and destroy it!