Category Archives: lebanese food

A Bit of Yoghurt

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Yoghurt is a relatively new ingredient to the western world, despite being a staple in the Middle East for centuries, which is probably why most yoghurt you find on the shelves of Australian supermarkets isn’t really yoghurt, but a mixture of skim milk powder, gelatine, cream, xanthan gum (for texture), yoghurt bacteria, sugar, salt, additives and flavourings. The West seems to favour yoghurt as a creamy, indulgent dessert style food, and it’s mostly eaten cold and sweet. One of the differentiating aspects of Middle-Eastern cuisine is how yoghurt is used for cooking: we make yoghurt soup and boil meats and vegetables in it. I won’t elaborate, as I’ve discussed this before in my labna post here, which is well worth reading, so go read it.

Little Sara is now 8.5 months old. She’s eating a huge variety of food already: apples, pears, custard apples, apricots, plums, blueberries, blackberries, nectarines, watermelon, rockmelon, bread, chicken, beef, lamb, zucchini, pumpkin, silverbeet, hummus, sweet potatoes, cucumber and a whole lot of other wonderful things. It’s now time to see how she handles dairy products, and yoghurt is a good first choice. Obviously, additive laden yoghurt isn’t what I have in mind. Lebanese brands of yoghurt are fine, but I want a bit more quality control in Sara’s first yoghurt, so I made a batch for her. She might have some for lunch today. I’m draining some of the whey to give her creamier yoghurt. This is a deciding moment. Is she Lebanese and, like me, love the stuff, or will her mother’s English genes dominate?

Yoghurt Recipe

To make yoghurt, bring 2 liters of milk to 83 degrees and cool it to 46 degrees. Add 3 tbsp yoghurt from that tub you have in the fridge (provided that it’s real yoghurt). Mix it in properly. Cover the pot and keep in a warm place for 24 hours. Voila.

Pumpkin Kibbeh Pie with Walnuts and Caramelised Onions

By | lebanese food, lebanon food, Recipes | 19 Comments

Kibbeh can be approached in over 20 different ways. The sheer variety of kibbeh in Lebanese cuisine is what makes most people consider it Lebanon’s national dish. There is raw goat kibbeh, kibbeh meat balls, chickpea kibbeh, potato kibbeh, pumpkin kibbeh, lentil kibbeh, sweet potato kibbeh, rice kibbeh, and the cooking methods include boiling, baking grilling and frying. So in essence, kibbeh is not a singular dish, rather a family of dishes that share a commonality. The basic approach is the mixing of a binding agent (be it meat or a mealy grain or vegetable) with burghul and spices. At its most basic form, raw kibbeh is a fine paste of (traditionally) goat’s meat with burghul, salt and allspice.

I’ve written before about pumpkin kibbeh, which to me is the queen of kibbeh. I moved away from the traditional approach for this recipe. Instead of boiling the pumpkin, I roasted it at 200c with olive oil and salt. The roasting concentrated the sweetness and added the complexity of caramelisation. To complement the sweetness, I caramelised 3 large onions with star anise until they became beautifully dark. Star anise has an affinity with caramelised onions and takes them to a whole different level. This dish proves two things. First, it proves that my design skills are terrible – I can’t draw for shit. Second, it shows that vegetarian dishes can, if done correctly, outshine meat any day. Seriously, this dish is a must try. Give it a go.

Pumpkin Kibbeh Recipe


  • 1 medium sized butternut pumpkin
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 to 2 cups white burghul (depends on how much you like)
  • Flour (around 4 tbsp)
  • 3 cups walnuts
  • 3 large onions
  • 3 star anise wrapped in muslin
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp pepper


Slice the pumpkin, toss in olive oil and salt and bake at 200c until soft and slightly blistered. In the meantime, slice the onions and fry in olive oil with the star anise and a touch of salt on low heat, stirring occasionally until caramelised. Roast the walnuts for 5 minutes in the oven. When the pumpkin is cooked, cool it down and remove the flesh from the skin. Discard the skin. Mash the flesh into a pulp and squeeze through a clean pillow case or something similar, removing as much liquid as possible. Mix the cinnamon and pepper with the pumpkin flesh and add the burghul. Leave for 15 minutes to allow the burghul to soften. Add enough flour to to the pumpkin and burghul to bind it. Oil a cake tin and put half the pumpkin mixture on the bottom, flattening it evenly. Mix the walnuts and the onions, adding them on top of the pumpkin, discarding the star anise. Use the remaining pumpkin and create a layer above the walnuts and onions. Make a pretty design, brush with olive oil and bake on 200c for around 30 minutes, until the surface is slightly golden. Remove from the oven and cool it down. This pumpkin kibbeh pie is best eaten at room temperature.


In a Jar of Tomato Paste

By | lebanese food, lebanon food | 19 Comments

I have a hazy recollection of my early days in Lebanon. I’m not sure if it’s Alzheimer’s, the human condition or just suppressed memory, but the first 21 years of my life are pieces of a puzzle that stray in and out of mind. I grew up during the height of the Lebanese war. My family and I were driven out of our home on my fifth birthday. I don’t remember that day. I do remember that it was difficult for us to find a place to stay. People north of Beirut were hesitant about providing rent to the southern “migrants” – they didn’t trust that we wouldn’t overstay our welcome. For months, our family of 6 spent a great deal of time in dad’s ’78 Mercedes, moving between hotels and the homes of friends and relatives. We eventually found a 2 bedroom unit in Mastita. We lived there for 14 years, the owners of the unit becoming part of our extended family. I have a clear memory of when a large amount of sand was delivered to the neighbourhood. We used it to fill up large hessian bags with which we secured the bottom floor of the building to protect us from a direct hit, stray bullets or shrapnel. When the bombing got seriously close, all the residents would rush down to the sand fortress for shelter until things cooled off. For a kid like me, it was as close as I got to being on a camping trip – a whole lot of fun. I didn’t realise the extent of the danger I was in. Sometimes, I’d be too sleepy and lazy to even bother getting out of bed. Dad would have to carry me to the bomb shelter on his shoulders. Shortly after the war slowed down and the bombing stopped, the protective sand bags collapsed under their own weight. Talk about a false sense of security.

During those days, fresh food was hard to come by. There was no electricity and so no refrigeration. Despite the fact we were living in the 20th century, our way of life in many aspects was more like the era that had just passed. Women would gather around the saj in large groups when a shipment of flour came in. They would bake markouk bread for the whole neighbourhood. We were somewhat luckier than most in that Dad’s job took him travelling around the region. He would visit small farms on his way and purchase as much fresh produce as he could get his hands on. Mom would then need to preserve his findings. Fruit became jam or cordial, milk became yoghurt, kishk or labne, and vegetables were pickled or sundried. I never knew how good mom’s tomato paste was until I moved to Sydney. Fresh, sweet Lebanese tomatoes boiled to a smooth paste that was further dried in the heat of the Lebanese summer sun. This went into anything from marinades, pasta sauces, soups and stews. Those jars full of paste would see us through the year. In the way these jars preserved the memory of a summer tomato, sun-kissed and ripe, my mother’s efforts are preserved in my memory more than any other from back then. Seeing a jar of homemade tomato paste reminds me of my childhood, of my mother and father, my brothers and sister and of our life together. Isn’t it strange? I really miss those days.

Last week, my friend Kristie brought over 10 kilos of organic tomatoes. I used 5 kilos and they turned into a single jar of tomato paste. The others were eaten fresh. This paste will keep for a year, and I will use it during the winter time. Next year, my daughter might even have some in a soup. She’ll get to know how tomatoes from her first summer tasted like. The memory and flavour of that summer is preserved in a little glass jar, waiting patiently for her.


Freedom is a State of Me, Myself and Mine – Samke Harra Recipe

By | lebanese food, lebanon food, Recipes | 16 Comments

Have you ever yearned for freedom? Not the Count of Monte Cristo, I’m free and hell bound kind of freedom, nor the Nelson Mandela, Rebirth of Hope kind either. I’m talking about a freedom of a less significant kind. A silly, wasteful, icantreallybebothered one. You know, the kind where nothing stops you from sitting there looking at your toes for 3 days. Well, 5 weeks ago I handed in my resignation. This Monday was my first day as a free, unemployed man, and I have to tell you, so far, my toes look great!

Some time ago, I decided I need a short career break; a month or two where I don’t have to walk into an office. Not that I hated my job or the people who work there; I actually enjoyed both. I love .Net development as much as your next geek does, and I also consider at least half of my (old) team as good friends (love you guys). But I just needed a break, some time for myself. To do some travelling. To sleep in when I felt like it. To get my car serviced. To take my 5 month old daughter to her swimming lessons on a Wednesday – she’s about to start crawling by the way, God help us. Let’s face it, sometimes, you just need a change –  I needed mine and now it’s here. Though not as redeeming as escaping Shawshank and not as poignant as William Wallace’s great moment, my freedom somehow feels just as important.

Yes, you’re right, I am worried about income. Somehow, I had never associated my work with the paycheck I got. Money seemed incidental to employment, appearing in my bank account as matter of monthly habit, though now I know better. But before the realities of a diminishing bank account start hitting hard, it’s time to celebrate. Samkeh harra, or chilli fish, is one of Lebanon’s celebratory dishes and one of only a handful of fish dishes to ever come out of Lebanon. Think rich, fatty fish (salmon in this case), roasted until just done, smothered with tahini and covered with one of the simplest and best flavour combinations to ever join forces – fresh coriander, roast walnuts and almonds, lemon juice, onions, chilli and olive oil. This is a dish worthy of its own celebration, but is also perfect as one to mark my achievement. On Sunday, I sat and ate with the sun on my shoulders and felt like a free man.

Do you need a career break, or have you taken one already? Share your story and your celebration dish by leaving a comment.

Samke Harra – Chilli Fish Recipe

Salmon: 4 kilo salmon, skin scored, rubbed with salt, pepper and olive oil, covered with aluminium foil at 200c and baked until done (1 hour approx)

Tahini sauce: Mix tahini (1.5 cups), juice of 1 lemon, salt, a crushed garlic clove and add enough water until you have a thick homogenous sauce. Adjust flavours to taste

The herb and nut layer

  • 1 cup coriander leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup roasted walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup roasted almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 small onion, finely diced
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 4 tabelspoons of olive oil
  • Chilli, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  • Mix the herb and nut layer’s ingredients and set aside for 10 minutes
  • Remove the skin from the fish, but keep it whole
  • Spread some of the tahini on the top of the fish to cover the side completely
  • Spread the herbs and nuts to completely cover the tahini
  • Serve with a sense of freedom and a beer

The Perfect Baba Ghanouj Recipe

By | lebanese food, lebanon food, Recipes, Uncategorized | 33 Comments

The Perfect Baba Ghanouj Recipe

To reach the goal of baba ghanouj perfection
For the eggplant fruit you must have affection
This Lebanese dip is destined to be great
So don’t settle for something second rate
Start off with fruit that are heavy and shiny
While not too big and not too tiny
Pierce holes in the skin so as not to explode
While preparing them as we are told
These unnecessary explosions during preparation
Give good Middle Easterners a bad reputation

To cook them you’ll need a charcoal barbecue
For neither gas nor heat beads will do
If you wish to get that authentic flavour
Think charcoal an ingredient you should learn to savour
The eggplants must grill, their skins must burn
So that deep, rich smokiness they truly earn
When they give up their form, go limp and sag
Put them in a bowl covered with a plastic bag
They’ll continue to soften, the smokiness will infuse
Into the flesh until the heat would diffuse
Then take them out, peal and drain them well
Do not rinse with water as it will break the spell
Those small specks of black are a desirable thing
For the story of charcoal they will loudly sing

Once well drained and cool, you’re ready to proceed
Throw the eggplants into a bowl, cover with sesame seed
That has been pressed into tahini. It’s true Lebanese
Tahini is best, so only use that please
Two tablespoons per medium fruit you’ll require
And the juice of half a lemon to give some fire
But remember that lemon juice is only there
To compliment the creaminess of the tahini affair
The taste of lemon juice should not be intrusive
Its existence must remain elusive
Crush a bit of garlic with a teaspoon of salt
Before you use too much, you really must halt
In the same way the lemon’s used discretely
The garlic’s existence should almost completely
Be hidden, it’s there just to balance the fruit
A heavy hand and garlic turns into a brute

It’s really that simple, needing no herb nor spice
But here’s my most important piece of advice
Mix only with a fork and not a blender
For machines destroy the textural splendor
Season to taste, adjust as you wish
And there you have it, the perfect dish

China and the Fat Lebanese – Rozz a’ Djej

By | lebanese food, lebanon food, Recipes | 3 Comments

Rozz a Djej - Lebanese Chicken and Rice

I hate the Chinese and how clever they are. Fried rice. Bastards. For centuries, Lebanese mothers have been force-feeding their children all the rice cooked for the meal in fear of it going stale. While the Lebanese grew fat with gavage, the Chinese ate reasonably sized meals, saving the rice for the day after. Stale rice is a necessary backbone of fried rice, and when done well, it is pure joy.

There it was, a bowl of stale, plainly cooked basmati, flavoured with Iranian saffron; sitting in the fridge, waiting to be eaten with a dollop of yoghurt – might sound good to you, but in reality, it’s more boring than you imagine. Rice doesn’t survive a nuclear reheating as well as one would hope. Take a lesson from the Chinese. A bit of onion and garlic, a can of chickpeas and some beef mince, caramalised in a wok. A Lebanese teaspoon or two of each cumin and cinnamon, and a touch of chilli – toss the rice in, coat it well. Shred some poached chicken breast and scatter on top with some fried almonds; a stir-fry worthy of an emperor. Rozz a’ djej (rice with chicken), this Chinese remake of the Lebanese classic is still best eaten with a fork.