Category Archives: lebanon food

lardo

The Tradition of Eating Pure Fat

By | lebanese food, lebanon food | 9 Comments

One of the most revered traditional breakfasts in Lebanon is a platter of raw liver, raw lamb muscle meat and raw liyyeh, sheep tail fat. Middle-Eastern sheep are a particular breed with tails that grow to a massive size. I’ve heard it said that up to one quarter of the sheep’s weight could come from its tail. The tail is pure, soft, white fat. For breakfast, along with the raw meat and liver, the liyyeh is sprinkled with salt and pimento and eaten with bread. It’s not for the faint of heart, especially the liver, but the initial reaction subsides when you take the plunge and eat some. I personally find that the flavour of liver, or anything for that matter, is milder when the food is raw.

Raw sheep tail fat is delicious, but, I also really like it barbecued on charcoal. The outside caramelises beautifully, and a bit of salt brings out a sweetness in the fat. It’s not greasy or oily, but rather creamy with a round, buttery mouthfeel. Here in Australia, sheep tail fat isn’t something you can find. My Lebanese butcher tells me that they tried, but failed, to raise Middle-Eastern breeds of sheep in Australia. Something to do with the weather and humidity causes the sheep to get sick… Don’t quote me on that.

So a few days ago, I find myself at AC Butchery in Leichhardt looking at a piece of lardo: cured pig fat. The fat is subcutaneous, which is the soft fat from underneath the skin of the pig (as opposed to visceral fat, which is intramuscular). The fat gets cured with salt. It’s  sometimes flavoured with herbs and sometimes it’s also smoked. I couldn’t resist buying it – $15 a kilo for fat from a free range pig sounded like a financially wise investment. Today, I had a craving for the good old days back in Lebanon. No tail fat for me unfortunately, but the lardo did the trick. The Italians slice the fat thinly and eat it for antipasti, or use it as a topping for bruschetta, among other uses. I tried something else with the fat: seared on a hot pan until it goes slightly crisp and golden, flipped and then served with sauerkraut and hot english mustard. Delicious, and so nutrient and energy dense, I probably won’t have to eat anything else until winter arrives. Maybe I’ll hibernate for the afternoon…

knefelarge

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.

A Bit of Yoghurt

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

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

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

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.