Do you ever come home from a trip away and find that there’s nothing to eat – nothing ready at least – and then you scramble around for whatever you can quickly throw together as an offering to the hunger gods? Today was one of those days. My fridge had one large taro in it, as well as a jar of mustard. Ever since embracing the Paleo diet, I keep a variety of root vegetables in my fridge: sweet potatoes, purple sweet potatoes, Japanese sweet potatoes and taro. Taro is not as enticing as sweet potato; its flavour is somewhat bland and texturally it’s certainly on the starchy side, which might explain why it was the only tuber left in my fridge.
Despite it not being the most exciting tuber, we Lebanese love taro and call it kolkas, a name related to the tuber’s Latin name, colocasia. We usually prepare taro by boiling it in water or frying it it, and then covering it with tarator, a sauce of tahini, garlic, lemon juice and salt. Prepared that way, taro is super-delicious. Today though, I felt like chips (or fries, depending on where you live) and mustard. Taro cooks quickly. If you slice it thinly, it’s extra crunchy. If it’s thick, it has more of a comfort food chewiness. Using a mandolin is useful for achieving a consistent slice width. I personally used a knife tonight because I couldn’t be bothered washing up the mandolin.
I fry most things with coconut oil because I am a fan of saturated fats. If coconut oil is not available, I would suggest frying the taro with duck or goose fat, ghee, lard or tallow. Heat your fat of choice to 160c and add the slices in batches that suit the amount of fat you have available. Fry until the taro turns golden (approx 4 minutes). Sprinkle the chips with salt and dip them into a good quality dijon that has a bit of heat to it. This is awesome stuff – filling and delicious – so be careful as you might get addicted (not that there’s anything wrong with that). In Sydney, you can find taro at any Asian or Italian green grocer and should cost you just a bit more than your average potato. Try it and let me know how you like it!
Hello dear reader. Here are the details for the chickpea degustation at Efendy. Booking starts now, so book asap. If you are coming, please leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to know who of you will be there.
Well, it took me a few years, right? The Food Blog now has a Facebook fan page. I will be posting some cool facts, links and thoughts on food that otherwise would not make it to the blog, You can also use the Facebook page to ask me questions or inquire about recipes. If you love the stuff I dish out and want to stay in touch on Facebook, use that left click mouse button and LIKE! While you’re at it, subscribe to our RSS feed and follow us on Twitter.
Danger. The term Middle-Eastern may cause confusion and disorientation. If you thought the Middle East spanned the geographical region that spreads from Egypt to Iran, the G8 begs to differ. Didn’t you know that the Middle East reaches as far west as Morocco? But Morocco is further west than England, I hear you say. Still, you’re wrong. Here’s a link to the map of the Middle East according to the great forces of the world. Move out of the way geography, there’s a higher power at work.
The term Middle East has become a difficult one for me to use. As it is no longer specific to my part of the world, I need to find a better word. How can I describe a dish that is not traditional, but uses traditional flavours in new combinations? Maybe I’ll just name it after my mother. She uses these flavours often… OK then, here you go, an Isabelle style roast pumpkin salad.
Start with some of the basic tabbouleh ingredients. Parsley, mint and burghul. Make sure the burghul is soaked in water for a few minutes until it’s soft and doesn’t break your teeth. Add some roasted almonds and lemon rind. If you’ve never used lemon rind in a salad, you’re in for a treat. I love it so much I even add it to a tabbouleh and it rocks. Add some chunks of oven roasted pumpkin, diced tomatoes if you would like to, some chickpeas (from a can is fine) and dress the lot with some salt, lemon juice (not too much) and generous amount of olive oil. I didn’t have it, but some feta cheese would work a treat, I’m sure. There you go, a salad as Middle-Eastern as apple pie.
P.S. – I’m running out of things to talk about and am looking to you for inspiration. Do you have a Lebanese dish you want to learn to make, or is there an ingredient that is still shrouded with mystery that you want me to tell you about? Leave a comment and let me know.
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
A celebration of what is truly good about Summer, Eton Mess is the ultimate expression of the season in a jumbled mess of ripe, intensely red fruit and richly satisfying milkiness. Strawberries and cream with crunchy meringues in between. It doesn’t get much better than that.
This one however, is not an Eton Mess, but rather a Lebanese take on British tradition. And since the Lebanese are prone to turning a mess into something much more serious, I’ve decided to call this invention an Eton War.
In my opinion, the ingredient that replaces cream in this recipe is going to become one of the hottest items in the kitchen’s repertoire in the years to come, once western chefs are switched on to it – at which point, sadly, it will stop being thought of as a traditional Middle-Eastern ingredient, and the world will think it’s a molecular gastronomist’s invention. The ingredient is called natef, and it rocks. It is made by boiling soapwort which extracts its saponin content, and then by whipping the liquid which foams up into a cloud of whiteness. The foam is neutral in flavour and can be given sweetness by using a heavy sugar syrup. This is gently added to the mixture as you continue whipping, like you would with an Italian meringue. The mixture becomes glossy and velvety as the sugar syrup is added. The texture that results is unlike anything you’ve ever tried. It’s thicker and silkier than cream, more luscious and truly unique. A sweet, delicious shaving cream is the closest description I can give you.
To continue with the theme, I macerated the strawberries in orange blossom water and used pistachio meringues – pistachios are traditionally paired with natef in a dessert called karabij halabiyyeh. The result is different to an Eton Mess, but equally as crave inducing.
Soapwort can be found at traditional Chinese herbalists. For more detail on natef, including step-by-step instructions on how to perform this miraculous transformation, read Anissa Helou’s post here.
I thought I’d turn your attention to an event coming up this weekend. On Sunday, the (sydney) magazine is organising a dinner with a group of some of the best Middle-Eastern chefs in the world to take place at The Ivy Room. The complete list of chefs is below, and I am so excited to see Joe Barza, Kamal Mouzawak, Greg Malouf and Anissa Helou representing Lebanon. These ten chefs will probably never be cooking together again, so this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to try Middle-Eastern food prepared with the highest level of skill, right here in Sydney. Are you going to meet me there? Hurry and get those tickets and leave a comment to let me know you are coming.
the(sydney)magazine showcase gala dinner
To celebrate the World Chef Showcase’s Middle Eastern theme, the(sydney)magazine presents the Showcase Gala Dinner.
Some of the top names from around the Middle East will cook at The Ivy Room alongside some of our most talented locals.
Ten chefs – including the fabulous Yotam Ottolenghi from London’s Ottolenghi food stores; Musa Dagdeviren, who owns three celebrated restaurants in Istanbul; and Kamal Mouzawak, who founded the first farmers’ market in Beirut – will each create a dish on the night.
Melbourne stars Greg Malouf (MoMo) and Ismail Tosun (Gigi Baba) will also dazzle you with their dishes.
Taste the best of the Middle East, traditional and modern:
1. Joe Barza, The Chase, Beirut
2. Musa Dagdeviren, Ciya, Istanbul
3. Kamal Mouzawak, Tawlet Souk el Tayeb, Beirut
4. Anissa Helou, Middle East food expert and cooking teacher
5. Yotam Ottolenghi, Ottolenghi, London
6. Greg Malouf, MoMo, Melbourne
7. Somer Sivrioglu, Efendy, Balmain
8. Ismail Tosun, GigiBaba, Melbourne
9. Lauren Murdoch, Pastis, Sydney
10. Alfie Spina, Ash St Cellar, Sydney
The cost includes a 10-course banquet, including all wine.
When: October 10, 7pm-11.30pm.
Cost: $175 (see above)
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