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.
You’ve gotta love it when an idea comes together. It’s even better when it’s an idea so simple that it seems crazy that no one has already thought of it.
I once read the following formula:
Modern Art = I could have done that + Yeah, but you didn’t
I’m not saying I’m a modern culinary artist in any way, but there’s a pleasure I find in invention, and I sense joy when I manage to create something new, simple and delicious.
This is my version of kibbeh, and to be honest, it’s bloody awesome. Kibbeh is a family of dishes considered as Lebanon’s national culinary emblem where the common factor is that burghul, spices and onions are mixed with a binding agent. This binding agent could be anything but most commonly you’d see minced lamb or goat, pumpkin or lentils.
The two most famous incarnations of kibbeh are nayyeh and kbeb (or mikliyyeh). Nayyeh is the raw version, a silken beauty doused with olive oil and eaten with loads of fresh mint and raw onions. Kbeb are the torpedo shaped kibbeh, hollow but filled with fried mince, onions and pine nuts and then deep-fried. Imagine how good that tastes.
My kibbeh is derived from the latter, and it simply aims to bring out the best aspects of the kbeb: a crisp exterior, a generous filling of the sweetest, star anise caramelised onions and an abundance of fried pine nuts. It’s kibbeh on steroids, with all the flavours amplified ten-fold. This goes down on my list of top 10 favourites. You’ve got to try it!
Over the past few years, there’s been a major shift in my thinking when it comes to food. I had traditionally thought that ingredients are divided to two categories, the ordinary and the extra-ordinary. Cabbage, for instance fell into the “ordinary” category, whereas saffron was obviously extra-ordinary. The extra-ordinary ingredients came across as an elitist bunch. They seemed picky, always demanding a light hand, a purity in approach, always wanting to be at center stage, the stars of the show. Lobsters screamed to be poached gently and to be flavoured only with a small amount of herb butter. Oysters cried out to be eaten “au naturelles”. Truffles were appalled if they were mixed with too many other ingredients – shaving them simply over scrambled eggs was best. I obeyed their demands and followed a respectful, minimalist approach with these extra-ordinaries, and as correct as that approach remains, I now realise that I was giving these guys the royal treatment for the wrong reason.
These days, my approach is no longer ruled by classism. The world of food has stopped being an empire with a select few in the ruling class and has become a world of food communism where all ingredients are of the same culinary value – a classless food society where ingredients are treated equally, regardless of race or creed.
These are the facts. A truffle is no better than a potato. A prawn is no lesser a crustacean than a lobster. Saffron is no more amazing than pepper. Each of these ingredients has its place and they are all equally important. What drives us to value ingredients differently is economics – supply and demand. Obviously, truffles are in less supply than potatoes so they demand a higher price. Saffron’s monetary value is in the intense labour it needs and the landmass it requires for cultivation. As supply decreases or remains steady, high demand shifts an ingredient from the “ordinary” to the “extra-ordinary”, price-wise that is. Back in the day, sugar was one of those amazing products, highly sought after and very expensive due to the difficulty in production. Obviously, sugar is now a cheap commodity, its status is less extra-ordinary though its culinary value remains constant.
Nowadays, when I judge an ingredient, I judge it based on its individual quality. Such is the case of this pistachio paste. It is a paste of Bronte pistachios, one that will make you want to believe in reincarnation, simply for another chance of coming back to Earth and having some more. Sicily is Italy’s only pistachio growing region, and the town of Bronte is where some of Sicily’s best pistachios come from. The pistachios’ distinctive flavour comes from Bronte’s mineral rich soil and distinctive climate. The pistachio trees are harvested once every two years. The work needs to be done manually due to the difficult terrain. The quality of these pistachios, coupled with the relatively small and labour intensive yield makes them a niche product, and so, high demand meets low supply and prices skyrocket.
I read about Bronte pistachio paste in David Lebovitz’s blog in 2007. I craved it ever since, but Sydney doesn’t stock any. As luck would have it, Oday, a young Lebanese boy involved in the Australian Youth Food Movement went to Terra Madre, and being the wonderful adopted younger brother that he is, he indulged me upon his return with a jar of the good stuff.
I wanted to make pistachio gelato, as per David L’s recipe, but the moment I opened the jar I knew I wouldn’t be able to. The intoxicating scent of pistachios, followed by a spoonful of a most ethereal delight confirmed my initial resolve. Imagine if Nutella were made with some of the world’s best hazelnuts and finest chocolate. Now imagine Bronte pistachios instead of hazelnuts and milk instead of chocolate, and you might get a glimpse of how this beauty tastes like. Not trying to be elitist, but this paste is best enjoyed pure, by the spoonful, letting the creaminess melt in your mouth and coat your taste buds, eyes closed, the aroma of roasted pistachios filling your nose. Of course, if I had 20 jars, I’d be making pistachio gelati, face masks, body scrubs, you name it. But with only 1 in hand, I allowed myself an attempt at pistachio croissants, using only 2 tablespoons of pistachio paste.
Invited as a guest to a pastry class at Patisse in Waterloo, I recently learned the art of croissant making. Pastry chef Vincent Gadan, ex Guillaume, is an excellent teacher and a joy to spend 4 hours with. The class covered basic French pastry – pains au chocolate, brioches, frangiapane tarts and croissants – and we went home with a bundle of raw pastry, including the pastry I used for the croissants. The croissants I made at home turned out to be fantastic and the pistachio paste matched them exceedingly well. There are so many croissants recipes out there that I won’t put one up. I believe after my class with Vincent that pastry is one of those things that you should learn from a teacher rather than from a cook book. You need to feel the pastry, know how pliable and how thin it should be before you try making it. Otherwise, the results won’t be as great as they would otherwise be.
It was the Arabs, of course, that took the pistachio tree to Sicily. The Sicilian word for pistachios, frastuca, is still a clear relative to the Arabic fustuq also meaning pistachios.
Here’s a bit of a lazy weekend post for you. Hopefully something that will introduce you to something new and amazing.
I’ve put together some of my favourite songs, and paired them up with food I would feel like eating when I listen to them.
I’ve added a link to all the songs, so have a listen and enjoy. Let me know what your favourite songs are, and what you think you’d pair them up with.
EDIT: Stupid Grooveshark has lost the links I set up for the songs. If you want to listen, forget clicking the links (apart from the Al Shayyaleen link, which is on youtube) and instead go to Grooveshark.com and look the songs up.
Who: Joanna Newsom
What: No one really knows what this song is about, and it is possibly telling several stories in a lengthy 17 minutes, but the imagery it conjures is stunning. Joanna Newsom is possibly my favourite musician. I’ve seen all her Sydney concerts without fail. I’m still undecided about her latest album, but her older stuff is amazing.
Food: Mussels and white wine broth, a roast chicken with garlic roasted potatoes, peaches and cream
While the river was twisting and braiding, the bait bobbed
And the string sobbed, as it cut through the hustling breeze
And I watched how the water was kneading so neatly
Nearly slowed to a stop in this heat
Who: Nick Cave
What: A world full of life and movement, all because of the one he loves.
Food: Fresh buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and olive oil
I listen to my juddering bones
The blood in my veins and the wind in my lungs
And I am breathless without you
Who: Jeff Buckley
What: It’s a dark winter afternoon. He is all alone in the corner of his bedroom with the window open. The rain is pouring in and he is waiting for his love who never shows up.
Food: Pedro Ximenez braised beef shin with soft, buttery polenta and a mushroom ragout
Maybe I’m too young
To keep good love from going wrong
But tonight, you’re on my mind so
You never know
Who: Rima Khocheich
What: This one is cover of an old Egyptian song. Though the words may not make sense, the oriental jazz feel along can make this one a favourite. It’s about two men who carry luggage into a train, where one is convincing the other to keep going despite the difficulty of the job and the bad pay.
Dish: Falafel. And Foul Medammas: beans and chickpeas with cumin, garlic and lemon juice garnished with loads of chopped parsley and drowned in olive oil
If what you carry on your back weighs you down, remember, free man, it is lighter than the burden of having to beg
Who: Tom Waits or if Tom Waits is too rough for you, Cibelle http://tinysong.com/lC2w
What: A dead man singing to his lover who comes to visit his grave
Food: Rosemary and sea salt flat bread
Lay your head where my heart used to be
Hold the earth above me
Lay down on the green grass
Remember that you loved me
Who: Eliott Smith or Madeleine Peyroux’s cover
What: A man consoling his loved one over a drink
Food: Bitter chocolate fondue with real vanilla ice cream
People you’ve been before
That you don’t want around anymore
They push and shove and won’t bend to your will
I’ll keep them still
Who: Simon & Garfunkle
What: A song about a dream
Food: Smoked eel with blini and horseradish cream
And when you ran to me
Your cheeks flushed with the night
We walked on frosted fields
Of juniper and lamplight
Have a good weekend everyone!
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 went to Porteño a month ago. I am still dreaming about the morcilla with roast capsicum. It is one bloody amazing sausage. Go there. Eat it. I beg you. Get there early though.
a: 358 Cleveland Street Surry Hills NSW 2010
Today, The Food Blog has turned 4. How cool is that? Never thought I’d make it this far. Blog years are like dog years, so The Food Blog is almost as old as I am. These past 4 years have been fantastic, and I’ve loved sharing all my stories. I hope the blog has given you a few laughs and also taught you some tricks and cool recipes. But most of all the laughs…
I’ve also really loved reading all your comments. Food bloggers live for comments, they’re the fuel to our blogging spaceship. So thank you for letting me travel this far.
The lovely Johanna Kindvall from the very unique illustrated cooking blog kokblog.johannak.com has baked me a digital birthday cake since my attempts were hopeless. Luckily she knows the recipe for this Swedish Princess Tårta, so my birthday cake is much prettier than I’ve ever imagined. Thanks Johanna!
Usually blogs have giveaways at milestones. I don’t have anything to giveaway, but the person who leaves the most interesting comment gets a high five. Heck, you all get a high five!