Food Fact of the Day – Week’s Summary

By | Food Fact of the Day | 7 Comments

I have started posting daily facts about food on The Food Blog’s facebook page. I encourage you to like us on Facebook (click here) so you could get these cool little facts delivered straight to your facebook stream. Each Sunday, however, I will be posting all these facts on the blog. This week is our first week, so there’s only 2 food facts, which are very much worth reading.

Food Fact of the Day: How to make the whitest, creamiest hummus

by The Food Blog on Sunday, April 3, 2011 at 12:04pm

Making hummus white and creamy as opposed to yellow and chunky is one of the biggest issues facing the world today. Though, truth be told, if you follow a few rules, you will be able to guarantee yourself consistent and delicious hummus. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Soak your chickpeas overnight and add a teaspoon or two of sodium bicarbonate into the mix. Bicarb is essential for smooth hummus, but the next day, make sure you rinse the chickpeas under cold water for at least 3 to 5 minutes
  2. Boil it to an inch of its life. If you have a pressure cooker, now’s the time to use it. If you don’t, at least an hour and a half of boiling is needed. The chickpeas need to become super soft
  3. Drain your chickpeas but reserve some of the boiling liquid. Blend the chickpeas when still hot in a food processor on their own until they are completely smooth.
  4. Use only Lebanese tahini. I love the Kalajiyeh brand. Tahini from other countries is usually darker and has a different, more bitter flavour. Add tahini, the lemon juice, crushed garlic and salt after you’ve processed the chickpeas into the food processor and process again.
  5. Taste and adjust seasoning. If you want your hummus to be runnier, as tahini has the characteristic of sucking up moisture, use some of the preserved boiling liquid. Remember, when hummus cools down, especially if you refrigerate it, it becomes less runny.
  6. To make the hummus whiter, process the hummus and add an ice cube or two as the machine is running until the ice is encorporated. The colour will become paler.

 

Food Fact of the Day: How what we eat is actually fossil fuel

by The Food Blog on Saturday, April 2, 2011 at 4:27pm

Plant usable nitrogen (fertilizer), until we learned how to manufacture it, was exclusively produced by bacteria on roots of legumes and by lightning that would occasionally free up the nitrogen to fall down with the rain (fertility rain). That’s why farmers used to rotate crops, so that the nitrogen using crop (corn for example) was alternated by a nitrogen producing crop (legumes). Today’s technology frees up the atmosphere’s nitrogen through an unsustainable process that burns fossil fuels. We feed our plants with fossil fuel derived nitrogen. Fossil fuel gives us nitrogen that gives us corn that gives us factory farmed cows that we eat. We are no longer dependant on the sun for our food, which, as a medium to long term strategy, is unsustainable. Ask for grass fed beef and chemical free fruit and veg.

 

The Food Blog on Facebook

By | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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.

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.

 

Getting Serious

By | Random Thoughts | 6 Comments

You have them too, right? In case I lost you there, I’m talking about obsessions. Mine are many, spread wide and varied. From pottery to Miyazaki films, passing through Japanese knives, fishing, bonsai trees, Joanna Newsom and of course food. I guess I can safely say I’m not afflicted with tunnel vision. At school, I was never interested in learning anything, but now, I can’t let a day go by without trying to improve. Maybe that relentless urge for self-improvement is in itself an obsession, or maybe it’s the weather or something like that, but the urge doesn’t stop. My latest? Bread.

I’ve been making bread for a while now, as you would know. Last week I turned this hobby into an obsession through the simple act of buying a 5kg bag of organic wholewheat flour from the organic coop in Katoomba. I am now nurturing a young sourdough starter, purely wholemeal, fed by the juice of organic oranges. This starter is what we, humans, used to use in days of yore, before the isolation of baker’s yeast. The natural micro-organisms in my starter are those who arrived on the mother ship, the wheat grain itself, and possibly some are from the orange juice. These guys are alive and kicking, and in a month or even less, I will not need any commercial yeast to give my bread the push it needs. At day 5, my sourdough starter is dark and handsome and has a bubbly personality. Two more days and a semi-leavened loaf might be my first reward.

Mouneh by Barbara Abdeni Massaad – Book Review

By | Book Reviews | 11 Comments

This is my first ever book review. My intention is to introduce you, dear reader, to books that inspire me to cook, ones that teach me new things, or ones that contain extremely valuable information. It so happens that this first book, Mouneh, does these things all at once.

Book Highlights

  • A comprehensive work
  • Contains recipes for lesser-known aspects of Lebanese food
  • A one-of-a-kind book which has, for the first time, made these recipes publicly available
  • Chefs and cooks will be inspired and educated about old techniques and obscure dishes that are absolutely stunning
  • Has beautiful photography
  • A must have for anyone serious or even slightly interested about Lebanese food

Book Review

To call the task of putting together a book like Mouneh daunting would be a gross understatement. Mouneh is the Lebanese word for the larder, the supplies and provisions that saw village people through the rough Lebanese winters. Weighing in at 592 pages, Mouneh is a comprehensive work, encompassing recipes for pretty much all Lebanese pantry items, from the well-known to the obscure. Author Barbara Abdeni Massaad is an American born of Lebanese parents and she is more than passionate about preserving both pantry items and Lebanese traditions. It takes individuals like Barbara who feel a connection to a country but see it through an outsider’s perspective to fully appreciate the value and need to document its fragile traditions. This work is the result of years of research and experimentation to produce accurate, authentic recipes categorised by month to give the reader an idea of what can be preserved at that time of year. Many of the recipes contained in Mouneh have never been previously documented or made this easily available.

In the style of her first book Man’oushé, which is dedicated in its entirety to manakish, the Levantine pizza, Barbara has written Mouneh in a personal tone. The recipes, it becomes obvious, are not her own, but belong to the farmers and artisan producers she introduces us to. She relays her stories and encounters with heart, and shares the recipes she has gathered from numerous people living all over Lebanon.

In addition to doing all the writing, Barbara has also done most of the photography. Her portrayal of wonderful and often exotic ingredients largely contributes to the pleasure of reading Mouneh. The book explodes with colour and the images of farmers in their fields or producers preparing their recipes speak a thousand words.

I aim to provide honest, balanced reviews, so here’s some dwelling on the negatives. In my opinion, the book could have used an editor to give it the once over as sometimes, the sentences could be better structured and there are some minor, infrequent spelling mistakes. My second criticism is common to most books I’ve seen come out of Lebanon, though it is observed less with Mouneh. Here, the layout and the typography could be better handled. A more suitable font could have been selected, the images are sometimes placed in awkward positions on the page, and in some cases the text clashes with its background and becomes difficult to read.

All in all, these are minor issues that would not stand in the way of Mouneh becoming a true classic. To me, Mouneh has become my first reference for Lebanese preserves. No other book has gone to such lengths to describe these recipes in such a serious, well-researched manner. Non-Lebanese readers will truly enter a new and colourful world of Lebanese food, one that is very distinct from any other Lebanese cook book, as it relates to a completely different facet of our cuisine. You won’t find a recipe for hummus here, but instead, you will learn how to make orange blossom petal jam, pickled green almonds, candied pumpkin and a plethora of other Lebanese classics that until now have been known mostly to a handful of the Lebanese. Barbara has done the Lebanese people a great service in producing Mouneh, and I, for one, am very grateful.

You can buy the book here: http://www.buylebanese.com/browse.asp?pr=596&x=2&y=4

Book Score

Content: 7.5/10
Recipes: 10/10
Layout: 7/10
Total: 24.5/30

Additional Information

  • I heard about Barbara when she left a comment on my Manakish post
  • Barbara is also a blogger. Her blog can be found here: http://myculinaryjourneythroughlebanon.blogspot.com
  • In the interest of full disclosure, Barbara is one of my Facebook contacts, but I personally purchased the book and have written this review with no bias or favouritism