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


  • 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.


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

TrueFood 2011 Kids Edition – A Parent’s Guide to Non-Genetically Modified Food

By | Angry with The Food System | One Comment

As a follow up from my previous post, here’s a bit of good news. Following the launch of TrueFood 2011, Greenpeace’s guide to non-GM food brands, and the ensuing media coverage, Kellogg’s has announced that they will be adopting a GM free policy. Kellogg’s K-time twist bars were given the red-light for containing high fructose corn syrup which, being imported from USA, is in most cases  manufactured from genetically modified corn.

Kellogg’s adoption of a GM free policy is a huge win. Genetic modification has great detriment to natural crops, and only benefits the chemical companies (these are not agricultural companies) who produce the patented product. American farmers are being successfully sued by GM corporates, then forced to burn down their own seeds when GM seeds self-germinate in the farmers’ fields. These GM seeds are transported by air, birds, passing trucks, you name it, so the likelihood of them spreading is almost guaranteed. Patents of genetically modified seeds are used to monopolise agricultural markets which in turn will lead to a handful of companies literally owning the world’s food supply. Across the world farmers rely on their ability to save seeds from one crop to the next to ensure their livelihood, and our food supply.

TrueFood 2011 Kids Edition Launch, clockwise from top left: Murray from the Wiggles with children from Darlington School, Murray and Danks Street Depot Head Chef/Owner Jared Ingersol, Speakers Nick Ritar from Milkwood Farms and Greenpeace Genetic Engineer Campaigner Laura Kelly

If you are not convinced of how wrong GM food is, purely based on the idea I expressed above, consider this. Genetic modification is dissimilar to natural hybridisation and breeding. Breeding uses two very similar animals, for instance, two types of sheep, and through animal husbandry and a long period of selection of the fittest offspring, we end up with a certain type of breed. Genetic modification is, in contrast, bringing genes from two very separate species (bacteria and corn for instance) and fusing DNA to create a totally new species, with absolutely no guarantee that this species is safe for consumption. The safety of GM food is based on research done by the manufacturer, rather than by unbiased independent  study. We all know how that story goes.

Shamefully, Australian law allows genetically modified crops to exist, and they are in our food chain. Yesterday, at Danks Street Depot, Greenpeace has released TrueFood 2011, Kids Edition. This handbook allows me, as a parent, to choose the right food for my daughter. As people like you and me boycott genetically modified brands, the companies producing them will eventually go out of business. If you feel the problem is bigger than you and me, ask yourself, what would Michael Jackson do? I did, and as such, I’m starting with the man in the mirror 🙂

Download the TrueFood 2011 Guide Kids Edition here:

The Genetically Unmodified Bread of Life – Wholemeal Bread Recipe

By | Angry with The Food System, Recipes | 17 Comments

Have you, like me, had enough with buying basic foods that ought to have 5 ingredients in them but instead have 15? Take bread for instance. Can you find a pre-packaged loaf of bread that doesn’t use soy or emulsifiers? It’s extremely difficult, and that worries me.

I also worry about unknowingly eating genetically modified ingredients. If you’ve seen the documentary The Future of Food, you would also be concerned about what is happening to our food supply. If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to. The issue of genetically modified food is one of the biggest facing agriculture today (and in consequence, humanity), along with climate change. Food that contains genetically modified ingredients is already out there, and we probably don’t know that we’re eating it. A recent article by Carli Ratcliff in Good Living centred around Greenpeace’s annual consumer guide, Truefood Guide. The guide gives a “red light” rating to manufacturers who either produce products that contain genetically modified ingredients or who “refuse to provide transparent information regarding the origin of their ingredients.” The Truefood Guide comes out tomorrow, and in the absence of any meaningful Australian labelling laws, it is essential reading, in order for one to be able to choose.

For the moment, I am trying to keep my family’s diet focused on ethically grown and harvested food. To me, that means organic or biodynamic, local and natural (not GM). With meat and eggs, I buy free-range/organic chicken and eggs as well as grass-fed cattle as opposed to grain-fed. I’ve given up supermarket bread since I want mine to be real bread, with real nutrients and nothing else. I’ve started buying bio-dynamic wholemeal wheat flour from Alfalfa House in Newtown and every 3 days or so, I bake a loaf for my family. I use a great little recipe which produces an absolutely delicious loaf with a crisp shell and a dense, moist interior. It involves 5 ingredients and requires no kneading. The bread mix is ready in 5 minutes, rises for around 2 hours and is then baked for 40 minutes. I’m getting into the habit of preparing the dough the night before I bake it, which means we can have warm bread for breakfast. And you know that nothing beats warm, genetically-unaltered bread for breakfast, right?

Recipe – Adapted from All Recipes


  • 500g wholemeal flour – I use and love the biodynamic flour from Alfalfa House
  • 500 ml tap water at room temperature
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 7 grams yeast (make sure the yeast is alive)
  • 2 tbsp honey


  • Mix all the dry ingredients together
  • Dissolve the honey in the water
  • Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients
  • Add the water and using a wooden spoon, mix the ingredients for 2 to 3 minutes until well mixed
  • Grease a bread or cake tin (13 × 23 cm loaf tin)
  • Put the dough in the cake tin, cover it with greased paper and a wet kitchen towel and leave it to rise overnight or until it is doubled in size
  • Preheat the oven to 200c
  • Dust the dough with flour then bake for around 40 minutes. The more often you bake this bread, the more knowledgeable you will be about the correct baking time for your oven
  • Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for at least 45 minutes