China and the Fat Lebanese – Rozz a’ Djej

By | lebanese food, lebanon food, Recipes | 3 Comments

Rozz a Djej - Lebanese Chicken and Rice

I hate the Chinese and how clever they are. Fried rice. Bastards. For centuries, Lebanese mothers have been force-feeding their children all the rice cooked for the meal in fear of it going stale. While the Lebanese grew fat with gavage, the Chinese ate reasonably sized meals, saving the rice for the day after. Stale rice is a necessary backbone of fried rice, and when done well, it is pure joy.

There it was, a bowl of stale, plainly cooked basmati, flavoured with Iranian saffron; sitting in the fridge, waiting to be eaten with a dollop of yoghurt – might sound good to you, but in reality, it’s more boring than you imagine. Rice doesn’t survive a nuclear reheating as well as one would hope. Take a lesson from the Chinese. A bit of onion and garlic, a can of chickpeas and some beef mince, caramalised in a wok. A Lebanese teaspoon or two of each cumin and cinnamon, and a touch of chilli – toss the rice in, coat it well. Shred some poached chicken breast and scatter on top with some fried almonds; a stir-fry worthy of an emperor. Rozz a’ djej (rice with chicken), this Chinese remake of the Lebanese classic is still best eaten with a fork.

Pistachios & the Easiest Way to Ice Cream

By | dessert, ice cream, Ingredients, pistachio ice cream, Recipes | 14 Comments

Roasted Pistachio Ice Cream

Are you sick of my pistachio packed posts? I don’t blame you, but really, this is a follow up on my obsessive post on Bronte pistachio paste, so bear with me and you will learn the easiest way to make ice cream, ever.

Now that I had finally experienced what a jar of pistachio paste from Bronte tastes like (bloody amazing), I seriously needed to do something about the low supply situation. A visit to my Greenacre-based Lebanese green grocer Abu Salim provided a good kilo of roasted unsalted pistachios for $15.00. I wouldn’t call us a perfectionist race, but when it comes to roasting nuts, the Lebanese are masters – they get it so right. The nuts were wonderful; the roasting concentrated and amplified their flavour brilliantly.

After shelling for an evening, thumbs sore with pain from the odd stubborn pistachio that refused to open, I ended up with a good amount to try making my paste. I was aiming for a smooth paste, and I knew my food processor was not up to the task. A quick tweet and the incredibly generous Mr Franz Scheurer was quick to donate his time and his Thermomix (what would have cost me $2000 to buy).

Roasted Pistachio Ice Cream

The Paste

I wanted to create a pistachio paste that I could use in desserts, one that could have a decent lifespan, so I decided not to follow the ingredients of my jar of Bronte pistachio paste and instead omitted the milk. The paste would last longer, and I could add milk when I needed.

To create a good paste, I blitzed the pistachios along with some glucose and created an emulsification with grape seed oil. You could use any neutral oil. I didn’t take measurements and went with feel and taste. I stopped when the pistachios tasted slightly sweet and the paste was smooth enough for me (a bit of coarse meal is fine). The consistency needs to be slightly runnier than peanut butter. I went home and mixed in some cream with a small sample to test out the flavour and the gates of heaven opened and I heard a sweet song, and a choir or angels called out to me. Seriously, it was that good.

It is worth mentioning that if you want to make pistachio paste for ice cream, you may as well add some water into the blender to make the paste smoother. That way, you wouldn’t need a Thermomix, because with that much liquid, your food processor should do the trick. If you do add water, make sure you omit it from the recipe below.

Roasted Pistachio Ice Cream

The Ice Cream

I was aiming for a custard based ice cream, but as luck would have it, Jules from The Stone Soup posted a churn-free, machine-free lemon ice cream recipe. It looked incredibly simple, and I decided to give it a go. The basic idea is that by increasing the amount of sugar, ice crystals do not form. Jules folds lemon juice and icing sugar into whipped cream and simply freezes the lot for 6 hours. I did the same, but substituted pistachio paste for the lemon juice, and added some water to dissolve the sugar. The result was a beautiful. pistachio green ice cream with the texture of semifreddo, light, airy and delicious. I urge you wholeheartedly to try making ice cream this way. It is so simple – 5 minutes and you’re done, and it tastes ridiculously good.

The Recipe (adapted from The Stone Soup’s Lemon Ice Cream)

300 ml whipping cream
200 grams icing sugar
4 heaped tablespoons (or to taste) of pistachio paste, prepared as mentioned above

Whip the cream until soft peaks form
Mix icing sugar and pistachio paste and 1/3 cup of water until smooth (omit water if already used in paste preparation)
Fold the pistachio and sugar into the cream until evenly distributed
Whip the cream again until it gets to soft peak stage once more
Freeze for 6 hours or overnight

Disasters and Adventures with Silver Beet

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

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.

Kibbeh with Star Anise Caramelised Onions

By | lebanese food, lebanon food, Recipes | 10 Comments

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!

Kibbeh Recipe



  • 0.5 kilo finely minced lamb, beef or goat meat (twice minced)
  • 180 grams fine burghul
  • 1 pureed or finely grated onion
  • 2 tsp finely ground black pepper
  • salt – use your judgement


  • 6 large onions, sliced
  • 4 star anise, in a muslin bag
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup fried pine nuts


  • In a frying pan, add all the filling ingredients except pine nuts and caramalise on a low heat. It will take around 45 minutes. Stir occasionally and make sure the onions don’t burn
  • Remove from heat and add pine nuts
  • Mix all the shell ingredients
  • Flatten some of the shell mix between your palms until it’s evenly thin
  • Use a cup you like the shape of and line it with the meat.
  • Use the method outlined in the photo below (from my pumpkin kibbeh post) for a fully manual kibbeh experience, or rill the meat with filling and cover the bottom with another piece of flattened shell, ensuring the bottom adheres to the rest of the kibbeh.
  • Deep fry until golden

Bronte Pistachio Croissants

By | Recipes | 15 Comments

Bronte Pistachio Paste&  Croissants

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.

Bronte Pistachio Paste Croissants

The Pistachio Paste

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.

What Does it Taste Like?

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.

The Croissants

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.

The Obligatory Middle-Eastern Pride

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.