Lebanese Yoghurt Fritters – Oowamat recipe

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As I was growing up in Lebanon, there were times when produce was hard to come by. The war created a siege around the country and shops didn’t always have stock. Bakeries would open a few times a month and hundreds of people would line up to get bread. Dad would take my oldest brothers with him to buy bread as there was a quota of 2 or 3 bags per person. We would also receive bags of flour, rice; legumes, oil, powdered milk, sugar, canned beef, etc, as form of national aid, or i’ashet. Power would go out for months on end as the fighting worsened, and even TV was a luxury. Once, my brother Fady and I were watching “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” on tape, and the power went off. The cassette player didn’t work on generator power because it was an old, power hungry machine. And so, six months went by: school finished, summer came, we played, read books, fought and reconciled, and then school started again; and then one day, out of the blue, the power comes back and what’s the first thing Fady and I do? Finish the last 10 minutes of “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”, of course.

You can imagine, when there’s hardly any fresh produce, things can get a bit less than imaginative in the kitchen. But imagination was never an issue in the Kassab family. When my siblings and I would ask dad to buy us cornflakes, he’d say, “Cornflakes? Just toast some Lebanese bread and mix it with milk”. Or when we asked for some donuts, he’d say “Donuts? Have mom make you some oowamat (Lebanese yoghurt fritters), or zlebiyeh”. I love dad. Pretty good solutions when his kids were being unrealistic in their demands. And guess what, we proceeded to have our Lebanese bread cornflakes and our oowamat donuts, enjoyed them and life went on.

Oowamat and zlebiyeh are two forms of fried dough, which in fact, and I admit this now, makes them very similar to donuts. What was good about them is that with the limited amount of items in the cupboard one could still make a decent dessert. Oowamat are made by mixing yoghurt, flour and yeast, waiting for the dough to rise, then deep frying them into beautiful round balls that are then dipped in sugar syrup. They are meant to be light and airy, but with a glassy crisp exterior. The sweetness comes solely from the sugar syrup and melds with the acidity of the dough and creates a tasty harmony. The sourness of the yoghurt makes the dough more like sourdough bread, but luckily, you don’t need three days to make these. It should take around 1 to 3 hours depending on the temperature for the dough to rise. You can make oowamat the traditional way, in small round balls around 3 cm in diameter by piping them straight into the hot oil; or, like me, you can have a bit of fun and make a free form fritter which I find makes for more crunchy “donuts” as it increases the surface area the dough has in contact with the oil. Oh, and by the way, I used agave syrup instead of sugar syrup, but you can use a medium consistency simple sugar syrup that can soak in as well as having a nice stickiness that clings to the outside shell.

Oowamat Recipe/Lebanese Yoghurt Fritters

Ingredients

  • 2 cups plain white flour
  • 2 cups Greek or Lebanese yoghurt (not that creamy European stuff that has no acidity)
  • 1 tsp yeast
  • Oil – enough to deep fry
  • Agave syrup or simple sugar syrup of medium thickness
  • Pine nuts to sprinkle on top

Method

  • Mix the flour, yoghurt and yeast together and knead for a minute. The dough should be sticky but needs to be holding together
  • Wait for the dough to rise and double in size
  • Deep fry the dough in any shape you want and remove when golden red in colour
  • Soak in sugar syrup or agave for a minute and devour hot

Dine with Me and Three of Sydney’s Food Bloggers @ Bistro CBD

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Join me and three of Sydney’s coolest food bloggers in a scary and thrilling experiment to see if we can stand the heat of a commercial kitchen. As part of the Merivale’s ‘A Feast for the Senses’ events, Linda, Karen, Billy and I will be putting our skills to the test and getting behind the burners to cook up a storm for anyone who dares risk their lives. So, on Wednesday the 28th of July, Bistro CBD’s kitchen will be invaded by some of Australia’s top amateur chefs (wink wink  Masterchef) trying to feed seventy discerning diners a five course meal. We will each be cooking one of the courses, with a fifth course prepared by Simun Dragicevich, Bistro CBD’s head chef. All this and a glass of sparkling are for a measly $60pp. Call now to see if there is any availability. We believe the event has already booked out, but regardless, you might be able to go on a waiting list, so book now or forever hold your peas.

My fellow friends and food bloggers who will be cooking with me are:

Karen from Citrus and Candywww.citrusandcandy.com
Linda from Eat Show and Tellwww.eatshowandtell.com
Billy from A Table for Twowww.atablefortwo.com.au

See our event and other Merivale winter events by clicking here.

Event Details

Wednesday 28th July, 6.30pm
5 courses including a glass of sparkling, $60pp
Bistro CBD, level 1, 52 King Street, Sydney
Call 9240 3000 to book

Muhammara Recipe

By | Uncategorized | 12 Comments

The past couple of weeks have been a bit of a trial for me. Lainy is due to have our first baby in under ten days now, and I have stupidly over committed on many a demanding project. Plus, there’s the world cup. Sydney is in an unlucky situation yet again where the matches are held at midnight or after, which means I am partially sleep deprived. I guess that’s good because I will become fully sleep deprived when the baby comes, so maybe I should consider this as practice.

One of the projects I am working on is on a vein similar to my harebrained secret dinner, which means I have been brainstorming concepts for a Lebanese influenced dish that is simultaneously easy to cook for 70 people, tastes phenomenal, and manages not to look like a piece of shish tawook with garlic sauce and tabbouli. In the process, I’ve probably sketched around 10 dishes, imagined 20 more and attempted to cook half of those. It is only when you go through this process that you gain an appreciation for what chefs go through to come up with something original and exciting. One of the dishes I dreamt up is a slow cooked beef shin with green wheat (called freek) and muhammara. Delicious, but ugly as sin. Maybe one day I will figure out how to make that dish look good and The Food Blog will showcase it, but for now, I just want to share the recipe for the muhammara.

I don’t recall eating muhammara as a child. Maybe because my parents are from the South or maybe it’s because I grew up in Jbeil, but muhammara was never on the menu. According to Wikipedia, it’s a Syrian dip, and Wikipedia never lies, right? On my last trip however, Syrian troops had left Lebanon, and maybe Lebanon was again free to celebrate the food traditions of its neighbours, or maybe I was at the right place at the right time… but I ended up in this restaurant up North with friends, and friends of friends, sitting opposite to this very Lebanese guy with a thin moustache who all of a sudden started lecturing me on chicken livers, and saying something about how before chicken liver reaches The Gate (pointing to his mouth) it needs to pass by The Two Customs Officers (pointing to his nostrils). I’d love to tell you the story in person as I can never express the hilarity of the situation in writing. But to move on, the restaurant was serving muhammara with grilled meat skewers and I got a taste for this delicious dip. Capsicums are roasted on an open flame and then blended with walnuts, toasted bread, pomegranate molasses, garlic, sugar and lemon juice. The lot is spiked with chilli and then emulsified with olive oil. In a way, it’s a sort of Middle Eastern pesto, only hotter and more complex in flavour. It’s all together charred, sweet, rich, spicy and sharp, and goes well on its own with bread or with any form of grilled meat or firm fish. I’m sharing Greg Malouf’s recipe from his awesome book Saha. Try it and it will become a staple, but make sure it passes by the customs officers.

Muhammara Recipe – Adapted from Greg Malouf’s Saha

Ingredients

  • 3 large red capsicums
  • 1 red bullet chilli, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed with 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 125 shelled walnuts
  • 1/3 cup lightly toasted fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
  • juice of ½ lemon-1 lemon (depends on size and taste)
  • 1 tablespoon hot water
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Method

1- Char the capsicums on an open flame, turning until blackened thoroughly
2- Put the capsicums in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. This steams the capsicums and helps them continue cooking and softening
3- When cool enough to handle, remove the charred exterior with your hand. Don’t rinse because that removes the nice smoky flavour. Take the seeds out and put the flesh in a blender or food processor
4- Add all other ingredients except the olive oil
5- Blend into a paste and then add the oil in a thin stream until the paste is thick and creamy
6- Taste and adjust ingredients if you have to
7- Allow to cool before serving

The Scoop on the Etiquette of Eating Lebanese Bread

By | Bread | 28 Comments

Lebanese bread, also known as Arabic bread, or as the locals pronounce it, kh’GHtfHz, is a remarkable product. It is said that early man was given the recipe for Lebanese bread by divine intervention. When Adam was exiled from paradise, he wandered in the Arabian desert for fourty days. At the end, he reached a green, fertile land where he had free access to an abundance of foods. Berries, nuts, seeds, root vegetables and greens dominated the scenery and food stuffs such as vine leaves were successful as clothing as well as being a perfect wrapping sheet for Eve’s famous dolmades. One night, as he pondered the events leading up to his exile over a plate of hummous, feeling helpless and alone, Adam cried a single tear. His tear fell on an ant that looked up to see what befell it and saw the source of the tear. The ant took pity on Adam, sitting there, all alone, with no cutlery. She pleaded to God and asked that Adam be given some source of cheer and happiness. And out of thin air, a bag of bread appeareth before Adam and he henceforth ate hummous with bread for the rest of his days.

This story is passed down through an oral tradition by the Bedouin tribes of Lebanon, where the direct descendants of Adam still eat hummous with Lebanese bread to this day. But, do you, dear reader, know how to eat with Lebanese bread? Well, let me tell you how, and hopefully allow you to experience some insight on how the Middle East eats Lebanese bread. This article is part of a series I intend to write about the various forms of eating with Lebanese bread. I wish to begin with the following enigmatic form: The Scoop.

The Scoop

The most common and basic way to eat with Lebanese bread, “The Scoop” is also possibly one of the most obscure and least understood by westerners in terms of structure and uses. If you are eating mezze, seeking assistance from a spoon to put a dollop of baba ghannouj on a piece of Lebanese bread is far too tedious as well as being a sure way of making yourself known as a foreigner. Master “The Scoop” and you are sure to win the heart of the villagers, almost securing yourself a beautiful bride; or if you are a young lady, you will almost certainly earn the right to hand feed the tribe leader’s son. To perfect the art of “The Scoop” you must understand its construction. The idea is to create an edge on one side to “cut” through the dip you are trying to eat, whilst creating fortified edges to ensure the integrity of the structure, much as you would with an underground military tunnel. The following are the steps to follow to achieve perfection, and though they seem tedious, they might save your life if you are ever mistaken for an infidel or a spy, taken hostage and forced to eat with your captors, so make sure you practice before your next visit:

1. A uniform slice of Lebanese bread is held securely between the thumb and index of your left hand, with enough bread protruding on the three sides of your thumb.

2. Then with your right hand, you fold the middle flap over your thumb’s fingernail. Your right thumb should keep this flap secure and under observation

3. Fold the left flap over the middle flap and secure both with your right hand’s index finger. The edge of the left flap should be at a slight angle

4. Fold the right flap over the middle flap in such a way that the two meet at the edge and create a point that allows you to hold the scoop. Be careful not to reverse steps 3 and 4 as you might offend your host. The left flap is always folded first

5. Assuming you’ve survived step 4 and your host is content, use “The Scoop” to literally scoop your dip of choice. Enjoy, without smiling too much.

Tradition vs Innovation – The state of Lebanese food and a Moghrabieh recipe

By | lebanese food, lebanon food, Recipes | 21 Comments

moghrabieh with black pudding, star anise poached chicken and a gewürztraminer reduction

A recent article I’ve read in the New York Times discussed the phenomenon of upholding tradition when it comes to Lebanese food. With the exception of a minority, Lebanese chefs, whether those in Lebanon or who are part of the Lebanese diaspora, focus on producing high quality, authentic Lebanese food. Restaurants seem to set themselves apart not by innovation but rather by the quality of the beloved staples of the cuisine. There is nothing to criticise about a nation who takes pride in its national cuisine, and where traditional food is held in high esteem, but it would be refreshing to see some imagination and flair in the Lebanese food scene. The omnipresent purist approach may be the result of many contributing factors, the greatest of which, to my eyes, seems to be a lack of education in the global food scene. I’ll give you an example, but please don’t judge us too harshly. On a recent trip to Lebanon, a childhood friend was opening a sushi restaurant. When I was told about this, I was quite impressed, and I asked how much it cost to hire a Japanese sushi master in Lebanon. I imagined it wouldn’t be cheap as I knew that it would probably take a Japanese sushi apprentice decades before they are considered a true sushi chef. My friend replied by saying that to hire Japanese staff was expensive and that the staff were actually Korean. Apparently, Koreans were hired because they were cheaper and, wait for it, “because they looked right”. This wasn’t a racist comment. Don’t get me wrong, we are a racist bunch, but this comment was simply an indication of the low level of knowledge the Lebanese posses when it comes to Asian cuisine.

Perhaps one of the greatest influences global gastronomy has experienced is the effect of Asian food, especially at the fine dining end of the market. Chinese and Japanese cuisines have greatly changed not only food aesthetics, but have introduced new ingredients and techniques that have crept into Western cuisines. You can clearly see the effect of Asian food on modern Australian, Spanish, American and French cuisines. Unfortunately, the Lebanese posses little insight into foreign food cultures. During the war years, Asia seemed too far, and though at our doorstep, Europe seemed even further. So Lebanese gastronomy stayed in a quasi-freezer state, and our sense of imagination became dull. Though the Lebanese enthusiasm for global cuisine has started to take over the country, there is still a long way to go, and I feel that without a big effort on behalf of the chefs to educate themselves, Lebanese fine dining will never be world class. Hummous will be hummous and waiters will always stack up dirty plates right there on the table.

Following this rant, I feel like giving out a recipe for a modern Lebanese creation of mine. I cooked this dish in my first ever secret dinner, and the photo was taken in low light, so apologies on the poor quality of the photo. This is a play on a well-loved dish called moghrabieh, but with a few different ingredients and techniques. Moghrabieh refers to dry, round pellets of pasta that got to Lebanon from North Africa. There’s a North African couscous called berkouke which is the size of a chickpea. Berkouke is better suited for travel than small grain couscous as it is less prone to spoiling, and it is highly probable that it was introduced to the Lebanese by North African pilgrims on their way to Mecca. My version of this dish gently poaches chicken in a stock flavoured with star anise. The stock is then reduced with gewürztraminer, a wine that I feel has the perfect flavour profile in that it is fragrant, slightly sweet, and low acid. The reduction is then monté au beurre, and flavoured with caraway, the traditional spice used for moghrabieh. I’ve used some black pudding to replace lamb, and it works beautifully. The boiled pasta is then mixed with chickpeas, caramelised confit onions, pan-fried black pudding and the chicken, and finished off with a glazing of the stock/wine reduction. It is sensational, if I may say so myself. If this dish ends up on restaurant menus, email me and let me know. I will be a very happy man.

Moghrabieh Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 small whole chicken
  • 3 chicken carcasses
  • 2 chopped carrots
  • 1 chopped celery stick
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 10 baby onions
  • 1 cup chickpeas, soaked overnight
  • 1 black pudding
  • 1.5 cup dry moghrabieh pasta
  • 1 bottle of gewürztraminer wine
  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 4 star anise pods
  • 2 teaspoons caraway
  • Salt, to taste

Method

  1. Begin by peeling the onions. Then you can confit them by slowly cooking them in oil on low heat and then caramelising them in a pan, or deep frying them until deeply caramelised.
  2. Boil the chickpeas until done, but not too soft.
  3. Put the chicken, the carcasses, the star anise, the carrots, the chopped onions and the celery in a big pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the chicken is done, skimming any froth. Leave the chicken in until it is cool enough to handle. This will infuse the flesh with the flavour of the star anise.
  4. Take the chicken out and then strain the stock in muslin to remove any impurities. Discard the carcasses and the veggies. In a sauce pan, add the bottle of gewürztraminer to the stock and reduce until there is around 1/2 cup of liquid left. It should be nice and thick. I don’t thicken my sauces with flour and prefer to reduce my sauces. Add the butter off the heat, and swirl your saucepan to incorporate the butter. The liquid becomes thicker and glossier. Add the caraway, taste and add salt if necessary. Make sure you don’t add any salt until now as the saltiness intensifies as stock is reduced. Always add salt at the end when reducing a liquid.
  5. While the stock is reducing, boil your pasta in plenty of salted water and when cooked, put the chickpeas in there to heat them up. Drain thoroughly and keep dry and warm.
  6. Pan-fry discs of black pudding until nicely coloured. Cut the chicken into nice pieces.
  7. Ensure all your ingredients are hot. Mix the pasta and chickpeas with some stock reduction. Top with the chicken, black pudding and confit onions and drizzle with some more stock reduction. Sahtein.

Lebanese Bread – Recipe

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Lebanese Bread Recipe

Hot bread. Rarely does a food so simple entice us so intensely. For thousands of years, the art and craft of Lebanese flat bread making was shrouded in mystery. But when scientists discovered the Middle-East late in the 18th century, they were dumbfounded to see the locals filling a flat round disc with spreads and meats and using it to hold and consume their food. After close inspection, it was found that the disc was indeed, bread. This bread, however, was quite different to European bread in that it would not fit into a toaster. In fact, if this bread were to be sliced, it would loose all food holding ability and become totally useless. So, for years, science lost all interest in flat bread, and its practice remained restricted to the ritualistic baking sessions of the local tribes. But slowly, as with all things good, the potential of flat bread became apparent, and the western world took to it like ducks to water. This was a natural progression, as there is only so much filling you can put between two slices of toast.

In Australia, flat bread is called Lebanese bread (which is how I will refer to it from here on). Of course, in Lebanon, we simply call it “bread”, much the same as how the Chinese refer to Chinese food as “food”. To disambiguate, we sometimes refer to Lebanese bread as kumaj bread. Kumaj apparently, is a Turkish word for bread that is cooked on charcoal. This sets it apart from out other two popular breads: marquq or saj bread (large, circular and paper thin bread cooked on a convex grill), or tannour bread (cooked in a tandour-like oven). My generation’s encounter with Lebanese bread came after the industrialisation of the bread making process and as such, we’ve never had anything but mass produced Lebanese bread. It is not clear to me which came first. Whether the machines we bought encouraged the creation of this type of bread or whether we lost the traditional bread making process to the machines. The latter seems more probable. In any case, replicating the Lebanese bread making process at home is quite simple and extremely satisfying, as the result is bread with more substance and integrity than that of store bought bread. Seeing the disc puffing up and separating is a visual treat and I urge you to experience it, if only for that.

Lebanese Bread Recipe

adapted from http://www.elook.org/recipes/entree/39624.html

Makes around 8 loaves/discs

Ingredients

  • 1 packet dried baker’s yeast
  • 1/3 cup water to mix with the yeast, warm but not hot
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 cups plain, white flour
  • 1 cup water, warm but not hot
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Method

  1. Activate the yeast by mixing it with the 1/3rd cup of water and the 2 tablespoons of sugar
  2. Wait for 10 minutes until the mixture becomes frothy. If it doesn’t become frothy, your yeast has died/expired and you need to buy a fresh packet
  3. Meanwhile, sift the 3 cups of flour along with the teaspoon of salt into a bowl
  4. Create a well in the middle and add the cup of water and the yeast mixture
  5. Mix well and then knead with oomph for 10 minutes
  6. Make a ball and with a knife, slice a cross on the surface to loosen the surface tension
  7. Cover with a damp, clean cloth and place it in a warm, draft free area. Wait until it doubles in size (depending on the temperature this could be anywhere from 1 to 3 hours)
  8. Knock back the dough and divide into 8 balls
  9. Place on a lightly floured surface and flatten with a rolling pin until it is around 0.4 to 0.5 cm thick and put aside for 10 to 15 minutes to rise a bit more. The shape should be circular
  10. Heat the oven to maximum
  11. (Optional) Brush the top of the discs with a bit of milk if you want it to colour deeply.
  12. Bake each individual disc one at a time for 5 to 8 minutes until the top has nicely coloured (cooking time depends on the heat of the oven and thickness of the bread)
  13. Remove and eat immediately, or when cool store in a plastic bag in order for it to soften