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


  • 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


  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

Makes around 8 loaves/discs


  • 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


  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

The Ten Commandments of Food Blogging

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And the Lord spoke to Moses.

No, not really. These are these Ten Commandments of Food Blogging, from the The Gospel Gastronomique by St Fouad the Bewildered. The following are my own personal feelings and opinions on the dos and don’ts of food blogging. Do you share my opinions or are you against them? I’m not claiming to be perfect here, but I think a set of guidlines could be useful. Let me know your thoughts.

1 – I am the Lord your blog; you shall have no other interests before me
The first teaching of the Gospel is perhaps one of the most important. The core message is, however, quite simple. Your blog should be about your most favourite topic. Do not write a blog about something you have little interest in, as your lack of knowledge and enthusiasm will be apparent.

2- You shall not make yourself an idol
Here, the Lord tells us to keep it real. Do not try to be omniscient or omnipotent, and do not think that you’re a deity. Thou art human, and your blog should celebrate your experiences as a human being. So share your successes as well as your failures, and do not take yourself or your blog too seriously.

3- You shall not make wrongful use of the name of your blog
This commandment relates to the subject of comments. Do not comment on someone else’s blog just to get a link back to your blog and don’t write idiotic comments. Your comments should be constructive and honest. Do not say “Oh that looks so good, I want to eat it” or “Oh, I’m salivating” as these comments seem like a copy and paste job, and they leave the blogger with an empty, hollow feeling. Give thoughtful remarks and ask questions, and expect the same in return. Show the blogger that you have read what they’ve written and give their content its due respect.

4- Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy
Every once in a while, take a break from blogging. Go to an expensive restaurant and leave your camera at home. Experience the food like the good chef intended you to. It’s nice to have a meal without a 5 minute photo session delaying each course.

5-Honour your father and mother
Here, your father and mother symbolise your heritage and past experiences. Share your culture and your knowledge because they make you who you are, and who you are is what your blog should be representing. A blog is after all, your online diary and it’s where your story is told.

6- You shall not murder – the English language
Seriously, you don’t need to be Shakespeare to write a blog, but spell checking and proof reading are the least you can do to ensure your writing has no or little errors. It is so much nicer for a reader to be presented with a well written piece of text. Remember, writing is not the same as putting your thoughts on a blog. Thoughts are usually badly composed and chaotic, but a piece of writing should be balanced and well considered. Luckily, writing a blog is meant to be conversational and down to earth, so keep it simple. But remember, your blog is a medium for you to learn and better yourself, and improving your grammar and vocabulary can be easily achieved with the right level of attention.

7- You shall not commit adultery
The Seventh Commandment holds many truths, and should be kept at the forefront of our thoughts whenever we perform any blog related actions. Do not prostitute your blog. The integrity of your blog is of the utmost importance, so do not use your blog to get priority seating, free meals or to gain access to unrelated events. Using your blog to get free stuff means that you will inevitably owe something to someone, and that jeopardises the credibility of your writing. People look to bloggers to get an honest point of view, and plugging advertorials on your site to get a $7 burger is not worth the loss of your credibility (neither is a $1000 burger). On the flipside to seeking out freebies, it is ok to accept freebies you did not intentionally and purposely seek. We spend considerable effort writing and maintaining a blog and to get a small reward every once in a while is quite satisfying. But always, always disclose the fact that you did not pay for something you are reviewing. And under no circumstance should you feel obliged to give a glowing review to a mediocre restaurant or product. Simply do not write about something if it’s bad.

8- You shall not steal
This one may cause intense burning in hell if not heeded. Do not steal reviewing ideas from other bloggers. Do not steal content from other bloggers. Do not steal recipes from other bloggers. Do not steal photos from other bloggers. If you have benefited from reading another blogger and your blog entry is the result of an inspiration they have given you, give them the credit they deserve and attribute your work as inspired by them.

9- You shall not bear false witness
The Ninth is one of those open for interpretation, and scholars are in dispute as to the exact meaning. I personally think that it relates to leaving a comment on someone else’s blog where you dishonestly say something nice when deep down you know that the blog entry you just read is wasted time that you will never get back. Be honest instead of just being plain nice. If my recipe is shit and you know it, tell me and maybe I can improve it, or just don’t tell me at all.

10- You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife
Last but not least, the Tenth Commandment is there to remind you to be content with what you have. Do not look at other bloggers and covet their number of visitors, the amount of comments they receive or the freebies they get. Be happy for them and do your personal best for your blog, always focusing on the content. After all, unless I’m wrong, you started blogging to fill in a void. You started blogging because it was a means of self expression. You wanted to say something you cared about. It was never about the numbers, it was always about you. Don’t turn your blog into a full time job. Chances are, you already have another full time job and that’s why you started blogging. Right?

Thai Green Curry with Chicken Recipe

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Thai Green Curry with Chicken

“What the hell is fish sauce?” he wondered as he read a recipe for Thai green curry with chicken. Fouad had only arrived from Lebanon a year before and all these strange ingredients in his shopping list seemed too foreign and dubious. His suspicions with food in Australia began when the chicken shop in Kingswood asked him if he wanted chicken salt with his chips. “What the hell is chicken salt?” was the beginning of a sequence of self-directed questions that mostly referred to unknown food stuffs, and the general structure of these questions became “What the hell is [fill in blank]?”. But on that day, the blank not only got filled with fish sauce, but with galangal, shrimp paste, kaffir lime leaf and Thai basil. None of these ingredients had ever been heard of or encountered in their raw form, and the first time Fouad had ever experienced them was three months prior when his new Australian girlfriend (now eight month pregnant wife with very cute belly) ordered a Thai takeaway. That included a green curry with chicken, curry puffs and chicken skewers with satay sauce, a condiment that Fouad thought was the bees knees and one that could possibly make him a fortune if he bottled it and sold it to his fellow citizens back in Lebanon.

And so, in an effort to impress his girlfriend, Fouad set out to the Woolworths at Penrith (pronounced Penrif), and sought the ingredients for a Thai Green Curry. Not surprisingly, half were not found, and as Fouad cracked open that bottle of fish sauce and took a good sniff, the pungent odor emitted from within turned his stomach. Quickly, a decision was made to halve the amount recommended by the recipe. Needless to say, the result was a disaster, a cheap copy, a doppelganger unworthy of association with the original. And so, in an effort to understand what went wrong, Fouad decided to educate himself in the art of Thai green curry.

The story above is, yes, you guessed it, Book 1 of  “The Adventures of Fouad and Thai Green Curry”. Luckily, eight years since then, I have been able to somewhat understand the various roles of the ingredients that go into a Thai green curry and now, I can safely say that I make a damn fine green curry. Fish sauce is no longer a stomach churning mystery, but rather an aromatic liquid used to add salt and complexity to a dish. Kaffir lime leaves have become one of my favourite ingredients and I use them fresh from my little tree growing on the balcony. They are awesome. My recipe for a Thai green curry is inspired by David Thompson’s bible, Thai Food. I can’t explain how important this book is. If you don’t have it and you like Thai food, you must go out and buy it, right now. Well, maybe after you finish reading this post.

The characteristics of a green curry are quite specific. First, it is a thin curry, which means you add thin coconut milk or chicken stock to the coconut cream. Second, it is green, which means green chillies are used. Third, the sauce need to be cracked, or seperated. That happens when the coconut cream is heated until most of the water evaporates and the coconut cream splits into oil and milk solids. Last, this is a hot and salty curry, not a sweet one, so sugar should not be used, though it is not uncommon to see it used. Confused? Don’t be. Avoid sugar.

Mr Thompson suggests that firm, slightly bitter vegetables work best with this curry. These include bamboo shoots, banana blossom or apple and pea eggplants. The issue I have with these types of recipes is that they ask for small amounts of ingredients that you wouldn’t usually keep at home. That said, they are nowadays easily available in Australia and making the curry from scratch is such a great experience. Give it a go and let me know what you think.


  • For this recipe I couldn’t find galangal at the shops so I used fresh ginger
  • I use Megachef fish sauce which is my favourite. You can find it in most supermarkets
  • I was not able to find green bullet chillies so I used long green chillies for color and flavour and red bullet chillies for heat
  • I didn’t have white peppercorns so I used powdered white pepper instead

David Thompson’s Thai Green Curry with Chicken Recipe (Ripped off then adapted)


Curry Paste

  • 3 tablespoons green bird’s eye chillies
  • large pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped galangal
  • 2 tablespoons chopped lemongrass
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped kaffir lime zest
  • 1 tablespoon scraped and chopped coriander root
  • 1 teaspoon chopped red tumeric
  • 3 tablespoons chopped red shallot
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon shrimp paste (I use the one preserved in oil as I find it less pungent)
  • 10 white peppercorns, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, roasted and ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, roasted and ground

Curry Ingredients

  • 2 cups coconut cream
  • 250 grams sliced chicken thigh fillets
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 cups thin coconut milk or chicken stock
  • Handful green beans, tipped and cut in half
  • Handful Thai basil leaves
  • Kaffir lime leaves and 2 long red chillies (cut on a diagonal) for garnish


  1. To make the curry paste, in a mortar and pestle grind the ingredients for the paste in order from hardest to softest, ensuring each ingredient is fully pulverised before adding the other
  2. Crack the coconut cream in a sauce pan as described above
  3. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of the paste (depending on how hot your chillies are) and fry over a medium heat, continuously stirring to prevent the paste from burning
  4. Add the chicken and continue to cook until the paste is fragrant
  5. Add the fish sauce and the coconut milk or chicken stock
  6. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and add beans and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes until the chicken is cooked
  7. Garnish with kaffir lime leaves, Thai basil and chillies
  8. Serve with rice

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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Life is moving fast, and its pace has been difficult to keep up with. Early July is when my little baby girl is due to arrive, and instead of the lead up being a peaceful time for me and the Lainz, a spanner gets thrown into the works and life shifts into another direction, quite unexpectedly. Six weeks ago, we were given notice to vacate the premises. The landlord needed to move into the house so we were kicked out. Thus, the frantic search to rent somewhere affordable and decent around Sydney began.

It’s hard to explain the amount of crap there is out there. Dim, filthy, mold-ridden houses smelling of damp dot the Sydney rental landscape, their grease infested kitchens rendered into foul spaces covered with a melange of rancid oils and age-old dust, the two making a venomous alliance that is more evil than the sum of its unholy parts. Obviously, what used to be in our price range last year is no longer there. So as the search continued, our CBD proximity perimeter expanded to allow for the over inflated rental prices, and we saw ourselves moving out of lovely, pristine Earlwood and into the strange suburb of Flemington (or Homebush West).

My first impressions of Flemington gave me conflicting emotions. Though the area brought the promise of the new and exciting, it lacked the familiarity I share with Earlwood’s mainly Cypriot/Greek population, where the Mediterranean waters seemed to have brought me and my ex-neighbours together in a celebration of all the history we share. But Flemington has none of that familiarity. Apart from some Indian stores, Flemington possesses a strong Asian identity, with Chinese and Vietnamese seemingly the most prominent. I love Asian food, and I am fascinated with and intrigued by Asian culture, but I do not pretend to posses an ounce of insight into Asian life. Walking down the main street in Flemington makes me feel like I am in one of Lili’s recent Vietnam blogposts, with shops that have more incomprehensible signage than I’ve ever seen in a western country. I hear languages I have no hope of understanding. Words are noises to me with none even remotely of Latin origin. I am an alien in a planet where your average citizen has never bought a bottle of olive oil, where cheese making has not yet been invented, where milk comes from the soybean cow and forks are abandoned for two wooden sticks that require a dexterity of a far more evolved being. Here, red ducks and hunks of pork hang in shopfronts and a single store proudly announces “we sell coffee”. Strange looking produce is on display and every recognisable vegetable sits next to five obscure others. Beside the packets of wrinkled bean curd are jars of unidentifiable and threatening looking dried organic items that apparently help restore a man’s fire. Wheat is also unheard of. Rice is king, with bags upon bags of rice noodles sitting where my spaghetti would have claimed its proud spot. And the bread. Crisp, brown sourdough fresh from the oven toasted and smothered with lashings of good butter and organic jam. Not here, for neither butter nor sourdough are likely to be part of the daily diet. There’s just the $1.50 loaf of bread from the local Vietnamese bakery, and it’s hardly a product of an artisan, yet still the shop does a roaring trade. Monosodium Glutamate is as fundamental a seasoning as salt is, and homes unabashedly spike the flavours of their dishes with a sprinkle or two of the stuff. Butchers and fish mongers are open seven days a week because, well, people need to work. Flemington is rough and loud. She’s a tough cookie and a haggler. You know there’s no nonsense here when her graffiti tattoos scream at you. There’s no room for Strathfield’s mansions. Flemington’s a suburb with jagged edges and where, as I was unloading my furniture, I got asked if I wanted to buy a cheap home entertainment system, TWICE, by two different yet equally suspicious looking truck drivers. I have momentary doubts whether I want my baby to experience her first year on Earth here, but these doubts quickly dissipate. Three days into living here and I love it. I can’t wait to dig into all Flemington has to offer.

Best Ricotta Recipe Ever – Home Made, Fast and Delicious

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Best Ricotta Recipe

For the past four weeks, I have been doing a weekly food segment with SBS Radio’s Arabic program, discussing food and its relationship with Middle Eastern culture, the origin of various dishes, food that has gone extinct, ingredients, techniques and produce. This Friday, the topic will be on the various methods of preserving food, from drying to curing (sugar, spice or salt), smoking, distilling, brining, pickling, etc… In the interview I mention that the reason we have a all this variety of beautiful foodstuffs – think jamon, sardines, couscous, confit, jams – stems from our need to preserve food for the less abundant winter months. It’s difficult for us to imagine that all these unbelievable dishes have been conceived for the basic reason of survival. Take for example a nice piece of cheddar cheese and compare its lifespan to that of a bottle of milk and you’ll know what I’m talking about. The fact that cheese tastes amazing is secondary to the fact that the milk’s use by date has been considerably pushed back.

Today, I had a litre of milk in my fridge that was due to expire in 3 days. Turning it into ricotta added a further 10 days to my investment, and I have to say, I enjoy eating ricotta much more than I enjoy drinking milk. Ricotta is possibly the easiest cheese to make. It takes 5 minutes of preparation, 20 minutes of draining, and bingo, it’s ready to devour. You need no specialist equipment apart from butter muslin or a cheese cloth and no difficult to find ingredients like rennet. To separate the milk solids from the whey you use citric acid which is available at most supermarkets. Some recipes use vinegar but I find I get better results with citric acid. The remaining ingredients are milk and salt, and if you want to indulge, some double cream. This is a high yield cheese, which produces around 200 grams from 1 litre of milk and 3 tbsp of cream. Apart from being easy to make, home made ricotta is better and creamier than any ricotta you have ever tasted. I had mine with bananas, walnuts and honey. Absolutely divine!

Best Ricotta Recipe – makes around 200 g


  • 1 litre pasteurised full cream milk
  • 1/2 tsp citric acid dissolved in 1/4 cup water
  • 3 tbsp cream (optional, but recommended)
  • 1/2 tsp salt


  1. Mix milk all the ingredients in a saucepan
  2. Heat the on the stove, stirring often to prevent scalding, until the milk solids seperate from the whey
  3. Once the solids separate, stop stirring and take off the heat and leave alone for 10 minutes
  4. Strain in cheese cloth or butter muslin for 20 to 30 minutes depending on how dry you like it
  5. The ricotta is ready to eat immediately