That Old Chestnut – Staying in Tune with the Forager Within

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I’m currently up north, enjoying the early signs of Autumn. The air is crisp and the sun still floods the streets with light. The two make a combination fit for a hot/cold molecular gastronomy menu. Driving along, I took a wrong turn on one of the suburban streets and ended up being faced with a gigantic chestnut tree. It’s a great feeling when you are inadvertantly lead to being somewhere at the right place and at the right time. Sort of like Mr Gardener in Being There. The chestnut tree had dropped her fruit (or is it nuts?) by the thousands. I managed to sneakily forage a hundred or so chestnuts. I can’t wait to get home to eat them but for now, they will stay in the fridge waiting for Sunday.

Kibbet La’teen – Vegetarian Pumpkin Kibbe

By | labneh, lebanese food, lebanon food, Recipes, Uncategorized | 19 Comments


Queensland Blue Pumpkins

I have noticed that lately my blog has focused on Lebanese food. I don’t know why especially. The fact that I am Lebanese might have something to do with it, but I live in bicultural home were we live on a multicultural diet, as is befitting for a Sydney lifestyle. In my little corner of the world I can eat anything from ayam goreng to zabaglione, and I do. But lately, I often think of home. I miss my little village, our olive trees anxious for the summer time, and my parents who are waiting for that weekly phone call from their three boys who are scattered around the world. I find some solace in that phone call, and I spend hours talking to my mom, discussing day-to-day life, sharing worries and triumphs and swapping recipes. Easter is near, and normally I would have felt it approaching. You see, though Sydney has given me so much, it has also made me a stranger to traditions I used to identify with. That’s what nine years does to a migrant. In the period of Lent leading up to Easter Sunday, I would have been more aware of the approach of Easter, possibly because I usually would have had a lot of kibbet la’teen.


Kibbet La’teen – Pumpkin Kibbeh with Labneh

The days of Lent traditionally meant abstinence from meat. This has now changed, but in keeping with tradition, I wanted to make kibbet la’teen, or pumpkin kibbeh. Kibbeh is the national dish of Lebanon and we have so many variations on the theme. The most famous is the torpedo shaped balls filled with minced meat and pine nuts. Any decent or even terrible Lebanese restaurant would have kibbeh on the menu. But pumpkin kibbeh is the only kibbeh to have during Lent. I love the regional name kibbet heeleh. This names translates to “trick kibbeh”, the trick is, of course, the sneaky substitution of meat with pumpkin. The filling varies, and you can use anything. You would normally fill the little kibbeh balls with silver beet or spinach, fennel, raisins, chickpeas and onions. Another filling would be labneh (a creamy spread made by straining yoghurt) with onions and dried mint. I decided to go with the labneh filling and I also made a filling with fetta and walnuts, which turned out great. I got this recipe from yet another weekly phone call to the folks back home. Mom emphasised that I MUST squeeze the pumpkin after boiling. So please, do as Mom says.

Kibbet La’teen – Pumpkin Kibbeh Recipe


A visual guide to making kibbeh

Ingredients

For the kibbeh dough

  • Pumpkin – 2 kilos
  • Burghul – 400 grams (burghul is also known as bulghur wheat)
  • 1 finely diced onion
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 loaf of Lebanese bread

Labneh Filling (adjust quantities to suit)

  • Labneh – 2 cups
  • ½ cup finely diced onion
  • Salt, to taste
  • Dried or fresh mint (optional)

Fetta Filling (adjust quantities to suit)

  • 2 cups Fetta
  • Handful of chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup finely diced onion

Method

  • Cut the pumpkin into equally sized pieces
  • Boil enough water to cover the pumpkin and add to the boiling water
  • Remove after around 15 minutes. You want the pumpkin to be cooked, but still firm. Set aside to cool
  • Put small amounts of the pumpkin in an old, but clean pillowcase. Squeeze to drain as much water as possible. Preserve the liquid that comes out
  • Repeat the above step with the remaining pumpkin. You should be left with around 650 grams of dry pumpkin flesh
  • Wet the Lebanese bread in the strained pumpkin water and then squeeze the excess liquid. Afterwards, shred the bread
  • Put the pumpkin flesh, shredded bread and the diced onion in a food processor, and whizz away
  • When the flesh and the onions are well processed, put in a big mixing bowl and add the burghul, salt and spices and knead well

Putting it together

  • Put a bowl of water nearby and wet your hands when necessary
  • Grab a small handful of kibbeh dough
  • Shape into a ball and hold in your left hand
  • Use the index finger on your right hand to make a hole in the ball
  • Gradually flatten the dough making it longer around your index
  • Make sure you don’t create any holes
  • It doesn’t have to be perfect, as long as it holds the filling. It gets better the more you do it. When the kibbeh is around the length of your index, place the filling of choice inside and close it up by either rounding the edges or flattening them.
  • Use the different edges to distinguish different fillings
  • Now to cook them, you can either bake, deep-fry or boil them. Deep-frying is the tastiest but least healthy, which is of course what I did. You want the colour to deepen to a nice dark brown. If boiling, do so for around 5 minutes. The colour will not go brown, but they will be cooked.
  • Eat hot or cold. It doesn’t matter, as long as you eat them. Enjoy, and if I don’t see you, Happy Easter.

Shankleesh – The Middle East’s Only Mold Ripened Cheese

By | lebanese breakfast, lebanese food, lebanon food, Recipes, Uncategorized | 19 Comments

If you have been to Lebanon or the Middle East, you may have tasted the different cheeses on offer. From stretchy, salty akkawi to mild, creamy baladiyeh to riccotta-like qareesheh, cheese is a central and well loved part of our diet. However, you may be lead to believe that our repertoire does not extend past fresh, white cheese. That’s where you’re wrong, sucker!

Enter shankleesh. You have possibly seen the vacuum-wrapped herb-covered ball-shaped curiosities at Middle-Eastern shops and you may have thought, what the? You may have walked by too scared to try something that strange. Allow me to demystify. Shankleesh is the only mold ripened cheese native to the Middle East. It is thought to have originated from Kurdistan, but is now mainly found in Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. Shankleesh is a compound word derived from the Kurdish ‘shan’, denoting a small terracotta pot; and ‘qareesh’, a Bedouin term for fermented milk.

It is said that you can find the best shankleesh in Rahbeh, Akkar (Lebanon’s most water-rich village- personal joke), but it’s mostly excellent anywhere where they use good milk. To make shankleesh, low fat yoghurt is strained until dry, then salted and strained again overnight. Afterwards the dry yoghurt is shaped into balls that are dried in the sun for a couple of days. Left to mature in air tight containers for a month, the shankleesh allows for the growth of Debaryomyces hanseni and Penicillium mold. This mold is rinsed and then the balls are covered with herbs and spices, mainly thyme and Aleppo pepper. Along with salt, these help inhibit bacterial growth. The result is a pungent, dry, crumbly cheese, full-flavoured and redolent with herbs and spices.

A great website with information on shankleesh is Slow Food Beirut. For some reason their shankleesh page is down, so I’ve found a link to Google’s cache. Have a read for much more in-depth information.

Shankleesh Recipe

Shankleesh is eaten with diced vegetables and loads of olive oil to balance the pungency and flavour onslaught. Traditionally one adds diced tomatoes, green capsicum and finely diced onions. I’ve added avocado to mine to give it a bit of creaminess. Simply crumble the shankleesh into a bowl, top with diced veggies of choice, add loads of olive oil and enjoy with Lebanese bread, or on top of toasted sourdough.

Finger Limes – Recipes with the Australian Native

By | Ingredients, Recipes | 12 Comments
Finger Limes

Australian Native Finger Limes

Isn’t it wonderful when you discover something new? A new restaurant, an exciting recipe, a passion for pottery making, a hidden ability for fatherhood (I hope)? Three years ago, I discovered a whole new ingredient: a finger lime. Wandering in the Leichhardt organic markets, researching a 100 mile food store that never eventuated, I saw the interesting fruit at one of the farmers’ stalls. It was grown locally by the farmer and they had a small amount for sale. I bought a few to test them out and I fell in love with them. I was at the markets yesterday when I decided to write something about finger limes. I bought 3 for $2.00.

Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese on Rye with Finger Limes

Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese on Rye with Finger Limes

I have to say, my botanical knowledge with the finger lime does not extend past Wikipedia, but since when has it been necessary to be an expert on a subject to enjoy it? Finger limes (citrus australasica) are Australian natives that grow along the coastal border of New South Wales and Queensland. The ones I have are 7 cm long, green hued, slightly curved and are filled with wonderful little caviar shaped balls (called vesicles) that burst in your mouth with a tropical lime flavour. Their use is limited to your imagination, but they are so texturally interesting that they should be used uncooked (some make marmalade). Think oysters with finger limes, or micro salads with finger limes… The picture above shows my suggestion, smoked salmon and goat cheese on rye, topped with finger limes. Might sound like strange combination of cheese and citrus, but it works nicely. I’ve read that the dried peel can be turned into a spice, but have never tried. You can find finger limes at the Leichhardt Organic Markets Orange Grove Public School, Cnr Perry Street and Balmain Road.

German Cakes in Sydney

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I don’t usually do this, but this is way too exciting not to share. My sister in law Berenike (Nike), a talented and experienced home baker has finally decided to start her German bakery business. She will be making some amazing traditional cakes from recipes that she used to make in Germany before she decided to come to Sydney. To order some cakes, you can check out Nike’s website here. Her Black Forest Gateau, or Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte is AMAZING.

Ghraybeh with Dulce de Leche Recipe – Middle-Eastern Shortbread

By | dessert, lebanese food, Of Arabic Origin | 15 Comments

ghraybeh with dulce de leche

Before Lili (Pikelet and Pie) packed up and embarked on an adventure in the exotic land of Vietnam, I paid her a visit and became the official custodian of her collection of cook books. Lili also went through her pantry and fridge, and I was given a box of smoked Maldon sea salt, pomegranate molasses that I had convinced her to buy, and a large tin of homemade dulce de leche. Dulce de leche is sweetened milk that has been heated to induce caramelisation. Lili simmered cans of condensed milk for two and a half hours and the result was a buttery sweet caramel, intense in colour and flavour. I try not to make overly sweet indulgences at home, in an effort to avoid type II diabetes and Lainy’s scornful looks, and so the can of dulce de leche sat in my fridge collecting rust as days turned into months.

A few weeks back, I noticed that the coffee shop next door was selling alfajores filled with dulce de leche and I mentioned them to my Brazilian friend Priscila. I often joke around with Priscila about how much Brazilian culture and much of Latin America has borrowed from the Lebanese and the Arabs (in the style of My Big Fat Greek Wedding), especially in the realm of culinary exploits. I scored another win in that department when Priscila researched alfajores, which turned out to be a Spanish specialty of Arab origin, originally named alfakher in Arabic meaning “the grand” or “the luxurious”. This reinforced my opinion that Spanish words beginning with “AL” are originally Arabic.

lili’s dulce de leche

I thought I would deviate a little bit from the modern version of alfajores and attempt to recreate what the Arabs would have invented. The alfajores I’ve tried have a texture and flavour akin to shortbread. So my mind went to ghraybeh, the Middle-Eastern shortbread. Ghraybeh is very simple cookie, containing only 3 ingredients, but as with many Middle-Eastern pastries, the recipe is almost always poorly documented and frustratingly vague. Chef Ramzi uses cups for measure, which is terrible when used with non-liquid ingredients. I encountered complete failure on the first attempt, but have since been able to perfect the recipe. Ghraybeh can be eaten alone, or used to sandwich dulce de leche as I have done here. For the recipe of dulce de leche, please view Lili’s blog here.

Ghraybeh Recipe

Ingredients

300 g cups white, all purpose flour
150 g ghee (dairy, not the vegetable based one)/clarified butter
150 g icing sugar (not the icing mixture, which contains cornflour)
Nuts for decoration such as peeled dry pistachio, almonds or pine nuts

Method

  1. Cream the ghee and icing sugar in a mixer for 5 minutes until fluffy, creamy and white
  2. With the speed on medium, add the flour gradually and incorporate well
  3. Now it’s time to use your hands. Grab the mixing bowl and using one hand, keep kneading the mixture for around 10 minutes. This encourages the flour to absorb the fat and creates the all-important texture. The dough will feel oily and loose, but 10 minutes of heavy kneading should be enough
  4. Cover the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour
  5. Heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Cover your baking tray with baking paper
  6. Take the pastry out of the fridge. You must work fast here as the pastry will go soft if you handle it too much. Pinch a bit of dough and roll it up to a ball between your hands, flatten it slightly and then place it on top of the baking tray and flatten until the shape is of a round cookie.
  7. Repeat until the tray is full, leaving some space between the cookies
  8. Decorate with nuts of choice
  9. Bake for 15 minutes, then take out of the oven and cool down on a cooling rack
  10. If you have dulce de leche, you can sandwich it between 2 cookies. If you are making plain cookies, there is a nice step you can add which involves dipping your hands in orange blossom water when you form the balls of dough, which gives the ghraybeh a distinctive aroma. You can also make different shapes and decorate with nuts