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

By | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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

QA with NW Magazine

By | Interviews and Media | One Comment

I don’t think I am on my way to becoming a celebrity in any way. Actually, I think less people know me now than 10 years ago. So I was a bit baffled when NW Magazine contacted me and set me the challenge of answering the 5 questions below. It’s hard answering these kinds of questions, because they always limit you in some way (name the 5 ingredients you will take to your death bed). I guess that’s good though, so let me know if you share my opinions:

What was the first recipe you ever cooked?
I’ve been cooking with my mom ever since I was a child. I remember learning how to make kibbeh, fattouch, hommous and baba ganoush at a very young age. I also remember spending hours going through grains of rice and lentils to remove impurities since grains in Lebanon during the war were of poor quality. The first dish I cooked when I was on my own was lasagne and I cooked it when my parents went to our summer home while I stayed back for a few weeks with my friends. I used what was in the pantry: spaghetti instead of lasagne sheets, powdered milk, frozen mince, onions and mom’s tomato paste. To my 15 year old palate it was superb, and I was hooked.

What is your favourite dish to prepare?
My favourite ingredients are those in season, and so my favourite dishes are in turn seasonal. I don’t usually cook the same dish more than once or twice a year. I like mutton ragout and chicken soup in winter, shish barak or krautwickel in autumn (a new favourite), bbq lamb or prawn and garlic shoot stir fry in spring, fattouch and mom’s fish with tahini in summer

What are your favourite restaurants for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
I’m not much of a breakfast guy but a croissant from Bourke Street Bakery and a piccolo late from Mecca Espresso would do fine. Ichiban Boshi’s Aburi Chashu-men (blowtorched pork with ramen noodles) for lunch is amazing. Al Aseel at Greenacre does, imho, the best Lebanese in Sydney, and dinner there is always a treat.

If you could have only 5 ingredients to cook with, what would you pick?
Tough one… hmmm… I hate hypothetical questions… Is this for a one off cooking adventure, or 5 ingredients to haunt me forever? If it’s forever, then aged beef, flour, eggs, zaatar, milk (for butter and cheese making) (and maybe sugar, salt, Lebanese spices, tomatoes, olve oil, onions and garlic). I’m assuming water is abundant…

What is one piece of advice you would give to people who are not great cooks but hope to be one day?
Cook food you’ve eaten before, use fresh, quality ingredients, keep it simple and increase the complexity gradually, and finally resist the temptation of cooking Thai food because it will never be as good.

New Banner on The Food Blog

By | The Food Blog | 2 Comments

Back in 2009, I convinced my hugely talented friend Eddie Abd to design a new banner for the blog. I have been a fan of Eddie’s work for a long time and I was so excited she said yes!. Eddie has conceptualised and realised a banner based on memories and impressions we share about food, and I am proud to use her art work on my blog. Please visit Eddie’s blog by clicking here.

So, what do you think? Leave a comment and let me know.