Have you ever had a feeling of overwhelming excitement when looking at a zucchini? Have you ever held a squash in your hand and smiled in pure joy? Have you ever seen a pumpkin so beautiful it made you want to take a photo of it and put it as a background image on your phone? Up till last Sunday, I hadn’t either.
Having just spent a long weekend in Port Stephens and on our way back to Sydney, Lainy’s inbuilt British radar detected Devonshire Tea along the route. Sure enough, right on the side of the highway, we both spotted a sign that said “Real Tomatoes”, and in smaller writing below that, “Devonshire Tea”.
Now I have to admit, I like Devonshire Tea, but it does not get me buzzing like the prospect of “Real Tomatoes” does. Once we were inside it became apparent that this place was unlike any other café/gourmet tomato store I had ever been to. Two nice ladies who were busy arranging produce stopped and greeted us with a smile. In the centre of the wide space, there sat a massive old wooden table, absolutely covered with enormous vegetables. The beautiful green zucchinis weighed two kilos at the least and would have measured around 40 cm in length. The squash was no baby either measuring around 20 cm in diameter. In its beautiful striking yellow, it sat next to two varieties of fantastic looking pumpkin that I had not seen before, and beside that were thousands of new potatoes covered with fresh earth. This was all a bit too much for me. I felt like a kid in a candy store, only it was a vegetable store. After a short chat to one of the two ladies, Jennifer, who turned out to be the owner of the place, we found out that all the vegetables sold in store were home grown. Jennifer is from the fifth generation who farmed the land we were on, and it is her son who now takes care of all the growing. Jennifer runs the shop and lives in the beautiful home at the back of the property. Her shop also sells some other local produce, including some excellent jam, beautiful free range eggs in hand painted cartons and her own homemade range of vegetable relish, tomato being the best seller. To me, the whole place felt like it was frozen in time, beautifully nestled in a moment where people bought their vegetables from those who grew them, and those who grew them picked them when they were at their best with no need to worry about transport or refrigeration or the middle man.
Lainy brought my focus back to the task on hand as she became feverish for a cup of tea. Unfortunately, only one scone was left – Jennifer apologised – she was so busy she hadn’t had the time to bake any more for the day. So Lainy and I ordered the home made coffee cake instead, and it was delicious.
Before we left, we stocked up on zucchinis, pumpkin, squash, capsicum, real tomatoes, green beans, white cucumber, free range eggs and Jennifer’s chilli tomato relish, all ready for a vegetarian feast once we got home.
Following our Sushi course at the Sydney Seafood School, Ludwig and I threw a sushi party for Eddy and Lainy. Yum!
I’m a pistachio nut. Let me rephrase that. I love pistachios. Growing up in a Lebanese home, our pantry had a section especially dedicated to Kloobat, a word that roughly came to mean “nut garnishes”: almonds, dessicated coconuts, pine nuts, walnuts and off course pistachios.
Mom would use them on dishes both savory and sweet. Rice dishes like Chicken with Rice (tastes much better than it sounds) and Stuffed Lamb would never be complete without a mixture of golden pan fried pine nuts and halved almonds and bright green pistachios. As for desserts, Mighli (a spicy rice dessert made to celebrate a new birth and Christmas), Mhallbiyyeh (a creamy and light milk based pudding) and even drinks like Jallab had their fair share of toppings. These nuts add a depth of flavour and texture to whatever they come across, lifting the dishes to new heights.
And so recently, while I was reading through David Lebovitz’s blog, I came across his recipe for pistachio ice cream. His description of that Bronte Pistachio Paste was so enticing, I knew I had to make that ice cream. However, I had a couple of problems. I looked everywhere in Australia for Bronte Pistachio Paste but I couldn’t find it. The other problem was the fact that I was on a gluten/dairy/sugar free diet under the strict orders of my naturopath. That meant that I had to substitute milk for soy milk and sugar for honey. I was up for the challenge, but first, I had to find my pistachio paste.
Weeks later, on my way back from work, I decided to venture on the realm of the unknown. I passed by Abu Hachem’s Lebanese grocery in Dulwich Hill and bought half a kilo of Pistachio kernels for $10. I got home, put 250 grams of kernels in the food processor and started it up. A minute later, I had something that resembled almond meal. Good, but not good enough. I wanted Marzipan texture. So I got 2 tablespoons of almond butter and whizzed that in. The texture starting transforming to something more like what I wanted, but it was not quite there. So I got some neutral oil (Canola) and in a pesto like fashion, I added a thin string to the mix while processing until I ended up with a perfect Marzipan like block of pistachio paste.
So to make the ice cream, you will need the following (based on David’s recipe)
500 ml soy milk (I use Bonsoi which is great)
2 Tablespoons of cornstarch
200 grams of pistachio paste
A squeeze of lemon juice
Honey (to taste)
1 Tea Spoon Rum or Vodka
Make a slurry from the cornstarch and half a cup of soy milk. Heat up the remaining soy milk, add and stir in the honey. Keep adding honey until desired sweetness is reached. Constantly stir and when the soy milk starts boiling add the cornstarch and soy milk slurry. Boil on a low heat for 2 minutes then take off the heat. In a blender or a food processor, liquidise the soy milk with the pistachio nut paste and a squeeze of lemon juice until well blended. Without waiting for it to cool down, churn in an ice cream maker. Five minutes before you feel it’s ready, add the alcohol. This will help keep the ice cream soft when frozen. Freeze overnight for a well set ice cream or consume immediately if you like it soft.
I tell you what. This ice cream is the bomb. You will not believe that something that tastes so naughty is actually OK on the healthy scale. On the down side, I think I should have peeled the pistachios because the skins make for a gritty texture, which is not too unpleasant – a smoother texture would be nicer, but I’m not sure I want to spend 3 hours peeling pistachios. Maybe sieving the liquid before churning might work.
David, thanks for the inspiration.
Spring is finally here and getting out of bed has never been this easy. By 7 AM the sun has already taken over the bedroom and gently woken me up to a warm and bright morning. However, it does bring one thing to mind: Soup. This winter has not seen as much soup making as I would have liked, and soon enough the time to brew will be over as the Sydney heat starts heading up. And so, walking through the food court at David Jones on my lunch break, I started eyeing out their beef mince which they advertised “Preservative free, consume within 24 hours”. That sold me. So I ended up buying two kilos of mince, one for soup and one for the freezer. In my mind I could already see the soup being made and I could already taste it. Earthy with lentils, thick, beefy and stocky and brimming with vegetables.
I got home and before I got changed out of my slave clothes, I immediately reached for my large stainless steel pan, covered the base with canola oil and fried 1 Kilo of mince on high heat. When the mince started yielding its liquid, I drained the juices into a separate bowl, added a bit more oil and returned the mince to the heat. There were two things I wanted to achieve by doing this. The first was to extract some of the beefy flavours in liquid form. The second was fry the meat instead of boiling it and by doing that, get some of the meat sticking to the bottom of the frying pan in order to form a basis for my stock. It is essential that you don’t use a non-stick pan as that would prevent the meat from sticking and as a result your stock will have no flavour. Once well browned, remove the meat and set aside without scraping the pan.
Next are the vegetables: two large onions, three large carrots, two celery sticks all chopped into half centimeter cubes, and four finely diced garlic cloves. For some spice, prepare 4 teaspoons of chili powder, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 4 bay leaves and 2 whole star anise. To me, cinnamon and star anise are the perfect flavour partners with meat. Add a bit more oil to the pan, throw all the vegetables and spices in there and fry for around 20 minutes on medium heat stirring around every 5 minutes, giving the veggies time to caramelise. Next deglaze the pan with the liquid you reserved from the mince making sure you remove all the flavour stuck to the pan. Add the mince and 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and top up with boiling water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer.
In a separate large stock pot, add your washed lentils (as much as you want really, 3 cups brown, 1 cup split perhaps), and half fill the pot with salted cold water. Bring to the boil, remove the scum and top up with the beef and veggies. Here you can add some quartered button mushrooms. Cover and boil until the lentils are nicely cooked. If the liquid is not thick enough, you can add some rice porridge which absorbs two and a half times its size in liquid.
Season with salt and pepper and enjoy.
We’ve recently returned from a honeymoon spent in Japan and France, and it was unbelievable. Since we’ve come back, I’ve been ticking over creating a special menu. It would incorporate elements of my trip and fuse them into a Lebanese menu. So, a couple of weeks ago, I invited five of our friends over for dinner after having finally decided what to cook. So what’s cooking?
Well, as in any good Lebanese menu, we must start with a salad, and what better salad to have than fattouch? To me fattouch is the king of Lebanese salads, followed by tabbouleh and in third place, the not so well known fresh thyme and shallots salad. I decided to go with Japanese for the fattouch, and called the dish fattouchi, which means a single fattouch
I emptied out a cherry tomato (well, it was slightly bigger than a cherry tomato – an Italian variety), stuffed it with finely diced cucumber, lettuce, purslane, mint and garlic all dressed with pomegranate molasses and an olive oil and parsley emulsion.
Then I fried the Lebanese bread that was cut up in squares in some Lescure butter. The result was beautiful, a single mouthful of fattouch that combined fresh and intense flavours. Apart from looking like the Japanese flag, I felt that the delicate presentation was typically Japanese inspired even though the flavours were undeniably Lebanese.
After having spent a few days in Nice, Elaine and I had the urge to go on a day trip to Italy and so we headed to San Remo which was less than 2 hours away. Although it was a brief trip, it was very memorable, and the pasta was great, and so I was determined to recreate a Lebanese dish with an Italian influence. Koussa Mihchi (Stuffed Zucchinis) lends itself beautifully to an Italian interpretation. And so using the basic elements of Koussa Mihchi (meat, rice, tomato and zucchini) I made a pancetta risotto served on a halved and hollowed green zucchini, with slow pan fried tomatoes and carrots. Even though the flavours were spot on, I have to work a lot on the presentation of this one. Next time, much smaller zucchinis, and perhaps only half a zucchini a person. But I was in a rush and this had to do I think I will cut the zucchini in 4 equal parts served in a square and topped with sliced carrots and halved tomatoes.
Next came the French course. I thought hard about this one, but at the end, I decided to go for Moughrabbieh, one of my all time favourites. Moughrabbieh is possibly the greatest of comfort foods. It is an elaborately delicate chicken soup for the soul, served with balls of the only kind of dried Lebanese pasta after which the dish is named. You can pick up a 1 kilo pack for $3.50 from middle eastern stores, or if you feel like being ripped off, Simon Johnson and David Jones sell it for $12.50 or over.
My approach to the dish had to keep its integrity intact, so the only difference from a real moughrabbieh was that instead of making a roux, I made sauce soubise, flavoured with the essential, but often forgotten caraway spice. Chickpeas, browned whole shallots, and fresh parsley, the end result was a huge success. I made sure that the soubise was light enough for the dish not to be too heavy.
For dessert, a fantastic home made Zaatar ice cream (thyme and sesame seeds), a sweet and strong grape mollasses ice cream (could be the first ever made) and a Sea Sweet baklava, all eaten before we had the chance to take a photo.
I want to buy a water bath but I can’t find one. I have been looking online, but I haven’t found a single company that sells them in Australia, and I am not yet desperate enough to ship one from the States.
A search for sous vide returns a similarly frustrating result set. Has Australia not yet caught up? I bet no one has figured our what the perfect temeperature for cooking kangaroo is. Why shouldn’t it be my discovery? Imagine, one of the world’s healthiest meats becoming one of the tastiest. And who does the world have to thank? Moi.
My usual gripe with roo meat, as you would hear any Australian complain is that it is too hard to cook without becoming tough. Kangaroos are fit animals with hardly any intra-muscular fat, so it’s hard to keep the meat moist. Have you ever had a kangaroo steak that’s been thrown on the barbie and treated like it were a beef steak? Shudder.
But not only do I want a water bath to cook kangaroo. I want to see how vegetables behave and if I can make a ratattouille in it. I also want to try that 65C egg (at 67C).
I remember breakfasts of Labneh, Zaatar, mint, tomato and cucumber with fresh, paper thin markouk bread. On weekends, when time was a luxury we could afford, it would be kishk and qawarma hiding full cloves of garlic in creamy whiteness speckled with shallow fried pine nuts. We burnt our tongues in impatience and never learned to wait. Eggs with sumac were fluffy and crunchy, slowly fried with olive oil in pottery and devoured within seconds with farm fresh home made goat’s milk yoghurt. Every once in a while, mom would send dad down to the baker’s with a variety of containers to be made into Lebanese pizzas and pies. The one for manakish would be full of her special zaatar mix – hand picked mountain thyme, dried and mixed with freshly roasted sesame seeds, sumac and of course, olive oil from our decades old olive grove. Another would have spinach and wild silver beet mixed with onions and used to fill the triangular Fattayer b’Sbenekh w Selek. Then there was Lahm b’Ajeen, mutton and beef mince mixed with onions, tomatoes, pine nuts, pomegranate molasses and spices served piping hot on top of the crispy golden brown pastry. A squeeze of lemon juice was all it needed to become the perfect meat pie. Let’s not get into an argument here.
Dad would drive on missions in search of the freshest produce. On his way back home, he would beep the horn, sending a special message that got us on to our feet and out to greet him. The three boys would help dad carry boxes full of the freshest produce upstairs where mom would complain. On a good day. electricity was only available for two or three hours if we were lucky, and that meant that produce needed to be bought and consumed very quickly. But Dad had a problem. Buying a kilo or less of anything was a strange concept he never embraced; and so mom got busy cooking three or four meals at a time, preserving what she could and handing out the rest to the neighbours, who were all too keen to repay the favour and offload their own husbands’ overzealous shopping habits, undermining mom’s evacuation efforts.
Over the next few posts, I want to cover many of the Lebanese breakfast foods we eat. I will aim to recreate the recipes using high quality raw ingredients sourced locally from Sydney wherever possible . Wish me luck.
Yesterday I went to David Jones food court in the city for my usual look around.
I spotted the Wagyu beef roast in the meat area (around $25/kilo) and I have often thought that it would make a fine roast. The fine white fat marbling veins through the red meat beuatifully. A roast like that would be so moist and juicy.
So I took it home and had a bit of a think as to how to cook it. This being the first Wagyu roast I would cook , I thought that it should be cooked simply without much interference in order for me to get an idea of what the meat would taste like. That would help me in the future to decide on different recipes for it.
I sliced the roast and it had retained its moisture very well . a fair bit of juice came out, but it was apparent that it had plenty of juice left.
I tasted the endy bit to start off with (its my favourite since it has a lot of seasoning on it).
I can’t really describe the taste and texture and give it justice. It was so rich and moist. Flavours exploded onto my palate. There was a mild sweetness and earthiness that made my head spin. The texture was firm yet yielding. It was certainly the best roast I had ever had. It was actually better than any steak I have every had.
This recipe is a keeper. I don’t think I will play around with the meat much. I’ll just mess around with the side dishes