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.

Kugelhopf Recipe

By | Recipes | 12 Comments

kugelhopf cake, austrian/alsacian specialty

Kugelhopf: A yeast cake from Alsace, of Austrian origin, containing raisins or currants and cooked in a special high crownlike mould. The word is spelt in various ways (kougelhof, gougelhopf, or kouglof) and is derived from the German Kugel (a ball). It is said that Marie Antoinette’s fondness for this type of dough made such cakes very fashionable. However some authorities consider that it was Careme who popularized the cake in Paris, when he was pastry chef at the Avice. It is said that he was given the recipe by Eugene, head chef to Prince Shwarzenberg, the Austrian ambassador to Napoleon. Others claim that the first pastrycook to make true kugelhopfs in Paris was a man named Georges, who was established in the Rue de Coq in 1840. In Alsace, kugelhopf is eaten at Sunday breakfasts, and traditionally prepared the night before, as it is always better when slightly stale. It goes well with Alsace wines.
Source: Larousse Gastronomique

ceramic kugelhopf molds from Germany

On my trip to Germany last year, I spent a great deal of my time searching for a ceramic kugelhopf mold. But all I could find was metal cake tins that looked the part. But I can get these here in Sydney, and apart from being functional, they had none of the romance. I finally found one in a lovely ceramics shop in Bamberg, and though it is probably not what a baker might use to make industrial strength kugelhopf, form met function and I took it home. I showed it to my lovely host Bertrun, who was surprised as she didn’t know I was after a kugelhopf mould, and insisted on giving me one her mother had given her. So, after many a thank you, I became the proud owner of two fantastic kugelhopf molds. Let us all marvel at their beauty.

 a beautiful view of Bamberg, the source of the mold

Before I even tried this cake, I was always attracted to its unusual, regal figure. I imagined, as a yeast bread, it would resemble a brioche in flavour, or a panettone, and now I can confirm that. I feel it has a much more interesting shape than a brioche, and a better texture than a panettone, and it is a sure crowd pleaser. It does take a while to make but it’s worth it, and the job is made much easier if you have a mixer with a dough hook attachment. The recipe I attempted is from Culinaria France, and I found that they greatly underestimated the ratio of wet and dry ingredients. My tip is to keep some flour aside at the end to add to the mixer if the dough is too runny. It should feel wet, but still maintain an elasticity and body. My method uses the electric mixer with a dough hook. Replace with kneading and use double the time if you don’t have one.

Kugelhopf Recipe (makes 2 large cakes)

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp/30 ml kirsch (or your favourite spirit, I used rum and brandy)
  • 1 cup/150 g sultanas or currants (more if you love a lot of sultanas)
  • 1 kg plain flour
  • 30 g compressed yeast
  • 2 cups/500 ml milk
  • 1 tbsp/10 g salt
  • 2/3 cup/150 g sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 3/4 cup/180 g soft butter
  • 2 tbsp almond flakes

try to achieve the texture in this photo when making your kugelhopf

Method

  1. Pour the kirsch over the currants, stir, leave covered for a few hours to soak
  2. Warm half the milk till lukewarm
  3. Prepare the started dough by pouring 300 g flour into the mixer bowl, crumble in the yeast and the cup of lukwarm milk you prepared in step 2. Knead lightly in mixer and leave to prove for 2 hours
  4. Place the dough back in the mixer bowl and top with the remaining milk, 500 g flour, salt, sugar and the eggs and mix for at least 10 minutes, which is very important for the texture of the cake. The loose semi-solid dough should come away from the bowl easily.
  5. Mix in the butter and knead the mixture until it becomes a smooth supple dough
  6. Add the sultanas/currants and work them in until they are evenly distributed in the dough
  7. Grease two cake molds (preferably kugelhopf molds) with butter and sprinkle the almond flakes evenly in them. Fill the mold up to halfway with the dough and leave to prove in a draught-free place
  8. Preheat the oven to 200 C and bake the kougelhopf for around 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the mold.
  9. When the surface of golden brown, remove the came from the oven and leave it to cool on a cakestand. The top will swell to become like a ball, which explains the name 🙂

The Honest Award – 10 Honest Things About Me

By | awards | 5 Comments

Viviane from The Taste Budz has kindly awarded me The Honest Award. The rules of the award state that we need to list ten honest things about ourselves and then pass the award on to ten other deserving bloggers. Most bloggers I know have already been given this award, so I’ll just stick with listing 10 honest things about myself.

1- I am at a quite advanced stage of hair loss, and though it suits me more than a full head of hair, I am still considering Rogaine

2- Even though I mock and ridicule Lebanese people who think the way to riches (outside of Lebanon) is opening a manakish bakery, I do think it just might work

3- I believe, with no apparent shred of proof, that I am spearheading an avant-garde movement in modern Lebanese cuisine

4- I am insanely in love with my wife Lainy and her 18 week old pregnant belly

5- I’m 29 years old, have studied English Literature at uni, followed by Software Engineering and work as an IT Manager/ Sofware Architect. My programming code always rhymes.

6- I believe food is the ultimate art form as it is the only one that appeals to all our senses simultaneously

7- My version of heaven is a perpetual foraging expedition in Bamberg

8- My star sign tells me that I don’t believe in astrology

9- My ultimate dream is to travel the Levant and write a book about the journey and the food

10- I can’t swallow cucumbers or tomatoes on their own. They must be accompanied with bread, cheese or at least olive oil.

Eating Dandelions – Hindbeh Recipe

By | Foraging, lebanese food, Recipes | 17 Comments


Lebanese style dandelion leaves

Before I begin this entry, I want to direct your attention to the ceramic bowl above which I made in December. This one is my pride and joy.
OK. Let’s start.

Talk to any real food lover out there and they will sing the praise of simple, honest, traditional food. One might be seduced by the luxury of foie gras, the aromatic intensity of truffles or mesmerising power of silky wagyu beef, but it’s easy to get something ethereal out of ingredients that are so good (and expensive) to start off with. But in my opinion, real ingenuity comes from creating flavour out of ingredients that are undervalued, humble, or even down right met with disdain. Having gone through several famines, my Lebanese ancestors have had to put their devious talents where their mouth is and derive their nutrition from the least likely of plants and cuts of meat. One example is akkoob (gundelia tournefortii, ????), a thorn that grows in the high mountains of Lebanon and in Syria and Jordan. This thorn is notoriously difficult and painful to harvest and its preparation is equally hazardous. But what you are left with, apart from green-hued bleeding fingers is a stem that works culinary wonders in stews, stir fries and with eggs. What drove someone to identify this wicked thorn as a potential source of food is beyond me. My guess is nothing short of extreme hunger.

Another such example of unlikely food is the dandelion (??????). In Australia, dandelion is mostly considered a lawn weed suitable only to feed guinea pigs, yet it is widely loved in Lebanon and is the main ingredient and namesake of the popular dish hindbeh. Dandelion gets its name from the French dent de lion, meaning lion’s tooth, in reference to the serrated shape of the leaf. Dandelions might be commercially grown in Lebanon, but most families I know gather their supplies from the wild, or buy it from the forager. So while Lebanese children are picking the dandelion flowers and making a wish before blowing on the parachute-like seeds (the wish comes true if the seeds fly in the direction you chose earlier), the savvy, cost-conscience mothers are busy harvesting.


dandelions growing wild in a garden in Portland NSW

The dandelion could be mistaken for other weeds with similar but hairy/thorny leaves (ones whose name I do not know, so avoid hairy leaves please). The smooth dandelion leaf is best harvested in early spring if intended to be eaten raw in salads, as its bitter flavour has not fully developed. As the leaf matures, it grows larger, thicker and more bitter. This bitterness can be minimised by blanching or by washing thoroughly and then squeezing out the liquid. However, bitterness is not a bad thing, as most naturopaths will tell you. It is usually an indicator of a plant’s ability to detoxify the body and the liver (or that the plant is poisonous!). Dandelions are high in protein, naturally diuretic and anti-inflammatory and are rich in potassium and beta-carotene and many other highly beneficial minerals, which is why this humble plant has been very popular in herbal medicine.

This time of year sees a proliferation of dandelions in New South Wales, and since I am a lover of wild/foraged food, I did not want to miss the opportunity to feast on dandelions this year. A brief half hour walk down the road in Earlwood resulted in 400 grams of fresh dandelion leaf. Sure, the neighbours looked on suspiciously, the dogs barked madly and the joggers gazed in distrust. But don’t let that stop you. The sunshine and the buzz you get out of collecting your own food is alone worth it. But to make things even better, this is a recipe for hindbeh, our favourite way of cooking dandelion. The idea is to fry the leaf with garlic and onions in olive oil until it is almost dry, and then it would be ready to absorb the lemon juice you add. It is then topped with caramelized onions and eaten cold. To make mine a bit more of a proper meal, I added chickpeas, toasted pine nuts and a nice dollop of yoghurt on top. Such classic Lebanese flavours. It’s too cheap to be true.

NOTE: If dandelions are not available, you can substitute them with endive (available at supermarkets)


half an hour’s worth of dandelion foraging

Hindbeh – Dandelion Recipe

Preparing the Dandelions

  1. When you pick the dandelions, make sure you don’t pick other weeds with them and be careful of insects such as spiders. You should find dandelions grown in lawns and on sidewalks.
  2. Chop the dandelions finely, wash thoroughly in several changes of water and drain. Wrap the leaves in a tea towel and twist the tea towel to drain all the excess water and bitterness.
  3. Taste a dandelion leaf. If it is not too bitter, then it should be good to cook. If it is (and by bitter, I mean BITTER), blanch the dandelions in boiling water and 1/2 a tsp of sodium bicarbonate for 3 to 5 minutes. It’s preferable not to blanch if you can handle the bitterness.

Cooking the Dandelions (Hindbeh)

Ingredients

500 g dandelion leaf, prepared as above (weighed before blanching)
4 large onions, cut in thin wings (halved, then diced vertically)
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
½ cup olive oil
½ cup lemon juice
2 tsp salt
1 cup boiled chickpeas (optional)
½ cup Greek style yoghurt (optional)
2 tbsp toasted pine nuts (optional)

Method

  1. In a large frypan, heat up the olive oil and fry the onions with a tsp of salt on a gentle heat
  2. When the onions are slightly golden, remove half of them and set aside
  3. Continue to fry the onions, stirring every couple of minutes until they caramelise. Turn the heat down if they are cooking too quickly and keep a watchful eye, as they burn very easily
  4. Once caramelised, remove the onions, and keep the oil in the frypan
  5. Using the same oil, add the half cooked onions you removed earlier and the garlic and fry until the garlic begins to turn golden
  6. Add the dandelion leaf and the remaining salt. It might look like too much in the frypan, but the volume will drop significantly once cooked for a minute or two
  7. Keep cooking, stirring every couple of minutes until most of the moisture in the dandelion has evaporated. The colour should be getting dark, but not burn. The ingredients will begin to stick to the bottom of the pan. Keep cooking for 5 minutes, turn off the heat and add the lemon juice
  8. The dandelion leaf will absorb the liquid quickly. You can now set aside to cool and then refrigerate
  9. Once cool, you can toss in the boiled chickpeas (cold) and the pine nuts. Top with yoghurt and then the caramelised onions and enjoy