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)


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)


  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

Snail Spaghetti – Recipe

By | Recipes, snails | 19 Comments

Talk about slow food! This weekend I cooked snails that Ludwig and I collected from Portland NSW, and they were delicious. Don’t get squeamish or revolt in disgust. Instead, keep an open mind and perhaps you too can make something tasty out of those garden snails eating those lovely basil leaves in your well-tended garden. Yes, it’s true. Your garden snails are edible delicacies that we have been enjoying for thousands of years. The French are perhaps the first people to come to mind when you think about edible snails, with their love of escargots cooked with garlic and herbs. But the French are certainly not the only people with a penchant for the little molluscs. The Italians, for instance, have been eating both land and sea snails since Roman times, and the Lebanese love them as well.

As a child, I knew that the best time to go looking for snails would be when the first good winter rain had arrived. Snails love heat and humidity, and that last bit of warmth combined with the rainfall seems to bring them from their hiding. A good place to look for them would be under sheltering stones, bushes or branches fallen of trees. A snail gathering expedition would yield bucket loads if we were lucky. The snails would then be kept in a well ventilated plastic knit sack (similar to what they sell lemons in these days) to purge for a couple of weeks before they are consumed. This purging process is necessary to ensure that the snails empty their digestive tract, especially of all harmful toxins they may have ingested. I washed these snails in several changes of cold water before plunging them for 5 minutes in boiling salted water. This initial boil kills the snails instantly, and also gets rid of the scum which rises to the surface. Draining the snails and boiling them again in fresh water with aromatics starts the real cooking process which goes on for around 2 hours. After that, the snails should be easily removable from their shells. I like to rinse them in fresh boiling water one more time before they are ready to be prepared for eating. Traditionally, the Lebanese stop cooking right there, and just eat the snails with tahini and Lebanese bread. So far, this to me is the best way of eating snails and I much prefer it to any fancy preparation.

Unfortunately, I had only picked a small amount of snails and I wanted the portions to stretch. This snail spaghetti worked a treat, and it drew on the French preparation which shares Lebanese flavour accents of garlic and parsley. In addition to that, I simply used verjuice (juice of unripe green grapes) and chilli. Verjuice is a staple in the Lebanese larder, especially in country towns that are too high in altitude to grow citrus trees. It has a good citrus tang and is slightly sweet. If you hate the idea of eating snails, rest assured that they are not slimy or rubbery. They don’t smell or taste foul. They actually taste similar to mussels and in the same way their texture, though slightly chewy, is lovely.

Snail Spaghetti Recipe

I will give this recipe with no measurements, since I assume you know how to cook pasta, and the rest of the ingredients are really a matter of taste. The snails of course, depend on availability.

First Preparation

  • Snails (Purged)
  • Salt
  • Lemon peel (wax free lemons)
  • Bay Leaves
  • Onion, halved
  • Peppercorns

For the Pasta

  • The above prepared snails
  • Garlic, finely chopped
  • Chilli, chopped
  • Verjuice
  • Parsley, chopped
  • Olive Oil
  • Butter
  • Spaghetti
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste


  1. Wash the snails well in several changes of cold water
  2. Plunge the snails in salted boiling water, removing any froth that rises to the surface
  3. After 5 minutes, drain the snails and boil in more salted water with the lemon peel, onions, bay leaves and peppercorns
  4. Continue cooking for 2 hours, removing any further froth
  5. When the snails are done they should be easy to remove from their shells. Drain the snails and rinse them in fresh boiled water

To make the pasta

  1. Remove the snails from the shells. If your snails are large, you might want to cut them in half. Drain well
  2. Boil your spaghetti in plenty of salted water. When cooked al dente, drain and keep aside
  3. Heat some olive oil and butter in a sauce pan and fry the garlic and chilli with salt
  4. When the garlic is brown, but before it burns, add the snails and fry them on high heat
  5. When the liquid seems to have reduced, add some verjuice on the sides of the sauce pan and allow it to reduce further
  6. Throw your pasta on top of the sauce and stir
  7. Take off the heat and add your chopped parsley and stir
  8. Season to taste and serve hot

The Rebirth of Lebanon

By | lebanese food, lebanon food | 4 Comments

View of the Mediterranean from Byblos, with Roman ruins in the forefront, followed by the recognisable heritage Lebanese home overlooking the water (source, The New York Times)

Though this entry is somewhat unrelated to food, it does not stray far from the general theme of this blog, which revolves around my Lebanon. As a phoenix is reborn from the ashes of its monumental fire, my Lebanon is getting its own rebirth. In 2009, The New York Times deservedly voted Beirut as the number one tourist destination in the world. The article mentioned the Four Seasons Hotel Beirut, Le Gray as the forces of change in Lebanon’s culinary scene. For traditional Lebanese, the mention went to Al Ajami restaurant and Hussein Hadid’s Kitchen.

More recently, Jbeil (Byblos) was the subject matter in an article in The New York Times as being the Cannes of the Middle East, in contrast to the saying Beirut is the Paris of the Middle East. I really enjoyed that article not the least because I actually grew up in Jbeil (and went to school in Monsif, if you must know), despite the focus being on one of my least favourite Lebanese trait, which is the exorbitant show of wealth. Having just returned from Lebanon this year, I can confirm the Jbeil is the place to be. The council has done wonders in creating a tasteful city, and the beaches are fantastic, though mostly privatised and almost unaffordable to locals. Jbeil imparts the visitor with a great sense of history and coupled with a unique tidy, civilised laid-backedness. It has everything Beirut doesn’t, and more. By more I mean a chicken shawarma from el Rock followed by a fruit cocktail from el Addoom. Oh my God!

The Jbeil article mentions the following restaurants:

Bab El Mina
Pierre & Friends
Locanda a la Granda (mentioned as the best restaurant in town)

Zaatar Ice Cream – Bouza 3a Zaatar

By | ice cream, lebanese food, Recipes | 10 Comments

Zaatar Ice Cream (melting in the Sydney heat)

While in France last year, Lainy and I made our way down from Paris, through Orleans and to Provence and then ended up in the enchanting Cote d’Azur, better known in English as the French Riviera. We settled for a week in the seaside city of Nice, taking indulgent day trips to Italy to have a bowl of pasta, and then heading back for a stroll and a glass of wine in the city. It was here where I met my childhood friend Grandizer, strolling on the pebble beach, and it was also where I saw the different flavours of ice cream on display. The French seemed adventurous with the flavours on offer and they seemed to look at local flavours for inspiration. Lavender ice cream was an obvious one, but coquelicots (corn poppy) ice cream, though relevant, was a bit more abstract.

This got me thinking, and I decided that a zaatar (thyme) ice cream is in order. At first this might not seem like a match made in heaven, right? Zaatar for the Lebanese is a savoury herb, and we eat it every day mixed with sumac, toasted sesame seeds and olive oil, and it forms our very basic breakfast. We also use it to marinate meats and sprinkle it in salads. Zaatar is not exactly a herb that you would say, put in a cake. You would probably not find Coca Cola rushing to make a special edition Zaatar Coke for that ultimate manakish experience. Zaatar chewing gum? Refreshing…

Grandizer, making a stand in Nice and a selection of French ice creams

But hold on. The French are making coquelicots ice cream for God’s sake! Have you ever nibbled into a coquelicot, and tasted that red bitterness. Or have you ever smelled the grassy green aroma it gives out? If you have, you might agree with me that with all things being equal, zaatar ice cream might not be such a bad idea. And indeed, if you taste my ice cream, you might even agree that it’s actually a great idea. The lingering aroma of thyme infuses beautifully in the custard, and marries with its luxurious creaminess like, well, a match made in heaven!

To make this ice cream, I followed a basic vanilla ice cream recipe, and instead of infusing vanilla beans in the milk and cream, I infused the zaatar. I used dry, Lebanese zaatar, because it has a completely different flavour to fresh thyme. And to complete the flavour profile and the play on the zaatar theme, I threw in some toasted sesame seeds. It is worth mentioning that this ice cream usually comes out milky white. The color you see in the photos is purely because I used raw cane sugar (because it is low GI). I actually prefer white sugar in this recipe because I find the treacly sweetness of raw cane sugar slightly overpowers the aroma of the zaatar. You must try this recipe because you will love it, but please, don’t eat it wrapped in Lebanese bread with cucumbers and olive oil!

A bowl of Lebanese zaatar with sumac and toasted sesame seeds

Zaatar Ice Cream Recipe


  • 300ml thick cream
  • 300ml milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, split
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp dried zaatar (thyme)
  • 3 tbsp toasted sesame seeds (optional)


  1. Place the cream and milk in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then turn off the heat, mix in the zaatar and set aside for 10 minutes to infuse.
  2. Place the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla extract in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until pale.
  3. Strain the milk to remove the zaatar
  4. Carefully pour the milk over the eggs, then return to a clean saucepan.
  5. Cook over low heat, continuously stirring, for about five minutes until it is slightly thickened and coats the back of a wooden spoon.
  6. Set aside to cool, then refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  7. Place custard in a plastic container in the freezer until frozen at the edges. Remove from freezer. Beat with an electric beater. Re-freeze. Repeat this process two more times. Add the sesame seeds in the last time you beat the ice cream(Alternatively, churn in an ice-cream machine according to the manufacturer’s directions and add the sesame seeds as the ice cream is beginning to freeze)

Eggs and Sumac in Pottery – A Lebanese Breakfast

By | lebanese breakfast, lebanese food, Recipes | 7 Comments

Eggs and Sumac with yoghurt

The Lebanese are bacillophobic, but their fear of bacteria is somewhat selective and irrational. Growing up, most chicken I had was cooked until all trace of moisture had evaporated. Runny eggs? Forget it. Sashimi? Unheard of. Yet, from the age of five, I have been enjoying delicacies such as kibbeh nayyeh (raw minced beef/lamb), liyyeh (raw tallow fat) and even raw liver (which is great by the way, with nothing but finely ground black pepper and a sprinkle of salt). It seemed that lamb and beef were exempt from germs, if your uncle knew the butcher, but a nice fresh piece of raw kingfish was out of the question. Things are changing, and sushi is now all the rage (I have a good story about that, but I’ll save it till later), but it seems there is no convincing my fellow compatriots of the virtues of a buttery, creamy egg yolk that is barely starting to set. For instance, my good friend Ludwig, upon a recent visit to Lebanon tried to make his brother scrambled eggs. The eggs were organic and fresh, and Ludwig cooked them to perfection, but his brother still would not touch them because they were still “raw”! Instead, the normal way of eating eggs would be frying them until the whites were golden crisp and the yolks were completely dry. Then and only then would they be safe! It was only when I came to Australia in 2001 when I saw the lunacy of this approach.

A jar of sumac

Now that I’ve sufficiently ranted, it is worth mentioning that we do have some excellent egg recipes. Eggs with qawarma (lamb preserved in its fat) for instance rivals the best eggs and sausages, truly. Another favourite of mine is eggs with sumac. Sumac is both the sumac plant and the dried crushed berries that grow on it. Sumac, verjuice and pomegranate molasses form a trinity in the Lebanese villager’s mouneh (larder) and they serve the purpose of providing acidity, and are excellent substitutes for lemon juice, especially in the mountains where citrus trees can not grow. The use of pottery to cook the eggs is also traditional, and with sufficiently low heat, you will be able to achieve crisp egg whites, while maintaining a creamy yolk. Sumac sprinkled on top of the eggs is wonderfully decorative, and its acidity is not overwhelming, but is aromatic and interesting.

Eggs with sumac recipe

There is really nothing to this recipe. Put a ceramic fry pan on a low flame and add a tablespoon of olive oil. When the oil is hot, crack the eggs on top. After a minute or two, add your salt, pepper and sumac. How much you add depends on your taste, but I’d say half a teaspoon of sumac for each egg. Keep frying until the egg whites have set. Serve with fresh Lebanese bread and Greek-style yoghurt.