Mighli – A Guilt Free Lebanese Christmas Pudding

By | dessert, lebanese food, Recipes | 6 Comments

With the festive season still in progress, the excesses of Christmas are catching up with me. My diet has mainly been terrible: a low intake of veggies (peas), coupled with a massive increase in animal fat (read duck fat, cream, butter) and animal protein , and those nice bottles of sherry and wine – my liver is sluggishly churning through the indulgences, and I’m feeling sleepy. But it is the season to be jolly after all, and you can’t be jolly without puds, right?

Mighli is one of those Lebanese desserts suitable for Christmas, and it’s fat free, so my digestive system is partially thankful. Mighli’s suitability for Christmas comes from two aspects. The first one is the recipe’s use of spices – cinnamon, aniseed and caraway – as spices are used for Christmas puds the world over. And second, the Lebanese make this recipe when a child is born, so of course, it is very relevant to the birth of Christ. The beauty of this recipe is in its simplicity, flavour and texture. Mighli means boiled, and I believe that is because the creamy mouth feel comes from boiling rice flour with sugar, water and spices, making it surprisingly rich for a fat free dessert. Joumana from Taste of Beirut has a nice entry on Mighli, and since she wrote her blog entry before I did, I owe her a mention. So try this dessert – it’s sweet, creamy and somewhat healthy. Well, healthier…

Mighli Recipe

Water – 6 cups
Sugar – 1 cup
Rice Flour (Fine) – 1 cup
Cinnamon – 2 tsp
Aniseed – 1 tsp
Caraway – 3 tsp

Pistachios, no shell, soaked overnight – a big handful
Pine nuts – a big handful
Almonds, peeled, soaked overnight in water laced with orange blossom water
Raisins, dried shredded coconuts or anything that takes your fancy


  1. Boil 3 cups of water
  2. Add sugar and spices and mix until the sugar dissolves
  3. Separately mix the rice flour with the remaining 3 cups of water making sure there are no lumps
  4. Add rice flour slurry to the boiling water
  5. Bring up to the boil then reduce the heat to medium
  6. Continuously stir with a wooden spoon
  7. The mixture will eventually become quite thick. This should take around 40 minutes or so
  8. When sufficiently thick (around twice the thickness of custard), turn the heat off and put in a large serving dish or individual ramekins
  9. Wait until cool then refrigerate


  1. Peel and drain the pistachios
  2. Drain the almonds
  3. Garnish the ramekins or serving dish with the nuts/raisins/coconut
  4. Serve cold

Sfouf Recipe – A Lebanese Christmas Cake

By | lebanese food, Recipes | 7 Comments

Sfouf – Lebanese tumeric and aniseed cake

I’m sure everyone will agree that the English have Christmas pudding down pat. A warm, moist cake bursting with brandy and rum, studded with candied fruit, raisins and currants, and spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. And to make things even better, a bit of brandy butter or custard! In contrast, the Lebanese do not have a Christmas pudding, but I thought that sfouf would make a fine cake for the festive season. Though much lighter, and indeed drier than a Christmas pud ought to be, sfouf gets its distinctive color from tumeric, which along with aniseed gives it a distinctive flavour. It’s this spicy combination that in my mind makes it Christmasy. My British friend Daniel – whose taste buds were shot off in the war – recalls eating this cake prepared by his Lebanese neighbours in London. He hated it, and in consequence has little regard for Lebanese food. I maintain that Daniel’s neighbours must have not known a good sfouf recipe. The cake is simple and fragrant. But don’t expect a moist cake; this one is on the dry side and is perfect with a cup of coffee or tea.

how good does the cake looks with those lovely golden almonds?

In Lebanese, sfouf means “rows”, which I believe is in relation to the way it is cut on the baking tray. The best sfouf I’ve ever had was in the city of Sidon (Saida), from a street cart pushed by an old man. This travelling patisserie only sold sfouf and nammoura, another beautiful dessert. From what I understand, the old man had been selling these cakes all his life. At some point, he had made enough money to open a shop, but he left that to his kids to run, as he preferred pushing the cart in the open air and speaking to old friends. And as the old man walked through the busy streets of Sidon, people would flock to buy the fresh, aromatic, yellow cake. One of my favourite things about this cake is the use of tahini to “butter” the tray or cake tin. It gives the edges a beautiful crunch and nuttiness. For an authentic experience, do not substitute the tahini with butter. This recipe is adapted from Chef Ramzi.

Sfouf Recipe (makes 1 medium cake)

The dry ingredients will result in a mild flavour of spice and an awesome yellow colour


  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • 2 cups medium coarse semolina
  • 1.25 cups white flour
  • 1.5 cups caster sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter (room temp)
  • 1.5 cups milk
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp tumeric
  • 1/2 tsp aniseed (ground)
  • pine nuts, sesame seeds OR almonds to garnish


  1. Preheat the oven to 200C
  2. Mix the flour, semolina, baking powder, tumeric and aniseed in a mixing bowl
  3. Cube the butter and use the tips of your fingers to thoroughly incorporate into the flour and spice mix. The mixture will not appear too yellow just yet
  4. Melt the sugar in the cold milk
  5. Add the milk and sugar to the flour, mix and incorporate thoroughly with a spoon. The yellow colour will now come through brilliantly
  6. Use the tahini to butter your cake tin
  7. Pour the cake mix into the cake tin and make sure the surface is flat
  8. Add your garnish of choice. Sesame seeds can be sprinkled, but pine nuts or almonds need to be placed in an orderly fashion ladies and gentlemen
  9. Bake the cake for around 30 or 40 minutes (depending on the thickness).
  10. Test by inserting a skewer and checking if it comes out clean
  11. When done, turn off the oven but put the cake under a hot grill for a minute to make the surface nice and golden. Keep an eye on it, or else it might burn
  12. Wait for the cake to cool down (or slightly warm) to serve
  13. Enjoy!

Al-Sikbaj and the Art of Medieval Arab Cookery

By | Of Arabic Origin, Recipes | 22 Comments

al-sikbaj, the extinct ancestor of escabeche

At school, we learn that Lebanon is a Mediterranean country with an Arab façade. Due to this dual identity, we are taught Phoenician history, and it forms a large part of our self image. Even though the rest of the world may consider Lebanon an Arab nation, many Lebanese consider themselves and their country separate to the Arab world. Our Canaanite ancestry is one we hold on to dearly, and with pride. Our refusal to be labelled as Arabs does not stem from a desire to be non-conforming or dissidence. The Arab label is simply not accurate for us as a people. Genealogically, our ancestry does not trace back to the Arabian Peninsula or the Syrian Desert. Linguistically, our language has more Syriac and Aramaic influences than Arabic. But we are considered Arabs only as a government which has political interest in embracing an Arab identity. That said, our relationship with the Arab world is a close one. We learn the history of the Arabs, of their Golden Age, their sciences and medicine, their poetry and their arts. We are also taught to speak and read Arabic (an illiterate Lebanese will not intuitively understand Arabic), which is our formal written language. This has allowed us to gain a great appreciation for our neighbours and to celebrate their achievements, and in this case, we learn to revel in their culinary contributions.

From before the year 1400 AD, there were more cook books written in Arabic than there were in all the languages of the world combined. Arab food was richer, more sophisticated and more complex (made so by the Arab invasions of Persia) than any of its contemporaries. The cuisine had access to an unbelievable variety of products and produce: delicate, heady flavours of saffron and rose water, the sweetness of cane sugar, honey, date molasses and grape juice, the sharp acidity of vinegar, fresh herbs and dried spices, rich fatty meats and game, fruit and vegetables, sumac, cheese, murri (Arab equivalent of soy sauce), yoghurt, etc… Endless combinations gave way to new dishes, many of which remain in existence to this day, and many other that have disappeared, but whose trace can be seen in dishes kept alive in other forms by other cultures.

One of these dishes is al-sikbaj (pronounced assikbaj, s being a solar letter). One of the most popular Arab dishes of its time, al-sikbaj is mentioned in most medieval Arab cookbooks. The name derives from the Persian sikba: sik, “vinegar”, ba, “food”. And so, the basic premise is that meat is cooked in a mixture of some sort of sweetener (honey, grape juice, date molasses) and vinegar. The interesting thing about al-sikbaj is that it is no longer cooked in the Arab world. Its memory now lives on in the Spanish escabeche. During the Arab invasions of Spain and Portugal, al-sikbaj became part of the local diet. The name was changed due to mispronunciation to escabeche, but the recipe stayed more or less intact. To this day, escabeche denotes a meat that has been cooked in vinegar and something sweet. This dish may have also reached South America and given its name to ceviche (but the scholars have not yet agreed whether this is true or not, with several theories on the subject). However, another interesting word that derives from al-sikbaj is aspic. Since al-sikbaj can be eaten cold, as the cooking liquid cools down, it becomes a jelly, and as such, the word aspic (meat jelly) came to be, as an another alteration of the original word.

the opulence of medieval Arab cookery included rare, exotic, indulgent and expensive ingredients

In my reference books, I have around seven different recipes for al-sikbaj. Medieval cookery books provide challenges in interpreting their recipes. For instance, they do not specify quantities. Often, they ask you to add spices, without telling you which ones to use. Same goes for meat, where you do not know which animal or what cut to use. Cooking times are non-existent, and you are asked to use your judgement in determining when to stop cooking.

When I first cooked this dish, I was overwhelmed with excitement. I felt like a scientist or an archaeologist rediscovering a long forgotten world. And truly, when I tasted the end result, this dish blew me away, exceeding all expectations. The flavours of saffron, dried fruit, almonds and rose water really give you a sense of medieval Arabia. I hope this recipe reaches the thousands of Middle-Eastern chefs out there, and I would love to see al-sikbaj make the remarkable resurrection that it so deserves. So here it goes, my recipe for al-sikbaj, put together after many hours of reading through medieval cook books and attempting to reach the right balance of ingredients.

Al-Sikbaj – Recipe

al-sikbaj, the finished product

600 g lamb shoulder without the bones in 1 inch cubes
3 medium onions, slices
3 medium round eggplants, peeled, quartered then halved, then pricked with a fork
cinnamon, 2 tsp
dried coriander, ground, 4 tsp
apple cider or white wine vinegar, 1/2 cup
honey, 1/2 cup
saffron, a large pinch
5 dried figs, quartered
raisins, handful
almond flakes or halves, handful
rose water, 1 tsp
olive oil


  1. Boil the eggplants for 15 minutes, covered
  2. Drain the eggplants and set aside
  3. Cover the bottom of a heavy based pot with olive oil and heat up
  4. Brown the meat and onions really well
  5. Add the cinnamon and coriander and stir for a minute
  6. Cover the meat with boiling water and add 2 pinches of salt. The water should be around 1 cm over the meat
  7. Boil the meat on medium heat for 20 minutes, skimming the froth that rises to the surface
  8. Place the eggplants on top of the meat. Do not stir
  9. Mix the honey and vinegar. The mixture should be both sharp and sweet
  10. Pour the honey and vinegar on top of the eggplants
  11. After 5 minutes take some of the liquid out and mix the saffron with it and pour back on top of the eggplants
  12. Simmer until the liquid has reduced and thickened, around 45 minutes
  13. Add the raisins, almonds and figs on top of the eggplants
  14. Take the heat down to an absolute minimum, clean the sides of the pot with a damp cloth and cover
  15. Keep cooking for around half an hour
  16. When done, sprinkle with some rose water and serve
  17. You can also eat this cold, and it is equally delicious

Yakhnet Fasoulia w Rizz b Basturma – Haricot Bean Stew with Basturma and Vermicelli Rice

By | lebanese food, Recipes | 4 Comments

Armenian Basturma on hand made ceramic plate desigend by my friend Sylvia Marciante Green

In my previous entry about my home made sujuk, I discussed the Armenian influence on Lebanese food (read here). Sujuk and basturma are probably the most known of these influences. Basturma is air-dried, spiced beef, with strong flavours of cumin and fenugreek. After the curing and drying process, basturma is served in thin slices, and can be a great sandwich filling along with some cheese. In Lebanon, fried eggs and basturma is a very common dish as is basturma and sujuk pizza.

My recipe using basturma is a slight variant on a popular Lebanese dish, yakhnet fasoulia w rizz. Yaknheh is the Arabic word for stews, fasoulia means beans and rizz (or rozz) means rice. This dish is one of many that mom cooks to perfection, and on a cold winter night, nothing reminds me of her better than eating a plate of yakhneh. The bean stew is usually made with bones and stewing beef or lamb, with cassia bark, garlic, onion and tomato paste. The beans are cooked in the meaty broth where they absorb the flavours, and as they break down and soften, they thicken and enrich the broth.

Yakhnet Fasoulia w Rizz b Basturma – Haricot Bean Stew with Basturma and Vermicelli Rice

With a nice fresh pack of basturma in my fridge (and no bones or beef), I was inspired to incorporate this wonderful ingredient and our bean stew recipe into a Lebanese dish similar to the world famous French cassoulet or a Brazilian feijoada. Both dishes seem somehow related to the Lebanese yakhneh but usually use salted, cured pork. Pork does not showcase strongly in the Lebanese cuisine, and salted pork products do not extend past supermarket ham. Basturma is by far more suitable for keeping the cultural identity of this dish intact, and its spicy flavour lends itself beautifully to the beans. Try it and you will be hooked on making yakhneh.

This pot is awesome. If you don’t have a cast iron pot, get one

Yakhnet Fasoulia w Rizz b Basturma Recipe


Dry haricot beans – 1 kilo (soak the whole kilo overnight in water)
Basturma – 300 g, thinly sliced then chopped in whatever size suits you
Onions – 3 large, diced
Garlic – 4 cloves, diced
Bird’s eye chili – 3 chills, diced (with seeds for that extra kick)
Tomato paste – 3 tbspn
Cassia bark or cinnamon – 1 stick
Chopped parsley or coriander – 1/2 cup
Salt – to taste


  1. Cover the bottom of a large, hot casserole with olive oil
  2. Fry garlic, onions and chili gently with some salt until slightly golden
  3. Add basturma and fry for 3 minutes
  4. Add tomato paste, cassia bark or cinnamon and mix
  5. Add beans and mix
  6. Cover with tap water until the water reaches 2 cms above the beans
  7. Crank up the heat and bring to the boil, then lower the heat and bring to a simmer
  8. Taste the liquid and adjust the salt
  9. Cover the pot and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, until the beans are soft, and the sauce has thickened
  10. When done, add the chopped herbs and mix
  11. Serve with rice and enjoy

The Food Blog and Eddie Abd – An Artistic Collaboration

By | The Food Blog | 3 Comments

I am so excited! My extremely talented friend Eddie Abd, a Sydney based Lebanese artist will be collaborating with me on designing a new banner for The Food Blog. I am a great admirer of Eddie’s unique and distinctive style. Her latest work shows a strong Lebanese and Middle-Eastern feel, which I am certain will translate beautifully to essence of The Food Blog.

Check out Eddie’s work here. The painting below is Eddie’s latest, which is still untitled.

Manakish – Lebanon’s Favourite Breakfast

By | lebanese breakfast, lebanese food, lebanon food | 13 Comments

Manoosheh b zaatar with tomatoes, mint and cucumber

It is difficult to think of a Lebanese breakfast that is more popular or loved than the manoosheh. Round flat discs of bread covered with zaatar (thyme, sumac and sesame seeds) mixed with olive oil and baked in the oven or on top of a saj. Manakish (مناقيش), the plural of manoosheh (منقوشه), are so prevalent in the Lebanese culture that every borough or village has one or more dedicated bakeries. They are also entrenched into our pop culture and are symbolic as being the food of the poor (along with falafel). The word itself means decorated or stamped, referring to how the dough is flattened using the tips of the fingers which leave a stamp-like decorative pattern. The manoosheh may be famous for being the Lebanese pizza, but despite its fame, there is little available literature that points in the direction of its origin, and nothing that gives us an idea of how long it has been present in Lebanese homes. Chef Ramzi, the Lebanese celebrity chef has a brief paragraph on the subject in his book “From the Heritage of Lebanon” (من تراث لبنان). The manoosheh, he suggests, is a recent addition to the Lebanese diet:

The manoosheh has only recently appeared in Lebanon, evolving to this day to become Lebanon’s most demanded breakfast. The main reasons for that are its ease and speed of preparation, its low price tag, it being tasty and its readiness to marry with a multitude of ingredients to produce a world of flavour… Each house wife would, upon returning from the fields, prepare a zaatar mix and distribute it on the saj loaves… All these variations fall under the category of manakish. This is considered a good example of the evolution of the Lebanese traditional village cuisine, in that it aligns itself to the needs and requirements of the modern consumer and adapting to them.
Chef Ramzi – From the Heritage of Lebanon 2002

The accompanying herbs and veggies are no less important

The paragraph above surely paints a picture, but, doesn’t really tell us much about the history of the manoosheh. I for one am a sceptic of the above claim of relative recency. Firstly, zaatar (thyme) is a wild herb that has always grown in the Lebanese mountains. Olive oil is presumed to have been first pressed by the Canaanites (Phoenicians) at around 4500 BC. Flat breads, leavened or unleavened also reach back to antiquity. In the tenth century, Ibn Sayyar Al-Warraq, in his Arab cookery book Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Cooking), includes six recipes for bread, baked in a tannur (the Arabic word for tandoor). So if by the tenth century, the Lebanese had access to thyme, olive oil and flat bread, it seems highly unlikely that these ingredients so destined to be together wandered the earth lonely for long.

To me, the manoosheh holds the same special place it does for every Lebanese. There is beauty in its simplicity, its aroma brings back childhood memories and the flavour of zaatar reminds me of home. The toppings can certainly vary: akkawi cheese, kishk (dried yoghurt and burghul), spinach, meat, eggs and qawarma, etc… But the original and best is zaatar. Eat it with loads of fresh mint, tomatoes and cucumber. To me, that’s the taste of Lebanon.

Manakish Recipe

5 cups strong pizza flour (if you can, otherwise, all purpose white flour would do)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 and 3/4 cups water
2 tspns salt
2 tspns sugar
1 tbspn yeast

1/2 cup Zaatar mix (buy it from your Middle-Eastern suppliers) adding enough olive oil to make a slightly runny consistency. If it doesn’t have toasted sesame seeds, add them.


In a large bowl, Mix all ingredients except for the water. Incorporate well. Make a well in the center and add the water. Knead the dough. It will be much stickier and softer than pizza dough, but it needs to hold together. If it doesn’t, keep kneading until it does. Keep aside to rise for an hour, covered with a wet cloth.

Heat the oven up to 220 C. Take some dough and spread it on a tray, using the tips of your fingers until it is the thickness of thin crust pizza. Top with the zaatar mix, again using your fingers to spread. Put the manoosheh in the oven for around 15 minutes. Remove when the bottom has cooked and become nice and golden.