Christmas is round the corner and I thought I would share with you this festive stuffed breast of lamb that my mother used to cook for xmas eve when it was only us around the table. I much preferred it to the turkey she roasted when my grandmother, aunt and uncles joined us. She used the same stuffing for both, a highly seasoned mixture of rice, meat and nuts and she occasionally varied on the breast by using a neck or a shoulder. Both neck and shoulder have more meat on them but the breast (a large, triangular piece of flat meat that lines the ribs) is delicious even if a little too fatty. Anyhow, there are two ways of stuffing it: one is by folding it in half over the stuffing and the other is by creating a pocket between the skin and the rib meat and filling it with the stuffing. In both cases you sew the edges to encase the stuffing.
I can’t remember when my mother moved to Balluneh. I wasn’t happy because I loved our huge appartment in Beirut in a 1920′s building but it had been squatted during the civil war and even though my mother had gotten rid of the squatters (who were neighbours), she no longer felt safe there. So, she bought in Balluneh, away from the chaos of Beirut and close to her brother. I didn’t like the place at first but I do now, for all kinds of reasons including Qal’at el-Rumiyeh in neighbouring Qley’at where they rear their own lambs to serve the best nayeh ever — the only better nayeh is up north in places like Ehden where they make it with goat meat. They also have the most amazing view as you can see from the picture above. And whenever I visit, my mother knows that lunch at Rumiyeh is the first thing I want to do. It was no different this time except that we were joined by my sister and her husband, a rare couple who are still mad about each other nearly 40 years, 3 children and 2 grandchildren later!
My Lebanese adventures, which I crammed into an incredibly short time, continue with another fabulous meal, this time centred around one of my favourite delicacies. Some of you will decry this post but as much as I would like to be caring for the environment, there are a few things I find hard to resist. Foie gras is one and the other is ‘assafir (tiny little birds called bec-figue in French because they feed on figs). The season is August/September when the figs are ripening and there is one particular restaurant in B’hamdun outside Beirut, Halim, that specialises in them to the point that it closes when the season is over (at least this is what my sister says). I have written about Halim before but this time the ‘assafir were truly superior, and this because I was lamenting the fact that no one served them with their heads on like they did in the past.
Just back from visiting my mother in Lebanon and because I hadn’t been for nearly two years, it was a rather nostalgic visit. I did things that I used to do when I lived there like going to the bakery to make manaqish for breakfast. It wasn’t any of the bakeries of my youth in west Beirut because my mother now lives in Balluneh in the mountains but I love Emile, her new baker, just as much as I loved our bakers in Hamra even if Emile doesn’t use firewood. His dough is wonderful though and people bring their own topping or filling (a very common practice in Lebanon) for him and his worker to shape and bake manaqish, fatayer and lahm bil-ajine.