No visit to Lebanon, for me or for anyone elese for that matter, is complete without at least one manqousheh (or manousheh as they say it; most Lebanese people drop the q when they speak), the quintessential Lebanese breakfast. Most people will only eat manaqish (plural of manqousheh) made with their own za’tar and olive oil which they mix at home before taking it to their local baker for him to use with his dough (which by the way is the same as that for pita bread unless you are in the south but this is for another post) to make the manaqish, which are basically pizzas. The most common topping is za’tar but you can also have them topped with cheese or with cheese and za’tar or with kishk (a mixture of burghul and yoghurt that is first fermented then dried then ground very fine). The kishk is normally mixed with diced tomatoes, walnuts, sesame seeds and olive oil. These are the classic toppings but as with pizza you can use any topping you want.
I didn’t cook much when I lived in Paris, preferring to go out to restaurants or friends but I loved going to the market. Like in Beirut where I grew up, most of the produce was seasonal and it all looked gorgeous. Sadly, there are few places in London where I love to shop in the same way: La Fromagerie, Pimlico Road farmers’ market and Leila’s Shop which fortunately is closer to home and where I bought this gorgeous radicchio the other day for my lunch. I am not sure why I don’t go back to my old habits of shopping daily, walking over there every morning to buy my lunch. I think I will make it my new resolution for this spring if it ever arrives. Shame I don’t also have a butcher and fishmonger nearby. Or just a farmers market!
I am just back from California where I was hoping to go to the olive harvest but I never got the time. A few weeks earlier I was in Lebanon and I had intended to do the same down south but I was there too early. Thank goodness I went to Sicily in between, and in time for the olive harvest at Mary Taylor Simeti‘s beautiful farm near Palermo, Bosco Falconeria. Believe it or not it was my first ever olive harvest despite having grown up in Lebanon and Syria, both lands of the olive. Mary reckoned that the reason must have been that I was at school during olive harvest. She may well be right — we only went to Rechmaya where my uncle had his olive groves in the summer.
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.