April/May is probably the nicest time to be in the Middle East. Not only because of the weather which is just fabulous (sunny and not too hot) but also because of the profusion of seasonal produce. I was in Tehran recently and the produce I saw in the different markets I went to was simply amazing. Our farmers markets don’t even come close. Here are a couple of pictures of the first white mulberries of the season for sale in Tajrish market. I bought half a kilo but I have to say they were not so sweet. Still too early in the season. However, when they are good, they are simply amazing. I can never decide which I like better: the white or the red ones. I guess both are fabulous. And recently, when I was in the Emirates, I found really long red mulberries but I am not sure if those are still called mulberries. Perhaps you can help. Should have taken a picture but I was filming and didn’t get the opportunity.
I hear the weather is rather sad in Europe. Cold and wet in Paris, the same in London and just as cold in Milan. I can’t say that I am loving Dubai but at least it is summer here, with a lot of fresh produce and herbs piled in the markets including purslane (baqleh in Arabic), one of my favourite herbs.
Despite the trend towards global ingredients, purslane remains little known in the west. Perhaps because it is fragile. The leaves bruise easily and you need to be careful handling it. I don’t normally wash it. Instead, I just wipe off any earth delicately with kitchen paper. And I have to admit that I very rarely buy it in London looking as fresh as it does in the pictures above and below. And I certainly cannot pick up as much of it as I want and just stuff it in a bag, as in the display here. Middle Eastern shops have the herb neatly bunched up and I often have to discard part of the bunch because the stalks are too tightly packed resulting in some of the leaves ending up spoiled.
It’s green almonds season again. In full flow now but they were really expensive at the beginning — I paid $7 for 200 g about a month ago in Beirut which is a large amount of money for so little. Fortunately, when I went to Damascus a couple of weeks later, they were more plentiful and cheaper of course, and a lot larger too.
I had some friends over for a Lebanese dinner last night and as usual, I went to Zen on Moscow Road to do my shopping. It’s my favourite Lebanese shop in London, owned and run by three charming brothers who are incredibly friendly and attentive. It is very rare that I have to wait to get served there but this time it was different. There was a lady there, wearing the most impossibly high heels with mid-calf white leggings. She seemed to be a regular client and a flashy one at that judging by her fancy mercedes parked in front of the shop (as if her clothes did not give that away), and she was happily chatting away to Mario, the younger brother, while filling a large bag with fresh pistachios — the season is just starting. I kept making faces at him behind her back, not only to see if he could rush her but also to stop her from taking all the pistachios but she was going on and on, and Mario was too polite to say anything. I thought she would never stop. She did eventually and thankfully, she left some pistachios which I pounced on before someone else did.
She paid and got into her mercedes, and I finished my shopping and went back home, tucking into my fresh pistachios on the tube, leaving some for my guests of course. They were all curious about them, having never seen fresh pistachios before and naturally, they loved them. Apart from being great just as a snack or with drinks, they are also lovely added to a fruit compote or a fruit salad. The only problem with the latter is that if you are greedy like me, you won’t be able to stop eating them while shelling them. Totally irresistible.