I am just back from Beirut where I saw my beautiful mother and of course every time I visit her, I ask her to cook something delicious for me. This time I was modest in my request and asked for mujaddara, a simple lentils, onions and rice dish that is a staple of Lebanese Christians during Lent and once also a staple on spring cleaning days when the lady of the house put the lentils to cook while she and her maid/s beat the dust out of the carpets before putting them away, washed the floors and generally did a deep clean everywhere preparing the house for the summer months. I still remember the beating of the carpets although I don’t remember the mujaddara — mujaddara is the mushy version, almost like a dip while mudardarah is the dry version, a little like risotto although not at all wet – on those days! Anyhow, my mother now whizzes the lentils, rice and onions with a hand blender but in the old days she cooked them down to a mush over a low heat. And my mother being a totally wonderful woman, she obliged my whim and prepared mujaddara for me and as you see from the picture of the ingredients above it couldn’t be more frugal as a dish.
I don’t normally like contemporary belly dancers but my ‘cousin’ Saida is an exception. She has the most perfect body for her profession, full without being plump and without any skin pleats or love handles. Just smooth curves. And she moves her body beautifully and sexily without any hint of vulgarity. I also love the costume she is wearing in this clip with the high slit on one side revealing her perfect hips. All in all a delight to watch. One day I will find out if she really is my cousin!
Yesterday I was taken to buy saffron by my wonderful friend, Maryam Abdallah, Qatar’s first TV chef and a wonderful cook and educator. On the way, she gave me a wonderful tip on how to make sure I am buying real saffron which I thought I would pass on. Now, you probably don’t need to know this if you are buying saffron pre-packed by the gram but you better know it if you are going to buy saffron in industrial quantities the way they do in the souk. It’s very simple. All you need to do is ask the vendor for 3 or 4 threads of saffron which you put on your tongue and suck on for a few seconds. You then spit the threads out onto a clean tissue and rub them inside the tissue. If they colour it yellow, you know you are buying real saffron. If they colour it red, you are being sold coloured threads that have nothing to do with saffron. I wish my friend who recently brought me tons of saffron from Morocco knew this because he would have avoided buying a whole lot of fake saffron with only a few real threads in between for the smell! The top picture is of how they sell saffron here in Qatar, bunched up in ‘bouquets’ of 10 grams and below is a picture of my test to make sure I was not being sold fake saffron!
Yesterday, my great friend Reda sent me a clip of a belly dancer for my monthly feature all the way from Beirut. It was actually his father who had suggested her and even though she is pretty terrific, I felt she was a little vulgar for here. So, I trawled youtube looking for a more sober one but instead I came across a chorus of of mermaids belly dancing on the beach and luring men to their death with the sound of a derbakeh (or drum). The whole set up is preposterous and the dancers are not even that great; and if anything more vulgar than the one I spurned. Nevertheless, there is something irresistible about them in that seaside setting. Perhaps it is to do with my Sicilian plans that I warmed to them, or perhaps it is to do with the oncoming spring. Anyhow, I decided to go for them as my belly dancers for this month and I hope you will warm to this rather surreal choice as much as I have!