I have a love/hate relationship with Beirut. I hate the traffic and how people drive. I hate all the towers sprouting right against the lovely old Ottoman houses or worse, going up where they once stood. And I hate the general feeling of lawlessness. Not that the city is dangerous. Far from it. Just completely unregulated. On the other hand, I love the sea and the fact that even in February, you can sit in a cafe or restaurant right by the water and not even feel a tinge of cold. But above all, I love Hanna and his sensational ice cream.
how to make your own edible ‘bride’, or should i say ‘aruss, which means both bride and sandwich in arabic
When I did my recent post on labneh, I knew that it was well on its way to becoming a global ingredient. What I I didn’t expect was the level of interest the post would generate. It wasn’t so much the comments rather than the questions that I got from various people, including from my new best friend, young Mehran Gharleghi, a very talented young architect. Mehran was curious about labneh. He wanted to learn how to make it, and how to make the ‘bride’ which I had described in my post. So, I proposed a deal: I’d teach him how to make the ‘bride’ if he’d take the pictures for a post. He liked the deal and we arranged a time for him to come over. And as you will see from his photographs, he is also a talented photographer.
So, here is, in pictures, how to make your very own labneh ‘bride’.
First the mise en place. You will need markouk bread, labneh, very good olive oil (mine comes from Mary Taylor Simeti‘s farm and it is fabulous), sea salt, nice olives (I like to use both green & black which I buy from my favourite Lebanese shop, Zen), and fresh mint; as well as trimmed spring onion and Persian cucumbers to serve with the ‘bride’.
The first step is to open up the bread and fold it in half. It is too thin to use in one layer.
Then, put 3-4 tablespoons labneh in the middle of the bread. Season it with salt, drizzle a little olive oil and mix well — like my mother, I use a piece of bread from the thick edge to do this.
Then, spread the labneh all over the bread.
Quickly pit the olives (you can also do this beforehand) and arrange them in a single or double line down the middle — single line if you want your ‘bride’ thin, or double line if you like it wide and flat. À chacun son goût as they say. I normally do a double line for more olives and I arrange the mint leaves in between.
Now you are ready to roll your ‘bride’. My mother rolled it without folding the ends, leaving it to me to make sure that I didn’t let any labneh or olives slip out of the bottom. I prefer to fold a little of the bread both at the top and bottom over the olives to encase them. I also cut off and discard any thick edges on the sides — the markouk I buy in London is not as uniformly thin as the markouk I get in Beirut. Then, pick up one side of the bread and flap it over the olives and mint and roll the ‘bride’.
Cut in two halves, on the slant, for a nice presentation, and transfer onto a plate. Garnish with a few sprigs of mint and a couple of trimmed spring onion. Et voila, your very own labneh ‘bride’ which you can vary on by replacing the labneh with an olive oil potato mash flavoured with chopped basil or onion, or feta cheese and mint or whatever takes your fancy.
And as you can see, Mehran is very happy with his ‘bride’. I sent him off with a packet of markouk, olives and mint to make his own back home but he didn’t think his was up to scratch. He hadn’t made his own labneh with goat’s yoghurt, and he didn’t have any of Mary’s oil. Now he has both.
I have always liked eating, from when I was a chubby little child, but I never carried food with me on my travels, that is not until I started writing about it. From that day on, I travelled like a peasant, stuffing spices and countless other ingredients into an extra bag that I carried empty with me to fill with my culinary purchases.
But on a recent trip to Paris, I decided to travel light and I took only one small bag, forgetting how irresistible Paris is, both for food and for clothes shopping; and of course, I stocked up at Yamamoto (my favourite designer) and at Desnoyer, the best butcher in Paris, who luckily was round the corner from where I was staying. Y obligingly provided me with a bag, although a simpler one than I would have expected, while Desnoyer suggested I get myself a sac isolant (with insulation) from Picard, the French Iceland, to protect my foies gras, boudin and faux filet until I got home. Two very different bags, not to mention the contents, that surprisingly looked quite harmonious next to each other.
The one thing that I would have loved to bring back, however, although I didn’t dare were sea urchins but I made sure I ate plenty while there, January being high season for urchins; and this I did thanks to my lovely friend Anne-Marie who you can see below in my old kitchen (the postcard picture of Anne-Marie was taken by June Newton).
The first night, we had them at her house and they were fabulous: very fleshy, and very fresh. Then we had them at the Bar à Huitres where Anne-Marie and I met the next day for a late lunch. The urchins there were just as good as those she had bought in the market although she had prepared them better, getting rid of all the liquid inside which they didn’t do at the Bar. I am now thinking of when I can go back to Paris before the season is over. And to think that I used to hate urchins when I lived in Beirut and could eat them on the beach straight out of the sea!
I thought I would post a picture of how the labneh looks once the yoghurt is strained. Also to say that there is less liquid lost with St Helen’s goat’s yoghurt: 1 kg yoghurt yielded 950 g labneh. And finally to say that I have adjusted the recipe for kishkeh in the previous post. I had suggested too much burghul. In fact, you only need 2 tablespoons fine burghul for 300 g labneh.