5
Mar

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I was on my way to the Iranian embassy in Bir Hassan, a funny area of Beirut where luxurious towers are built right next to hovels. Well, perhaps not quite next door but a street or two away, and I have to admit that I almost prefer the downmarket areas. They remind me of my life in Beirut before the war, when the city was not so over-developped and when street vendors pushed their carts, piled with seasonal produce, through the smartest and poorest quartiers alike,  shouting at the top of their lungs: “yalla ‘a batikh’ (come and get watermelons) or yalla ‘a kussa (come and get courgettes) and so on. Their calls changed with the seasons and my siblings and I could almost guess, from listening to them, what my mother would cook that day.

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1
Mar

As you know, I am pretty familiar with camel meat but when I recently posted a link on facebook to an article on camel burgers in Dubai, my lovely friend Charles Perry (who is the leading expert on medieval Arab cookery) left a comment about a recipe he had for camel hump. I had seen the hump for sale at my camel butcher in Aleppo but I had never seen a recipe for it. So, I asked Charles for his. Sadly, he couldn’t find it — it had gotten lost between computers — but as usual, he sent me lots of information and other recipes; and I thought it would be great to have him do a post here about how camel meat was used in medieval times. Here is his post with some photographs that I shot in the souks of Aleppo.

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Charles Perry: Last May, Anissa blogged about visiting a camel butcher in Damascus and making camel kebabs. That was a new one on me – I’d only heard of camel being cooked in elaborate stews. It’s how they cooked camel in the Middle Ages.

Camel meat was reasonably popular back then, popular enough for doctors to gravely warn against eating too much of it (in the manner of doctors throughout the ages). They held it to be “heating” and to “engender thick blood,” and declared it suitable only “for those who do exhausting labor.” Or suffer from “hot stomach” and diarrhea, oddly. Read more >


20
Feb

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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.

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31
Jan

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’.

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The first step is to open up the bread and fold it in half. It is too thin to use in one layer.

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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.

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'aruss-oil on labneh

Then, spread the labneh all over the bread.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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