Here I am, holed up in my lofty eyrie, trying to concentrate on writing my book and staying warm — it’s freezing out there; we even had a mini snow storm last night which started just as I was leaving a lovely Xmas party in all my Eskandar finery. Not quite the weather to dress up so smartly.
In any case, as I was looking through my stash of Syrian photographs, deciding on which to choose, when I came across the video above. Watching it brought back memories of warm sunshine and the laughter we shared as we tried to decide which of the gadgets the guy was demonstrating worked. I decided on the courgette/zucchini corer although I haven’t tried it yet. I am not holding out much hope that I will be able to use it as adeptly as the vendor. Still, I wish I had bought a dozen to give away for Xmas .
Sadly, I didn’t but I would still like to wish you all a Happy Xmas, and please don’t forget to bid on the wonderful items that have been donated for Menu for Hope 6. See my contribution in the post below. Also, please go to the various links to bid on more prizes. Stellar offerings from all over.
I am delighted to be taking part for the first time in Menu for Hope 6, where you can make an online bid in an effort to raise money for the United Nations World Programme’s Purchase for Progress program, which assists low-income farmers to raise crops and support their local economies.
This is our sixth year raising money and in the past, donations have topped $92,000. With your help, in 2009, let’s take it over that mark!
There are some truly amazing prizes, gathered from across Europe and the UK, including French and Italian chocolates shipped right to your door, cookbooks, a shiny-new standing mixer, and for those of you visiting Europe this year, or living here, you’ll find wine tastings and culinary tours…and tons more! Please go to David Lebovitz for more information on these prize and to Chez Pim for US and other prizes.
For a donation of just $10 per entry, you’ll have a chance to win fabulous bid items from all over the world. You can make as many donations as you wish; the more you enter, the more chances you’ll have of winning. Here is my contribution:
A Cookbook Collection and London Cooking Class
I am offering a cooking class for 2 in London, and I will also give signed copies of some of my books: The Fifth Quarter about using offal, a first edition of Mediterranean Street Food (as well as a paperback copy), and a copy of the hardback of Modern Mezze, with recipes for irresistible appetizers. Cooking class must be taken before December 1, 2010 and take place at a mutually-agreed upon date. If you’re unable to take the class, please contact me for information on getting the books shipped to anywhere in Europe.
Bid item code: EU27
1. Choose a bid item or bid items of your choice from our Menu for Hope main bid item list, when it’s posted.
2. Go to the donation site at Firstgiving and make a donation.
3. Please specify which bid item you’d like in the ‘Personal Message’ section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per bid item, and please use the bid item code.
Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a bid item of your choice. For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02 – 2xEU01, 3xEU02.
4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.
5. Please check the box to allow us to see your e-mail address so that we can contact you in case you win. Your e-mail address will not be shared with anyone.
And please pass this post along to friends and others via links on your blog and via social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook. You can use the Share This button below.
A couple of months ago, I wrote about Lena’s kibbeh and I gave a recipe for the kibbeh itself, and just described how Lena made the stuffing — Lena does not give out recipes, not because she is not willing to share (she is extremely generous) but because she doesn’t believe in them. Then, a reader posted a comment asking for the onion and meat filling which I had mentioned. I was about to post it as an addition, then I thought that instead of posting it alone, I would do a full post on kibbeh bil-saniyeh which I have been making often recently — it’s been my dinner party mainstay for the last few months.
There are a hundred and one way of preparing kibbeh. Possibly more. I could write a whole book about kibbeh alone. How to make it into balls and either grill or fry these or cook them in yoghurt, or in a sauce made with tahini and seville orange juice, or in sumac juice, or cook them with quince in fresh pomegranate juice. Or how to shape the kibbe into disks which are then filled with spiced tailfat or with labneh (strained yoghurt) and coriander. Or how to make kibbeh into a pie (bil-saniyeh) as in the recipe I give at the end of this post. In fact, I could give many more examples of how to shape and prepare this highly seasoned mixture of minced lamb (and don’t let anyone convince you that it is nicer with beef or veal), burghul and onion. But I won’t. I will just show you how to make kibbeh bil-saniyeh.
Janet and Doug took care of the shopping too, and more importantly, they took care of grinding the meat for the kibbeh, very fine and very lean for the kibbeh itself and slightly coarser for the stuffing.
So, we got to work. I was in charge of making the kibbeh, Janet of making the pumpkin dip which I had learned from my friend Reem Kelani, the wonderful Palestinian singer (you can read about my cooking with her here and see a lovely picture of the dip) while Aglaia was in charge of making the Swiss Chard fatayer, helped by the “Pastry Princess”, Lissa Doumani — we were at her father’s (Carl) wonderful house where he lives with lovely Pam Hunter.
I started by making the stuffing, then mixed the kibbeh, then set about making the pie, trying to spread the kibbeh as thinly as possible, something I learned from my mother and grandmother while Lissa and Carl make it thicker in their family. We couldn’t find a round baking dish which is the traditional shape so we settled on the rectangular dish below. I spread the bottom layer, covered it with the stuffing and then set about covering the stuffing with another layer of kibbeh. The top layer is a little trickier, it being laid over the textured stuffing.
It is always best to start in one corner and to slightly overlap the layers of kibbeh so that you don’t have cracks at the end. And you need to make sure you have even layers of both kibbeh and stuffing.
You also need to wet your hands in a little salted water every now and then to make it easier to work the meat mixture. You can see how thinly the kibbeh needs to be in the first picture. And once you finish making the pie, you need to decorate it. My decoration is rather intricate, with each quarter cut in a different, rather tight pattern while Lissa’s and Carl’s family decorate the pie with lozenges all over. Not bad but not as pretty as my handiwork, if I may say so myself. And once the kibbeh is out of the oven, it is a good idea to let it rest for a few minutes before cutting it so that it doesn’t fall apart.
My London butcher is used now to my eccentric request for a leg of lamb, which he has to bone, skin, defat and, the ultimate crime, put through a fine mincer. If there are other customers waiting, I have to first apologize for monopolising the butcher’s time, then I feel compelled to explain that the meat is not being misused but on the contrary prepared for one of our most renowned national dishes. Serves 4 to 6
for the stuffing
60 g (2 oz) unsalted butter
60 g (2 oz) pine nuts
500 g (1 lb 1 oz) large onions, finely chopped
200 g (7 oz) lean minced lamb 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
for the kibbeh
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
500 g (1 lb 1 oz) lamb from the leg, boned, skinned and defatted
200 g (7 oz) fine burghul
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
small bowl of lightly salted water
Spread the pine nuts on a non-stick baking sheet and toast in a hot oven for 5 minutes, or until golden brown.
Fry the chopped onion in the butter, until soft and transparent. Add the minced meat and cook – mashing and stirring it with a wooden spoon or fork to separate the meat and stop it from forming lumps – until it loses all traces of pink. Take off the heat, season with cinnamon, allspice, pepper and salt to taste. Stir in the pine nuts. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Put the lamb through a fine mincer. You can mince the meat in a blender but you have to be careful not to process it too much. If you do, it will become too smooth and not only lose texture but also be more difficult to shape, especially when you are making kibbeh balls. Before you mince the meat in a blender, cut off and discard as many white chewy ligaments as you can – the blender’s blade will not break these as well as that of the mincer – then drag a serrated knife through the minced meat to catch the last bits of ligament. Wipe the ligaments off the blade and drag the knife through the meat a few more times until you stop picking up sizeable pieces of ligament.
Put the quartered onion in a blender and process until very finely chopped. Add the minced meat, cinnamon, allspice, pepper and salt to taste and blend together until smooth. If your blender is not big enough to take the onion and meat in one go, process them in two equal batches. Prepare a bowl of lightly salted water and have it at hand before putting the meat in a mixing bowl.
Wash the burghul in two or three changes of cold water, drain well and add to the meat. Mix together with your hand, dipping your hand every now and then in the salted water to moisten both your hand and the kibbeh, also adding a little water to the kibbeh to soften it. Knead until you have a smooth mixture, about 3 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Grease a deep baking dish about 30 x 20 cm and 5 cm deep (12 inch x 8 inch and 2 inch deep) with a knob of butter and preheat the oven to 200º C/400º F.
Divide the kibbeh into two equal parts. Moisten your hands in the salted water and pinch off a handful of kibbeh from one piece. Flatten it between your palms, to a thickness of about 1 cm (1/2 inch) and place it on the bottom of the baking dish starting from one edge. Smooth it down evenly with your fingers. Pinch off another handful from the same piece, flatten and lay next to the first piece, slightly overlapping it. Dip your fingers in water and smooth the pieces together until the joint disappears – make sure you connect the kibbeh pieces well together so that they do not come apart during cooking. Continue the above process until you have finished the first half of kibbeh and covered the bottom of the pan. Then go over the whole layer with moistened fingers to even it out.
Spread the stuffing evenly over the layer of kibbeh and lay the other half of kibbeh over the stuffing in the same way as above. You might find the top layer slightly more difficult to do as you will be laying the kibbeh over the loose stuffing instead of the smooth surface of the baking dish but you will soon get the hang of it.
Cut the pie into quarters, then with a knife make shallow incisions to draw a geometric pattern across the top of each quarter (see photos). The decoration work is time consuming and can be omitted without affecting the taste, although the presentation will lose its attractive traditional look. After you finish decorating the pie make a hole in the middle with your finger, put a knob of butter over the hole and one over each quarter. Insert a round pointed knife between the edge of the pie and the side of the pan and slide it all along the pie to detach the meat from the sides.
©anissa helou from Lebanese Cuisine
So, my trip to the US has come to an end. I am happy to be home although I am already missing the sunshine of the Bay Area and LA and the bustling streets of NYC. It has been a great trip. The World of Flavors conference was wonderful, my road trip to LA divine and my innumerable meals in restaurants and at friends totally delicious, except for one or two disappointments, including a dinner at Saison which I was looking forward to but it failed to live up to expectations. Still, one or two indifferent meals out of more than 30 (the other was at Tacubaya) is a low percentage. And to cap a very successful trip, I discovered a new foodstuff.
Shortly after WOF, I went back up to Napa to hang out with my wonderful friend Toni Sagakuchi who teaches at the CIA and as I sat in her drawing room, I became fascinated by what I thought was a decorative installation. Lots of funny, dark wrinkly objects hanging indvidually next to each other on a rack — the picture below is of another installation made by her charming husband, Chad, at the Hess winery where he is the chef.
Toni is originally Japanese and the installation had a Japanesy feel to it although it didn’t quite look inanimate, not that the objects were moving but they didn’t look plastic either. I kept looking at them wondering what they were until it hit me that they were edible, hung there to dry. And as I looked more closely, I realised they were persimmons or khaki as they are known both in Japan and in Lebanon. We were in full khaki season and I had also been eating them both in Lebanon and Syria (where they serve them in restaurants with clotted cream at the end of the meal).
Here is a shot of a friend’s harvest in Ain Zhalta in the Lebanese mountains and even though the khakis in the pictures go mushy, they are not the ones that are dried.
Only the Hachiya persimmons (with a pointed end) in the picture below, taken at the farmers market in Oakland, are dried.
By then, I was very intrigued. I had never seen dried persimmons before, nor had tasted them. So, I asked Toni to tell me about them and she said that she had learned how to dry them from her Japanese parents — drying persimmons is a typical Japanese tradition and the process is delicate and long; each fruit has to be tied and hung individually, and then gently massaged every day. And all the fruit she had hanging in her drawing room had come from a tree in her garden.
At a subsequent dinner with Harold McGee, he told me more about them and sent me this useful link explaining all about the method http://ceplacer.ucdavis.edu/Eat_Local,_Start_Now/Hoshigaki.htm
Toni then gave me some to taste (and some to take away), and it is incredible how flavourful the dried fruit is, and what a lovely texture it has. I am now waiting for the fruit to be covered by a white sugary powder which is the last stage.
Later in my trip, I was served this exquisite khaki at the end of my meal at Urasawa. Sadly, I was not able to discuss drying them with Hiro, the fabulous chef/owner. The counter was full and it was getting late. It didn’t matter really. What mattered was that the fruit was served at its most perfect stage of ripeness. Not too mushy for it to start losing its flavour, nor under ripe which would have made it dry on the tongue. In fact, my whole dinner at Urasawa was perfect except for the deeply embarassing moment when my card was declined, and not because of lack of funds, just because my banker had decided in all his wisdom to switch these to a fixed deposit account!!