It is nearly two years since I have been back in Lebanon and the first thing that struck me when I got home to my mother was how much better all the fruit tasted from that I buy in the Lebanese shops in London. I had asked my mother to buy me all that was in season and being the wonderful mother she is, she stocked up on custard apples, jujube, fresh dates and pistachios, khaki, pomegranates and peaches, all of which I adore and all of which I buy in London when they come into season. However, none taste as good there as they do here. Perhaps it is because of the long absence. Or more to the point, perhaps it is because of the time the fruit spend in transit. It could also be the quality. What is exported is possibly not as good as what is sold locally. All I can say is that I will make sure from now on that I go to Lebanon when my favourite fruit is in season. I missed the figs this year. My mother said something very interesting when I asked why she hadn’t bought any. Apparently, they turn sour as soon as it rains. The word in Arabic is ‘bi hammdo’. I never knew that and next year, I’ll be there before any rain spoils the figs!
Every now and then I go to a restaurant which I adore. It happened at Noma last summer and at Dabbous this winter. And yesterday, it happened again at Agapé Substance. A tiny space decorated with perfect taste including the most beautiful bouquets of strips of wood from Vacherin boxes. As for the cooking, it is meticulous without being prissy with fabulous ingredients and perfect seasoning. Some have described the chef, David Toutain, as a culinary genius and I have to say I totally agree. He is exceptionally talented and supremely creative. If you are visiting Paris, you have to eat there. I am only sorry we didn’t take my group on the culinary weekend with Francois Simon but we had an amazing degustation dinner at le Comptoir and another cooked by the great critic himself. So, we didn’t do too badly.
I have a wonderful Italian friend who always brings me delicious offerings when he returns from his travels. Sopressata from his wife’s village in the north of Italy or delicious salame from Milan but this last week, he came to dinner bearing the most wonderful slab of bresaola from Switzerland — in fact bresaola is from Italy’s Valtellina Valley while beyond the border it is called carne secca dei grigioni (grison’s dry meat). Anyhow, today I brought out one of my best knives to cut myself a few slices for lunch.
As most of you know by now, I love Iranian food, and I have been cooking it a lot recently. One of the dishes I discovered on my last trip to Iran is a Gilaki (from Gilan province) classic, a simple vegetarian dish cooked with beans, that are not unlike cannellini, and dill with eggs broken into the mixture at the very last minute just before serving. I make mine slightly differently, leaving it fresher and drier than they do in Iran because I don’t like to lose the definition of ingredients. When I sent my picture of the dish to my friend Nasrine, who I stay with when I am in Iran, she said it was more like art than food! Not so sure about that but it is beautiful, and delicious, and very easy to make.