I am coming to the end of my Sicilian stay, and this year I managed to be there for orange blossom season even if I arrived at the tail end of the season. I had Amy come back to visit, and one of the first things we did was to go down to the citrus grove to pick enough blossom to make our jam. Most of the blossom had gone but there were still enough for us to pick to make our jam. And the fact that the blossom was nearing the end of its life made it easier to pick. All we had to do was to shake the branches for the petals to fall off the buds and into our basket. Well, not all the petals but at least half. Here below are pics of Amy reaching high up in the tree to get some really good blossom to add to those that fell off easily.
I don’t know if mehyawa (or mahyawa), a fermented fish sauce that has its origins in Iran and is used widely as a spread in the Arabian Gulf, will ever become a global ingredient but it deserves to be. Eaten on its own with bread (usually regag or tannur) or with other ingredients like the fried egg in the picture above, it could be considered an ‘umami bomb’. I can’t remember where I first tasted it but I am pretty sure it was at my wonderful friend, Maryam Abdallah. Maryam is a wonderful cook and the first ever Qatari TV chef. She is married to a Bahraini and gets her mehyawa from Bahrain. According to her and other friends, Bahrain is the place for mehyawa but I got mine from my wonderful friend, Sheikha Bodour al Qasimi, who has been (still is) my saviour whenever I needed to learn about Emirati cuisine. Also when I wrote my piece on camel hump for Lucky Peach when she gave me a whole baby camel! Anyhow, I was having an exchange with her sister Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi about mehyawa on Instagram where I rued the fact that I didn’t bring back any with me from Qatar (Maryam had offered to give me some but I worried about having a bottle of it in my luggage) and Hoor said she would arrange to send me some. Not long after Bodour’s driver was at my door with two huge jars of excellent home-made mehyawa.
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!
I am just back from Sicily where I intend to finish my days, that is if I find the right plot with gorgeous views that will not one day disappear if someone builds in front of me. Anyhow, the prospect of this happening is still some way off and until then, I have the ideal spot where I can live the life I eventually intend for myself, a delightful casetta with the most amazing views on Mary Taylor Simeti‘s organic farm — those who follow me on instagram will have recently seen my daily pictures of stunning sunrise and sunset. It was tenerumi season when I was there and as Mary was describing the pasta she makes with them, I asked her if she would make me some and her being the most wonderful friend, she agreed. We went into the fields to pick some. To be more accurate it was Mary who did the picking. I am hopeless at these things. Too urban I guess. Anyway, tenerumi are the green leaves of the Sicilian cucuzza, a kind of courgettes or a gourd or a squash depending on who translates it — I am almost certain it is the same as Lebanese qara’, which is also in season now and which we pick young and stuff like courgettes and aubergines and finish with a lemony ‘pesto’ made with garlic, dried mint and lemon juice. Mary picked the tenerumi young and tender with some having baby cucuzza attached to them to add a little more texture to the sauce. Here she is below picking what we need for the pasta then showing me her harvest.