I am just back from California where I was hoping to go to the olive harvest but I never got the time. A few weeks earlier I was in Lebanon and I had intended to do the same down south but I was there too early. Thank goodness I went to Sicily in between, and in time for the olive harvest at Mary Taylor Simeti‘s beautiful farm near Palermo, Bosco Falconeria. Believe it or not it was my first ever olive harvest despite having grown up in Lebanon and Syria, both lands of the olive. Mary reckoned that the reason must have been that I was at school during olive harvest. She may well be right — we only went to Rechmaya where my uncle had his olive groves in the summer.
Very soon I will be going to California for WOF which theme this year is Arc of Flavors. I am looking forward to the conference of course but I also can’t wait to see my newly-engaged nephew and his fiancee and my niece and all my friends including lovely Amy, who as some of you may know, helped me cook my birthday party. I love cooking with Amy. Not only is she a marvellous chef (at Chez Panisse) but she is also a fabulous partner in the kitchen with the sweetest character and no ego in play; and she is very silent as she works — I am totally paranoid about noise. And to make things even better, Amy loves my Lebanese food as much as I love hers. So, when we saw the fresh borlotti beans at la Fromagerie, I told her about my mother’s fassulia (beans in arabic) bil-lahmeh (meat), and how she used to prepare it with pork skin in a tomato sauce. As luck would have it, I had received that morning wonderful pork belly from Packington Free Range farm. So, we decided to buy the beans to cook with the pork.
Yesterday, one of my readers asked about the Lebanese 7-spice mixture asking what it was made of and if I had a recipe. I remembered making it one year at WOF but for some reason I couldn’t find the recipe. So, I looked in some of my Lebanese books but I drew a blank. Then, I went online but most recipes included fenugreek which is a definite no no, so, I resorted to calling my mother in Lebanon. I knew she wouldn’t have a recipe – she would have given it to me otherwise for my Lebanese book where I only have a description of the mixture which varies from family to family and from one region to the other; the classic mix is made of ground black and white pepper, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and coriander. However, I also knew that she bought her spices at a great mat’haneh (a place where they grind spices as well as coffee and where they also sell pulses, and cheap drugs, grains and rice) near my uncle’s home in Achrafiyeh and I asked her to call them for the recipe. And being the best and most beautiful mother, she did. And for you Sam, here is the recipe which is slightly different from the one I describe in my book in that it has ginger!
Anissa: It has been quite a while since Charles Perry did a guest post here but following a discussion and various questions on twitter about fat tail, I thought I would turn to our chief historian of medieval Arab cookery and ask him to enlighten everyone! Here is what he sent me.
Charles: Europeans and Americans – and Australians, I’m sure – are always amazed when they see the huge tails of Middle Eastern sheep. One of the first to be amazed was Herodotus, who wrote in the 5th century BC that there was a breed in Asia Minor with a tail up to 18 inches wide and another with a tail four and a half feet long. The latter sort, he said, had to be supported by a little cart made for it by the shepherd.