Next month, I will start my stint as chef-in-residence at Leighton House as part of their Nour Festival. My first session will be about essential Middle Eastern ingredients and I can’t think of one that has gone more global than za’tar. Some of you may say pomegranate syrup, others labneh and others tahini. You may all be right up to a certain extent but I still think that za’tar is the one that is the best known and the most used by western chefs and foodies.
The last time I bought sheep’s tripe in London was fifteen years ago when I was testing recipes for The Fifth Quarter. It looked black and rather off-putting but I desperately needed some, so, I bought it. My mother, who was in London helping me, took one look at it and announced she couldn’t use it. It was just too dirty and would need too much scrubbing to clean up. So, we threw it away. And here I am today, giving tripe another try. I got the two stomachs in the picture from a wonderful Greek butcher up in Green Lanes. They are cleaner than those I bought so long ago but they are still pretty smelly and I have just spent half an hour cleaning them and stripping lining and fat off them — something we don’t need to do when we buy them from our butcher in Beirut. Tomorrow, I will finish cleaning them and will stuff them. I will post the recipe and pictures once I am done. So, stay tuned!
I have this theory that however cosmopolitan and well-travelled you are, you always go first to the dishes you liked as a child. At least this is my case and even now, nearly 40 years after I left the home country, I always want to eat one of my favourite Lebanese dishes, mehshi silq bil-zeyt (stuffed Swiss chard in olive oil in Arabic), as soon as I see Swiss chard in the shops. I normally get my mother to prepare it for me because it is very time-consuming but she is in Beirut. So, I decided to take the plunge and make myself some when I saw fabulously fresh Swiss chard at Zeina in Moscow Road where I shop for my Lebanese ingredients.
It must be my art background but I just love beauty. In everything. People, objects and of course food. And today I had a beautiful lunch. It doesn’t happen every day of course but my lovely friend Carole brought me the most beautiful eggs the other day, laid by her even more beautiful hens. So, I thought I would take out my Danish egg cups and my caviar spoons which I never use because caviar is sadly well out of my reach and I set the scene for a beautiful lunch. And so it was, and delicious too. Even the debris was pretty gorgeous!