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.
It all happened by chance. I was saying goodbye to a friend at my front door when Don & Yoko, my delightful neighbours, arrived with a friend of theirs, Noriko, who was staying in their flat. I didn’t know her but I loved her because she was so quiet. Don & Yoko introduced us saying that Noriko is an animation artist. I liked her even more — one of my heroes is Jan Svankmajer. We said hello and I went back in. But as I climbed the stairs up to my loft I thought it would be quite wonderful to have an animated cooking video instead of the more common filmed ones where the chef says and now you add this then stir that and so on. So, I asked Noriko if she would be interested in collaborating with me on doing a monthly animated cooking video, just like my belly dancer of the month! She liked the idea and here is the first one, of a recipe that I found on a postcard and which I love. I hope you will also like it, both the Berber hamburger and the animated video!
Compared to twenty years ago when I started writing about food when ingredients like frikeh (or freekeh) and argan oil were known to only a few westerners, there are now less and less secret ingredients, or indeed cuisines. You would think that with diners’ enthusiasm for global dishes and ingredients there isn’t much left for chefs or keen cooks to discover. But there is. And this is what we did last month at Books for Cooks, when I and Nadya Saleh from the National Museum of Qatar‘s Food Forum together with the delightful and very talented Aisha al-Tamimi introduced a keen audience to Qatari dishes they were totally unfamiliar with. The two cooking demonstrations were led by Aisha and were part of Nour Festival and Qatar UK, the latter being a collaboration between Qatar and the UK to exchange cultural and art events while the former is an initiative by the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to showcase Middle Eastern art and culture.