Every time I visit Beirut, I have to have various dishes including ka’ket k’nafeh which is one of my favourite breakfasts, a luscious cheese pie drenched in sugar syrup then stuffed into a sesame galette the inside of which is also drenched in sugar syrup. An insanely delicious sweet sandwich that clocks in at more than a thousand calories a bite!
I have known salep all my life. I have had it in ice cream and in the eponymous winter drink which we used to buy on the street in Beirut after late nights out on the town, to have with croissants or ka’keh (sesame galette). Still, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I finally saw what salep looks like in its un-powdered form. I was walking through the bazaars of Safranbolu, in Turkey’s Black Sea region with my great friend, Nevin Halici, when I noticed lovely necklaces of dried translucent objects hanging outside several shops. I asked Nevin what they were and she said salep (dried orchis tubers that are ground into a fine powder which acts as a thickening agent). And inside the shop we entered, there was a very large jar of the salep in powdered form.
Here is a salad from Gaziantep that is very intriguing. I saw it being made at the home of Belgin, a wonderful cook, and a friend of my great friend Filiz who is an authority on the foods of Gaziantep. She introduced me to Belgin.
It starts out by looking like it’s going to be a normal salad, with beautifully chopped ingredients, arranged neatly in a tray as you can see above, waiting to be tossed together. But instead of mixing the ingredients lightly, Belgin kneads them together, and quite roughly towards the end until they are blended enough for her to shape the mixture into balls, which you can then pick up with your hand and bite into. Absolutely delicious but not quite a salad as I or you would understand it.
Only two weeks in London and already my travels seem very far away, with the only vivid memory being a big hole in my leg where I banged my shin against one of those posts designed not only to stop cars from parking, but also to make pedestrians trip over! Still, I had many wonderful and memorable moments during my months in the Middle East including one on the way to Apamea, in Syria when I spotted a group of farmers burning frikeh (green wheat).
The last time I had seen frikeh being burned in the fields was back in 1982 in Qalb Lozeh, one of the dead Byzantine cities near Aleppo. The only difference between then and now, was the setting: totally magical and ancient in Qalb Lozeh, and rather modern and charmless in Qal’at al Mudiq where we had stopped. The building where the farmers lived was modern and unfinished like many of the buildings in the Syrian countryside, and their farm equipment was scattered everywhere, bulky and rusty. The farmers were great though, dressed in a funny mix of traditional garb with modern accessories like the women’s hats, and very jolly and welcoming.