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5
May

palermo-pani ca meusa-porta carbone copy

As some of you know, I have written a whole book on Mediterranean street food and while researching it, I tasted almost all there is to taste on the streets of Spain, Italy, Morocco, Turkey and Egypt to name a few of the countries I covered. Most of what I tasted was great. Sometimes delicious and fun and sometimes more fun than delicious. But there were a few specialities I did not take to. In particular pani ca meusa, a greasy sicilian spleen sandwich. Nancy Harmon Jenkins who is one of the great writers on Mediterranean food and a friend couldn’t undrestand my repulsion but as much as I love spleen (my mother makes a divine braised version that I will blog one day that I am with her in Lebanon), I couldn’t see the point of this sandwich. Well, not until another great friend, Mary on whose farm we were staying, sent us to Porta Carbona where not only did I finally discover that a greasy spleen sandwich could be absolutely scrumptious but I was also able to convert Amy to it.

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19
Jun

shawarma-meat cooking copy

The best shawarma I have ever had was at Siddiq in Damascus. Unlike most other shawarma places, they grill theirs over charcoal. Also their marinade is exceptional. Sadly, it’s unlikely I will be going back to Damascus any time soon. And even when I do, who knows if Siddiq will still be there. So, if I feel like having shawarma these days I make my own. Obviously not the way they make it at Siddiq or even elsewhere – ie. by layering the meat onto a large skewer which is then put to rotate in front of a vertical grill – but the way my Lebanese butcher in London taught me: by slicing the meat into long thin slivers and marinating it before sauteing it quickly over a medium-high heat. He slices the meat very thinly but I prefer thicker strips so that it stays pink.

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31
Jan

When I did my recent post on labneh, I knew that it was well on its way to becoming a global ingredient. What I I didn’t expect was the level of interest the post would generate. It wasn’t so much the comments rather than the questions that I got from various people, including from my new best friend,  young Mehran Gharleghi, a very talented young architect. Mehran was curious about labneh. He wanted to learn how to make it, and how to make the ‘bride’ which I had described in my post. So, I proposed a deal: I’d teach him how to make the ‘bride’ if he’d take the pictures for a post. He liked the deal and we arranged a time for him to come over. And as you will see from his photographs, he is also a talented photographer.

So, here is, in pictures, how to make your very own labneh ‘bride’.

First the mise en place. You will need markouk bread, labneh, very good olive oil (mine comes from Mary Taylor Simeti‘s farm and it is fabulous), sea salt, nice olives (I like to use both green & black which I buy from my favourite Lebanese shop, Zen), and fresh mint; as well as trimmed spring onion and Persian cucumbers to serve with the ‘bride’.

'aruss-ingredients

The first step is to open up the bread and fold it in half. It is too thin to use in one layer.

'aruss-folding bread 'aruss-folding bread 4

Then, put 3-4 tablespoons labneh in the middle of the bread. Season it with salt, drizzle a little olive oil and mix well — like my mother, I use a piece of bread from the thick edge to do this.

'aruss-labneh on bread 'aruss-salt on labneh

'aruss-oil on labneh

Then, spread the labneh all over the bread.

'aruss-spreading labneh 5 'aruss-spreading labneh

'aruss-spreading labneh 4 'aruss-spreading labneh 2

Quickly pit the olives (you can also do this beforehand) and arrange them in a single or double line down the middle — single line if you want your ‘bride’  thin, or double line if you like it wide and flat. À chacun son goût as they say. I normally do a double line for more olives and I arrange the mint leaves in between.

'aruss-pitting olives 'aruss-lining olives

'aruss-olives 'aruss-olives & mint

Now you are ready to roll your ‘bride’. My mother rolled it without folding the ends, leaving it to me to make sure that I didn’t let any labneh or olives slip out of the bottom. I prefer to fold a little of the bread both at the top and bottom over the olives to encase them. I also cut off and discard any thick edges on the sides — the markouk I buy in London is not as uniformly thin as the markouk I get in Beirut. Then, pick up one side of the bread and flap it over the olives and mint and roll the ‘bride’.

'aruss-folding 'aruss-rolling

Cut in two halves, on the slant, for a nice presentation, and transfer onto a plate. Garnish with a few sprigs of mint and a couple of trimmed spring onion. Et voila, your very own labneh ‘bride’ which you can vary on by replacing the labneh with an olive oil potato mash flavoured with chopped basil or onion, or feta cheese and mint or whatever takes your fancy.

'aruss-on the plate

'aruss-finished 3

And as you can see, Mehran is very happy with his ‘bride’. I sent him off with a packet of markouk, olives and mint to make his own back home but he didn’t think his was up to scratch. He hadn’t made his own labneh with goat’s yoghurt, and he didn’t have any of Mary’s oil. Now he has both.

'aruss-mehran likes this copy