I have recently moved to Sicily in search of sunshine and a place that reminds me of home (Lebanon & Syria) but where I do not have to worry about ISIS! I am being facetious of course but Italy seems a safer bet than the Middle East these days and the great thing about Sicily, apart from the fact that it is very beautiful with lovely people and lovely food, is that the produce is just amazing, and pretty much the same as what I was brought up on, seasonal and supremely flavourful. So, I am now ensconced in Trapani which I like to compare to Beirut but cleaner and better organised, until that is my house is built, and not far from where I live is the mercato dei contadini, ie. farmers market that happens every Saturday; and this last Saturday one of the farmers had the most amazing cicoria or hindbeh that took me straight back to my mother and Jamil, my wonderful driver in Beirut who sadly is no longer with us, who used to bring my mother the most amazing bunches of freshly picked hindbeh which she would then cook in olive oil. And even though my fractured toes are still not completely recovered, I bought some to make myself some hindbeh following my mother’s recipe.
I was a little too ambitious and bought too much but how could I resist such amazingly fresh produce. So, I trimmed the bottoms and chopped the cicoria in 5 cm pieces. It looks like a lot but once boiled, it reduces quite a bit although not as much as spinach.
Here is the chopped hindbeh ready to be washed. It wasn’t particularly dirty and one bath was enough.
And here it is cooked. It is important to dunk the cooked and drained hindbeh in iced or cold water so that it stops cooking and keeps its deep green colour. My mother told me to keep the stalks because they are the best part but I think I could have trimmed a little more than I did, if only for a better presentation.
While the hindbeh was cooking, I got working on the onions. Normally I would use yellow onions but these red onions looked so beautiful at the market that I decided to buy them. They looked beautiful whole and they look beautiful sliced.
Here is the cooked hindbeh squeezed dry of most of the cooking liquid. After you do this you need to loosen the leaves so that they mix well with the fried onion and olive oil.
And here are the onions colouring slowly. It is important you fry them at a medium low heat so that they cook through and colour at the same time. The danger comes at the end, when they start to turn brown. You need to judge the colour right and remove them when they turn golden brown and before they become burned brown! Once the onions have coloured and crisped up, remove three quarters into a strainer or onto several layers of kitchen paper. Then add the hindbeh to the pan and saute it with the remaining onions and olive oil. And there you have it, a perfect summer dish to have as part of a mezze spread, or simply to serve for a simple lunch like I did. I skipped the rose because I was working but it would be a perfect accompaniment otherwise. And you need to of course serve pita bread with it, which sadly I can’t find here. I guess I have to make my own. Anyhow, here is the recipe in case you find some cicoria at the farmers market!
Italian Dandelion in Olive Oil
2 pounds 2 ounces/1 kg Italian dandelion (known as cicoria)
1/2 cup/125 ml extra virgin olive oil
4 medium onion (about 14 oz/400 g), cut in half and thinly sliced in wedges
lemon wedges for garnish
Wash and drain the Italian dandelion. Trim the bottoms of the stalks and cut into pieces, about 2 1/2 inches/6 cm long. Fill a large pan with water and place over medium-high heat. Bring to the boil. Add salt to taste then add the dandelion – I like to add enough salt so that I don’t need to salt the dandelion after. Bring back to the boil and cook for 5 minutes. Drain the dandelion and dunk in iced water.
Put the olive oil and onion in a large frying pan and place over medium heat. Fry, stirring occasionally, until the onion turn a rich golden brown, without letting them burn. Remove three quarters of the onion with a slotted spoon and put to drain in a strainer or onto several layers of kitchen paper and leave the rest in the pan.
Squeeze the cooked dandelion dry. Loosen the leaves and add them to the fried onion in the pan. Sauté over medium heat for a couple of minutes, stirring regularly until the dandelion is well blended with the oil and onion slices. Transfer to a serving platter and let cool before serving at room temperature, garnished with the crispy onions and lemon wedges.
©Anissa Helou, recipe from Lebanese Cuisine