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I am coming to the end of my stay in the Bay Area which has been quite wonderful. Lots of marvellous friends to see, delicious meals, fabulous scenery and the opportunity to give a talk at Omnivore Books about the new edition of Offal, the Fifth Quarter which I really enjoyed. Great shop, great owners and great audience!

I am often asked why offal and I always have two replies. The first is that I come from a culture where no food is wasted. Whether it’s the entrails of meat or those of vegetables, the Lebanese (and Syrians) use everything that is edible. When we stuff vegetables, we use the core to line the pan in which we cook the stuffed vegetables or we use the core to make omelettes. And when mountain people butcher a whole lamb to make qawarma, they serve the raw liver still warm for breakfast before the women set about cleaning and stuffing the tripe and intestines to cook with the trotters. They also stuff the spleen with a pungent cilantro and garlic ‘pesto’ and stew it in vinegar. And they stew the lungs and heart in a tomato sauce and sauté or grill the testicles and kidneys. As for the head, it is either baked or boiled. The day is a kind of lamb ‘matanza’ and the occasion for much feasting.

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I should have had all these recipes in my first cookbook, Lebanese Cuisine, but my then agent, Caroline Davidson who was Alan’s daughter discouraged me from doing it because people were disgusted by offal! I stupidly listened to her and it always rankled with me that I hadn’t included an offal chapter in my book. Then a year or so after my book came out, I was at the Oxford symposium talking to Tom Jaine about a tripiere he had beaten me to buying at the bring-and-buy and I told him that I wanted to write a book about offal. He thought it was a good idea but I didn’t pursue it until, that is, Caroline called to say Jon Croft at Absolute was looking for an author to write a book on offal. She had initially thought of Tom who said she should talk to me. Fortuitous!

souk el-srijeh-offal butcher copy

There are two main reasons to appreciate offal. The first is the fact that none of the animal is wasted and the other is because they are the rarest and in some cases, the most delicate cuts with very interesting textures. My favourite are testicles, brains and sweetbreads and when my lovely friend Margo asked at the talk which was the best offal to start with if you are an offal virgin (my words, not hers!), I suggested the latter. So, here is a recipe for sweetbread boreks which should convert the most die-hard anti offal eater!

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Sweetbread Boreks

I was given the following recipe by the wonderful Elisabeth Luard. If you are too lazy to make boreks, you can use the filling to make crostini. Rub the toasted bread with a cut garlic clove, drizzle a little olive oil all over and cover with the sweetbread mixture which you may want to sauté quickly in good olive oil. Makes 24 boreks

750 g sweetbreads

juice of 1/2 lemon

sea salt

a few sprigs each of parsely and coriander, finely choped

half a handful of chives, finely chopped

a few sprigs of oregano, leaves only

1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

freshly ground pepper to taste

to finish

16 sheets of filo pastry (each about 32 x 18 cm)

100 g unsalted butter, melted

Soak the sweetbreads in cold water for a few hours, changing the water regularly. Drain and rinse until the water runs clear. Remove as much skin as you can without damaging the sweetbreads.

Put the sweetbreads in a pan and cover with cold water. Add the lemon juice and a little salt and bring to boil over a medium-high heat. As soon as the water comes to the boil, drain the sweetbreads and dry with kitchen paper.

Chop up the meat very small and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Place a sheet of filo pastry on your work surface. Brush with melted butter and fold in half lengthways. Brush again with melted butter. Place 1 1/2 tablespoons filling about 2 cm away from the edge of the pastry. Taking a corner of the pastry, fold the filo over the filling to form a triangle. Fold again, continuing with the triangle shape until you reach the other end, brushing with butter every two or three folds.

Once you have finished making the boreks, you can either deep-fry them in hot vegetable oil until golden brown all oveer or bake them, as I do, in a preheated oven 180 C for 15-20 minutes or until the triangles are crisp and golden all over.

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There is 8 comments on this post

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Anissa you are truly an inspiration !

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    oh, you are so nice marc-frederic. thank you 🙂

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Hi Aunty A!
    I like much offal but not all, it’s an issue of texture for me and it’s cartiledge and tripe I don’t like, the sweetbreads, kidneys, livers etc. of this world I love.

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    i am happy to hear this kavey 🙂

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Not sure about the warm liver, but love cold aasheh neyee. You are making me think of a wonderful Ghemee(sp) dinner I have a few months ago

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Selam from a Turkish girl 🙂

    I’m glad to met with your blog few weeks ago. We in Turkey eat offal a lot, of course you must now already.
    Actually i love any kind of offal, which most people, especially girls might find disgusting ( but its their lost 🙂
    There is nothing like eating grilled intestines (kokoreç in Turkish) sandwich made with fresh bread with a cold beer next to it 🙂

    Best time to eat sweetbreads in Istanbul is Spring time, and Sütlüce area is famous for its sweetbreads ( uykuluk in Turkish). Just for your and your blog’s followers’s info 🙂

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    i love ghammeh. you should check my blog post on it a couple of months back 🙂

  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    salam back. i love kokoreç and always eat it when i am in turkey. and will remember to go to sutluce area for sweetbreads in the spring 🙂 thanks for the recommendation.

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