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5
Mar

sexy vendor 2 copy

I was on my way to the Iranian embassy in Bir Hassan, a funny area of Beirut where luxurious towers are built right next to hovels. Well, perhaps not quite next door but a street or two away, and I have to admit that I almost prefer the downmarket areas. They remind me of my life in Beirut before the war, when the city was not so over-developped and when street vendors pushed their carts, piled with seasonal produce, through the smartest and poorest quartiers alike,  shouting at the top of their lungs: “yalla ‘a batikh’ (come and get watermelons) or yalla ‘a kussa (come and get courgettes) and so on. Their calls changed with the seasons and my siblings and I could almost guess, from listening to them, what my mother would cook that day.

As we approached the embassy, I spotted one cart like those from my past, then another and another. The whole stretch of road was lined with them. I hadn’t seen so many since a trip to Tripoli up north a couple of years before. So, once I finished with the embassy, I asked my lovely driver Jamil to take me back there  so that I could take a few photographs. I don’t remember the vendors of my youth as being anything but old and wizened whereas most of those I saw that day were quite nice looking (after a good shave that is), and the one in the picture above is almost sexy, or at least he seemed to think so from the pose he struck for me.

As for my lovely Jamil, you can see him in the middle in the picture below discussing the price of oranges.

jamil in the souk copy

And the following picture is of colocasia, the potato of the Romans, which is in season now. We cook it with chickpeas and tahini sauce. Very good and very nourishing. Here is my mother’s recipe.

colocassia copy

colocasia in tahini sauce (qelqass bil-tahineh)

In a way, this is the vegetarian version of kibbeh arnabiyeh (kibbeh balls cooked in a tahini sauce made with Seville orange juice instead of lemon juice). The tartness imparted by Seville oranges is rather more subtle with a hint of bitterness, making for an intriguing flavour. Unfortunately, the season is very short but you can freeze the juice in ice trays to use at any time of the year, or mix lemon and grapefruit juice to replicate the taste.

100 g dried chickpeas, soaked in plenty cold water with 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

600 g colocasia, peeled, rinsed patted dry and cut into chunks

extra virgin olive oil

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

250 ml tahini

juice of 5 Seville oranges (or 3-4 lemons if not available, or to taste)

sea salt

Drain the chickpeas and rinse under cold water. Spread a kitchen towel on your work surface, and spread the chickpeas all over it. Cover with another towel and with a rolling pin, gently roll over the chickpeas exerting a little pressure, although not too much. The purpose of this exercise is to split the chickpeas in half and make skinning them easy. Uncover the chickpeas and remove the skins. Rinse the chickpeas again and put in a bowl.

Put a little olive oil in a saucepan and saute the colocasia over a medium heat until golden all over. Remove onto a plate. Add a little more oil to the pan if needed and fry the sliced onion until lightly golden. Add the chickpeas and saute for a couple of minutes. Cover with water, cover the pan and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Then add the colocassia and simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until both chickpeas and colocassia are done.

Pour the tahini in a mixing bowl and gradually stir in the Seville orange (or lemon) juice. The mixture will thicken into a purée-like consistency before it starts to dilute again though it will stay thick because you are not adding any water, or at least not just yet.

Add the tahini to the pan, where there should be at least 1 cup of water, stirring all the time but making sure not to mash the colocasia — the sauce should be a little thicker than double cream, so add a little water if it is too thick; and if it is too thin, add a little tahini but make sure you adjust the tartness if you do. Add salt to taste and keep stirring until the sauce comes back to the boil. Simmer for 2 more minutes, until the sauce thickens and a little oil rises to the surface. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Transfer to a  serving dish and serve warm or at room temperature.


There is 26 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

    Interesting potato. Never seen it before in my life and I wonder if it tastes like the normal potato we see and eat every day. 🙂

    Yes these days the vegetable and fish vendors are pretty hot – very different from those that I have seen when I was a kid. LOL!


  • 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

    it is starchy but it doesn’t really taste like a potato, more dense and can be slightly slimy depending on how well it is prepared.


  • 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

    Hello Anissa.
    I discovered your blog through Nasrine, our architect friend.Love it; grazie.
    I have reblogged this post on my blog:
    http://catherinewillis.tumblr.com
    Have a look at the fruit stalls vendors of Valencia ( my previous 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

    Can you buy Colocassia in London?


  • 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

    reminds me of our meals at home before the war. I can still smell and taste these special dishes that you only eat in houses…
    we had an amazing kebbeh arnabiyeh made by Nadine Begdach, who is Mom’s art dealer in the Middle East, during our last visit to Beirut in December and I was amazed to learn how many oranges and lemons you need to prepare it! But it was absolutely delicious!!!!


  • 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 have to say the tahini sauce made with bou sfeir as we call it is really superior, and far more interesting than the one made with just with lemons. so glad the post reminds you of pre war beirut. every time i go to places like that souk, i am taken back to those lovely days when we used to hang out in hamra or go to the st georges. too sad what they did to the st georges. some bits of hamra are still the same.


  • 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

    yes, in the lebanese shops.


  • 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 loved this when living in Cairo, great texture too. Is it not Taro Anissa?


  • 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

    There’s a wonderful book about street vendors’ cries in Damascus. I just went looking for it and and my copy is missing, but I remember a couple of them — “Yabrudi, ya tum!” (garlic from Yabrud) and “‘Arus il-miqla” (“bride of the frying pan,” eggplant).


  • 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

    Thanks for the recipes. They’re all so good!! As for the bou sfeir you can replace with one or two spoons of orange blossom water added to the tahine sauce (made from lemons and tahine)


  • 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

    this is a very interesting tip. i will try it. thanks denise.


  • 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

    this is too bad charles. i would have loved to have a look at the book. am in damascus right now.


  • 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

    carmelita, taro is the same thing, or almost. check this wiki entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taro


  • 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

    how nice catherine. am going to visit nasrine soon. i couldn’t see the pics of the fruit vendors in valencia. perhaps when i have a better connection. and thanks for linking to my post on your blog, and thanks for the kind mention.


  • 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

    love the picture and the flavour sense of place, just wish there were that sort of vegetable stall in my vicinity, makes me pine for closeness to nature – and I really am a city boy. nice writing, anissa.


  • 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

    thanks edward. wouldn’t it be fun to have such places in london or edinburgh? not likely any time soon.


  • 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’m so glad I found that you have a site! I am a devoted fan, and look forward to reading this, as much as your dogeared copy of Cafe Morocco that has a prominent place in my cooking library.

    I’ve never heard of colocasia, but it sounds very intersting… got to keep my eye peeled for it.


  • 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

    so glad you like cafe morocco. i really enjoyed writing it and testing the recipes. you must try colocasia although i can’t say it’s the most delicious vegetable ever.


  • 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

    These are lovely fruits and vegetables. Hopefully, I’ll get to Lebanon soon. I am really digging the blog. I was wondering if you, or any of your friends, had Cairo restaurant recommendations. Also, when you ate camel, did you have the liver? I should be going for some camel liver soon. Cheers!

    http://foodjihad.wordpress.com/


  • 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

    no, no liver. as for food in cairo, sorry but i can’t say i’m a fan, so, sadly no recommendations.


  • 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

    There’s a stew containing qulqas in Kitab Wasf al-At’ima al-Mu’tada (13th century), mutawakkiliyya. It’s a basic medieval stew (meat, onions, spices) plus qulqas and spinach. The qulqasiyya in 14th century Kitab al-Tibakha is much the same, and in modern Egypt I notice that they make qulqas bi-silq with chard stalks.
    Interesting instruction in K. Wasf: “Take as much qulqas as you want and wipe it with a woolen apron or coarse cloth to remove that which adheres to it. “


  • 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

    interesting that even then, they had instructions for the sticky substance that can make qulqas such an unappealing vegetable. thanks for the info charles. fascinating as always.


  • 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 the story you told us. i love these kinds of posts, anissa which are related to places we are from and the people we love. x shayma


  • 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

    this is so sweet of you shayma. thanks.


  • 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

    The book Charles is talking about is called The Disappearing Old Damascus, and it’s abysmally translated but just about comprehensible! It does have its charming moments – and you can buy it quite easily in Sham. Try the Avicenna bookshop (if it hasn’t yet closed down) near the Cham Palace. Apparently, when the souq sellers wind down business in the souq, the tripe seller says (or used to say) of his last piece of unsold liver: Min biddo Yakhod hal yatim (who will take this orphan)?
    Talking of aubergines, they also still say “Asswad min el leyl el betinjan” (They are black as the night, these aubergines)>
    My favourite is the knife and scissor-sharpeners, traditionally Afghans, who used to walk around til the 1960s, shouting “Halli biddo yeqtol hamato” – who wants to murder their mother-in-law?


  • 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 these. thx malika. will get the book next time i am there.

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