A–Z OF TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT
A–Z OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS
PREPARING THE BASICS
SOUPS 50 MEZZE: STARTERS AND SAVOURY SNACKS
MEZZE: MEAT DISHES
DESSERTS AND CAKES
BREAD AND PIZZAS
As a young and inexperienced wife starting married life full of expectations, I was very frustrated by not being able to find an indispensable and practical Lebanese recipe book. Like most mothers, mine too had ‘handed down’ her special recipes, but because I had a busy schedule, and because some of the required ingredients were not widely available at the time, these recipes were largely impractical for daily meals. It was at this point that I made a vow to compile, at my earliest convenience, a cookery book that would salvage and enhance these handed-down recipes and generally ease the pressure involved in putting a meal together, be it cooking healthily for a family, or just for creating simple dishes that even a newcomer to Lebanese cuisine could manage with effective results.
Having set out that task for myself, I then turned my attention to recreating almost all of the dishes in this book simply by remembering the flavours and tastes required to achieve the desired result. Dedication is always the key to success and luckily it happened within this process; as a housewife, cooking for my family became a procedure and a pleasure.
Opening a Lebanese restaurant was the event in my life that gave me the assurance that energy combined with ability and a natural approach to good taste, as well as good presentation, was the key to professional success in cooking. This is particularly the case with Lebanese cooking, as it is probably one of the most decorative, colourful and fresh ingredient-based cuisines. It is simple yet very elegant in its presentation. All these qualities are represented at different times of the year, as each season is rich with its abundance of fruit and vegetables – although it’s true to say that these days, one can get almost all the ingredients required at any time of the year.
Having become involved in running the restaurant, the strict schedule and long hours that this role necessitated meant that I couldn’t fulfil the mission I had set out to accomplish – putting together a comprehensive book of Lebanese recipes. But it was never far from my thoughts. Indeed, being in direct contact with my restaurant clients was a constant reminder in itself, because they were interested in the food and enquired often about cookery lessons or a book that they could follow. I made endless promises to come up with something useful. Sometimes I even wrote down a few lines of a recipe that a client had expressed an interest in cooking for a dinner party or some other occasion, and I even offered ideas on how to achieve this easily at home. But I never looked on it as a chore; I enjoyed doing it immensely.
And so at long last, and after several years of serious thinking about what this book should contain, I hope the end result will meet everyone’s expectations and that the wait has been worth it. For me it is fulfilling that early vow, clarifying my experiences and those of previous generations – all those pleasurable moments of achievement, emphasis on confidence in my skills, and a passion for food in general and Lebanese cuisine in particular. I hope this book will erase any mystery surrounding Lebanese cooking and that the simple techniques will allow you to prepare these popular dishes. More so than ever, modern equipment such as food processors, grinders, blenders and liquidisers make food preparation simple, and add a new dimension to the cuisine. Added to that is the availability and abundance of ingredients in today’s supermarkets and specialist stores.
There are some people who deserve a special mention here as they contributed immensely to the production of this book, whether it was through moral support or assurance, or just by keeping check on my wellbeing throughout the process of ‘running the show’, sometimes under the most difficult conditions. My dedications are to three women, successful in their own right, and had it not been for Lebanese food we would never have met.
First is Lorna Strauss, an enthusiastic restaurant client and friend. I remember the first time I met her. It was in the kitchen at the restaurant; she introduced herself to me by inquiring about private lessons. Being too busy to take her seriously then, I thought at least the book might help her.
The second has been another pillar of strength to me, and was also originally a client: Janan Harb. I remember coming up the stairs in the restaurant on one occasion … I could hear a woman enquiring about the chef. She insisted the chef must be a woman as, according to her, she could feel and taste the feminine touch throughout her meal. She wanted to meet me, which was not only a pleasure but also the start of a great friendship.
The third is Anne Bishop. She, too, was originally a client, but more than that she gave up her weekends to sit with me while we compiled the recipes that now make up this book. Having realised that I was so busy I would probably never finish this book on my own, she set herself the task of chaining me to a schedule on Sundays to do something about it. We had great fun and we achieved a lot. To her, and to my other two friends, I am truly grateful.
I hope you enjoy this book. My aim in compiling it has been to enhance the knowledge of the already informed, enlighten the unsure and simplify the approach towards this – for one reason or another – largely undiscovered way of eating. In Simply Lebanese I have tried to remove some obstacles, hoping that the message gets through and helps to popularise this style of cooking.
THE IMPORTANCE OF MEZZE IN LEBANESE CUISINE
Lebanese mezze ‘is’ Lebanese cuisine; it encapsulates this whole style of cooking in a more convincing way than any other kind of mezze. This is because the Lebanese lifestyle is very much reflected in their way of eating mezze: the Lebanese people relax and take their time eating their mezze. For example, they might linger at breakfast until lunchtime, lunch could spread into afternoon tea, and then dinnertime arrives! The mezze food helps create an atmosphere of relaxation so that you take your time eating it. Heavy food makes one want to leave the table straight after consuming it, but Lebanese mezze makes one want to carry on eating and savouring.
From the simple salad to the raw meats, from cooked vegetable salad dishes, to the more elaborate hot starters, from finger-licking pastries to different breads, perhaps followed by something grilled and light as a main course, are all light, tasty and very fresh. However, despite the fact that one consumes a lot, mezze makes it possible to keep your waistline. On my last visit to Lebanon, I lost weight, although I was eating non-stop. I was in the land of salads, mezze salads. Pulses make up for the protein richness of meat and in a much more healthy yet tasty way. Nobody gets as far as the main course if they’ve eaten mezze – if it is offered, it is never consumed. Basically you must choose either mezze or a main course, never both unless you want to destroy that contented feeling of having had a full meal with all the essential nutrients without feeling guilty about having over-indulged.
The weather adds to the mood created by mezze, and the variety of fruits and vegetables available in such abundance and quality demands creativity for those dishes. No other place in the Middle East has the same atmosphere as the Lebanon – and this atmosphere is complemented by the way the Lebanese approach meal times. They insist on a perfect combination of dishes on the table. A vegetable dish has to be present, and whether it contains five vegetables or twenty, this dish has to be at the centre of the dining table. Pickles are normally served with the vegetable dish, even if they are not for eating, for colour, as the look of the table is vital. Then come the olives, green, black, or both. Lots of fresh herbs should be provided too. No other cuisine cares as much for the presentation of seasonal herbs at the table.
Food in general is a very important part of Lebanese social life. Lebanese people eat when they are happy, they eat when they are sad, during holidays, at picnics, weddings and any kind of celebration. Mezze is always on the menu. Of course, the selection of dishes alters according to the occasion and the demand, but it is all mezze and all carefully prepared, fresh and seasonal. Mezze changes from month to month and sometimes week to week as it all is dependent on availability and freshness is essential.
The more one delves into this way of eating the more one realises that it is an important part of social education. Mezze is very social. One doesn’t have ten dishes of different mezze and then sit and eat them in front of the television. The Lebanese people’s attitude to food and their vision of what they want out of a meal created Lebanese mezze as we know it today. It is in a class of its own, distinctive, refined yet simple and nomadic in origin in many ways.
We are lucky to have mezze in Lebanese cuisine. It certainly makes food challenging and interesting both to prepare as well as eat, within the heavy demands of everyday life.
These tables give approximate conversions from imperial to metric. If you prefer to work in metric you may find that you have to adjust, very slightly, some of the measurements given. As a general rule, don’t mix your measurements; it’s best to stick to either imperial or metric. You can assume that tablespoon or teaspoon measurements are ‘level’ unless the recipe states otherwise.
15 g ½ oz
25 g 1 oz
40 g 1½ oz
50 g 2 oz
75 g 3 oz
110 g 4 oz
150 g 5 oz
175 g 6 oz
200 g 7 oz
225 g 8 oz
250 g 9 oz
275 g 10 oz
350 g 12 oz
375 g 13 oz
400 g 14 oz
425 g 15 oz
450 g 1 lb
550 g 1¼ lb
700 g 1½ lb
900 g 2 lb
1.4 kg 3 lb
1.8 kg 4 lb
2.3 kg 5 lb
Metric Imperial US
15 ml ½ fl oz
25 ml 1 fl oz 2 tbl
50 ml 2 fl oz ¼ cup
75 ml 3 fl oz ⅓ cup
110 ml 4 fl oz ½ cup
150 ml 5 fl oz (¼ pint) ⅔ cup
180 ml 6 fl oz ¾ cup
250 ml 8 fl oz 1 cup
275 ml 10 fl oz (½ pint)
375 ml 12 fl oz 1½ cups
400 ml 15 fl oz (¾ pint)
570 ml 1 pint
700 ml 1¼ pints
900 ml 1½ pints
1 litre 1¾ pints
1.1 litres 2 pints
1.3 litres 2½ pints
1.4 litres 2½ pints
1.6 litres 2¾ pints
1.75 litres 3 pints
1.8 litres 3¼ pints
2 litres 3½ pints
2.1 litres 3¾ pints
2.3 litres 4 pints
2.8 litres 5 pints
3.4 litres 6 pints
4.0 litres 7 pints
4.5 litres 8 pints (1 gallon)
0.5 cm ¼ inch
1 cm ½ inch
2 cm ¾ inch
2.5 cm 1 inch
5 cm 2 inches
7.5 cm 3 inches
10 cm 4 inches
15 cm 6 inches
18 cm 7 inches
20.5 cm 8 inches
23cm 9 inches
28 cm 11 inches
30.5 cm 12 inches
Gas mark Fahrenheit Centigrade
1 275 °F 140 °C
2 300 °F 150 °C
3 325 °F 170 °C
4 350 °F 180 °C
5 375 °F 190 °C
6 400 °F 200 °C
7 425 °F 220 °C
8 450 °F 230 °C
9 475 °F 240 °C
A–Z OF TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT
These days, there are many labour-saving devices on the market that make it a great deal easier for the cook, regardless of whether he or she is working at a professional level or simply trying to recreate these recipes at home for family and friends. This list covers items that are used frequently throughout Simply Lebanese, but of course, there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from improvising with the equipment that you currently have in your own kitchen. If you are looking to expand your range of kitchen tools, you might like to refer to the list of suppliers at the end of this section.
You will need two of these, 2 or 3 inches deep. Always choose heavy, nonstick trays as they retain the temperature better without the risk of the pastry sticking.
Buy as large as you can possibly afford.
Coffee kettle (Raqui)
Special coffee kettles are widely available from Arabic delicatessens.
It’s worth investing in a good corer to help you core vegetables and prepare them for stuffing. Corers are available in specialist cookery shops.
Food processors make cooking more enjoyable and less of a chore. My advice would be to invest in the most powerful one you can afford. A smaller one would also be an asset for preparing things such as salad dressings.
Frying pans and fryers
A good-quality heavy frying pan to use on top of your cooker will save time and give a better flavour to your food. An electric fryer is very useful for deep-frying. Not only is it safe, but the fact that it has temperature control will give you better results.
It’s always better, I think, to grate your own nutmeg rather than buying it ground. Nutmeg graters, which are very effective and allow you to grate just as much as you need at a time, are widely available.
Please see the chapter on ‘Grills’ for more details.
A good quality coffee/nut grinder, widely available, is essential for grinding your own spices. It will give you the best results with the least effort.
My advice to you would be to invest in the best knives you can afford. They will repay you by being more durable and, with the right care, they are guaranteed to give value for money. For the recipes in Simply Lebanese you will mainly require just two knives:
• a 21-inch knife for chopping herbs (especially parsley) and salads; and
• a paring (peeling) knife for small jobs.
If you wish, you could add to these an 18-inch cook’s knife, which is multipurpose. Where another specific type of knife is required, it is mentioned in the recipe.
If you take the trouble to invest in good knives, then you should also take the trouble to invest in a good knife sharpener. Keeping your knives in the best condition possible will always pay dividends.
Moulds and rings
A falafel mould (see p. 16) can make life easier. These moulds are available in Middle Eastern and speciality shops, and are generally reasonably priced. Rings are useful for pastry cutting and making shapes (especially for something like Kibbeh bisineyeh – see p. 145).
The mouli may well be old-fashioned, but in my opinion it’s still the best tool for blending soups and sieving sauces. They are widely available and reasonably priced.
This item is extremely useful for brushing items with, for example, oil or melted butter directly before cooking. They are relatively inexpensive. The bristles are either packed in a rounded shape or a flat shape. You may find the flat shape slightly more ‘economical’.
Metal skewers are useful for barbecuing or grilling meat and kebabs. You can buy two types of metal skewer:
• those that are flat and quite sharp-edged; and
• those that are corkscrew in shape.
Go for the ‘flat’ skewers, as these are easier for threading on your meat and other ingredients. Wooden skewers are also available and are as versatile as metal ones, but cheaper.
These are invaluable for scraping out your pots and pans, bowls and trays. It’s best to opt for the rubber heat-resistant variety.
Stockpot with lid
Make sure you have a sturdy pot that has a capacity of at least 2.8 litres (5 pints), which makes boiling a less ‘steamy’ affair. As well as using your stockpot for cooking, a pot this size can also be used for soaking beans and pulses.
Weights and measures
It doesn’t matter whether you weigh your ingredients in imperial or metric, but it is important to stick to one system and make sure that your weighing scales, whatever type, are consistently reliable. You will also need a large jug with volume clearly measured on the side for liquid ingredients. A conversion chart for weights, volume, measurements and oven temperatures is given on pages 10 and 11.
Below is a brief list of outlets for kitchenware and utensils suitable for the preparation and serving of recipes in Simply Lebanese. If you are having problems sourcing something locally that you need, it may be as well to phone one of these numbers to see if they can supply it. For those of you that have access to the Internet, a search for kitchen supplies (or something similar) may also pay dividends.
139/141 Fulham Road
London SW3 6SD
Tel: +44(0)207 581 8065 Email: [email protected]
Fax: +44(0)207 823 9429 Website: www.divertimenti.co.uk
306 Fulham Road
London SW10 9ER
Tel: +44(0)207 351 6933 Email: [email protected]
Fax: +44(0)207 351 5319 Website: www.hansens.co.uk
Pages Catering Equipment
121 Shaftesbury Avenue
London WC2H 8AD
Tel: +44(0)207 565 5959
Scott & Sargeant Cookshop
24–26 East Street
Tel: +44(0)1403 265386 Email: [email protected]
Fax: +44(0)1403 210033 Website: www.internetcookshop.com
A–Z OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS
Throughout the range of recipes in this book you’ll come across a handful of essential ingredients that give Lebanese cuisine its definable quality, taste and style. When I first started thinking about this collection of recipes, some of the foods and spices mentioned in the list below were difficult to come by. But it’s true to say that, these days, many supermarkets will stock most of what you will need to recreate the dishes in Simply Lebanese. Additionally, the many specialist delicatessens that have opened in recent years may well be able to provide you with items that supermarkets don’t regularly stock. And just to help you, at the end of this section I have included a list of food suppliers who will be able to help you if all else fails.
On a cautionary note, may I urge you to check sell-by and use-by dates on the produce that you buy. Freshness of a product is key to its flavour. And even with dried and canned produce, you will achieve better results if the items are well within the sell-by dates printed on the packaging.
In addition to the essential ingredients listed here, Lebanese cooking utilises a handful of basic combinations of food and spices to make pastes, dips, sauces and accompaniments that are used as part of many of the recipes in this book. Several of these basic items can be made in advance and stored. Full ingredient listings and methods for preparing these are given in the chapter entitled ‘Preparing the basics’ (pp. 30–49).
Allspice (bhar hilo)
Allspice has a hint of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. It is a great enhancement to almost all recipes, savoury and sweet, as long as the quantities used are compatible to the flavour required for each individual recipe. The best results can be obtained by freshly grinding the whole grain. Translated from Arabic, bhar means ‘pepper’ and hilo means ‘sweet’.
These are often used, blanched and split, and are widely available in these forms. They are normally sautéed in clarified butter to be browned slightly before adding to rice and many other dishes.
Broad beans, fresh and dried
Fresh broad beans are available for a very short time each year and do give a good flavour to stews, salads or rice dishes. However dried, split broad beans are also used in Lebanese cooking. Once soaked, they can be minced or ground and are used particularly in making Falafel (see pp. 89–91).
Burgul, brown and white
This is a wheat product available in cooked, ground form. It can have either a coarse or a fine texture, and can be white or brown. Brown burgul has a nuttier flavour than white, which is more versatile and starchy. Both forms are used for salads or in making the famous Kibbeh (see chapter on Mezze: Meat Dishes) in all its forms, and as an accompaniment to casseroles and stews or as a dish on its own. Burgul is truly wholesome and healthy.
Cardamom in used in the Middle East to flavour a variety of dishes. It is most effective when freshly ground. It works particularly well in soups, rice dishes and sauces. In powder form it is added to Arabic coffee. Whole pods are used for flavouring stocks and sauces, and for more old-fashioned recipes.
Throughout this book you’ll find recipes that use cashew nuts that have been quickly fried in oil, then drained so that they turn a light brown colour.
Chickpeas are widely available in two forms: in packets dried, or in cans cooked and ready to use. For best results, I prefer dried chickpeas which have been soaked and cooked. You will then have ready the essential ingredient for Perfect hommous (see p. 66), a nourishing dip full of energy supplements that is definitely worth making.
Chillies, chilli powder, fresh green chillies and fresh red chillies (harr)
In powder form chilli can be overpowering, so it pays to use it sparingly and with caution – especially when preparing marinades or spicy condiments. Fresh green chillies are relatively mild. They are an essential vegetable served as an accompaniment to any meal, and are commonly used for pickling. Red chillies, which are hotter, are generally used to create chilli sauces, chilli pickles and for spicy dishes rather than as an essential table accompaniment.
Cinnamon, powder and sticks (irfe’)
In powder form, cinnamon is very versatile. However, it requires moderate use as it can be sometimes be overpowering in savoury dishes. It is particularly flavoursome in puddings. In stick form, it is used for stocks and to flavour sauces.
Coriander, seeds and fresh (kuzbara)
As a ground spice, coriander has great versatility. However, the seeds can be quite bland unless they are roasted whole, then ground in a pestle and mortar or a grinder. Make sure you don’t overload the grinder, and that you grind the shells and pods evenly. This ground coriander can then be stored in an airtight jar. Coriander is also available ready-ground. As a fresh herb, coriander is irreplaceable, especially in Arabic stews, casseroles, salads and various other dishes with an ethnic influence. It is available nearly all year round, and can be chopped and frozen in polythene bags without losing its flavour for use when needed.
This is a real delight of a spice. It is excellent with lamb, chicken, fish or any recipe requiring a spicy combination. Its powder form, which is the most commonly available, is also of excellent quality.
Foul (a small, brown kidney-shaped bean that comes from Turkey or Egypt, which is soaked then cooked) is a very nutritious source of vitamins and protein, and is thus used as a meat alternative for vegetarians. Foul medamas (see p. 81) is served mainly as a breakfast dish, but it can be a great energy booster at any time throughout the day. Egyptian foul is of the best quality. Always check the sell-by date on the packet to ensure freshness.
Freekeh is from the wheat family, but is not a very well-known ingredient. It is a grain that can be added to soups or an accompaniment to chicken or meat with casseroles and stews. It is flavoursome, healthy and very nutritious. It is widely available in Middle Eastern grocers; the best variety is the toasted, coarse kind, which is much tastier than the finer variety. Look out for it as it is a great item to have in the larder.
Garlic is a vital ingredient for most recipes and should therefore be readily to hand. In preparation for its use, it can be peeled, sealed in a container and placed in the lowest part of the refrigerator. It keeps for a week to ten days.
Ghee is clarified butter. There are two kinds: butter ghee and vegetable ghee. It is preferable to use the former in meat dishes and most sweet dishes and pastries. Vegetable ghee is lighter, and is therefore better for use in stews and rice dishes. Both are available from your supermarket.
Kataifi is a very thin pastry similar to vermicelli pasta (see below) but even finer. It is sold in specialist Middle Eastern grocers in packets ready for use in Usmalliyeh (see p. 201) and various sweets. It can be stored frozen and then defrosted when needed.
Lemons are essential for the Lebanese kitchen and are used in most dressings, stews and stocks. It is particularly important for flavour that freshly squeezed lemon juice is used.
Lentils are widely available in many colours and grains, but I have tried to limit their use in this book to just two kinds: red lentils (the smaller version, required mostly for soups and sauces) and whole green lentils (for rice accompaniments and savoury dishes).
Mint, fresh and dried (n’ana’)
Different kinds of mint give different results. Mild, fine mint is more suitable for salads, tea and for drying. Mint is excellent in dried form, as long as it is dried naturally. This is done by cutting the stalks and leaves roughly on a tray, allowing them to dry out completely, then rubbing the dried mint through a wide colander, so that it can be collected and sealed in a jar for later use.
Nutmeg loses its flavour very quickly after being grated. The best way of ensuring you get its full flavour is to grate what you need when you need it. Available in powder form also, but the results are not so good.
Olive oil: can be used for stews and casseroles.
Extra virgin olive oil: vital for salads and preparing cold vegetable dishes. The better the quality, the better the result.
Other: corn oil is a cheaper and lighter alternative to olive oil. However, it is not so good an alternative for shallow frying as it doesn’t get to the required temperature as quickly as olive oil.
Olives, black and green (zeitoun)
Black olives are best stored in jars in olive oil. Green olives are washed, then pickled in salty water and lemon juice. Both varieties are used throughout the year as an accompaniment to any meal in the Middle East and in many households as a staple food.
Onion seeds (habet el barakeh)
Onion seeds are used in baking (they add great nuttiness to bread) and in pickling goat’s cheese in salty water. They are a healthy spice, and, it is said, are good for the heart.
Orange blossom water (mazaher)
Orange blossom water is widely available and is essential for puddings and flavouring. Known also as ‘white coffee’ (ahwey baida), it can be added to boiling water to make either an excellent digestive drink after a heavy meal or a great morning starter.
Paprika (filfil helou)
Paprika is a mild spice with a great flavour and is a must for marinating chicken or fish, or adding to your cooking to improve the overall taste. As well as the more widely available paprika (which is generally the best kind to use), you can also get a smoked version. But be careful with this, because it can often be overpowering.
Parsley, fresh and dried (bakdounis)
Parsley is known as the Queen of Herbs. Flat leaf parsley is more commonly used in Lebanese cuisine, especially for making Tabbouleh (see pp. 70–1). The best way to store parsley to maximise on its flavour is to chop it fresh, then keep it in polythene bags in the freezer. Dried parsley can be bland so it’s always best to use fresh if you can.
Pepper, black and white (bhar aswad and abiad)
Black pepper is best obtained as peppercorns and ground straight from the pepper mill as required. White pepper is milder, particularly in ground powder, and is a more delicate enhancer.
Pickles are a vital accompaniment to any Lebanese meal. A variety of food such as carrots, turnips, cauliflower, green chillies, aubergines and especially gherkins or cucumbers, are pickled and used (see pp. 40–4).
Pine nuts (snoubar)
Pine nuts are an essential garnish for Lebanese food. To get the maximum flavour, lighly sauté the pine nuts in ghee or clarified butter for a few seconds. The nuts can then be drained and dried on a clean, dry cloth, and set aside in a jar for decorative and other uses.
Pistachios (foustok halabi)
Pistachios are widely available. They are best bought shelled, then ground when required and are used especially for decoration in sweets or puddings.
Sweet pomegranates are widely available in stores and supermarkets. The small seeds are used to enhance salads and as a topping for fruit and puddings. Sour pomegranates are used for pickling and for making Dibs al roumman: syrup. The process involves boiling the juice of the sour pomegranate, which reduces it to a very dark syrupy consistency. Pomegranate syrup (available in Middle Eastern grocers) is great for many recipes and is important in Arabic cooking. It is used as an ingredient in many recipes in this book.
Rice (ruz) for savoury and sweet dishes
Generally speaking, there are two types of rice that are used in Lebanese recipes. The first is long grain rice such as basmati. When cooked the grains separate easily. This kind of rice is required for accompaniment rice dishes such as plain boiled rice (see p. 32). Short grain rice, or pudding rice as it is also known, is rounder in shape. When cooked it becomes quite sticky in texture, which makes it ideal for puddings or savoury stuffings.
Saffron is known as the diamond of all spices. In the Middle East, saffron can be bought cheaply in markets as petals picked off the stalks and dried naturally in the sun. The dried petals can then be ground for a finer finish – this will create an overall colour in sauces, stocks and rice dishes.
Table salt can be used as a standard base note in Lebanese dishes, while the use of more flavoursome sea salt is recommended for salads and cold dishes.
Sesame seeds (sumssum)
Sesame seeds are essentially used as a topping for special breads and with thyme (see below) as a pizza topping and sandwich filling. Toasting them gives maximum flavour.
Semolina is corn meal grain flour. It is either used fine or coarse for puddings and in sweet recipes.
Available from Middle Eastern grocers, sumac is made from brown berries harvested at the end of the summer. These berries are left to dry naturally, then ground and sifted. Sumac combines a sour lemon taste with a unique maroon colour, giving height to any recipe – be it a salad, sauce, marinade or simply by adding flavour to a bland ingredient.
Tahini is basically sesame cream, obtained through a manufacturing process from sesame seeds. It is used in a variety of dips, salads and sauces throughout the Middle East. The best version of tahini is produced in Syria or Lebanon. Dark tahini is not as good as the light-coloured kind as it is heavier and not as creamy when mixed with water and lemon juice. Also, you should always check the sell-by date on the container. Tahini that is not fresh can separate, and is not as tasty and as easy to handle. Always shake the container before use to blend the oils together.
Tamarind (tamar hindi)
Literally translated, tamar hindi means ‘dates from India’. Originally, the main source of tamarind was India, but now it is often imported from Indonesia. It is widely available in paste form, which is very versatile and useful, and is the type I prefer to use. Alternatively, it can be bought dried, which means that before use it needs to be soaked, blended and sieved. Tamarind is essential in Arabic cooking, especially for sauces and stuffed vegetable dishes, as it adds an edge and body to the recipes.
Thyme, fresh and dried (za’atar achdar)
Fresh thyme is a winter/early spring herb and a seasonal delicacy. The Lebanese variety is more flavoursome than the European or Italian varieties. However, it is rarely available outside of Lebanon, because its delicacy (particularly the green type) means that it can’t withstand changes of temperature. In flavour the Lebanese version is like a combination of rocket leaves, oregano and thyme, and is a subtle addition to all dishes, hot or cold. Commercially, dried Lebanese thyme is mixed with other spices such as sumac and toasted sesame seeds, and sold in powder form to be used in Manakeesh (see pp. 218–19) or simply as a dip with olive oil for sandwiches, making it part of one of the best snacks in the Middle East. Thyme is best used fresh. However, it can be taken off its stalks, dried naturally on a large tray, then ground either coarsely or semi-coarsely and kept in airtight jars. Zeit wa za’atar (olive oil and thyme) is an essential breakfast item in any household around the Mediterranean.
Vermicelli is pasta made into very long, thin strands. It is widely available, and used for rice accompaniments and some puddings.
Malt vinegar is essential for pickles, while white wine vinegar is used for marinades and dressings.
Vine leaves (warak inab)
It is very difficult to find fresh vine leaves. However pickled vine leaves have greatly improved in recent times. You can also buy the leaves dried, in packets or glass jars. See p. 49 for preparation.
The better quality walnut you use, the better the results in cooking. For most recipes, walnuts need to be coarsely ground. The best results can be obtained by pulsing them (either raw, fried or toasted) in a food processor.
Below is a brief list of food suppliers.
14 Moscow Road
London W2 4BP
Tel: +44(0)207 229 2275
Damas Gate Food Wholesalers
81 Uxbridge Road
London W12 8NR
Tel: +44(0)208 743 5116
36 Upper Berkeley Street
London W1H 7PG
Tel: +44(0)207 402 7385
La Belles Boucherie
3 Bell Street
London NW1 5BY
Tel: +44(0)207 258 0230
Middle East Food Market
383 Uxbridge Road
London W3 9SA
Tel: +44(0)208 752 0678
The Nutcase Ltd (for coffee and nuts)
352 Uxbridge Road
London W12 2LL
Tel: +44(0)208 743 0336
Rayan (for sweets)
7–11 Minerva Road
London NW10 6HJ
Tel: +44(0)208 537 9033
PREPARING THE BASICS
Throughout the recipes in Simply Lebanese – and in Lebanese cooking in general – you’ll come across a handful of frequently used accompaniments: sauces, dips, dressings and side dishes. These basics contribute to the unique style that is Lebanese cuisine – and the real beauty of them is that many can be made in advance and stored.
Plain white rice is the most basic of foods and one of the most versatile and simple to cook. It is a basic accompaniment to so many dishes. It is important to decide what type of rice you will be using. I recommend basmati, which is widely available and excellent quality. It also behaves well on reheating – especially in a microwave. Once you have mastered this recipe, you will have learned a vital skill.
1 Heat the ghee, butter or corn oil in the pot. When hot, add the drained rice, turning gently on a high heat for a few minutes to coat each grain and heat through.
2 Once the rice starts to make a noise, add the salt and then the boiling water.
3 Stir once, lower the heat, and leave the rice to simmer until most of the water is absorbed.
4 Put the lid on, or cover with foil, and transfer to the heated oven. Leave to finish cooking for a further 5 minutes.
5 The rice is ready when you can see tiny holes in the cooked rice. Take out of the oven and serve.
• Rice does not need a deep pot or pan, but the pot or pan needs to be wide enough to cook the rice evenly.
• Always use boiling water for soaking and cooking the rice.
• Do not stir the rice while it is cooking as this causes the grains to stick together and not separate as required.
• Stir the rice gently when it comes out of the oven before serving it.
• Allow the rice to stand (if possible) for a few minutes before serving.
• Cover any leftover rice and refrigerate. To re-heat, use the microwave.
PREPARATION TIME: 10 minutes
COOKING TIME: 15 minutes
1 tablespoon ghee, or clarified butter,
or 50 ml (2 fl oz) corn oil
450 g (1 lb) basmati rice, soaked
in 570 ml (1 pint) boiling water for
5 minutes, then drained, rinsed
under hot running water, then
drained again in a colander
1 teaspoon salt
900 ml (1¼ pints) boiling water
preheat the oven to gas mark 5,
YOU WILL ALSO NEED
a heavy, medium-sized ovenproof pot,
with lid, 22 cm (9 inches) in diameter
These are small squares of bread that are deep-fried in vegetable oil. They can be used with salads and soups or as an optional decoration for a variety of other dishes. You can also make toasted croutons. Both kinds have their own individual characteristics which define their use. I prefer to use fried croutons for winter dishes and toasted for summer salads. A different kind of bread is used for each.
FOR THE FRIED CROUTONS
1 Fry the pieces of bread in three batches to ensure the croutons cook quickly and brown evenly.
2 When the croutons are light brown in colour, lift them on to a dry cloth or absorbent kitchen paper, and leave them to drain and cool.
• When kept dry, croutons can stay fresh for 3–4 weeks.
• Croutons can be stored in an airtight tin, which will keep them crispy until needed.
FOR THE TOASTED CROUTONS
1 Place the pieces of pitta bread on the baking tray and then place under the grill, toasting them for 2 minutes. Then shake the tray and toast them for another minute.
2 Switch off the grill and leave the croutons to finish toasting and to become crisp for a further 2 minutes or so.
3 Remove from the grill and allow to cool. When cold, store in an airtight container for use when required.
• The size and shape of the pitta pieces can be varied according to personal taste.
• The croutons have to be crisp and cold before they are stored away.
• The thinner the pitta bread, the lighter and more crisp the croutons.
• The quantity above is enough for 2–3 weeks, although it is better to make croutons as you need them: the fresher the better.
• This kind of crouton is ideal for adding to salads or as a topping for soups.
PREPARATION TIME: 15 minutes
COOKING TIME: 10 minutes
FOR THE FRIED CROUTONS
a small white or brown sliced loaf, cut
into 1 cm cubes
preheat the deep fryer to 325ºF
FOR THE TOASTED CROUTONS
2 pitta breads, opened up and cut into
2 cm cubes
preheat the grill to its highest setting
There is an abundance of prepared plain yoghurts on the market these days and many of them are perfectly good enough to use in the recipes in this book. However, I like to think that nothing beats the taste of home-made yoghurt. And nothing gives you greater satisfaction than knowing you have prepared it yourself.
1 Heat the milk to boiling point, then set aside to cool.
2 Test the temperature with your finger; it needs to have cooled down enough to touch, i.e. body temperature.
3 Put the yoghurt in a small bowl and gently add enough of the boiled milk to blend it into a thick liquid form. Then, more swiftly, add the rest of the milk.
4 Transfer the mixture to a waiting container. Put the lid on, cover with a couple of clean kitchen cloths and put in a warm place for a minimum of 6–8 hours.
5 Move to the refrigerator and chill for a minimum of 2 hours.
• The time for proving will vary from season to season; it will take less time in the summer and longer in the winter. In fact, leaving it overnight is probably best in winter.
• Do not shake the yoghurt/milk mixture after mixing.
• For creamier and thicker yoghurt, add 2 tablespoons of dried milk to the milk after it has been boiled, mix in well and allow to cool as before.
• The yoghurt can be divided into smaller containers as long as they have lids and are covered well.
PREPARATION TIME: 20 minutes
PROVING TIME: 6–8 hours plus
minimum 2 hours chilling time
1.1 litres (2 pints) full-cream milk
110 ml (4 fl oz) plain set yoghurt
YOU WILL ALSO NEED
a glass or plastic container with a lid
Cucumber and yoghurt salad
This salad is probably the most versatile in Lebanese cuisine and it is simple to make and popular. Its ingredients are very basic and available everywhere. Its preparation is quick and easy, and once it is prepared it can be kept in the refrigerator without losing any of its quality. It is a great accompaniment to many meals and snacks: as a dip this salad is a great asset of Lebanese mezze, and with rice dishes it is irreplaceable. Good ingredients always result in a great dish, and this is especially true here. Quality yoghurt is a must, as are fresh cucumbers.
1 In a medium-sized bowl, mix the chopped cucumber, yoghurt, salt and garlic (if used) until well blended.
2 Cover and chill in the refrigerator until needed.
3 To serve, sprinkle with the dried or fresh mint.
• The salad can be prepared well in advance, layered in a bowl ready to mix together when needed. (Layering it prevents it from going soggy.)
• The quality of the yoghurt used determines the consistency of the salad. Personally I prefer a thicker version as the salad creates its own juices while waiting in the refrigerator; the thicker version also has a longer life.
• Garlic enhances the salad, but use sparingly so as not to overpower the other basic flavours.
Khiar bil laban
PREPARATION TIME: 10 minutes
2 small cucumbers (or ½ large
cucumber), peeled and evenly
275 ml (10 fl oz) Home-made yoghurt
(see p. 34) or other plain yoghurt
½ teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely
½ teaspoon dried or 1 teaspoon
chopped fresh mint
Coriander and garlic paste
This really is the ‘king’ of standby pastes. When made it can be kept in an airtight container or jar and stored in the refrigerator. The paste can be spread on lamb steaks, fish or chicken prior to cooking. A teaspoonful or two (according to your taste) makes a great addition to stews, and to a variety of other sauces and dressings.
1 Heat the ghee or butter in a frying pan, and while it is heating add the garlic. Stir the garlic round to cook it through gently without browning.
2 Lower the heat and add the chopped coriander. Mix well with the garlic for a minute or so.
3 At this stage, turn off the heat. Pour the mixture into the waiting container and allow to cool.
4 When cold, cover the container and place in the refrigerator until needed.
• Don’t wait for the ghee or butter to get hot before you add the garlic to it, otherwise the garlic browns before it cooks and discolours the ghee or butter and then the paste.
• The secret of retaining the colour of the coriander is to add the coriander to the garlic just as it starts to cook, and then mix them together for a very short time; then take them off the heat to cool. Essentially you are sautéeing them to capture the heat.
Kouzbara wa toum
MAKES: 175–225 g (6–8 oz)
PREPARATION TIME: 20 minutes
COOKING TIME: 10 minutes
2 tablespoons vegetable ghee or
6 cloves garlic, peeled and
2 bunches coriander, finely chopped
YOU WILL ALSO NEED
a jar or a plastic container with a lid
This sauce is used particularly for grills. It is indispensable as it provides the base for successful grill dishes. It is also an important dip for authentic Lebanese mezze. It complements raw meats such as Kafta nayyeh, Habra nayyeh and of course the famous Kibbeh nayyeh. Once made, it can be kept for up to 6 weeks in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Remember to use it sparingly as it is very powerful. My version is extremely straightforward; the key to its success is to use very fresh ingredients.
1 Place the cloves of garlic and salt in a food processor. Process until the garlic is puréed.
2 Once the garlic is puréed, add the potato pieces through the feed tube of the food processor one by one, making sure that they are puréed and blended with the garlic.
3 Drip the corn oil slowly through the feed tube, so that the ingredients begin to form a mayonnaise-like consistency.
4 When all the oil has been used, add the lemon juice through the tube.
5 When the sauce thickens, switch off the processor. Transfer the mixture to an airtight container and store in the coolest part of the refrigerator.
• Traditionally, eggs are used instead of potatoes but this method is just as tasty and keeps for longer.
• The garlic should be very fresh and only peeled just before preparation for best results and a fuller flavour.
• The slower you drip the oil through the feed tube, the better the result.
• Store the sauce in the base of the refrigerator in an airtight container. This way it will keep for 4–6 weeks.
MAKES: 570 ml (1 pint)
PREPARATION TIME: 30 minutes
12 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
300 ml (12 fl oz) corn oil
25 ml (1 fl oz) lemon juice
YOU WILL ALSO NEED
an airtight container
Green chilli dip
This versatile dip is made from a variety of fresh ingredients which are simply blended together and then stored in the refrigerator until needed. It can be used for up to a week. The chillies become milder as they are mixed with the olive oil and lemon juice. It is a great enhancer of any vegetable dish, and is mainly used as a dip for crudités, vegetables eaten before a typical Lebanese meal. It can also be used in the numerous recipes where chilli is needed for a spicy effect, or where green chillies are required.
1 Place the chillies in a food processor and process for a few seconds.
2 Transfer the chillies to a bowl, add the chopped garlic, salt, lemon juice and olive oil. Mix well.
3 Transfer to the container or jar, place in the refrigerator and serve when needed.
• If a processor is not available, chop the garlic and the chillies finely and mix in the rest of the ingredients. Wear gloves for chopping the chillies, if possible.
• Keep the dip covered at all times. If it starts to dry out just add more olive oil. This will also help retain the colour of the dip.