Bayrut by Hisham Assaad

July 30, 2022  •  Category:

This cookbook is a delight. The layout and graphics are exquisite and the photographs are outstanding and really capture all there is to love about my native city. Hisham Assaad did an outstanding job with  this work, one that I consider to be Art through and through. Leafing through the pages, I found myself catapulted back in Beirut. The images peppered throughout the book I have seen time and again and some of them were so familiar!  Hisham Assaad has a fine photographer’s eye and his shots deliver the essence of this city and its people.

The recipes are also judiciously picked. Mostly classics but approachable for the novice; Hisham has also thrown in some of his own, which I found alluring, such as the octopus with moghrabieh or the vegetarian shish barak with spinach. Incidentally, my friend Rudy in Dallas had picked one of Hisham’s recipes from the book serendipitously before we were to meet in Austin, and made it for us when he visited. Yummy!

What I also loved about this book is that it is such a cohesive work. The layout and book design, the food styling, the location shots, all of it works harmoniously to reflect the charm and allure of Beirut. I cannot imagine a better book showcasing my city.

The above is a delicious take on the classic labneh, which simply mixes in some fresh diced veggies. One bite of yummy goodness!

The classic kibbeh in a pie pan.

Spinach-filled dumplings are baked and served with a garlicky yogurt sauce with the optional rice on the side. Scrumptious!



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Red lentil kibbeh

July 26, 2022  •  Category: , , , , ,

This is a perfect dish for hot Summer days!  Served at room temperature, vegan and lighter on the stomach than heavy stews or red meat kebabs.  In Lebanon, it is popular in the South, where locals use lots of fragrant wild edible herbs to spice their kibbeh (called kammouneh). I suspect it is a dish originally from Turkey and specifically Anatolia, and it is a Kurdish chef, Asma, who originally  introduced it to me, telling me it is from her hometown of Mardin. I have also had it at Armenian restaurants in Beirut, as it is also part of the Armenian classic cuisine.

Her version though yummy, is a tad too rustic (a bit bland) for my taste, so I have developed my own using Mexican chilies that are widely available and used here in Texas (Texas was a part of Mexico until 1836). If you do not have access to these dried Mexican chilies, you can substitute some jarred red enchilada sauce or a mole, and doctor it up with some fresh local peppers or tomatoes.  I have been on a kick upon my return to Texas to flavor my Lebanese food with Mexican flavors, and it has worked really well so far.

Making your own chili sauce is so easy, and it keeps really well in the fridge (about 10 days, more if it is in a sterilized jar); the sauce can be used as a condiment, (just like ketchup), except it is infinitely better, with a richer, more complex taste (depending on the chilies used).

The red lentils cook in water in about 10 minutes, then the bulgur is sprinkled on top and the grains will swell up in a couple of minutes. Then, a stir-fry of onion and spices is added to give this dish a kick of flavor. If the bulgur and lentil pilaf is too dry, add more water or sauce. If it is too wet, add more bulgur.

I went all-out this time, adding tomato and red pepper paste, my own chili sauce, parsley and basil, onions fried, garlic paste, cumin, a dash of saffron, a touch of date molasses (or piloncillo) for a little sweetness, olive and lemon juice, tasting and adjusting along the way.

In Lebanon, (and in Anatolia too, I am assuming), this dish is served with a glass of ayran.

 The lentil and bulgur form the canvas to build your own personal kibbeh: Go for it. 


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Mushroom Basmati rice pilaf

July 16, 2022  •  Category:

This is an adaptation of a Turkish pilaf recipe in which fresh dill is added to the rice and mushrooms. I did not have any so I substituted nutmeg, and added grated parmesan, in effect, traveling from Turkey to Italy! I used Basmati rice, but of course any rice will work. The rice takes on the subtle mushroom flavor, since no meat stock is added to cook the rice, only the mushroom water. It is pure comfort food, and is also easy and fast to fix.



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Hibiscus tea

July 14, 2022  •  Category: ,

My neighborhood Latino supermarket Fiesta sells dried hibiscus leaves in bulk, as it is popular in Mexico, where it is called Flor de Jamaica. I jumped on it and bought a big bag and have been making it as a tea (hot or iced) ever since! It is a popular drink in Egypt too, where they call it karkadeh.

Apparently, it is shock full of healthy benefits, such as a blood pressure lowering effect, also a sleep-inducing effect, also full of antioxidants. One thing I did notice, though, is that I better not drink too much of it. One or two cups a day, max. Otherwise, it tends to cause digestive issues.

I have also adopted the Mexican habit of adding a cinnamon stick when simmering theirs;  the cinnamon taste here is not overpowering, it just adds a nice background taste. In addition, one gets the health benefits of cinnamon too! Just make sure you are using the good cinnamon, the one that is imported from Ceylon.



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