A mere 25 minutes from Beirut and you can be right smack in the heart of the Shouf region; this region is beautiful and well-preserved by its locals and is made up of lush mountains and valleys as well as forests of majestic cedars.
A short stop at Moukhtara where one can visit a 400-year old palace, led me to the local grocer; on his counter sat a large bag filled with red pepper powder. This is the local chili pepper which is sprinkled on man’ooshes (flatbread). The man’ooshe is topped with yogurt cheese, red pepper powder, crushed walnuts, keshek , tomatoes and onions.
I asked if he lived in the beautiful mountain year-round and he said that he only comes up for the weekend and spends his weeks working in Beirut. The mountains have seen its locals leave in droves for decades. I asked the grocer about his huge vats of yogurt sitting behind his counter and he told me about the line of cheeses he produces here and I vowed to come back.
Did you ever make your own red pepper powder?
According to my friend Milady Khairallah who at 84 still makes her own red pepper powder, grape molasses and zaatar and cooks everything fresh from her garden in the Kesrouan region, there is nothing difficult about it; just dry your peppers on a large clean cloth in the sun (bring indoors at night to avoid humidity) and grind in your coffee grinder. If you don’t like heat, discard the seeds. Keep in a jar for up to a year in the fridge.
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