Lebanese Food and Culinary Traditions & Thoughts

Lebanese Food and Culinary Traditions & Thoughts
Spring time always inspires me...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ingredients - The Movie

Ingredients

I have copied the synopsis from the press kit for you to get an idea of the movie.

SYNOPSIS
American food is in a state of crisis. Obesity and diabetes are on the rise, food costs are skyrocketing, family farms are in decline and our agricultural environment is in jeopardy. A feature-length documentary film, INGREDIENTS explores a thriving local food movement as our world becomes a more flavorless, disconnected and dangerous place to eat.

Narrated by Bebe Neuwirth, the film takes us across the United States; from the urban food deserts of Harlem to the diversified farms of the Hudson River and Willamette Valleys and to the kitchens of celebrated chefs Alice Waters, Peter Hoffman and Greg Higgins. INGREDIENTS is a journey that reveals the people behind the movement to bring good food back to the table and health back to our communities.

With questions of food safety, accessibility, cost, and health at the forefront, we learn that seasonal food grown close to home provides consumers with a sense of security as they develop relationships with the people who grow and prepare their food. INGREDIENTS empowers and sparks the joy of discovery for living and eating well in a world in need of balance.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Barbara Armenian Christmas "Helwe Beirut"



Serge and Aline invited me for a typical Armenian Christmas feast at their home! What a delightful experience. Armenian food never ceases to amaze me... more to come! PS: Notice their lovely pets, I fell in love with the cat....

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Barbara In Barouk "Helwe Beirut"



It is always so special to visit my friend Razzouk and this majestic forest in the Shouf (heaven). On this occassion, we went to visit a very nice family to learn the essential to make pumpkin kebbeh (mountain-style). I say mountain-style because of the use of awarma, traditional meat preserve in the stuffing. Basically, a mixture of chopped onions, awarma, and crushed chickpeas are stuffed into kebbeh balls made with cooked pumpkin flesh mixed with burghul. The result is delicious when eaten hot as soon as the kebbeh is fried (that's another issue). Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Barbara in Anjar "Red Pepper Paste" Helwe Beirut



Annie is a dear friend. I have know her for years. We met one day when I asked a friend of my sister if she knew someone who cooked delicious Armenian food. We met, cooked together, and have developed a true friendship.The recipe of red pepper paste is very special to me. It is a mouneh item that I never go without. I go to Anjar every year to live through the ritual and have become a true adept to adding red pepper paste to almost all my cooking. My kids sometimes complain when the dish is too spicy but their palates have gotten used to it. Producing this recipe is a true joy. It is a bit time consuming but if you dedicate a whole day to it's production, you will enjoy the flavors all year long. Love you Annie!

The Tassajara Bread Book

One day, a long time ago, when my aunt Sandra Habal was still among us. She came to see my mother bearing a gift. She knew how much my mother loved baking bread and found this book called: The Tassajara Bread Book written by a Soto Zen Buddhist priest named Edward Espe Brown. The book became mine years later. It is really like no other. In 1995, the book published its 25th edition. The author writes: "I do not bake to be great. I bake because it is wholesome. I feel renewed, and I am renewing the world, my friends and neighbors. Most of us bake in this way."

I understand him so well. When I am feeling sad, like yesterday! I bake bread. It makes me feel so good inside. It is accepting what the earth has given us and making a prized gift to share, especially with loved ones. I think every family should own this book, it is a message of hope, of good baking, of sharing one's passion.

I love the introductory statement of his book (I quote): "Working in the Kitchen—What is it, closer than close? Not impervious or distant, not stiff or unresponsive. A get-down-in-the-mud mind: Food comes alive with your presence, reaching out, laboring, taking the time for flour, salt, water, yeast to come together, for a bowl that breaks, the dirty dishes, a leaky faucet, always more to cooking than meets the eye! Each thing asking to be seen, heard, known, loved, a companion in the dark. "Take care of the food," it is said, "as though it was your own eyesight," nto saying, oh that's all right, we have plenty, we can throw that away. Table, teapot, measuring cups, spoons: the body within the body, the place where everything connects. Ripe, succulent fruit, leaves, stems, roots, seeds: the innermost mind awakening, fully manifesting. What are you up to, after all? What is a way of life that is satisfying, fulfilling, sustaining and sustainable? Cups, glasses, sponges, one body with a hundred faces, a sticky honey jar, the half-empty cup of coffee, each asking to fulfill, each offering the touch of the beloved. Enter, plunge into the heart of the matter: an unknown destination, an unknown adventure unfolding with your wits about you and your not-so-wits. Things emerging in life. Life emerging in things, no separation. Concentrating on food, concentrating on myself, with heart opening, hands offering, my everything be deliciously full of warmth and kindness. Coming from the earth, coming from the air, a cool breeze, a spark, a flame, go ahead: Cook, offer yourself, hold nothing back. Cooking is not like you expected, not like you anticipated. What is happening is unheard of, never before experienced. You cook. No mistakes. You might do it differently next time, but you did it this way this time. Things are as they are, even if you say too much this too little that. And if you want things to stay the same, remind yourself they have no unchanging nature. "Wherever you go, remember there you are." O.K? Go ahead. Keep moving. Watch your step. "

The author
A Zen priest from Fairfax, California. Wise, clever and often surprisingly wrathful: Edward Espe Brown. Author of the famous Tassajara cookbooks, philosopher, Zen teacher and master chef. Doris Dörrie met with Edward Brown and he told her about his life. She participated in his lectures, watched the master in the kitchen and in his cooking classes. Under Edward Espe Browns guidance, cooking is more than just providing food. Cooking, or better, knowing how to cook, is a matter of caring for yourself and others. Without romanticizing Edward Espe Brown and his work, Doris Dörrie succeeds in capturing the magic moment where practical advice unlocks wisdom and deepness. A Zen monk shows us the sensuality of baking bread, the philosophy of radishes and the serenity of carrots. It is not just a culinary delight but also makes us a bit wiser.  Watch the trailer of the How to Cook your Life movie.

Mouneh Reviewed in the Art of Eating - The Review


The editor of the Art of Eating, Edward Behr, sent me the review of Mouneh by mail. I hope you will take the time to read it as this text is written by a person that has lived through every detail of the book (inside and out). I enjoyed reading it, it almost brought tears to my eyes. I thank you for taking such care in writing every word. My dream is for my two books to be one day in all US bookshops. It will happen, I know. It's just a matter of time.

Some facts about Edward Behr:

Edward Behr (born 1951) is an American food writer. His books include "The Art of Eating Cookbook: Essential Recipes from the First 25 Years", and The Artful Eater". Behr publishes a quarterly food magazine, The Art of Eating''. From the first modest eight-page issue published in 1986, it has grown to become one of the most respected magazines about food and wine.
Behr’s writing and magazine focus on taste, especially the connection between taste and the place food and wine come from. He has written about many of the best farmers and food artisans in France, Italy, and the United States.
Behr has taught writing at the University of Vermont, served on the first international jury for the Slow Food awards, and speaks internationally on food and culture. He has been featured in publications ranging from The New York Times and The Atlantic to Forbes and The Financial Times. He writes and publishes from the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, where he lives with his wife, Kimberly, and two stepsons, Maximillian Buckminster and Zane Buckminster.

What others have to say about the Art of Eating:

 “Arguably
    America’s most
    erudite and
    prestigious food
    publication.”

    The Wall Street
    Journal


 “The must-
    have foodie
    quarterly.”

    NPR

“This is what
    the food
    movement
    used to be
    all about —
    honesty and
    integrity —
    not hype.”

    Alice Waters  


Preserving Memory
Mouneh: Preserving Foods for the Lebanese Pantry
by Barbara Abdeni Masaad, 591 pages, self-published, hardcover,
$50 from Buylebanese.com plus
$49 shipping to US (2010).

Before the first agricultural civilizations began to store grain, preserved foods were already vital to the human diet, perhaps nowhere more so than in the Middle East, where many preservation methods are believed to have originated. The Arabic word mouneh means “stored foods,” from pickles to meats, cheeses, and grains, and Barbara Abdeni Massaad’s Mouneh: Preserving Foods for the Lebanese Pantry is a comprehensive handbook of the Lebanese traditions of drying, fermenting, pickling in vinegar, distilling, as well as canning and freezing, with even beekeeping and soap-making. The techniques are simple ones that she extensively researched, painstakingly recorded, and presents here in the form of modern recipes. Today, relatively few Lebanese rely on home preserved foods as staples, but women still get together to “do mouneh.” For them, it is connected to the way they regard food in general: they eat what is local and often homegrown, waste as little as possible, and insist that food be handled, prepared, and kept with the utmost care and respect.

When I married into a Lebanese family, I didn’t realize how deeply that would affect my own approach to cooking and food. In Lebanon there is a right way to do everything and any other way is... well, wrong. I was taught that when you make yogurt you should scald the milk and then allow it to cool until it’s just bearable to hold your little finger in the milk for a ten-count; relying on a thermometer would be unthinkable. I once watched a group of women break into a full-scale fight over how finely spinach should be chopped and with what knife. These details used to seem inane to me, but now I understand that they are the carefully guarded secrets of generations and compose the soul of Lebanese cooking. Without them you may make a perfectly acceptable dish, but you will likely sense, if ever so slightly, that something is missing. For example, tabbouleh, the salad of finely chopped parsley and bulgur wheat, is now commonly made with a food processor, which pulverizes the parsley and causes it to overpower the other flavors. It is still tabbouleh, but it does not have the delicate texture of the same muted flavor as the tabbouleh made in the traditional way, where parsley sprigs are meticulously cleaned, stacked in tidy bunches, and chopped uniformly with unwavering precision and care.

A strength of Massaad’s book is her inclusion of these traditional techniques. The recipe for drying grapes calls for 250 grams of “ashes (oak,lemon or olive tree)”; they are mixed with water to create lye that is

sprinkled over the drying grapes using “an olive branch or a branch of Tayoun (Inula viscosa),” a strong-smelling bush known for having medicinal properties. In the recipe for Plum Roll Ups, made from a dried sheet of sugar and plum paste, the directions say, “Leave in the hot sun to dry for 3 to 5 days, depending on weather conditions.” Though Massaad mentions dehydrators, solar panels,and conventional ovens in the general section on dried fruits and vegetables, she gives only the traditional methods. But in recipes for syrup and molasses that require fruits to be ground, she provides modern methods and shortcuts — a few of which mercifully involve a food processor instead of arduous kneading, grating, or hand grinding. Massaad doesn’t only catalogue traditional recipes in her book, she also tells the story of how local food and traditional production methods unite people from diverse religious, social, and economic backgrounds,which have

in recent history violently divided Lebanon. She describes Abu Kassem, a poor farmer from southern Lebanon, who replaced his tobacco fields with thyme for the production of the herb mixture za’atar and gained financial independence. And through the farmers’ market network, for the first time in his life he interacted with other religious and social groups. ­Massaad observes about two families, one conservative Muslim and the other Christian, both of which produce the local cheese darfieh: “this Shi’a family had merged both physically and mentally with their Maronite employers. They were living in perfect harmony.” 

Born in Lebanon, Massaad immigrated to the United States as a child and grew up helping her father in his Lebanese restaurant. She returned to Lebanon as an adult and apprenticed with French, Italian, and Lebanese chefs, and then she turned her attention to the food of Lebanon and wrote her first book, the award-winning Man’oushé: Inside the Street Corner Lebanese Bakery. As one of the founding members of Slow Food Beirut and an advocate of preserving food traditions, she helped to establish the Souk El Tayeb, the popular farmers’ market in Beirut. There, culinary diplomacy rules over the country’s usual factionalization. The market has become an important feature in the contemporary map of Lebanese cuisine, and Massaad used it to the fullest in her research for Mouneh, interviewing and photographing market producers and cajoling them to reveal age-old family recipes and nearly forgotten techniques. She also gleaned some modern recipes, such as grape leaves stuffed with labneh, dried yogurt cheese, preserved in oil, and watermelon jam.

The book connects recipes with their origins — the families that passed them from generation to generation, refining them with time and experience. Take the obscure recipe for Poor Man’s Cheese. Out of context it would have seemed inaccessible to me, but with the author’s clear, simple instructionsand the story of Mona and Nelly, two farmers’ market producers who have“gone to great lengths to safeguard this ancient recipe,” I confidently set out to ferment one kilo of bulgur wheat into a mysterious dairyless “cheese.” I just filled a container with water and bulgur, sealed it, and covered it with a towel. I did look for guidance over the next week as the bulgur took on a strange smell and consistency, but even the savviest old Lebanese ladies I could find only smiled with appreciation when I mentioned kishk el khameer and could at best recall a time when their grandmothers may have made it. After a week of kneading the dubious mixture every other day, I was relieved to find it smelled pleasant and cheesy. I seasoned it according to the recipe with red pepper paste and nigella seeds and rolled it into balls. It was a success (except perhaps that the red pepper paste made the balls too soft and some became misshapen in their jars). The taste was surprisingly light and tangy, similar to a fermented nut cheese.

The book is organized by month, to “emphasize the use of nature’s gifts at the peak of their ripeness,” beginning with spring, and to serve as a reminder of the time-honored, annual schedule of food preservation.

Searching for a particular recipe can be difficult — the index is meager —and much of the book’s vital information is distributed randomly. In the April chapter, hidden between a recipe for pickled sea fennel and the entry on strawberries, are the instructions for processing jams, jellies, and syrups, which contain important, basic canning information, such as how to sterilize and prepare jars.

The intended audience for the book may seem unclear. The author introduces many of the dishes and ingredients as if to a foreigner, but the lack of a glossary and suggestions that you take your dried chickpeas to be ground at the local mill or that rennet can be easily purchased at the corner pharmacy indicate that she is writing for a Lebanese reader. Mouneh seems especially directed to the many Lebanese who fled during the civil war and settled throughout the world. They eat, speak, and feel Lebanese, and yet they may not read Arabic and may have forgotten what their grandmothers knew. Those unfamiliar with Lebanese cuisine may find some ingredients, such as mastic granules or geranium leaves, strange or difficult to procure or find a substitute for. But ­Massaad’s book is exceedingly detailed in describing methods for choosing ripe produce and in describing certain ingredients, such as the thorny branch akub, or gundelia, a spiny relative of the sunflower usually translated as “thistle,” which can be grilled or pickled. She is equally detailed in explaining techniques, such as how to harvest pine nuts, turn wheat berries into bulgur, or make molasses from carob pods. The photographs on the pages between recipes are more often aesthetic than informational, but they provide context for the food, the land, and the people.

The dozen or so recipes that I made were generally easy to follow and tasted authentic — my dried yogurt, or labneh, balls in oil were the envy of the family table and I was complimented with “’Smallah shoo sit-beit,” meaning, “God bless, what a house-lady.” However, some recipes lacked key information. I would have liked to know the approximate yield for many of the recipes, so that I could have known how many jars to prepare. For the vegetables packed in oil, it was unclear how long they needed to cure to become soft and palatable; I know from experience that stuffed eggplants take at least two weeks, but my artichoke hearts in oil were still crunchy after three weeks. Yet such omissions are minor in such an ambitious work.Massaad does a great service in collecting myriad fundamental recipes and processes together for the first time. For example, the recipe for Basic Pickling Solution can be used to pickle any variety or combination of vegetables. I found that my cucumber pickles tasted a bit salty and flat,something that could be remedied with spice, but the turnips and beets were excellent, crispy, flavorful, and attractive in their jars. I also followed her advice and sealed extra pickling solution in a jar for later use. I appreciated the simple, old-fashioned method for preparing fruit jams, all of which begin with placing the clean, cut-up fruit “in a glass bowl starting and finishing with a layer of sugar. Cover with a clean cloth and leave to stand overnight.” In the morning you find your sugar dissolved and your fruit floating in a pleasant bath of syrup. This mixture is simply boiled with some lemon juice, no pectin added. My apricot jam was perfect, full of flavor.

During the few weeks that I was cooking through the book, I left it lying on my coffee table — it’s eye-catching. Nearly every visitor I had was drawn to it. While most commented on the photographs, cultural narrative, and unique topic, my ­Lebanese visitors, many of them women in their fifties and sixties, were delighted to see in print so many cherished recipes that they had been recreating from memory. More than once I heard: “Yes! You see, here I’ve been doing it wrong!” or “Aha! I’ve been trying to figure this out for years!” Barbara Abdeni ­Massaad has taken the “feeling” that an old Lebanese woman had about a “pinch” of this and a “drop” of that and transformed it into complete, accurate recipes for the supermarket generation.— Michelle Dumitriu Machtoub 


Monday, January 16, 2012

Barbara Organic Food with Fadi Daw "Helwe W Morra"



Fadi has been working very hard to build a reputation for his Adonis Valley brand name. His products are different from many because they are produced from organic fruits and vegetables. Lots of good stuff goes into the jars without all the insecticides and pesticides that harm our bodies. The recipes come from years of experience. Wishing you all the best always Fadi!

Barbara with Chef Alexis Couqley New Year's Eve "Helwe Beirut"



Chef Alexis is French / Belgium / and American! I think it's a great combination to make delicious food, he's a "makhloutah" like me! His duck confit was absolutely delicious. His story is made of hard work, determination, and success. I admire that in so many people, especially chefs around the country. He has adopted Lebanon in his heart and is growing strong with the opening of a second restaurant in Zaytouneh Bay in Downtown Beirut. It is called Amarres. To follow Chef Alexis's food journey join the group's Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Couqley.

Happy New Year!

Piece of Art

Souvenir photo

Barbara with Chef Joe Barza "Christmas Dinner" Part 2 Helwe Beirut



This is the second part of the Christmas menu. Here Chef Joe demonstrates how to make a special salad with Parmesan crust filled with labneh. To finish our special menu, Chef Rami executes Chef Joe's recipe with a chocolate mousse filling mixed with meghli.

This is the recipe for the salad: (please refer to the video for more details)

For the pastry
100 g of butter
100 g of Parmesan cheese
100 g flour (for pastry)
For the filling
Labneh (goat)
Dried tomatoes (chopped finely)
Olives
Onion (chopped finely)
Onion chives (cut finely)
Walnuts
Olive oil
Cream
A bunch of parsley
For the salad
Lettuce
Radish
Basil
Arugula
Strawberries
Cherry tomatoes
For the salad dressing
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
White vinegar
 
1. Mix all ingredients for the filling in a large mixing bowl. (see video)
2. Empty the content into a pastry bag.
3. Mix all the ingredients to make the crust for the base. (see video)
4. Squeeze all the content of the bag into the crust.
5. Mix all ingredients to make the salad. (see video)
6. Top the salad on the labneh. Pour the dressing.

For the dessert: (refer to the video for methods of preparation)

For the meghli:
4000 g water
800 g sugar
4 tbs of cinnamon
4 tbs of carvi
400 g of rice powder
For the chocolate mousse:
255 g egg (yellow)
135 g sugar
375 g cream (animal)
75 g milk
300 g cream (vegetable)
Dark chocolate (50% or 70% of cacao)
For the pie crust:
1/2 kg of flour
335 g of butter
170 g sugar
1 egg

Barbara with Chef Joe Barza Christmas Dinner Part 1 "Helwe Beirut"



It was a lot of fun to cook this Christmas menu with Chef Joe.Part I of this segment is based on two recipes: roasting the turkey and cooking freekeh. The result was absolutely amazing! The segment was shot in a new catering venue called Bread and Roses. Joe Barza Culinary Consultancy is  the culinary consultant firm of Bread and Roses, among many of his other endeavors. The premises hold what you may call "a dream" professional kitchen. I hope you try this recipe at home because it is really worth while.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mouneh Reviewed in the Art of Eating

the Art of Eating
I am very proud to announce that Mouneh has been reviewed by the Art of Eating this month, a prestigious magazine in the USA. Whoever had something to do with this, I thank them wherever they may be. I hope that the review is positive. I shall post it as soon as I get a copy. Hopefully I can find it in a local bookshop. I have this need to have my work and writings in my "other" homeland, the one I grew up in. It is important to  me that part of who I am remains there forever, that I may also leave a trace in this distant land that I hold forever in my heart. I once read a phrase that Khalil Gibran wrote. It went something like, " I belong in two different worlds, Lebanon and America - I feel  that I belong to neither". In my case, I feel like that too and sometimes I feel like I belong to both!

A glimpse of the review: 

"Barbara Abdeni Massad has taken 'the feeling' that an old Lebanese woman had about a 'pinch' of this and 'a drop' of that and transformed it into complete, accurate recipes for the supermarket generation."