Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Lebanese Part 2

2. Baba Ghanouj Katya Faraj
3. Hoummus Greg Malouf
4. Tabbouleh Samira Saab
5. Kafta Fouad Sayed
6. Kousa Mahshi (Stuffed Zucchini) Judy Saba

In some ways, I feel like this was the real start to the Food Safari Challenge. Lebanese Part 1 was a bit of a trial - just one recipe that looked pretty, but that I didn't even get to taste. This was the first banquet with invited guests and excessive planning. I warmed myself up by watching the Lebanese episode from series one of Food Safari. Meave, her usual resplendent self, was an inspiration, 'mmm-ing' her way orgasmically through every sampled recipe.

I had been yammering on about venturing forth into as yet unexplored (by me) areas of Melbourne to source tools and ingredients. Of course, I left it too late, and was forced to rely upon the fresh food market and General Trader at my nearest shopping centre.

My first challenge was to find a manakra, a small tool that looks a little bit like a cross between an apple-corer and the thing you use to get crab meat out of claws (what's that called?). I needed it to hollow out the zucchinis for the Kousa Mahshi. As you would imagine, despite visiting numerous foodie shops, I was unable to find a manakra. I discussed it with a foodie friend at work. She suggested using a small melon baller, but when I explained that the zucchinis needed to stay whole, she agreed that this probably wouldn't work. I considered the pointy, end bit of my Zyliss peeler. It is the same shape as the manakra, but I figured was probably not going to get me right down to the bottom of the zucchini. In the end, I used a metal 1/4 teaspoon measure that has quite a long arm. It did the job well enough, but the lack of handle made it all a bit slow and eventually painful, and I was quite pleased that I only had 7 zucchinis to stuff, rather than the prescribed 10. The zucchini was, surprisingly, the stand out dish. I'll return to that later... first the barbeque fire.

Yes - Fire. Complete with flames and Fear Of God.

As I needed to make a couple of dips, I decided to do the Baba Ghanouj the day before. I don't have a gas stove in my kitchen, so wanted to use the wok burner on my barbecue to blacken the eggplants so that they would have that lovely, smokey flavour. What I didn't know was that a spider had decided that the pipe connected to the burner would make a lovely, snug home in which to have lots of spidery babies. When I started the gas up and tried to light the burner, the whole thing caught fire. Given that the wok burner is positioned directly above the gas bottle itself, I panicked, and almost lost my voice screaming for my husband's assistance. What can I say? I live in the hills. Flames scare me.

The upside was that it meant I needed a new barbecue. Shopping for appliances being one of the great joys in life, we headed off to Barbeques Galore the following day, and procured a shinier, bigger and altogether sexier new barbeque. Fortuitously, the store was relocating, and we managed to score some outstanding floor stock at around half the retail price. We were thrilled; there is nothing more satisfying than an unsolicited Barry Bargain, particularly of such magnitude.

This was all too late for the eggplant, which I had prepared directly after the Great Fire (straight back on the horse) turning to the trusty camp stove to baba my ghanouj (or is it ghanouj my baba?). It was worth the threat of death. The flavour was so fresh that I was afraid it wouldn't taste as good the next day, but I needn't have worried. The smokiness had mellowed slightly - probably a good thing, as it had been almost overwhelming the day before. The hoummus was good but a bit dry, so I added extra garlic and lemon juice. This may have been because I didn't use the '9mm chickpeas' recommended by Greg Malouf. I toyed with the idea of tracking them down, but then the rational (smaller) part of my brain took over, and convinced my perfectionist self that measuring chickpeas would, quite frankly, be taking the whole gastro-adventure thing a step too far.

As I said, the zucchinis surprised me. I was a little concerned about the fact that they were to be cooked in simmering water with tomato paste. Even Maeve's 'mmms' had left me unconvinced. To digress for a moment, I have a theory that you can tell if Maeve is genuinely in awe of dish, or if she is just being polite by the pitch of her 'mmm' and the comment she follows it up with. An 'Oh my God...' means that something is really awesome, whereas a 'wow, that's really good,' not so much. This was definitely an 'Oh my God'. People who do not normally go for cooked vegetables were asking for take-aways and/ or the recipe. A good sign. I wouldn't recommend following the recipe's suggestion to make any leftover stuffing into meatballs and add them to the sauce to simmer, though. They basically fell apart as soon as I tried to remove them from the pot, and ended up resembling bolognese mixed with a little bit of rice.

The tabbouleh was a revelation. I have eaten great Lebanese before, at Abla's, in unpretentious suburban restaurants such as Dunyazad, and have had as many middle of the night souvlakis as anyone else who has lived and studied in Melbourne. Never before has tabbouleh floated my proverbial boat in such a manner. It may have been the freshly picked herbs and garden tomatoes, or perhaps it was that the cracked wheat was soaked in lemon juice rather than water and retained a bit of crunch. Whatever it was, it was incredibly zingy and moreish, and worked perfectly with the kofta, bread and dips. These we ate, as instructed, by folding the large pita, which had been spread with some dip and the tabbouleh, around the kofta like a napkin and sliding it off the metal skewer. You then tear off small pieces of the bread, pick up a little meat and salad and get to work. Thus allowing you to dispense of vast quantities of food without really noticing that you've eaten enough to feed the cast of the Biggest Loser. Be warned, pants, you will be unbuttoned.

While it's great fun to cook my way through the Food Safari Cookbook banquet-style, it provides somewhat of a dilemma. Not all cuisines include recipes for desserts, multiple side dishes, or a great enough variety of meat. Of course, I need to try to remember that there is always too much food, but nevertheless, this week I felt I needed more. One of my guests, Ann-marie, came to the rescue with some delicious baklava from Vanilla Cakes and Lounge in Oakleigh (interestingly, they have their own appreciation society on Facebook), and Guil picked up the bread from her local Lebanese bakery. Having just linked all of the recipe titles to the Food Safari website, I discover that it is not just the recipes featured in the book, or even on the episodes, that appear on the site. This makes me a little nervous, as I am sure that I will now be compelled to 'pad out' my banquets with additional dishes from the site. This week I added a Fattoush sans the bread (had run out of energy for preparing more ingredients by that stage), because I felt we needed a little more green. Totally unnecessary as it turned out, but excellent.

Although Lebanese is now off the list so far as the challenge goes, I am already craving another round of that amazing baba ghanouj. Maybe this is what's going to happen every time. Instead of each banquet making me curse strange tools and impossible to find ingredients, it will leave me feeling slightly guilty, like I'm just skimming the surface of each culture (which clearly, I am).

I get the feeling that the safari may not end with the book.

Next challenge: Spanish


Melanie said...

It reads delicious. Even with a monstrous hangover. Nice work. Just wondering, did mama and lots of baby spiders burst out the top of the flames in the BBQ incident. That would have been seriously apocalyptic.

Anna said...

No spiderlings trying to escape the flames, as far as I could see. A few, suspiciously weeny huntsmen around the place though, which makes me think that they had already left the nest. Ick.

Lebanese Restaurant said...

Good post, thanks for sharing =D

Noman Khan said...

wow,delicius food.I like to eat this food.
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