Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Paris -- Shopping for Our Lebanese Feast with Tania

I described yesterday a wonderful Lebanese feast that friends and I made with their (and now my) friend Tania. One of the revelations was our trip to the amazing Lebanese supermarket, Les Délices d'Orient, a Lebanese supermarket in a part of Paris's 15th arrondissement that is populated by many Lebanese, Iranians and other people from the Middle East.

I was only able to take a few pictures before I was stopped by the manager, who explained that, apart from panoramas of the whole market, photography was prohibited. So here's what I got.

You will have to take my word for the interesting things we found in the vegetable department: real baby lamb's lettuce (not mâche), jujubes (tiny grape-size fruits that taste like apples) and fresh pistachio nuts. A first for me: to eat the nuts you must remove a thin red membrane, and then take the fresh and moist nut out of its shell in the normal manner. Excellent.

Next we went across the street to the butcher owned by the same people as Les Délices. Tania did not make herself popular there by insisting that every scrap of fat be removed from the lamb before double grinding it into a wonderfully smooth texture. Here's what it looked like the next day, before we transformed it into kabab keraz and araïss.

Double ground lamb and other ingredients for araïss
 While at the butcher, we happened on this oddly named product:

Here's a link to learn more about this
If you are like me and enjoy seeing markets full of (for us) exotic products, Les Délices d'Orient is a must. 52 Avenue Émile Zola, 75015 Paris (Métro Charles Michels).

Bobby Jay

Monday, September 7, 2015

Paris -- Lebanese Cooking with Tania

Our Lebanese Feast
I spent two memorable days last week with my friends Mimi and JoJo and their friend Tania, a Lebanese woman who is a passionate expert on Middle Eastern food and a talented Lebanese chef.

The day before the meal, we made a couple of dishes and then shopped for the next day. We started with mehallabiyeh, a pudding perfumed with the divine scents of rose water and orange flower water.

The wonderful Tania making mehallabiyeh
Then we prepared hummus, like many other versions but with a trick: Tania adds a few ice cubes to the blender with the chickpeas and tahini for an extra smooth spread. I love getting this type of astuce, a small thing that can make a big difference.

Next, we had coffee with some great loukoums (what we call Turkish delight) from Turkey . . .

Loukoums and coffee
. . . and started on our shopping expedition. More on that in a separate post.

The following day, we continued preparing for the feast, at which we were joined by Mimi and JoJo's great friend Miki and Nissan, the latter of whom grew up in what is now Israel before it was Israel, and as a child spoke Arabic and ate exactly the kind of food we prepared with Tania. Soul food for him!

In addition to the mehallabiyeh and hummus we made the day before, we added a bunch of exquisite dishes, an elaborate meal fit for royalty.

Moutabbal, also known as baba ghanouj, similar to Turkish but a little different.

Making moutabbal
Moutabbal -- the final product
Cucumber and yogurt salad, like raita but a little different.

Cucumber and yogurt salad with spices, mint, etc.
Tomato marinated in arak (anise flavored liquor similar to pastis) and served with shankish, a strong crumbly cheese.

Arak-marinated tomato with shankish
Kabab keraz, little lamb meatballs in a sour cherry sauce.

Making kabab keraz
Kabab keraz -- the final product
Meat pies (sorry, I don't have the Lebanese name) atop pancakes that closely resemble blinis, along with beef triangles that Tania had made earlier.

Meat pies
And my personal favorite, lamb araïss, pitas stuffed with a layer of spiced ground lamb and then grilled like panini (indeed, we used a panini maker).

Lamb araïss
As you can see, Lebanese food resembles that of other Middle Eastern countries, and, like them, traces its roots back to Turkey. But each cuisine is slightly different, and a lot of the fun lies in discovering the nuances.

Tania's food is pure and her presentations are magnificent. What a wonderful feast for the stomach, the eyes and the soul!

Bobby Jay

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Paris -- Cooking Lesson: Le Siphon

I had a fun cooking lesson the other day, which focused on using the syphon, a device like a selzer maker that uses nitrogen dioxide instead of carbon dioxide to make foams and whipped creams.
We made three things:

First, a cream of foie gras (not made in the syphon) with a spicy whipped cream on top and little apple bâtons for decoration and a hint of sweetness.

Foie gras cream with seasoned whipped cream and apple bâtons
Next, a good-tasting baby clam (cockle) risotto with a pretty unattractive cuttlefish ink emulsion.

Cockle risotto with cuttlefish ink emulsion
Finally, a vanilla poached pear with pear chantilly, salted caramel sauce and toasted brioche, delicious and attractive, I think.

Vanilla poached pear with caramel sauce, pear chantilly and brioche toast
Using a syphon is fun and something you can easily do at home. Just know that the contents must contain fat (cream, egg whites) or a gelling agent (gelatin or agar agar). I have had a syphon for several years and rarely use it, but hope to use it more often, at least for super light flavored whipped creams that have about double the volume of ones made in the traditional way.