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

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