Results tagged Arabic from David Lebovitz

Al Bohsali: Middle Eastern Pastries

arab pastries

It’s too bad that so many people are only familiar with Middle Eastern pastries that aren’t so well made. If you sample them far from where they originate, often they’re made with old or stale nuts, they’ve sat around too long in plastic packages, or the cheeses aren’t exactly fresh. While it’s true that some of them can be a bit sticky-sweet for Western tastes, but when they’re made correctly, they’re just as lovely to look at as they are to eat.

semolina pastry

At Al Bohsali in Beirut, all the pastries are made on the premises. As you get ready to sip your coffee, you can gaze at all the lovely pastries resting in a shiny glaze, presented in wide stainless-steel trays on the counter. Then make yourself a little plate to try a few, which I was happy to do.

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Lebanese Meze

labne with olive oil

The Lebanese are real “snackers”, a point brought home by Mazen Hajjar, the owner of 961, Lebanon’s first (and only) craft brewery that told me if I went into someone’s home in Lebanon and they offered a drink – but no bowl of nuts or seeds, “You should go…just get up and leave immediately.”

961 beer in Lebanon

Fortunately I never had to, because true to his word, each and every place in Lebanon where I was offered a drink, a generous bowl of bzoorat – some tasty combination of peanuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, etc. – were offered. And I always seemed to have my hand in a dish of them.

arak White Lady (gin cointreau lemon juice)

So it’s no surprise I went nuts, so to speak, at Al Rifai, considered one of the best nut roasters in Beirut. When I walked in, I was immediately drawn to the glowing glass and stainless-steel bins, radiating with the heat coming off the piles of freshly roasted nuts.

nuts

I picked up a few bags to bring home and it’s fun to choose your own from the dozens of nuts and seeds they offer. Some are plain, other spiced or glazed. And it’s fun to mix ‘em up. Showing true Lebanese hospitality, as I selected each one, the woman at the counter plunked down a little bowl of them for me to snack on while weighing and filling my bags. Good thing they didn’t weigh me on the way out, because I’m pretty sure I ate as much as I bought.

nuts, pistachios, etc

And now, I’m officially just as hooked as the Lebanese are. So it was a good thing Al Rifai has a large kiosk at the airport where I stocked up on even more bzoorat, along with all the locals, who also wanted to be as certain as I that we would have plenty of nuts and seeds while outside of the country. (Either that, or they were also looking for a way to pass their time when their plane got delayed for nine hours, too – oof.)

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Spice ID?

cranberries, pistachios, garlic

Before I went to Israel, I was introduced by my friend Paule to some wonderful spices and seasoning mixtures, which a friend of hers who lives in Tel Aviv brought to her. When I popped the lid off the first one, I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming aromas, some familiar – dill and garlic, and others with unidentifiable seeds and spices.

She shared some of them with me, and I liberally sprinkled them over eggplant dips and marinated chicken with the dill mixture. Which, of course, depleted my stock. So when I went to Israel, I was hoping to restock my stashes but didn’t come across them in the travels. I had a hard time explaining what they were when folks asked me what I was looking for. And I don’t mean to be dramatic, but I think they changed my life.

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Haj Kahil

fried cheese

When I left the restaurant Haj Kahil after lunch, I said to someone – “That was the best day of my life.” When Erin, who was dining next to me, took a bite of the fried Halloumi cheese, her whole body softened, her eyes dimmed, and she looked as if she had been lulled into a trance.

Labna with wild mustardpomagranite juicefried haloumi cheesewaiter at Haj Khil

And when someone tried to talk to her, she said – “I’m sorry. I’m just…having…a…moment..with…this….cheese…”

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Ottolenghi’s Fried Beans with Sorrel, Feta & Sumac

ottolenghi beans

When the recent cloud of volcanic ash cruelly snatched my vacation away from me, not only was I miffed I wouldn’t be heading across the ocean (and let me tell you, there’s nothing more depressing than unpacking a non-used swimsuit, sandals, and sunscreen out of a suitcase), but I was sad I would be missing dinner with Yotam Ottolenghi at his restaurant, Ottolenghi. I’d written him a fan letter, and after agreeing to a psychiatric evaluation, and a pass through a metal detector, he consented to have dinner with me.

I swooned over his first book and featured his gently salted, crisp almond chocolate-dipped Florentines a while back, which I had trouble not finishing the moment the slick chocolate coating had cooled on their underside.

civette spring onions

Usually when flipping through a new cookbook, I bookmark a few things that catch my eye. Like his previous book, if I’d bookmarked all the recipes I wanted to try in his new book Plenty, my copy of the book would’ve been twice as large as it originally was.

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Moroccan Preserved Lemons

Although it’s possible to buy citrons confits at Arab markets here in Paris, making Moroccan Preserved Lemons couldn’t be easier and they taste far fresher than anything you can buy. I insist on foraging through the mounds of lemons at my market in pursuit of the smallest citrus possible (which I don’t recommend doing here, by the way, unless you know the vendor pretty well.)

But you may be lucky to have a friend with a lemon tree and they’re probably more than happy to let you take a few off their hands… although none of my friends in Paris seem to have lemon trees growing in their apartments, unfortunately. And if you live where Improved Meyer Lemons are available, by all means feel free to use them instead of the more common Eureka lemons.

preservedlemons.jpg

I like to finely dice preserved lemons and mix them with sautéed vegetables, such as green beans, fava beans, or to elevate lowly rounds of carrots into something interesting and exotic, perhaps tossing in a few cumin seeds as well. They’re also good mashed into butter with some fresh herbs, then smeared on top of grilled fish or a nice hunk of caramelized roasted winter squash. And I’ve been known to sneak some into a batch of tapenade, as well as adding some finely-chopped little pieces to a batch of lemon ice cream too!

In addition to their ability to multi-task, there’s something comfortable and nice about having a jar of vivid lemons on the kitchen counter to keep tabs on their progess every morning, like a flowering Amaryllis bulb or a family of Sea Monkeys coming to life. I’m keeping a vigilant eye on my lemons daily, noticing how much juice they’re giving off, how soft they’re getting, and enjoying how they gently deflate and nestle themselves against each other as they settle nicely into the corners of my vintage glass canning jar (which I barely rescued from the clutches of some madame at a flea market last summer.)

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