Results tagged Haloumi from David Lebovitz

Zahav

Zahav restaurant hummus

I didn’t believe them when they told me, but when I was in Washington, D.C. a few months back, when having dinner with my friends Carol and Joe, they swore that if I stopped at Zahav in Philadelphia on the way back, that I’d have a life-changing experience. While I wish that at least several times a day I’d have a life-changing experience (sometimes I wish for them several times an hour…), I was a little skeptical. Both of them are pretty knowledgable about good food, but I’ve been steered wrong on many occasion. And getting off of a train, taking a taxi, and having dinner before hoofing back to the train station later on in the evening, then dealing with getting back safe and sound while navigating late-night Manhattan, wasn’t exactly an enticing idea. Especially for a bowl of hummus.

Zahav restaurant fried haloumi

While on that trip to Washington, D.C., my friend Judy and I went to a Middle Eastern restaurant that everyone had said great things about. Even people I trust. Note: I later found out the place was known for wild dips in quality, so the ones who recommended it are off the hook. (However if any of them are reading this, I’m setting up a PayPal site where you can pitch in to reimburse me for dinner.)

Zahav restaurant  salatim

That place was mobbed, which is usually a good sign. But nothing we’d had during our dinner knocked our socks off, or excited us. Even the hummus was ho-hum, and hummus isn’t all that hard to get right. You just need to taste it and add some lemon, salt, perhaps more tahini, and maybe some garlic, until you get the taste where it belongs. For heaven’s sake, it’s not like a cake where you have to start all over again. Get it right, or don’t serve it. And we left disappointed.

So when I was heading to Charlottesville to give a talk recently, Joe, Carol and I made plans to meet in Philadelphia, because I had been thinking about that hummus they had said would change my life. And while there are a number of things I’d like to change, but can’t, eating good hummus is one of them that I can. So let’s do it, I said.

Zahav restaurant hummus

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Fried Halloumi Cheese

Halloumi cheese recipe

When I was in Beirut, I stayed at a hotel with amazing breakfasts. Although I’m not one that likes to inflict myself on the public in the early hours of the day (when I’m not exactly at my best), the breakfasts with their freshly baked Arabic bread and za’atar-filled croissants helped me make the transition from my blissful slumber, and through that difficult period where I’m going to have to realize that at some point I’m going to have to start interacting with others.

Halloumi cheese recipe

Yet just as fast as I got accustomed to those lovely morning treats, I moved to another hotel where those lovely breakfasts were pulled out from under me. The place was fine, but let’s just say the breakfast offerings weren’t quite as enticing. (As much as I’d love to tote around a coffee machine or other apparatus when I travel, my dream is to show up at a hotel and find an in-room espresso machine ready and waiting.)

Halloumi cheese recipe

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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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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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