Cravings

Lebanese_005

 

I can’t
get Lebanese food off my mind. Maybe it was the visit to London last weekend
that included TWO visits to the excellent Ishbilia in Kensington), maybe it’s the genes, maybe it’s that Lebanese food is delicious
and we can’t get the real deal here in Bloomington. Whatever.

I have a
friend and fellow food writer who’s got the same yearning for grape leaves and
kibbeh, and we’ve been planning a communal feast for a while now – somewhere
off in the distant when-we’re-not-so-busy future. But I came home from London
hungry, and we’ve set a date for early December and invited enough friends to
fill a long table for ten.

But what
to cook?

Friday
morning we sat down with every Middle Eastern cookbook we own (there were more
than 20 on the table, including the one from my grandmother’s Syrian Orthodox
Church in LA, circa 1969) and began to plan. We are “just” going to do a mezze,
lots of small dishes, but by the time we got done listing the must-haves
(classics like hummus, tabouleh, kibbeh, labneh), some favorites from other
Middle Eastern cuisines (Imam Biyaldi!), and a few things we were seduced into
trying (like the gorgeous eggplant slices with yogurt, tahini and pomegranate
from Arabesque) the list, like all good mezze lists, grew long.

Currently
it looks something like this:

Olives

Feta

Pickled
turnips

Bread and
zaatar

Grilled
Haloumi

Bread


Hummus with fried lamb

Muhummara

Smoked
eggplant salad

Labneh

Toom

Tabouleh


Stuffed grape leaves

Imam
biyaldi

Eggplant
slices with yogurt, tahini and pomegranate

Mujadara

Kibbeh
nayye

Ful
medames

Fatoosh


Falafel

Fried
kibbeh

Potato
kibbeh

Baked
kibbeh

Grilled chicken
with sumac


Pomegranate sorbet

Maamoul

The prep has begun with mail order purchases of cheese, olives and chilies, and
the ordering of lamb. Tomorrow I will get the pickled turnips underway.
Presumably I will eat other things between now and Dec. 1, but my dreams are
running to zaatar over pumpkin pie spice just now.

Stay
tuned.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Excellent. On a whim this summer I bought a zaatar plant and it’s flourishing on my windowsill. I’ve been looking for recipes to use with the leaves (I’ve just been using them in place of oregano or thyme) so I can’t wait to hear about your big feast.

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  2. Alanna says:

    Twenty Middle Eastern cookbooks?! Clearly I am behind the times! I love to follow your jet-happy life!

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  3. Sarah says:

    ::sigh:: sometime my heart aches for fatayer and real-deal Lebanese pickles… totally agree, though – it is next to impossible to edit a mezze menu down to something that can be reasonably accomplished!

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  4. Now that’s interesting, Lisa. The zaatar I use is a mix — the herb, sesame seeds and sumac. I have one from Penzey’s that has so much sumac the whole thing is red and one from a local grocery that is much herbier and greener. I mix them together. I have never seen or used the herb alone. What my dad always did was to brush Syrian bread with olive oil and scatter the zaatar mix over the bread, then run it under the broiler. Yum!!
    Well, All twenty weren’t mine, Alanna. My friend brought hers too. But I am a little nuts on the subject.
    I know, Sarah — that’s why we need a restaurant here!!

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  5. Lydia says:

    I absolutely understand craving this food — when I first moved to Boston’s South End in the late 1970s, there was a large Lebanese community. We had several excellent restaurants, a pita bakery, and a wonderful market. All that’s left now is the market, but I still make trips there several times a year to stock up. I, too, have many cookbooks in my library. Twenty? I’ll have to go and count them!

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  6. Wish I had that market, Lydia! And keep in mind, the twenty cookbooks was a joint effort!

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  7. We had the most fabulous Lebanese restaurant where we used to live and plenty in RI, but not here in San Diego (at least not that I’m aware of). So when the craving hits, I have to cook it, which never tastes the same as a restaurant. I think their array of spices is unmatched for a home cook. Delicious post!

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