For the month of November Walima Cooking Club chose Lebanese cusine. As usual were given 1 sweet dish 'The Bread of the Seraglio' ( Aysh el-Saraya) picked by Joumana of Taste of Beirut
and 1 savory dish Sheesh Barak picked by Arlette of Phoenician Gourmet. Every month I try only 1 delight...either sweet or savory. But, I was soo tempted to try both the yummy delights this month. Thanks Joumana and Arlette.I enjoyed making both the dishes, they turned out really yummy. Here is a little introduction to Lebanese cuisine.
Lebnan, Le-b-nan that means the White Mountain, once called "The pearl of the middle East,” is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, Israel, and Syria. At one time or another Phoenicians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Arabs, European Crusaders, Ottomans, and French all ruled and had influence over the land and its cuisine. The Cuisine of this Ancient Land is diverse and steeped in history; Lebanon is a culinary and cultural Crossroads. Lebanon is located on the Eastern most shore of the Mediterranean in the Fertile Crescent, where Western Civilization is said to have begun. Both the Eastern and Western influences in its cookery are apparent. It combines the sophistication of European Cuisine with the excitement of Eastern Spices. The food of the entire Mediterranean region is a celebration of life; it is fresh, flavorful, diverse and invigorating. The Lebanese proudly admit that the genius of their food is its simplicity, and that the food was a product of both the earth and the sea. Also the natural bond that all of the Mediterranean cuisines share, from the tip of Spain to Lebanon “the same waters equally splash all of the countries around the Mediterranean". Lebanese cuisine is the richer and the finest in the Middle East and any other Arab countries due to their milder climate, and indeed, any cuisine is dependent upon climate and geography. Lebanese Cuisine is considered a very balanced, healthy diet. The Cuisine of Lebanon is the epitome of the Mediterranean diet. The country’s cuisine characterized by the use of a wide variety of fresh ingredients which include olive oil, herbs, spices, fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, grains, fresh fish and seafood; animal fats are consumed sparingly. Poultry and red meat and usually lamb, is eaten more often, either grilled, baked or sautéed in olive oil or butter, cream is rarely used other than in a few desserts. Vegetables are often eaten raw or pickled as well as cooked. Though its mainstream popularity is relatively new, the Cuisine is not; the Cuisine of Lebanon has been in the making since pre-biblical times. The influence that Lebanon has had on the world is totally out of proportion to its size; culinary contributions from this tiny Country have had the greatest impact on modern Middle Eastern cuisine.
THE BREAD OF THE SERAGLIO( Aysh-el-saraya)
1 loaf white bread,
2 cups of golden super fine sugar,
1 cup of water,
4 tablespoons water,
1 teaspoon lemon juice,
1 tbsp orange blossom water or rose water,
1 1/2 cups Lebanese clotted cream or Ashta ,
1 cup coarsely ground pistachios.
Cut the crust with a sharp knife and keep aside.Arrange the slices on a baking sheet and toast in an oven at 350 F until lightly brown on both sides(Turn once) about 10-15 minutes.Cool and break into small pieces .
To make the caramelized syrup, in a saucepan, put water, sugar and lemon juice and bring to boil stirring continuously, so that the sugar does not crystallize in places, for about 20 minutes or until it is caramelized.
Towards the end of the cooking time, measure 7 ounces of water and bring to a boil in a teakettle. When the sugar is caramelized, start adding the water gradually without taking the sugar mixture off the heat.
Now add the bread pieces to the pan. Stir for 3-5 minutes until the breads absorbs the sugar syrup and becomes soft. Add the orange blossom water and remove from heat.
Pour the mixture in a serving dish and spread it evenly across the dish. After it cools spread the Ashta cream / ricotta cheese evenly on the bread and garnish with the coarsely grounded pistachios.
Note: If one can't find ricotta cheese/ Ashta cream, here is a way to make home made Ashta :-
Clotted cream or Ashta: 2 slices of white bread without the crust
2 cups half-and-half
Cut the bread in small pieces and place in a saucepan
Pour the cream or half-and-half over the bread
Bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer 10 minutes, stirring often.
Cool then refrigerate.
Source: Lebanese Cuisine by Anissa Helou and Middle eastern cookbook by Maria khalife.
For the basic dough or Ajeen :
1/2 kg (2-3 cups) plain flour,
1 cups warm water,
1/4 cup olive oil,
1/4 cup vegetable oil,
1 tbsp salt and
1 tbsp sugar.
For the filling:
1/2 kg minced meat( beef or lamb),
3 medium sized onions finely chopped,
1/4 tsp ground all spice,
1/4 tsp cinnamon powder,
1/4 cup of pine nuts and
2 tbsp cooking oil or butter.
For the yogurt sauce:
1/2kg of plain Greek Style Yogurt,
1 tbsp cornstarch,
1/2 tsp of salt,
1/4 cup water,
1 beaten egg ,
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint or some dried mint,
2-3 cloves of crushed garlic.
For the basic dough or Ajeen:
Sift the flour into a working surface.Mix in salt and sugar. Make a well in the center.Pour olive oil and vegetable oil in the well.Mix the dry ingredients into the liquid.Add water gradually. Knead the dough into a ball. Knead the dough on a floured working surface until it is smooth and elastic.Form the dough into a ball and put into a lightly floured bowl, covered with a damp cloth.
Leave in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size.
For them meat filling:
Fry onion in butter till color changes a little. Add meat, salt, allspice and cinnamon. Stir occasionally and fry for 7-8 minutes. Add pine nuts and Mix. Drain the mixture as butter would affect closing the pastries.
For the yogurt sauce :
Strain yogurt using a smooth colander into a pot. Add egg or egg's white.Dissolve cornstarch in 1 cup of water. Stir into cold yogurt for 2 minutes.Place on medium heat, stirring constantly until it boils.
Preparing the Sheesh barak:
Roll out the dough with a rolling pin to about 1 cm thickness. Using a round cookie cutter (medium size), press over dough to get equal rounds.Spread the round a little with your fingers. Place 1 tspn of the filling on it. Fold over one end to make a semi-circle. Press edges down to seal. Take the two ends from the straight side, bring them together and seal them. Press well. Repeat till rounds are done.
Place the stuffed dough and the cut pastries in a tray with parchment, Bake in a hot oven (400F) for 10 minutes or until golden. During this time prepare and cook the yogurt and when it starts to boil add the baked pastries to the boiling cooked yoghurt one by one. Let it boil over low heat for 10 minutes or till pastries are cooked.
In a separate skillet quickly saute the garlic and mint in one tbsp extra virgin olive oil and add it to the Sheesh Barak. And cook for another 2 minutes .
Source: Adapted from Antonio Tahhan.