Remember about a month ago I visited Tawlet for lunch with tall uncle and juggling cousin?Well I just had to take Mom and Dad there to taste the divinity of those home-cooked Lebanese dishes. Dad insisted we go all out and stampede the buffet made by Maria Doueihi from Zgharta (who wants me to marry her South African-loving nephew).
Zgharta is in the north of Lebanon and is known for its kibbeh - both cooked and raw - and Maria showed us why. The kibbeh nayeh was absoluetely smooth, with just the right amount of burghul, and it was nice to taste it with fresh zaatar and spring onions, making a change from the mint and onions we usually garnish it with (but this was our own combination, just taking the zaatar and spring onions that were there as a separate salad dish). There was no sight of olive oil to pour over the kibbeh, and I didn't even miss it, the raw meat was that good on its own. The cooked version is usually baked or deep fried, but Maria grilled her kibbeh. Although it was a little harder than what I'm used to, it still made an impressive addition to the plate - this big hollow ball of meat (I don't know how she's perfected that skill) mixed with bulghar wheat and then broken and dipped into laban. Another speciality from her region were the hamayda pies. It was the first time I'd tasted hamayda, a green herb with a soury taste - I like! What Maria also did, which I liked (surprisingly, as she was playing with fire by adapting one of my favourite Lebanese dishes), was substituting the meat in the shish barak 'sombreros' with pine nuts. This was super tasty, and something I will definitely try to make one day (once I actually first attempt to make the original version!).
As for the dessert, well I was proud to be able to recognise the nammoura - an eggless semolina cake topped with rose-water syrup and almonds. There was also smidiyeh, something Maria says is typically from Zgharta (also made with a milky semolina - which could be called Lebanon's melktert), and then a deliciously light cake made from arishe, a milk whey. There was also a separate dish of arishe to be eaten with honey drizzled over it - totally indulgent I tell you.
Oh, and I had a momentary Top Billing flashback when we arrived and a Wimpie-kinda guy was panning shots of the fabulous spread for a Lebanese TV channel. It was great to know that I was not working for a change...
Hamayda pie and kibbeh nayeh.
Laban and grilled kibbeh, with stuffed grape leaves (also eaten with yoghurt) and hijjeh, an omelette made with onion, parsley and mint.
Inside the grilled kibbeh ball.
There was even arak on offer, but we managed to resist...
The dessert table (yum!). From left: smidiyeh, arishe cake decorated with nectarines, nammoura, arishe and honey, fruit, kaak.