Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Chef of the day

Although many may think that I came to Lebanon to find a husband (with fat neighbour actually verbalising his wish for me to marry here so that his new best friend, Dad, has a reason to come every year!), I am, in fact, here for a very different reason. Three reasons, to be exact:

1) to better my spoken Lebanese language
2) to learn to belly dance
3) to become a Lebanese cook

I guess you could see the mastering of these three objectives as a good starting point from which to find a Lebanese husband, but let's not dwell on fat neighbour's fantasies...

1) Hum ehkeh ahsan be kteer min wa-it wa-sulit ha Lubnan.
2) Last night I felt that I could belly dance freestyle on my own for the first time without inhibitions.
3) Well, let's just say other people have been feeding me enough for me not to have to make my own Lebanese cuisine.

Something had to be done about task number three. It finally took shape today in the creation of my first Lebanese dish made in Lebanon. Shish barack, my favourite local meal, was the star of my table-top performance, held in the presence of some invited family members (including neat-and-tidy aunt, who hadn't come down to Beirut in five years. Talk about an occasion!).

Thanks to saintly neighbour's recipe, I managed to nail this time-consuming dish, all the while cursing parsley and coriander leaves for not coming ready picked, and realising more and more why ladies head to Spinneys to purchase the sombreros ready-made! If I add up the two hours of prepping last night, and hour of cooking this morning, I realise why they call food-making a labour of love.

But love sure does taste good!

Sombreros in the making.

Here's how it's done. (This makes 40 sombreros, enough to feed eight people.)

Ingredients for dough
2 cups cake flour
1/4 cup oil
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
water as per judgement

Mix everything together, adding water a little at a time until you have a non-sticky dough consistency (rather too little than too much, as there's no going back!)

Ingredients for meat
400g minced meat
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
salt & pepper to taste

Mix everything together and form little balls, the size of a Pritt cap.

To make the sombreros, roll out the dough and cut out circles the size of the bottom of a 500ml bottle of water. Place the meat balls in the centre and fold in half, pressing together the edges of the dough and joining the two pointy ends at the back to form a complete circle of dough around the meat - just like a Mexican sombrero. Place these on a greased baking tray and bake in an oven at 180' for 10 minutes before turning them around and baking them for another 10 minutes.

Ingredients for laban
2 litres Greek-style yoghurt
1 heaped Tbs cornflour
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup coriander, chopped

Fry the garlic and coriander and set aside. Bring the yoghurt and cornflour to the boil. Reduce the heat and add the fried garlic and coriander and baked sombreros and allow to cook together for 15 minutes.

Serve on top of rice. Sahtein!

Cooking tip If you're in the mood to work all night long, make lots more sombreros (as they're the most time-consming part of the recipe) and freeze them so that all you have to do when you want to make the dish again is defrost and bake them before tossing them in the easy-to-make laban mixture. I made and baked my sombreros last night, let them cool down completely, and left them in the fridge overnight so that I only had to make the laban this morning.

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