The Lebanese Cookbook by Hussien Dekmak

Recipes
  1. Spicy Potatoes – Batata Harra Serves 4
  2. Chick Pea Dip with Lamb and Pine Nuts – Hummus Awarma Serves 4
  3. Chick Pea Dip – Hummus bil tahina This recipe makes a large batch of hummus, which will keep for one week in the fridge. The bicarbonate of soda helps the chick peas to cook quickly and also helps loosen their skins so they can be easily removed. Just make sure you rinse the chick peas well after cooking to get rid of any traces of the bicarb. Once refrigerated, the hummus thickens, so make it quite thin to start with. The ice is used to keep the food processor cool.
  4. Fatthoush – Toasted Bread Salad Fatthoush is a classic Lebanese dish. It is often eaten by itself as a starter or light lunch. Sumac is an essential ingredient. It is a spice that is made from the dried, powdered berries of the sumac tree.
  5. Smoky Aubergine Dip – Moutabal Also known as baba ganoush in Syria and Egypt. Charring the aubergines on a gas flame or charcoal grill gives the dip a distinctive smoky flavour. Be careful not overdo the tahini; you only need a little to bring out the flavour of the aubergines.
  6. Fried Jumbo Prawns with Garlic and Coriander Serves 4
  7. Chicken Shawarma – Shawarma Dajaj
  8. serve with mixed pickles and toum (garlic sauce) and pitta bread
  9. Pickled Caulfiflower – Kabis Karnabett When Hussien makes pickles he usually does five or six jars at a time as they last for a long time. You need to store different kinds of pickles in different jars. Beetroot is used to turn the vegetables pink. The book also includes recipes for pickled cabbage, pickled turnip and pickled cucumber.
  10. Garlic Sauce – Toum This recipe makes quite a large quantity, but it will keep in the fridge for a week. Hussien uses it as the base for a marinade for grilled chicken and a sauce for fried chicken livers. If you have any left over, it is also good with chips he says!
  11. Baked Potato with Meat and Breadcrumbs – Sanieh Batata wa Lahma bil ka’ak
  12. This is like a Lebanese shepherd’s pie.
  13. Rice Pudding – Riz bil halib Not so different to the western-style rice pudding, but this one has rose water and orange blossom water for flavour and is finished with pistachios.
Around the corner from my publishers in Camden Town, there’s a little neighbourhood restaurant that I love. I discovered it some years ago when my editor almost chained me to the desk in an effort to extract the final manuscript for one my books. We took a break to grab a bite of lunch at the local Lebanese restaurant – what a little gem. Le Mignon is in Delancey Street NW1, well away from the Lebanese epicentre that is Edgeware Road. I ordered much more than I could eat, ate much more than I should and brought the rest away in little boxes to have a picnic on the plane.

I begged chef/patron Hussien Dekmak for the recipes for his classic Lebanese dishes – he was unmoved by my pleading but did say that one day he planned to write a cookbook and sure enough it arrived on my desk today, about 10 years later. 

Lebanese cuisine is the fastest growing trend in the UK at present and Hussien Dekmak’s delectable home-style cooking is a stunning example of the inspirational health-giving food of this beautiful troubled country. 

Hussien sources many of his ingredients - chickpeas, bulgur wheat, lentils and spices from the Lebanon when he goes home every Summer.

A Lebanese table is always full, brimming over with delicious dishes. Soups, salads, starters and mains are all served at the same time and shared, mezze style, with an accent on quality rather than quantity that is reflected in serving sizes. Hussien’s honest approach to food is beautifully simple, focusing on the integrity of the ingredients, their freshness and the aromatic strength of their flavours.

At last I can discover the secret of how to produce authentic tabbouleh (parsley salad) and ardishawki bil lahma (artichoke hearts topped with minced lamb, tomatoes and pine nuts), or traditional creamy hummus and falafel as well as less well known delicacies such as creamy Lebanese ashtalieh (milk pudding) and how to brew the perfect Lebanese coffee.

Serving suggestions and combination tips that only come from years of experience are included; salatit malfof abiad (white cabbage salad) superbly partners a serving of moujadara hamra (lentils with bulgur wheat), and makloubeh batinjan (aubergine with lamb and rice) are best accompanied by mahamara (freshly deep-fried golden peanuts, almonds, cashews) and your favourite salad.

The recipes are simple, but as ever one needs to seek out really good ingredients and a few speciality items like sumac and zahtar.

The Lebanese Cookbook by Hussien Dekmak, published by Kyle Cathie, £16.99stg    Buy this Book from Amazon

Spicy Potatoes – Batata Harra
Serves 4

Vegetable oil, for deep frying
1kg (2¼ lb) potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1cm (½ in)cubes
4 tablespoons olive oil
½ onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
1 red pepper, finely chopped
2 green chillies, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh coriander
Salt and black pepper
½ teaspoon ground coriander

Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer or deep, heavy-based saucepan. Deep-fry the potatoes until crisp. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a pan and fry the onion, garlic, pepper, chillies and fresh coriander until softened. Add the potatoes along with salt, pepper and ground coriander to taste. Stir to combine and serve.

Chick Pea Dip with Lamb and Pine Nuts – Hummus Awarma
Serves 4

1 quantity hummus bil tahina – see recipe
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
100g (3½ oz) lamb shoulder, cut into 1cm (½ in) pieces
1 teaspoon pine nuts
Salt and black pepper

Place the hummus in a serving dish and use a tablespoon to make a well in the centre.
Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan and fry the lamb and pine nuts for 5-7 minutes. Stir well, then add salt and pepper and cook until the meat is tender.
Arrange the meat and pine nuts in the well of the hummus and sprinkle with more black pepper.
Hummus snouber is also popular – follow the same recipe but omit the lamb.

Chick Pea Dip – Hummus bil tahina
This recipe makes a large batch of hummus, which will keep for one week in the fridge. The bicarbonate of soda helps the chick peas to cook quickly and also helps loosen their skins so they can be easily removed. Just make sure you rinse the chick peas well after cooking to get rid of any traces of the bicarb. Once refrigerated, the hummus thickens, so make it quite thin to start with. The ice is used to keep the food processor cool.

Buy good-quality tahini. Good tahini shouldn’t taste too bitter. The cheaper brands us peanuts and don’t taste good.

Serves 4

500g (18pz) dried chick peas, soaked overnight and rinsed thoroughly
2 tablespoons bicarbonate of soda
Salt 
100g (3½ oz) ice
200g (7oz) tahini
4 tablespoons lemon juice

Place the chick peas in a large pan with plenty of fresh cold water and the bicarbonate of soda. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 45 minutes until soft to the touch. Remove the pan from the heat and stir well to loosen the skins from the chick peas. Drain away the water and skins so you are just left with the chick peas. Rinse thoroughly.

Place the chick peas in a food processor and whizz with a little salt to a smooth puree.

Add the ice, tahini and some of the lemon juice. Whizz again, adding about 500ml of water in a steady stream, until the mixture is smooth and the consistency of a creamy paste. Pour in the remaining lemon juice and add more salt to taste.

Fatthoush – Toasted Bread Salad
Fatthoush is a classic Lebanese dish. It is often eaten by itself as a starter or light lunch. Sumac is an essential ingredient. It is a spice that is made from the dried, powdered berries of the sumac tree.

Serves 4

1 carrot, chopped
½ Cos lettuce, chopped
1 cucumber, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
5 radishes, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped spring onion
1 red pepper, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon chopped flat parsley
2 teaspoons sumac
1 large flatbread, toasted and broken into pieces
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt

Combine all the vegetables in a large bowl and mix well. Add the garlic, parsley, sumac, bread, olive oil and salt to taste. Toss everything together and serve immediately.

Smoky Aubergine Dip – Moutabal
Also known as baba ganoush in Syria and Egypt. Charring the aubergines on a gas flame or charcoal grill gives the dip a distinctive smoky flavour. Be careful not overdo the tahini; you only need a little to bring out the flavour of the aubergines.

Serves 4

2 large aubergines
50g (2oz) tahini
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt
Olive oil, to drizzle
1 tablespoon pomegranate seeds (optional)

Char the aubergines directly over a gas flame or over charcoal, using tongs, until the flesh is tender. Peel under a cold tap and discard the skins. Allow the aubergines to cool to room temperature.

Finely chop the aubergines and place in a bowl. Add the tahini, lemon juice and salt to taste, and mix well.
Drizzle a little olive oil on top and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, if using.

Fried Jumbo Prawns with Garlic and Coriander
Serves 4

500g (18oz) fresh jumbo prawns, or frozen, thawed (about 12 prawns)
100g (3½ oz) plain flour
Salt and black pepper
125ml (4fl.oz) vegetable oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
5 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons chopped coriander

Peel the prawns, remove the black vein that runs along the back, then wash well. Place the flour in a bowl with salt and pepper. Add the prawns, coating them in the flour.

Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan and fry the prawns, stirring occasionally, until cooked through – this will take about 10 minutes. Drain the prawns and toss with the lemon juice, garlic and coriander. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Chicken Shawarma – Shawarma Dajaj

serve with mixed pickles and toum (garlic sauce) and pitta bread

Serves 4

1kg (2¼ lb) of chicken breasts
Juice of 3 lemons
4 cardamom pods
Salt and white pepper
150ml (5 fl.oz) white malt vinegar

Cut the chicken pieces into long, thin slices. Put them in a deep dish with the lemon juice, cardamom pods, salt, pepper, vinegar and enough water to cover and leave in the fridge overnight to marinate.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4
Remove the chicken from the marinade and place on a baking tray. Cook in the oven for 20 minutes, turning from time to time. Serve.

Pickled Caulfiflower – Kabis Karnabett
When Hussien makes pickles he usually does five or six jars at a time as they last for a long time. You need to store different kinds of pickles in different jars. Beetroot is used to turn the vegetables pink. The book also includes recipes for pickled cabbage, pickled turnip and pickled cucumber.

Makes 2 litres

1 large head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
250ml (9fl.oz) malt vinegar
2 tablespoons coarse salt
1 small beetroot, sliced 

Place the cauliflower florets in a 2-litre jar with an airtight lid.
ix together the vinegar, salt and 1 litre of water. Pour into the jar and add the beetroot, if using. Close the jar tightly. The pickles will be ready to serve in 3-4 weeks.

Garlic Sauce – Toum
This recipe makes quite a large quantity, but it will keep in the fridge for a week. Hussien uses it as the base for a marinade for grilled chicken and a sauce for fried chicken livers. If you have any left over, it is also good with chips he says!

2 garlic heads, cloves peeled
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg white
500ml (18 fl.oz) vegetable oil
Juice of 2 lemons, or more to taste

Put the garlic cloves and salt in a blender or food-processor and whizz to a smooth purée. Add the egg white and whizz again until smooth. With the motor running, very slowly pour in the vegetable oil in a constant, steady stream until all the oil is used up and the sauce is the consistency and colour of mayonnaise. Add the lemon juice and keep whizzing until smooth. Taste and add more if necessary. Serve.

Foolproof Food

Baked Potato with Meat and Breadcrumbs – Sanieh Batata wa Lahma bil ka’ak

This is like a Lebanese shepherd’s pie.

Serves 6

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
200g (7oz) minced lamb
1 tablespoon pine nuts
Salt and black pepper
4-5 large potatoes, boiled and mashed
3 tablespoons butter
100g (3½oz) dried breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4
Heat the vegetable oil in a pan, add the onion and cook, stirring, until tender. Add the meat, pine nuts, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the meat is browned.

Place the warm mashed potato in a bowl, add 2 tablespoons of butter and some salt and mix well.

Grease a deep baking tray with the remaining tablespoon of butter. Spread half of the mashed potato in the tray. Spread the meat mixture over in one layer, then spread the rest of the mashed potato on top.

Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top and bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until golden.
Cut into squares and serve hot or cold with salad or sautéed vegetables.

Rice Pudding – Riz bil halib
Not so different to the western-style rice pudding, but this one has rose water and orange blossom water for flavour and is finished with pistachios.

Serves 6-8

250g (9oz) pudding rice
1 litre (1¾ pint) milk
400g (14oz) caster sugar
1 tablespoon rose water
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
5 tablespoons pistachios, soaked overnight in water and peeled, to serve

Put the rice and 600ml (1 pint) of water in a pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and cook for 10 minutes until the rice is half cooked. Drain the rice.

Put the milk and sugar in a separate saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring all the time with a balloon whisk. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the rice and cook for a further 20 minutes, stirring all the time. Remove from the heat and stir in the rose water and orange blossom water.

Pour into serving glasses and leave until cold. Scatter with the pistachios and serve.

Hot Tips

Four Rivers Slow Food Convivium in the South East will hold their first seminar on Saturday 7th October – Harvesting and Cooking with Seaweeds with Dr Prannie Rhatigan.
Seashore visit at 10am followed by lunch and cookery demonstrations in the afternoon at the Copper Coast Bistro at Annestown, Co Waterford. The local Slow Food Convivium is cooperating with the local community group on the Copper Coast in Co Waterford to develop their local sustainable resources for the benefit of all. Information from Margaret or Sophie, Tel 051-396686/051-396179 . Cost €60 incl. lunch, deposit €30. Seafood banquet that night €30. www.slowfoodireland.com  www.coppercoastgeopark.com  

Leitrim Organic Farmers Coop 
Will be opening a new ‘static butchers shop’ on 6th October as part of the Ballinasloe Fair – their mobile butchers shop will meanwhile continue to travel to markets around the country selling their organic meat.

SIAL 2006 PARIS 22-26 October – The Global Food Marketplace at Paris-Nord Exhibition Centre
This international event showcases the largest ever array of products and services in the food industry – over 5200 exhibitors from 99 countries. www.sial.fr  

GMO Free Zones - Letterkenny Town Council has passed a motion declaring that the town become a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) free zone. Similar pledges had been made by local authorities on both sides of the border. GMO foods are now prohibited by councils in Cavan, Clare, Meath, Fermanagh, Kerry, Monaghan, Westmeath, Bantry, Bray, Kerry, Galway Navan, Newry Mourne and Clonakilty.
Email: mail@gmfreeireland.org  www.gmfreeireland.org