November was Lebanese cooking at the Walima Club.Two luxurious dishes from the land of milk and honey ,it was hard to satisfy with just one ,I celebrated with both the sweet and savory delights.Before we get cooking here is a brief history of Lebanon and its 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 November's Splendid sweet Challenge was picked by Joumana from www.tasteofbeirut.com
The Bread of the Seraglio ( Aysh el-Saraya)
A delectable bread pudding made by soaking the bread in Caramel syrup infused with Orange blossom ,topped with slotted cream and toasted nuts.The changes made to the original recipe :
*White whole grain bread for plain white bread
*Dark brown sugar for white sugar
*Low fat ricotta for half and half in the topping.
Source: Lebanese Cuisine by Anissa Helou
1 round loaf White Whole wheat bread
For Caramel Syrup
1 cup brown or white sugar* (I used dark brown sugar)
2 tablespoon water
1 1/2 cup hot water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon orange blossom water or rose water
1.Low fat Ricotta cream
1 1/2 cup low fat ricotta
1 tablespoon white sugar or 2 teaspoon Agave nectar
2.Lebanese clotted cream or Ashta
2 slices of white bread without the crust
2 cups half-and-half
1/4 cup toasted pistachios, coarsely processed.
Cut off the crust of the bread slices and save them for making bread crumbs.
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.
Now lay the toasted slices on large wide pan.Prepare the syrup.
Put the sugar, water and lemon juice in a pan and place over medium heat. Bring to the boil and cook, for about 20 minutes or until it is caramelized.
Towards the end of the cooking time, measure 1 1/2 cups 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. Be very careful, because the sugar will start spluttering and you could burn yourself!
Pour the boiling syrup all over the toasted bread and place over medium heat and cook pressing the bread with the back of a spoon to mash it and make it soak up the syrup.
Transfer the bread in to the serving dish and spread it evenly across the dish. Let it cool entirely before spread the toppings.
Low fat Ricotta Creamy Spread
Whip the ricotta cheese and the sweetener(sugar or syrup) in a blender or a processor until smooth and creamy.
Clotted cream or Ashta:
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. It should keep for 4 to 5 days. Makes 1 pint.
Chill after spreading the cream and sprinkle the pistachios all over before serving.
The Savory Challenge was picked by Arlette(the mastermind of the cooking club):
Lebanese Style Sheesh Barak(Dumpling with Greek Yogurt Sauce)
A sumptuous Arabic dish,in Lebanese style Sheesh Barak the dumplings are baked then soaked in slow cook Greek yogurt sauce that's infused with flavors of garlic and mint.
Adapted from Recipes at Simply Heaven food and Antonio Tahhan
Basic Dough or Ajeen for making the Dumpling
2 cups Wheat flour(fine ground)
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil or canola oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Sift the flour onto a working surface or a mixing bowl.Mix in salt. Make a well in the center and pour the oil.Add water gradually.Knead the dough on a floured working surface until it is smooth and elastic this can be done in an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, or in a food processor.Form the dough into a ball and put into a lightly floured bowl, covered with a damp cloth.Allow the dough to rest for an hour.
The Filling Variations
Fry 2 tablespoon of onions in a teaspoon of oil. Add 1/2 pound ground lean beef, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon allspice and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Stir occasionally and fry for 7-8 minutes. Add 2 tablespoon pine nuts and Mix.Cool before filling.
Prepare an vegetable filling by sauteing any kind of quick cooking vegetables with spices.I used chopped onions ,purple cabbage,peppers and carrots
Cooked Greek Yogurt Sauce
2 cup fat free or low fat Greek Yogurt
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 Organic Egg
2 tablespoon water
2 cloves garlic, crushed with a dash of salt
1 cup finely chopped fresh mint (or use dried)
2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil or canola oil
Note: The egg and the cornstarch are there as stabilizers so that the yogurt won’t separate.Make sure to cook the yogurt on medium low heat , high heat could ruin the sauce.
Dissolve the cornstarch in water.Whip the egg and mix in to the yogurt with the cornstarch water.Cook the yogurt on low heat ,while stirring constantly ,until sauce is bubbly and smooth.
To flavor the yogurt,heat oil in a small pan add the garlic ,saute until aromatic.Mix in the chopped mint and turn off the heat.Slowly mix this in to the yogurt sauce
Preparing the Sheesh Barak:
Roll out the dough with a rolling pin to about 1 mm thickness. Using a round cookie cutter (medium size), press over dough to get equal rounds (or squares).
Spread the round a little with your fingers. Place 2 teaspoon 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 to make a small ring. 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 yogurt one by one. Let it boil over low heat for 10 minutes or till pastries are cooked.Make sure to cook the yogurt on medium low heat , high heat could ruin the sauce.
Sprinkle with dried mint or sumac.Serve warm,can also be served with Lebanese Rice Pilaf with Vermicelli.
Tried and Tasted : No cook Vegan Tofu Chocolate Pudding
A lusciously healthy pudding using two of the most nutritious ingredients Cocoa and Tofu ,that I couldn't miss posting today,the last day of sending the entries for Tried and tasted event,the featured blog of the month is Sunshine mom's Tongue Ticklers and the host is Ragaa of The Singing Chef.Find the recipe here.
Show Me Your Lunch Box
This is for Divya's :Show Me your Lunch Box.
A wholesome lunch box with Whole grain stuffed buns with spicy veggie and\or lean meat filling.Crunchy carrots and Walnuts and an apple to finish off .
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