Friday, September 9, 2011

Refreshing, light Lebanese yogurt and cucumber salad

just-picked Middle Eastern cucumbers—small, crisp, and not seedy give the best crunch to this Lebanese summer salad. when a cup of yogurt might be refreshing, adding thinly sliced cucumbers, garlic mashed to a paste with salt, crushed dried spearmint, and a little lemon juice makes a superb complement to barbeques, spicy entrees, or simply makes a perfect light meal all on it's own.
this chilled summer salad, the Lebanese cousin of Greek tsatziki, or Indian raita, or Turkish cacik, or Persian mast o khair which is very similar to the Arabic and Lebanese name, laban ou khyar, which is what mama called it so that's it's name in Alice's Kitchen: Traditional Lebanese Cooking on page 66.

this cucumber variety is called "muncher", an American version of Persian cucumbers or the Mid-East Prolific variety which i usually grow. it's the first time i've grown munchers, and am quite pleased. the blossoms on the plant are huge—almost 3 inches wide! and the cucumbers shown here are only about 4 inches long, picked when they're small and crisp.

my dear friend josephine gave me some Lebanese cucumber seeds a year or two ago, and i managed to have one plant that survived the slugs that feasted on lots of the garden this damp and cold june. pictured here is a mix of Lebanese and "muncher" cucumbers.

i forgot to mention the laban ou khyar salata was on the menu last week with the shish kebabs, along with the green fresh garbanzo beans (hommus or homsi) served as an appetizer...part of the Lebanese or Middle Eastern mezza (hors d'oeuvres). these were a special treat that simply required putting them in a bowl! look how cute they are...sometimes with "two chick peas in a pod".

if you don't grown your own (and i didn't grow these, although many years back i tried...and the graceful leaves of the garbanzo bean plant are lovely), you might be lucky to find these at a farmer's market, or as i did in a local employee-owned grocery store with an international clientele. add them to the mezza or appetizers you're serving along with an empty bowl for the husks, olive seeds, and pistachio nut shells which are essential components of a mezza.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

laham mishwi! shish kebab! skewered grilled lamb lebanese alice's kitchen style! authentic lebanese mountain cuisine!

growing up in los angeles' climate provided many opportunities for summer barbeques. our all-time favorite was laham mishwi, which literally means grilled meat. in alice's kitchen that meant lamb, following her douma mountain village tradition. 

mama would buy a big leg of lamb, since los angeles supermarket butchers in those days didn't sell cuts of lamb as did the old country village butchers. she and sitto, my grandmother, spent tedious hours in the kitchen cutting the leg of lamb into various cuts for specific dishes: some for kibbee, some for mishwi, little pieces for stuffed meat pies, slightly larger pieces for stews. it was an art form she perfected as well as a labor of love. 

mama made the process of cutting a leg of lamb an anatomy lesson and it is illustrated in alice's kitchen: traditional lebanese cooking with black and white photos of mama cutting the lamb. the recipe for laham mishwi is on page 79 in the cookbook.

i was fortunate to find excellent fresh halal lamb at a new local Palestinian grocery store aptly named JERUSALEM. my only task was to cut it off the bone and remove the "bad" fat, which mama described as the dry, chalky fat, which gives lamb an unpleasant flavor. my little doggie, baba, loved the bones!

mama's recipe is simple enough: chopped onions, salt, black pepper, and cinnamon tossed together and chilled to marinate a couple of hours before skewering.

ready for the grill! since the cuts of meat are fairly small, the cooking time is brief—about 4 minutes on each side.

mama's tradition to use a piece of arabic bread and hold the skewer to slide the grilled meat and onions onto a platter made us all fight for that bread that had the lamb juices embedded in it. i forgot to photograph this—we were all drooling and ready for the main course even though we had mezza (appetizers) galore!

the occasion for this long time vegetarian to make this lebanese specialty? my dear friends rima, bashar, and haitham were returning to lebanon. so we had a feast for their going away dinner party. 

the rest of the menu included fresh garden salata, green beans (loubiyeh) grilled with garlic and olive oil, hommus, baba ghannouj, mhammaralebne, and of course a platter of figs for dessert. all of these can be found on this blog with recipes in the cookbook! one surprise was a bowl of fresh garbanzo beans in the shell purchased at a local grocery with a great international clientele that is worker owned, called Winco. these are not readily found in the U.S. and my guests were delighted. i will pick up some more and photograph them soon.

you can see the fig tree laden with figs behind bashar, who devoured the baba ghannouj while waiting for his parents to arrive and the kebabs to grill! bashar came to my kids' art class when he was around 6 years old; now he's 14 and over 6' tall with an appetite to match! Smallah!

bon voyage to them and bon appetite to all on this labor day weekend!