Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lust for Lebanese

There is something about Lebanese food that drives me wild. For a cuisine based around simple principle ingredients such as lemon, oil, lamb, tomatoes, lentils and rice, it sure has a multitude of delicious variations. And the breads and cheeses are the absolute best.

Recently I found a tiny little Lebanese take out counter in San Diego and was introduced to Manaeesh and Labne. Manaeesh are mini pizzas traditionally garnished with cheese, Zaataar, spicy diced tomatoes, and onions. At this place, the pizza bread was perfect, cooked on top of what looked like a small cast iron half dome, perfectly crisp on the outside and full of hot doughy softness on the inside. Rolled up to contain all the spicy ingredients, it was also stuffed with Labneh, a specialty in Lebanon made of strained yogurt, that is spreadable and garnished with good olive oil and sea salt. Tasting similar to goat cheese, but more pure and clean, with a lightness that made it seem whipped, it was one of the most heavenly substances to ever cross my lips and put me on a good salivation trip for a week that left me hunting it out a week later in my own town.

 Alas, not being able to find Labneh anywhere, I settled for its twin sister goat cheese which is another favorite. The restaurant Tommy Bahamas makes a good American-ized version of a goat cheese appetizer which has turned into my fall-back dish at the bar when I can't find anything more exotic. A nice portion of the cheese covered in a tangy balsamic glaze and surrounded by corn and tomato nuggets to spread on crisp flat breads is the perfect light snack or late night meal.

Being that it is winter, I have pulled out a tried and true recipe for a Lebanese soup to make when I want something to tantalize the tongue but still warm the belly with goodness. The garbanzo flour makes it a hearty choice for dinner and it's even better reheated the next day.

Garbanzo Soup
1 tbs (15 ml) Unrefined Olive Oil
1/2 cup (120 ml) onion, chopped
4 cups (960 ml) cold water

1/2 cup (120 ml) Garbanzo Flour
2 tbs (30 ml) soy sauce pinch of garlic powder, optional
1 tsp (5 ml) sweet basil leaves, crushed
Preheat heavy saucepan, then add oil and onion and saute until soft.
Add 1 cup cold water.
Stir in flour until smooth.
Stir in remaining water gradually.
Add seasonings.
Let cook over medium-low heat until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally, or over higher heat stirring constandy.
Do not allow to boil.

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