There is something always particularly exciting about the discovery of a new region to draw your cooking from and so in recent weeks I have been on a culinary journey which began approximately 12 months ago in Spain, crossed the strait of Gibraltar to Morocco and leapfrogged its way into Lebanon. Of course, the journey does not see me wander much further than my kitchen and dining table but thanks to anecdotal comments many enlightened cookery writers place alongside their recipes cooking a meal can be the equivalent of a cultural experience to bring the tastes and flavours of a middle eastern market street food outlet into your own living room.
The Lebanese Kitchen by Selma Hage is a cookbook published by the wonderful Phaidon which is enhanced by the unusual way they have cut zig-zags into the edges of each of the 260 odd leaves which make the pages of this wonderful book of recipes.
I have already cooked a few recipes from the book but this weekend saw us go truly Lebanese crazy as we drew on it for both our Friday and Saturday night meals. Friday saw us opting for Mother’s Milk with lamb; a fairly simple recipe of minced lamb cooked in a sauce made of yogurt, water and cornflour with lots of garlic thrown in for pungency and mint for sweetness. Mixed with rice, the meal was a riot of flavour with the flavour of the lamb buttressed by the tart acid of the yogurt. This was one of those meals where every flavour played its part as the meat, garlic, yogurt and mint vied for position to come out tops but overall it was a tie with all four flavours crossing the line in dead heat.
I confess, it has a look of porridge about it but I can assure you it tasted wonderful served with slices of grilled aubergine (egg plant).
So successful was Friday night’s dish that we stayed in Lebanon for a further night opting for a fish dish of fried cod with caramalized onions and rice. We nipped out in the afternoon to buy the fish and elected to buy an alternative white fish instead and chose pouting, not least because it was substantially cheaper than the cod and no doubt more sustainable too.
The dish required the slow cooking of two thinly sliced onions with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar until it was practically caramalized which was then mixed with cooked basmati rice. A sauce was made out of capers, tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice and parsley which was spooned over the pan-fried pouting fillets sitting on the caramalized onion and rice mix. This was the first time we had tried pouting and although not as strong in flavour as cod, it’s delicacy was enhanced by the sweet sauces of top and below. We also threw in a handful of broad beans which gave it a bit of additional colour.
I think we’ll stick around in Lebanon format least another week or two and perhaps hop over to Morocco to give the tagine a run out in between but now we’ve discovered the flavours of Lebanese cooking I suspect it will become a region that we shall visit, at least culinarily, quite often!
This is the view of the car park from my office window at the height of summer in the Nort West of England. Wet, grey, miserable and cold. Oh for regular seasons; a curse on you jetstream!
I’d never heard of Grillstock before I read an article in the June edition of Lonely Planet magazine advertising it as one of the ‘must attend’ events during the month. Having never knowingly attended a ‘must attend’ event I entered it onto our radar and C duly bought tickets for us to attend the Manchester event on Saturday June 8th. The weather had been set fair all week and this weekend was no exception so it was lightly garbed that we set off on a walk to St Annes-On-The-Sea station to catch the train to Manchester Oxford Road via Preston. The train was running about 20 minutes late but we arrived in a very sunny Manchester at around 1.45pm before walking in the direction of Albert Square for the BBQ event of the year. C looked great in her new Italian silk frock from T K Maxx, I was in a Ralph Lauren shirt, Armani 3/4 length shorts and Keen sandals (for those who care about such things!).
We could smell Grillstock before we could see it as the aroma of barbecued meat wafted breezily towards us to herald the pleasures which awaited us. C had bought E tickets for the event which worked fairly efficiently but within a minute of queuing we were in amongst what was clearly a well attended local event.
We both experienced an immediate sensation of information overload as our visual, hearing and smelling senses were bombarded by a smoregasbord of sound, smells and sights with people milling around, drinking booze, chomping on meat and the aroma of succulent meats tantalizing our senses. After a walk round we both queued up at a tent run by a group of friendly South Africans and we definitely chose the right line to join as they kept us tempted by feeding us pieces of just cooked rib and chicken as well as engaging us in friendly chat about what they were doing and how they were cooking. Just as we reached to head of the queue, I gave C my order for pulled pork and barbecued corn while I went off to a little wine outlet selling New Zealand winf from Marlborough and bought us a glass each (£4 per glass). We sat on the steps under the statue of one of Manchester’s founding fathers as I tucked into my pulled pork, corn and slaw. It was a reminder to me how superior overseas coleslaw is the tasteless creamed vegetable stuff we tolerate when you taste a slaw made up of subtle flavours and the tang of red wine vinegar. The pulled pork was amazing; tender and full of the flavours it had been marinated in and C’s ribs were tender and sweet. Great food, great wine and blazing sunshine with the soundtrack of sweet soul music playing live in the background; what could be better?
After the wine and food it was off to the beer tent for a pint of
Brooklyn lager and a glass of Chardonnay for C as we lay back against the plinth if the statue and drank in the atmosphere. After another drink we decided to go for a bit of a wander around Manchester City centre; the city was abuzz with people many in attendance for the Rod Stewart and Bon Jovi concerts also taking place in the city tonight and the ParkLife event at Heaton Park just outside the centre. We had a pee in House of Fraser and a mosey around Harvey Nics and Selfridges – C tried on some blue lipstick much to our amusement and another drink at The Mitre. We then had a walk down to Canal Street in Manchester’s Gay Village which always has a great vibe about it and we had a couple more drinks, sitting outside, manoeuvering ourselves to catch the last glimpses of the sun peering between the buildings.
We walked back to Albert Square, stopping on the way at a Tesco Express to purchase a bottle of Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc which I stuffed into my deepest pocket before flashing our ‘pass out’ stamps to the stewards and returning to Grillstock. We found a position under our statue again, the barbeques and stalls were still going strong and the music had changed to reggae. C found some plastic glasses and we slowly drank our bottle of sav blanc. There is nothing quite like being with the person you love, totally relaxed, drinking good wine with music, food and happy people all around. Perhaps it could only have been bettered had we been on a beach instead!? The next question was what food to try next as we wandered round the stalls some tempting us with their cooking smells, others with the site of their food. I chose a spicy sausage sandwich which I smothered in the spiciest chilli sauce I could which probably wasn’t a great idea and C had one herself. We had another drink each before fatigue and satiation got the better of us and with the last band still playing we made our way back to Piccadilly station. We still have time for another glass of Peroni before catching the train back to St Annes via Preston at the end of a quite fantastic day.