I am Published!

Well, not exactly, as in my own book. However, I’m in the next best thing. One of my recipes made it into Paula Wolfert’s latest tome, “Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking: Traditional and Modern Recipes to Savor and Share“. Paula also included a very thoughtful introduction to the recipe in her inimitable style. I first “met” Paula online via eGullet.org years ago. We never met in person, but we exchange emails frequently and spoke over the phone a few times. When Paula needed testers for the updated version of one of her books I was happy to help. A few years back -yes, she takes her time with the books and it is worth it- Paula mentioned that she is working in a book about clay pot cooking and she asked if I have any unique traditional Lebanese recipes that would benefit from cooking in a clay pot. Two recipes immediately came to mind, both, as far as I know, are not only unique to Lebanon, but unique to the northern part of the country where I come from.

The first recipe we talked about was that of “Makhloota“, a thick soup made with various legumes and grains. It is served warm or room temperature. The other recipe was “M’tabla“, a cold yogurt, wheat grain and corn soup. This one is very summery and is supposed to be served chilled as a side dish to grilled or fried items (like Kibbeh) or on it’s own for a filling snack. At first both recipes were supposed to make it into the book, but unfortunately the “Makhloota” did not due to space restrictions.

It really gives me much pleasure to see the simple recipe that my grandmother made and still does make it to the published work of an author such as Paula. When I told my grandmother and mom about it, they both got such a kick from it that it made waiting for years for the book to be published very much worth it. I promised I will be sending them a copy of the book as soon as I can.

I barely had the chance to read through Paula’s book due to my recent (and a bit hectic) work schedule, but it is jam packed with unique and fascinating recipes from around the mediterranean. I am hoping to get to some of these pretty soon. With Paula’s permission, here is the m’tabla recipe…a bit out of season now that we are getting into the fall months but still worth making. If you stop right before adding the yogurt, you’ll have “Amhi’ah“, a thick porridge best served piping hot and mixed with a generous pat of butter and some salt. Now that is fall food.

Speaking of testing recipes, here are links to books I tested recipes for:

The Cooking of Southwest France: Recipes from France’s Magnificent Rustic Cuisine by Paula Wolfert. An updated classic that needs no introduction really. The Cassoulet, Garbure, Straw Potato Cake stuffed with Braised Leeks recipes alone are more than worth the price of admission.

The New Portuguese Table: Exciting Flavors from Europe’s Western Coast by David Leite. A great selection of recipes from this much overlooked cuisine. Portuguese food is rich in flavors like paprika, chilies, cilantro, garlic and spice. David also gives a very useful tour of Portuguese cheeses, wine and pantry. I really cannot recommend this highly enough.


Lebanese Summer Wheat and Dried Corn Soup with Yogurt

This terrific recipe comes from my friend Houston-based Elie Nassar, who grew up in a small village in Northern Lebanon and loves to talk about the “comfort food” of his childhood:
“My grandmother, Selwa, used to make this soup, called m’tabla, in summer,” Elie told me, “a cold version of the hot thick porridge called amhi’ah prepared in winter. She would thin the soup with plain yogurt and salt along with some ice cubes so the yogurt would not curdle when mixed with the hot cooked wheat. Thinned even more, we’d drink this soup out of tall glasses. It’s delicious with a sprinkling of fleur de sel.”

Preferred Clay Vessel:
A 4-quart earthenware or ceramic flameware casserole
If using an electric or ceramic stovetop, be sure to use a heat diffuser with the clay pot.

Serves 6

1 cup peeled  or hulled wheat, or grano
1/2 cup dried white or yellow corn
2 to 3 cups plain yogurt, as fresh and sweet as possible
1/2 to l cup ice water
Fleur de sel

1.    Place the wheat and corn in a sieve and rinse under cold running water. Soak in a bowl of water to cover overnight.
2.    Drain the wheat and corn and place in a 4-quart earthenware or ceramic casserole with plenty of fresh cold water to cover. Slowly bring to a boil, starting on low and raising the heat gradually. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 2 hours, or until the wheat is very soft and the corn is cooked through. Add more water if it gets too dry. By the end of the process, you should have a very thick porridge-like mixture.
3.  Let the mixture cool, then refrigerate. Do not mix the yogurt into the hot wheat-corn mixture, or it will curdle. When cold, dilute the yogurt with l cup ice cold water and stir that into the soup. Add enough additional ice water to attain a thick chowder-like consistency. Refrigerate and serve this soup very cold in a tall glass…with a pinch of fleur de sel.


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