Lebanon 2007: Jabbour’s Shawarma

In 2.5 weeks in Lebanon, I think I ate here maybe 10 times. The Shawarma at this place in Beirut’s Dora area is sublime, the best anywhere. Not just the beef/lamb one but also the chicken version is juicy, packed with flavor and delicious. Jabbour’s Shawarma is always a highlight of any of my trips to my home country.

Jabbour 

Chicken Shawarma on the right, the beef/lamb one on the left

Jabbour 

Shawarma is the main attraction for me and Diana here, but Jabbour is a full fledged Lebanese restaurant/sandwich shop. In this one display you see some of the possible choices like lamb kebabs, kefta, lamb liver, tongue, kidney and one of my favorites lamb testicles! You just place and order and the guy in the back grills the skewer over charcoal and makes you a nice fresh pita bread wrap with it (i:e Lebanese sandwich).

Jabbour Shawarma

This is a not so good closeup of a chicken Shawarma and a glass of cold no-corn-syrup-included Pepsi. This one contains in addition to the chicken pickled cucumbers, lettuce, french fries and lots of garlic sauce…it could be messy. The beef/lamb one will have tahini sauce, pickled turnips, parsley, raw onions and tomatoes.

More Lebanon trip photos to come…

Have you tried the Dragon yet?

Dragon Fruit 

 Looks like an alien pod, a futuristic grenade or maybe an egg a dragon would lay. Doesn’t it. Well it’s neither. If you have not seen this before, behold the Dragon Fruit. I had seen it at my local grocery store a few times and always wanted to buy it just because it looks so damn cool. I wanted to see how it looks inside and find out if it tasted as good as it looked. Unfortunately, it always had a price tag of something like $3 – $4 EACH. For the sorry specimens the grocery store usually had (see, no one buys them), I never felt like I’d get my money’s worth.

 This past weekend I was shopping for some ingredients for a Thai meal at a local Asian grocery store and here they were. A box full of Dragon Fruit with specimens that looked like they just got off the plane from Singapore or Puerto Rico or wherever the grow them (could be California I guess). The price? $2.99 per POUND. I picked two of them up and stuck them in the fridge where they waited to be served as a conclusion to my Thai dinner alongside dessert.

Dragon Fruit2

 The fruit reminded me most of the ubiquitous Kiwifruit. It looked real pretty and had these tiny seeds inside. The taste was pretty mild, a little tangy and a little sweet. Overall though, I was a bit disappointed (I am not crazy about Kiwi either). I was hoping for something like a Passion Fruit on steroids, bursting with flavor. Who knows? Maybe the samples I got needed more ripening or something. I probably will not buy Dragon Fruit again, unless they were priced something like $0.50/lb, or if I want to impress some friends with this cool-looking fruit.

 Here it is served with a delicious steamed fresh coconut pudding. It went very well with it, because the pudding was very flavorful and sweet. The fruit provided a nice counter balance with its mild slightly tangy taste.

Dragon Fruit with Coconut Pudding

The Belly of The Pig…

Pork belly and bean salad 

 ….is one deliciouse piece of meat, fat and gelatin! I am talking about that same cut you make bacon from. Maybe your local Megamart does not have it, mine doesn’t. If you have a local Asian or Hispanic market close buy, give them a try and I am pretty sure you’ll find this cut. Cooking is super easy but a bit time consuming. Here’s what I do. Score the skin side with parallel lines, cutting through the skin but not the meat at maybe 1/4 inch intervals. Season hevaily with salt and pepper and let sit overnight or for a few hours in the fridge in a covered dish (you can even keep it like that for a couple of days).

 When ready to cook, remove the meat from the fridge, pat it dry and place in an ovenproof pan or skillet skin side up. HEat the oven to 400F. Place the pan in the oven, let the meat cook for 10 minutes and reduce the heat down to 250 F. Let it cook for 4 hours or more till lots of fat is rendered, the meat is soft and the skin is crispy. You can even broil it for 5 minutes or so at the end to make an even crispier skin. That’s it! One of the best pork dishes is serving this on top of a simple white bean salad (drained canned Cannelini beans, herbs, tomatoes, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper).

The Best Chicken Burger, Lebanese style

This is my absolute favorite chicken burger recipe. Diana requests it almost every time I ask her what she would like to eat off the grill. I first created this recipe for some ‘Best Burger’ contest. I did not win, but since then this beauty is a winner every time I make it for friends. The origin for the recipe is the Lebanese dish Shish Tawook which is chicken chunks marinated and grilled on skewers. The aioli that goes with the burger is inspired by Hummus bil Tahini better known in the US as ‘Hummus’ dip. I usually also make my own buns but store bought Kaiser buns are perfectly fine.

Some of the marinade prep. 

 

Marinating the chicken. Note how I leave some fat on the meat.

Creamy -and very addictive- Hummus Aioli. Tastes great on the burger and with fries.

Grilling over charcoal is the best way to go.

One side is done, one to go…

Served…

…but I usually eat at least two with lots of homemade fries. These buns are home baked too.

Now, here’s the recipe. Give it a try.

Lebanese Chicken Burger

Burgers:
8-10 Garlic cloves
3 Tbsp Chopped fresh oregano
1 Tbsp Tomato paste
1 Tbsp Yellow mustard
Juice of one lemon
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and Pepper
3 lbs Skinless and Boneless Chicken thighs, trimmed of any sinew or excessive fat (leave some fat in though) and cut into cubes
3 Tbsp plain bread crumbs

Aioli:
½ Cup canned Garbanzo beans (Chickpeas), drained
1 garlic clove, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp ground Cumin
1 Egg
¾ Cup Vegetable or canola oil

To Serve:
10-12 Burger Buns
Green leaf lettuce
Sliced tomatoes
Sliced red Bell pepper
Pickled cucumbers, preferably the garlicky sour middle eastern ones
Homemade French Fries

4 to 24 hours before you want to enjoy these burgers marinate the chicken. Combine all the burgers’ ingredients except for the chicken and crumbs in the bowl of a food processor or a blender and pulverize to a paste. I like to do that with a granite mortar and pestle instead, but a processor works fine. Season the marinade with salt and pepper. Be a bit aggressive since this is the chicken’s seasoning. Place the marinade and the chicken in a bowl or Ziploc bag, mix well and refrigerate till you are ready to use.
When you are ready to make the patties, place the chicken and any marinade stuck to it in a food processor and pulse till the chicken is finely chopped but not creamed. Place the chicken in a bowl and add the crumbs and mix well. Form the mixture into 10 or 12 (depending how much you trimmed the meat) 4 oz patties. Oiling your hands helps with this process. Grill them over charcoal or if all else fails, under the broiler.

The Aioli can be made hours or even a day or two ahead of time. In a blender combine everything except the oil and puree till smooth. With the blender running, drizzle the oil in a VERY THIN stream. The end result should look very much like a slightly grainy mayonnaise. Well, that’s what this is. Season with salt and pepper.

To serve, lightly grill the buns, slather generously with the aioli on both sides and add the patty. Top with your favorite garnishes and serve with a side of fries. A small ramekin of extra aioli goes great with the fries too.

Mother’s Day Breakfast 2007

This has become a tradition in our house. I made this or a version of it for Diana almost every year for the past 3 years. I serve it in bed of course. 

M-day 2007 

– Home baked croissants with strawberry preserves

-Eggs Cocotte with thick bacon lardons (yeap, I cure the bacon too)

– Potato crust gratin ( This is awsome stuff from Michel Richard’s “Happy in The Kitchen” book)

– Cafe Au Lait

– Fresh Orange Juice

M-Day 2007 - 2

Sizzling Garlic Shrimp

Sizzling Garlic Shrimp 

This is my favorite way to cook shrimp. When I do this I make sure I have at least a pound to eat per person since it is so addictively good. My mom prepares it more or less the same way and that’s how I first tasted this. I add a bit more of a Spanish spin on it and eat it with some good crusty bread or in this case homebaked Focaccia.

Just gently cook 8 or 9 cloves of finely chopped garlic and half of a chopped bell pepper together in plenty of olive oil (like 1/3 cup of the good Extra Virgin olive oil) for 10 minutes or until they are very soft. They key here is GENTLE. You want the oil to be flavored with the garlic/pepper, but do not let the garlic burn or even get brown. Now add a tablespoon of smoked paprika and a couple of crumbled dried hot chiles (Those thin long ones called Chile De Arbol are best). Stir the mxiture for a few seconds and add about a pound of peeled (with the tail left intact) and deveined (that ‘vein’ in case you do not know contains shit, literally, and it is pure laziness not to remove it since it taste like crap and has the texture of sand) large shrimp. Cook the shrimp slowly for about 10 minutes stirring all the time to get them coated until they are cooked through and still juicy. Last but not least, turn the heat off and stir in a 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley and 1/4 cup chopped cilantro. Serve piping hot.

This recipe makes enough for one person, or two I guess if you stretch it with some rice or potatoes. I like to eat those with my hands and mop up the amazing oil with the bread.

Lebanese Food Staples: Burghul

Balila3 

Burgul, burghul or bulgur along with many other variation for how to pronounce it is one of the staples of Lebanese food. It is used very much like rice. So, it can be used to make a pilaf, for a stuffing ingredient, in breads, in salads or dips. Before rice was known in the mountains of Lebanon, burghul was used primarily. Now, rice is certainly ubiquitous almost anywhere you go, but burghul still holds a high place in the Lebanese kitchen and is irreplaceable in many classic preparations like Kibbeh, Mujaddara and Balila.
To make burghul dried wheat kernels are boiled till tender, then allowed to dry in the sun for several days until bone dry. This practice usually takes place towards the end of summer, right after the wheat is harvested and is without question one of my favorite times of year. My grandmother would reserve the huge pot (called Halla in Arabic) in which to cook sacks of wheat as early as possible since usually there are only a few per town and every family needs to reserve a spot for one. She then would make sure a few able men are available (family, friends and neighbors) to haul the boiled wheat to the roof of her house to dry. The smell of the air at that time of year is intoxicating and is one of those fond memories that will always remain with me.

Balila1

The boiled and now dry wheat kernels are taken to the mill and ground into fine, medium or coarse burghul. The coarse grind has grains as big as short grain rice. The fine grind is more like the size of white sugar granules. The medium is in between. Sometimes very fine burghul is also called Sraisira.

Balila2 

Balila with Yogurt 

 Makes about 4 Cups

Almost everyone have heard of Lebanese Kibbeh and recipes for it abound. So, I chose to post about another dish that features bulghur. It’s called Balila (meaning something along the lines of ‘wet’). It’s a delicious dip, side dish for grilled lamb or a light lunch meal with pita bread crisps. It’s better if you prepare this the night before and let it sit in the fridge. Serve it cold.

  • 3/4 Cup medium or coarse burghul
  • 1/2 of an English (Kirby) cucumber or two small pickling cucumbers
  • 3 Green onions
  • 5 or 6 romain lettuce leaves, the light colored ones from the heart are preferable
  • 10-12 mint leaves or more to taste
  • 2.5 Cups whole milk yogurt
  • ¼ Cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish

Place the burghul in a bowl and cover with cold water. Let is soak for at least an hour until soft and chewy.
Peel the cucumber and dice it into 1/8 inch pieces. Alternatively grate it on the coarse side of the cheese grater or Mandolin. Chop the green onions, both white and green portions. Chop the lettuce. Coarsely chop the mint.
Drain the burghul and place in a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Season it with salt and pepper. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours for best results. Taste before serving and add more seasonings or olive oil if you need to. Serve it cold garnished with more mint leaves and generous drizzles of good olive oil.

Tabbouli, a Proper One 

Serves 2-3 as a Side dish

Tabbouli, unlike Balila is quiet common outside of Lebanon. I can even buy a sorry version of Tabbouli at my local Target store! Since we are talking about burghul, here is a proper sample of this salad I made recently. And DON’T let anyone convince you that Tabbouli is still Tabbouli without burghul as some claim.

  •  2 Bunches Flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 10 mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 1/2 of a tennis ball sized sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large ripe tomato, or 2 small ones, finely chopped
  • 1/2 Cup fine (small size) burghul
  • Juice of 2 lemons or more
  • 1/2 Cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

30 Minutes to an hour before serving, mix all the ingredients and let it sit in the fridge to mix the flavors and for the burghul to soften a bit.  Taste and adjust the seasoning, lemon juice and oil quantities. The Tabbouli should be on the lemony-tangy side, with the parsley as the dominant ingredient and the burghul should retain some bite. Serve it with some lettuce or cabbage leaves to scoop with, either cold or at room temp.

tabbouli

tabbouli