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Mostly Food & Travel Journal

The Fifth Quarter

Lebanese Cuisine

Modern Mezze

Recipe: Grilled Aubergine Dip - Baba Ghannûge

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Anissa Helou

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The Fifth Quarter

Lebanese Cuisine

Modern Mezze

Recipe: Grilled Aubergine Dip - Baba Ghannûge

The Fifth Quarter

No, it’s not a misprint: the Fifth Quarter is a delicate term, still used in France and Italy, for offal.

Anissa Helou has penned the only book in print to address the subject of all those bits with which most British are hardly familiar, and of which most Americans are ignorant. The Fifth Quarter is written with the usual humour and charm that we have come to expect from this well-respected author.

The Fifth Quarter If we are meat eaters then it’s true to say that some animal or other has given up its life for our gastronomic pleasure. Does it not therefore make sense to use every bit of the carcass? In these days of rising prices and food shortages we should be taking another look at those Fifth Quarters.

My advice to the faint-hearted is to read from both ends to the middle of this book. Anissa starts with a chapter called The Acceptable Face of Offal and finishes with Sauces and Dips, so it’s only the chapters in between that you might be reluctant to linger over!

The Acceptable Face of Offal shows us that we already eat offal. Dishes like Taramosalata and pate and foie gras are all offal-based. You probably wouldn’t turn your nose up at caviar or, admittedly the other end of the spectrum, sausages!

I don’t think there can be any organ that isn’t represented in this volume and it would be a shame if you allowed your Anglo-Saxon prejudice to prevent you from trying a few of these recipes. Let’s start with the bits around the edge. Feet and trotters are nothing to worry about. They don’t have strong flavours so it’s all about texture, a silky gelatinous quality that’s very comforting. Ox tail shouldn’t send you into a panic. Anissa has a couple of lovely recipes: Braised Oxtail and Jamaican Oxtail in Red Wine are my favourites.

So many people seem appalled by the very thought of eating tongue but it’s difficult to know why. It’s a lean and delicious piece of meat and was for many of us a Sunday teatime favourite, as were Brawn, Haslet and Faggots.

OK, so there are a few things that might not appeal to you and my advice would be to get someone else to cook them for you. It sounds silly but I am sure that you would enjoy offal, at least some of it, if you didn’t know what it was. Much of our dislike stems from squeamishness rather than aversion to the taste or texture.

This is another fascinating book from Anissa Helou and one which is bound to find its way into the collection of anyone who is passionate about food. A delight.

The Fifth Quarter
Author: Anissa Helou
Published by: Absolute
Price: £20.00
ISBN 1-904573-21-5

food and travel reviews Anissa Helou

Lebanese Cuisine

lebanese cuisine Lebanese Cuisine by Anissa Helou was short-listed for the prestigious Andre Simon Award when it was first published. That’s not a bad start! Claudia Roden says “Anissa Helou brings a delightful personal touch to one of the world’s finest cuisines”. After an accolade like that from one of the most respected food writers you will be expecting something a bit special, and this book won’t disappoint.

This remains the only fully comprehensive collection of authentic Lebanese recipes in English but you will want to add this book to your library just because it is readable and absorbing with Anissa’s usual charming style of writing.

There is a Brief History of the Lebanon to start and it has had its share (probably more than its share) of invaders and occupiers as well as civil war and unrest that continues, unfortunately, till today. The Lebanese Larder follows with lists of not only herbs, spices, dried produce, but utensils, wines, fruits and drinks.

The recipe chapters start with Hors d’oeuvres (mezze) as you would expect, but there are 14 other sections that include Savoury Pastries, Stuffed Vegetables, Stews, Pickles and Desserts. Anissa has thoughtfully also included a list of shops where we can find some of the less common ingredients. You might be surprised at how few special items are needed to be able to make these dishes. Most things you will no doubt already have in your store cupboard: cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg etc. It won’t cost you an arm and a leg to try these subtle and delicious dishes.

Lebanese Cuisine not only supplies us with recipes but also lots of background information that helps this book to be not only a cookbook but also a travelogue. Anissa draws us in and helps us to imagine mountain villages, we can hear the sound of meat being pounded in a marble mortar, (it's OK for you to use a food processor so don’t panic), and we can smell the enticing aroma of grilling lamb.

The recipes are easy to follow with illustrations for things like stuffing vegetables, rolling vine leaves and forming fritters. None of it is complicated but the pictures are comforting to the novice. You will find it easy to present authentic dishes without tears.

Lebanese Cuisine is already considered something of a classic and rightly so. It’s a unique volume that has been praised by the good and worthy of the industry and I find no reason to disagree.

Lebanese Cuisine
Author: Anissa Helou
Published by: Grub Street
Price: £12.99
ISBN 978-1-906502-18-8

food and travel reviews Anissa Helou

Modern Mezze

Now, I am not going to say very much about Anissa Helou just now because there will be an interview with her in a few months’ time, but suffice it to say she is quite fascinating.

Anissas Modern Mezze This is one of those rare books that will entice not only enthusiastic cooks (although you don’t have to be one to succeed with these recipes) but also anyone who is the slightest bit interested in the cultures of Lebanon, Turkey, Greece and Morocco.

It’s said that we are what we eat, but I would say equally that the way we eat reflects something of our nature. Mezze are almost the equivalent of tapas: small dishes of meat, fish, vegetables, salads to be shared. The charm is that it’s a meal to linger over, each person taking a little of this, a taste of that, creating an unhurried break from the daily routine.

Anissa Helou writes with such warmth about her childhood in Lebanon. She remembers the excitement she felt when seeing her father ordering huge numbers of mezze dishes for family and friends to eat together. Modern Mezze opens a little window on the most accessible aspect of Middle Eastern food and allows us to enjoy for ourselves what was once available only to restaurant-goers or those with a ticket to Beirut.

The book is peppered (I know Anissa will say I should have used another spice!) with the most wonderful photos of not only finished dishes but also stages of preparation, and that’s always a comfort to a debutant cook. It contains everything you need to know to be able to prepare impressive mezze. The recipes are easy to follow, colourful and healthy.

There are lots of dishes that you will be familiar with, like Tzatziki and Tabbûlé, but how about Labné? How impressed will your friends be when you tell them that you produced this soft cheese yourself? You don’t need to tell them how very easy it is to make! Keep quiet and look like an expert, that’s what I’d do. Do you see why I like this book?

I love Fattûsh, a herb and toasted pita salad, and Anissa has, in my opinion, the best recipe. The ingredients are simple: pita bread, salad vegetables, herbs, oil and sumac, a lemony-flavoured, ground berry. It might not sound exceptional but it’s truly delicious with a lovely combination of textures. I make this often and it’s always a winner for a summer lunch.

The book is a dream to use with nothing being left to chance. There is an item about drinks to serve with mezze, suggestions for mezze as a starter or a meal, descriptions of ingredients and stockists. Anissa has recipes for dips, salads, pastries, pulses, veggies, fish and meats. Anyone, be they vegetarian or certified carnivore, will find plenty to enjoy in Modern Mezze...... So enjoy!

I guess I should be kind and offer you a recipe to try. There are so many delicious ones... but how about baba ghannûge [pronounced gannoosh]? It’s a classic.

Grilled Aubergine Dip - Baba Ghannûge

Serves 4

6 large aubergines, about 250g each
4 tbsp tahini
sea salt
juice of one lemon, or to taste.
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed.

For the garnish:
extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp chopped mint or fresh pomegranate seeds (preferably the sour type)

There is some confusion over the Arabic name of this dip. In Syria it is mûtabbal, while baba ghannûge is used to describe a grilled aubergine salad. In any case it is exceptionally good, provided the aubergines are char-grilled or, better still, barbecued over an open fire so they take on a smoky flavour. It is also important to mash the aubergines by hand - if you use a food processor the dip won't have such a good texture.

Preheat the grill to high. Prick the aubergines in several places with a small knife (to stop them bursting under the grill) and place on a sturdy baking sheet or grill rack. Grill until the aubergines are very soft to the touch and the skins are slightly charred, turning to expose all sides evenly to the heat (or cook on a barbecue). This may take up to 45 minutes, depending on the heat.

Transfer the aubergines to a board, halve each one lengthways and scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Put the flesh into a colander and leave for at least half an hour to drain off the excess liquid.

Tip the aubergine flesh into a wide bowl and mash, using a potato masher or the back of a fork. Don't crush it too much - you want the dip to have texture. Add the tahini and salt to taste and mix well, then stir in the lemon juice and crushed garlic. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Transfer the dip to a shallow serving bowl and with the back of a spoon spread it the same way as you would hommus so that you have a shallow groove in the dip. Drizzle a little olive oil in the groove and sprinkle the mint or pomegranate seeds decoratively in the centre and at regular intervals along the raised edge. Serve with pita bread.

Modern Mezze by Anissa Helou
Available from 1st May
Quadrille Publishing Ltd
ISBN 978 84400 632 8
Price £12.99

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