Monday, January 25, 2010

A Middle Eastern Feast

In the last couple of years Rob and I have become increasingly fond of Middle Eastern food, particularly Lebanese. We visited Abla Amad’s little restaurant in Carlton a couple of years ago and were thoroughly inspired to try cooking the food ourselves. I found her book ‘The Lebanese Kitchen’ and we were off. Claudia Roden’s books ‘Arabesque’ and ‘A New Book of Middle Eastern Food’ also quickly became our food bibles. I love the freshness of the cuisine, with the lemon juice, fresh mint, parsley and coriander. The spice mixes such as Ras el hanout , Baharat and Za’atar are so fragrant, and have become a favourite way of adding flavour to lamb and chicken. The food culture of sitting down to a table of many small dishes, mezze, creating an array of flavours, colours, and aromas is so appealing. We had developed a repertoire of favourite dips, salads, kebabs and desserts to feed our friends. We have become so obsessed that a BBQ to us is always a Lebanese one!

So as I approached a particular milestone last year it came as no surprise (to Rob) that I decided upon a Middle Eastern Feast for 30 of my friends and family to celebrate. Half of the fun of this sort of entertaining for me is to pore over the recipe books, selecting and writing lists of ingredients and a plan of attack leading up to the day. The day dawned, and we found ourselves at the venue with all of our cooking gear, buckets of fresh herbs from the Hmong people, fillets of Ocean Trout, a couple of legs of lamb, chicken, a large mound of fresh flatbreads, yoghurt, lemons, sparkling wine and an array of desserts that I’d been preparing the whole week. Luckily one of my friends is far more artistic than me, so I gave her 100 candles, 30m of silky pink fabric, a couple of Moroccan lanterns, fresh lilies, rose petals and a staple gun, and let her loose to transform the room.

The feast consisted of:
Hummous – it’s compulsory!
Baba Ghannooj – I love the smoky eggplant flavour.
Muhammara – a roasted red pepper & walnut dip, seasoned with lemon juice, pomegranate molasses and cumin, with flat breads to scoop.

Tabbouleh- again another classic mezze dish.
Fattoush- a salad of mint, parsley and lettuce, with radishes, tomatoes, cucumber, a sprinkling of sumac and some crisp toasted flatbreads.
Cacik- a cucumber, mint and yoghurt salad, a favourite with lamb.
Salatat al Bataata- a minty potato salad.
Loubyeh bi Zayt- green beans cooked with tomatoes, olive oil and allspice, it is delicious warm or cold.

Ouzi- middle eastern roast lamb.
Djaj Mishwee bi Za’atar- chicken kebabs marinated in lemon juice and za’atar then grilled on a BBQ.
Samak Tarator- the Greg Malouf salmon dish I described recently.

Lokum- I made a mountain of Turkish Delight.
Baklawa-bright green with pistachios and dripping with the sugar syrup.
Nummoora – a semolina cake that is also bathed in sugar syrup.
Ma’amoul- date filled pastries.
Barrosi-crispy sesame seed biscuits.
Damascene Shortbread – a short and rich biscuit topped with a pistachio.
Muhallabeya- a milk pudding to eat with the
Middle Eastern Fruit Salad- made of poached dried fruit with spices and honey, sprinkled with slivered almonds.
Persian Love Cake- the recipe for this came from Gourmet Traveller, a very moist cake made with yoghurt, almond meal and nutmeg.
My friend had also made me an appropriately decorated birthday cake.

The evening went well, my fondest memory was looking down the candle lit table at my guests tucking into the food in front of them, and all of the preparation was worth it!


Victor said...

Wow, Wow, Wow!!! Awesome! That's all I can say. Where is this Lebanese Restaurant?? I will rush there in no time. What a stunning display of food and the room - my kind of dining venue. Love it.
And, middle eastern food - I so so miss it.
I wish there is such a place in Cygnet! Please open and serve this wonderful cuisine.

Hazel said...

He, he, as you are probably more than aware- doing this professionally would be quite an effort, and one I'm not sure we could pull off. I wish there was a middle eastern restaurant here too. But we are always happy to cook a feast for friends and family!

Michelle said...

Looks absolutely stunning Marion! Amazing, just amazing. Your lucky guests.

I love Lebanese food too, I have been trying to perfect the falafel as good as Fatima's on Cleveland Street Surry Hills. A challenge I hope to rise to one day....

Rita said...

I agree with Victor and Michelle - your feast looks amazing, and I'm positive it tasted the same, as anything made with the love, devotion and passion you obviously put into your food does. I too would love to see a local restaurant serving up this food.

I smiled reading your descriptions of the planning of this meal. At my last (and final) marriage, I specifically wanted to do this very thing for the 'reception' for 65, so with Thai food being my favourite, opted for the Thai banquet choice. Pored over many Thai cookbooks with great delight, selecting the final menu. With the help of a few close cheffy friends, it all went off like clockwork and the food was pronounced fabulous by all who attended. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the marriage didn't!

Monique said...

Wow! This looks amazing! My father is Lebanese and this is the food he has cooked for all the special occasions over the years. You have inspired me with your dinner party. Have been thinking about a birthday coming up starting with a 4 that is just a few years away. Always thought I would do an dinner party but wondered what to served. this could be just the ticket.

PS Your friend's table setting is amazing. YOu could not not have a fab night.

Hazel said...

Hi Michelle- we haven't tackled felafel yet! It would be great to have access to the supermarkets they always show on food safari in Sydney wouldn't it!

Hi Rita, thanks for stopping by, a Thai banquet sounds interesting too! It does make a special event seem even more so when you've helped prepared the food. At least you have some great memories of the evening!

Hi Monique, I was very lucky that my friend and her husband helped out on the day! I couldn't have decorated and prepared food with Rob. It is a great party menu because the style of food is not so formal and most of it can be prepared ahead. As long as you have willing helpers to juice lemons, chop parsley and mint and man the bbq! Although we did find we had massively overcatered, and you can't really keep the salads once they've been dressed! Goodluck with your plans for your party coming up!

Stephen Estcourt said...

I have only just seen this. Absolutely beautiful and so inspiring!

Hazel said...

Thanks Stephen, it's been long enough that I could do it again for a big group! We cook a selection of the dishes often just for the two of us.

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