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Lentil and Vermicelli salad
Honeyed Labneh with a Date and Fig sauce
I am going to be making a few assumptions here about Lebanese cuisine,
-that for most part it is down to earth, healthy and rustic, using simple and humble ingredients
-that many everyday dishes like hummus and tabouleh which have become synonymous with Lebanese cuisine probably don’t have a long ingredients list.
Now you’ve probably heard this before, to assume is to make an ass of u and me! That could well happen here as it did when we went to Egypt a few years ago. I have this quirk when I travel, to rustle up some of our meals in the hotel room. As markets are always included in my sightseeing agenda, that is easily accomplished. So I fantasized about slathering creamy hummus on pita bread and dusting it with sumac, picked up from a jaunt through an Egyptian market. Never mind I hadn’t tasted sumac before but I was drawn to its color and who wouldn’t want to try a new spice mix?
Well, I saw nothing that resembled a pita nor did I come across any hummus and forget about sumac. I went to the spice stalls and they appeared quite amused by my blatherings about sumac. When asking for hummus, I said it in every possible way, hummus, homus, homuus, hammus to get through to the people in our hotel, that I wanted to get my hands on some. They just looked at me strangely. I could not believe I was in a middle eastern country and the staples that I assumed I’d find here, were not available.
Fast forward to earlier this year, I was taking Arabic lessons and my Moroccon teacher asked me how I made my hummus. What! she wanted me to preach to the choir? but since she asked, I told her about pureeing chickpeas and so on and she kept saying no, no how do you prepare ‘your hummus’ and we went back and forth this way. Then I asked her to describe the hummus she was referring to. She said she has it all the time in Indian restaurants and the humus is in a thick dark brown sauce. Was she referring to Chole? Bingo! It hit me, hummus is an Arabic word for chick peas and the dip as we know it, may not be prepared in every middle eastern country! No wonder I got strange looks from the hotel staff. Why is this chick obsessed with chick peas? Isn’t she supposed to be chasing pyramids like the rest of the tourists?!
Anyway, based on my assumptions right or wrong, I wanted to pay tribute to the simplicity of everyday Lebanese cuisine for the Monthly Mingle hosted by Beth of DKS. I am so glad the challenge was not to just create a Lebanese themed dish but to use ‘unexplored and secret to the west’ ingredients. In my travels in the middle east or for that matter in restaurants here, I have not seen dishes with dates or labneh on the menu. So I decided to work with these ingredients. As I rummaged through my kitchen cupboards I was seeing many items that I could easily use, which prompted me to add a challenge of my own; to only use ingredients that I had at hand. I had so much fun experimenting and ta-da, I present to you a simple lunch that could have easily come from a Lebanese kitchen! I am of course assuming that is so!
Quite thrilled with unexpected find of grape vinegar, a forgotten purchase from an earlier trip to a Persian store.
Lentils and vermicelli salad
For the salad
1/2 cup green lentils, cooked per packet direction
1/2 cup vermicelli, scroll down for cooking tips
Salt to taste
For the topping of fried onions
2 tablespoon butter
2 cups thinly sliced onions
For the dressing
1/4 cup grape vinegar
3 red chilies, mild
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons of your favorite olive oil
3 tablespoon zatar seasoning
1 tsp salt
For the garnish
Cilantro or parsley
Soak the red chillies in the vinegar.
Cook the lentils per packet direction.
Warm butter in a broad shallow pan. Wait till the butter turns slightly brown, turn up the heat and add the sliced onions and spread it on the pan. You want to cook the onions to a deep crispy brown and not a soft mush. Remove the onions when done and set it aside.
Add the vermicelli to the pan in which you fried the onions. In the residual butter, toast the vermicelli to a golden brown. Add 3/4 cups of water, some salt and let the water come to a rolling boil. Now reduce the heat to a simmer put a lid on and cook for a few minutes till the vermicelli is done al dente. Remove the lid and fluff the vermicelli right away so it doesn’t clump together.
Blend the chillies and vinegar together. Add the olive oil, zatar seasoning and salt and whisk everything together to mix well.
Putting it all together.
Add the lentils, vermicelli and 4 tablespoons of dressing and gently toss. Garnish with parsley or cilantro. Top with the fried onions and it is ready to serve.
Honeyed Labneh with Date and Fig sauce
For the Labneh
2 lb tub of full fat yogurt
For the sauce
4 Medjool dates
For the garnish
Toasted white sesame seeds
To make the Labneh
Line a colander with a few layers of cheese cloth. Rest the colander into a deep bowl. Put the yogurt on the cheese cloth and tie around it. Leave it for 4 hours. A lot of whey drains away and you are left with a creamy yogurt cheese or Labneh. Yields 1 and 1/4 cups of Labneh.
To 1/4 cup of Labneh add 1 teaspoon of honey and mix well. This is the base for the dessert.
To make the sauce.
Soak the pitted Medjool dates in a 1/4 cup of warm water for 15 minutes. Puree it with the fresh figs and add a drizzle of honey.
For the garnish
Toast the sesame seeds.
Putting it all together
Serve the sweetened Labneh with some sauce and garnish with toasted sesame seeds.