Feature

Lebanon and beyond

Even novice cooks can learn how to make authentic Lebanese dishes with the help of Robert Bousamra, who shares recipes from his new cookbook showcasing the food he grew up with.

lebanon-felafel

Felafel

lebanon-fatayer

Fatayer, Lebanese pastries

lebanon-porridge

Mjudrah, lentil porridge.

Lebanon to Ghana

These recipes are an extract from Lebanon to Ghana: The food I grew up with, by Robert Bousamra, Big Sky Publishing, available for $24.99 in hardcopy, or in digital format from Amazon and iTunes.

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Felafel

One of the most popular Lebanese dishes around, the humble felafel even inspired the name of a famous Australian novel which was later made into a movie. Once you have learnt how to make these properly, you will never eat another packet version or even buy one from a kebab shop.

Ingredients:
- 1.5 kg soaked chickpeas
- 725 g soaked broad beans
- 2 onions (350 g), chopped in 8 sections
- 50 g peeled garlic
- 150 g coriander leaf
- 150 g fresh mint
- 150 g fresh parsley
- 15 g white pepper
- 15 g rock salt
- Cumin powder to taste
- 2 litres grape seed oil or olive oil

Soak 1 kg of dried chickpeas and 1 kg dried broad beans in water for up to 24 hours, and use only what is required. The rest can be frozen for later use. If using unpeeled dry broad beans you will need to peel off the softened skins from the soaked broad beans before you can mince them. You can find peeled broad beans in some Lebanese delicatessens. The chickpeas and broad beans will increase in weight by absorbing water during soaking. You will only need 1.5 kg of soaked chickpeas and 725 g of the soaked broad beans for the mix.

Pass the chickpeas, broad beans, onion, garlic and coriander through an electric mincer or hand-cranked meat grinder. Do not use a bladed food processor as this will spoil the texture. Add the spices, except for the cumin and mix well. The mixture should have a grainy texture with specks of green throughout and should feel clumpy and moist. The quantities used in this recipe will make a big batch. Take out what you want to cook and freeze the rest by storing it in an air-tight container.

At this stage add the cumin (around 2 teaspoons to half a kilogram of the mixture) and if you like your falafel a little spicy you can add some chilli powder. Using your hands, mould the mixture into balls 3-4 cm in diameter. Deep fry the falafel balls in the grape seed or olive oil until golden brown. The cooked balls should be crispy on the outside but still moist and a little green in the middle. The trick is not to cook too many at once and not to cook them too long.

Falafel can be served with other mezza style food or you can have it with lettuce, tomato and hummus rolled up in Lebanese flat bread. It is best when it is hot and served with hummus.

Fatayer

Serves 3-4 people
These pyramid-shaped vegetarian parcels are very tasty and healthy. They're traditionally made using silverbeet, onion and tomato, but you can experiment by adding such extras as chopped black olives and fetta cheese. Wholemeal instead of white flour can also be used for a healthier option.

Ingredients:
- 250 g fresh silverbeet, chopped
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 2 tomatoes, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon cracked pepper
- 1 lemon
- 500 g plain flour
- 150 ml (¾ cup) extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 150 ml (¾ cup) water

Put the chopped silverbeet, onions and tomato in a bowl and season with cracked pepper. Squeeze half a lemon over the top and mix well. If you are adding extra ingredients, make sure not to add too much and overpower the main ingredients. I would only add 40-50 g of fetta cheese and 20-30 g of chopped black olives.

Place the flour, olive oil and salt in a bowl and mix as you slowly add water. Knead the mix until it is smooth and silky. This type of dough should be elastic and smooth. Once the dough is ready, roll out in a 1-2 mm thick sheet using a rolling pin. The sheet will need to be thick enough so that it holds its shape when it is folded. Cut the sheet into 14 cm squares. Use a basting brush to wet the outer perimeter of one square with milk. Place some of the mix in the middle of the square, enough so that you can pull up the four corners to a point, enclosing the filling. Squeeze the edges of the pastry together on the four diagonals, sealing the pyramid. Repeat the basting and filling process for each square and use the remaining dough to make more squares. If you have some filling left over you can use this to make a delicious omelette: just mix in enough eggs and fry in a non-stick pan.

Grease and flour an oven tray and bake the pyramid parcels at 180-200°C in a preheated oven until they have golden brown peaks. A temptingly delicious fatayer can be eaten hot or cold.

Mjudrah, lentil porridge

Serves 3–4 people
Mjudrah is traditionally served alongside a garden-style salad with fresh-picked herbs.

Ingredients:
- 2 cups (400 g) brown lentils
- 2 large onions, sliced
- olive oil for frying
- ¼ cup (50 g) white rice
- 1 level teaspoon rock salt

Wash and cook the lentils in plenty of water until the skins are falling off. While the lentils are cooking, fry the onions in olive oil until caramelised. Drain and reserve the water from the cooked lentils.

Blend the lentils into a smooth paste using a blender or food processor. Strain this mixture to remove any skins and place into a deep pan. Add 1-1½ cups of the saved lentil cooking water, depending on how thick the mixture is. At this stage the mixture should be reasonably wet as the rice will still need to cook. Add the salt and pepper and slowly bring to a simmer. Add the rice and cook for 5-6 minutes or until cooked. When hot it will be sloppy, so when it sets it's more like a grainy rice pudding.

Serve the mjudrah in one big dish or several small dishes, topped with the caramelised onions. The mixture will set once it has cooled and is traditionally served cold.

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These recipes are an extract from Lebanon to Ghana: The food I grew up with, by Robert Bousamra, Big Sky Publishing, available for $24.99 in hardcopy, or in digital format from Amazon and iTunes.