A Taste of Lebanon

When I was a kid, my mother liked to tell me the story of how she and my father met some of their friends back in the day. You see, Mom and Dad didn’t go to university directly after finishing high school; Dad earned a college diploma first, and Mom worked for a while. This meant that they were a few years older (and hopefully more mature) than most of their classmates. Not only that, but they had gotten married before they started university as well, which was (and I think still is) extremely unusual. This combination of factors meant that they didn’t really fit in with a lot of their peers. However, there was an extremely small community of international students attending the university at the time, and a lot of them were also older, and few were even married couples. My parents naturally fell in with this group of students and they became great friends. This meant that my parents (who are both white and from not only small towns, but military small towns) learned a lot about a number of international cultures and foods when otherwise they probably wouldn’t have done so.

A number of their friends were from Lebanon, and one of them (or possible a few of them, I may be misremembering) wanted to help publish a Lebanese cookbook to be sold in Canada. It was to include a lot of dishes that were common knowledge in Lebanon, but were considered “unusual” and “exotic” at the time throughout most of Canada. My parents got to be the testers for a lot of these dishes, since the authors were trying to tailor the recipes to a wider audience. Always enthusiastic about trying new foods, my parents were very happy guinea pigs.

Now, I think that A Taste of Lebanon: Cooking Today the Lebanese Way (Mary Salloum, 1983) is the book that this eventually became. My father bought my mother a copy for Christmas the year it first came out. My parents used that book regularly until it was passed down to me a few years ago when I started to show a greater interest in cooking.

Imagine my surprise, then, to stumble upon a brand new copy of this book at the Mid-East Food Centre; I didn’t realize that it was still in print! Not bad, considering it’s been more than 35 years. A quick search online revealed that it’s also available online as well. I would definitely highly recommend getting a copy of this book if you’re interested in Lebanese cooking even a little bit. As a bonus, it is a Canadian publication, so it focuses on ingredients that are actually available here.

Finding this book still for sale prompted me to go back to my own copy and make one of the easiest of the recipes therein: hommous bi tahini, i.e. chick pea dip with sesame seed paste. You can buy a large variety of types of hummus in just about every chain grocery store these days, since it’s considered healthy and trendy now. But when I was a kid my parents had to make it for us. Actually, since it’s a no-cook recipe (all you need is a blender), it makes a lot of sense to make your own hummus if you can.

I based the prices here on the everyday listings found on the Superstore website; you could probably find a lot of these ingredients even cheaper if you shop the sales.

Suraj chick peas @ $0.88 for a 540mL can = $0.88
Alkanater tahina @ $8.58 for 907ml, 60ml used = $0.57
Rooster Garlic @ $0.58 for 3 bulbs with 10 cloves each, 1 clove used = $0.02
Windsor iodized table salt @ $1.28 for 1kg, 2.84g used = $0.004
No Name lemon juice @ $2.48 for 946ml, 60ml used = $0.16

Total cost for 1 batch = $1.634

Now compare that to the pre-made prices, which start at $3.47 for a comparable amount, and go up to about $5.00 for the fancier stuff. That’s a pretty big saving if you make it yourself, and it’ll add up if you’re the kind of person who eats it regularly!

Now, my favourite way to eat hummus is on fresh pita bread — and one of the next recipes on my list is pita bread itself, which is also in this cookbook. But I know a lot of health-conscious people prefer it as a veggie dip, as it’s great with sliced sweet peppers, carrots, or celery. (Of course, it’s vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free too — not that these dietary trends were even on the radar of this classic food.) A Taste of Lebanon recommends that hummus and pita be served with any fish recipe, baked kibbi, tabouli, barbequed chicken, or shish kabob. It is truly one of the most versatile dishes I have ever made.

Glazed Lemon Loaf

I don’t know why, but I’ve been craving glazed lemon loaf lately. I think it may be because one of my favourite coffee shops has it in the pastry case every once and a while, and I do sometimes succumb to temptation. When I was grocery shopping with the family the other day, I thought that I might pick one up, but they were nowhere to be found! So I Googled a recipe, bought a lemon, and baked a loaf myself — despite the fact that I usually try not to turn on the oven in this heat.

I’m happy to report that it turned out exactly as I had hoped! Moist (but not doughy) in the center, with just a little tang of lemon in the glaze… Perfect. I found the Glazed Lemon Pound Cake Loaf recipe on Seasons & Suppers: The Summer Edition. The writeup for the recipe stresses that it must be made just so, with butter and eggs at room temperature, sour cream removed from the fridge fifteen minutes before adding, and a very specific order of operations. Given that I’ve never made lemon loaf before (lemon poppyseed yes, straight up lemon no), I figured that I should follow the directions as written — at least the first time. Okay, well, I did have to make one small modification to adjust for my dairy issues, and used lactose-free sour cream instead of regular. But it still turned out great!

I think that the only beef I have with this absolutely delicious recipe is that it’s called a pound cake. What I’ve always been taught is that a pound cake calls for a pound each of flour, butter, and sugar. A quick Googling tells me that this translates to approximately 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, 2 cups butter, and 2 cups granulated sugar… Which isn’t even close to the proportions in this recipe. I mean, it gets a little bit closer if you halve it so that it’s simply equal weights, but even so, to me, that’s not really a pound cake. Not that this has anything to do with the quality of the recipe itself, mind you. The methodology was correct, and the end results were delicious! And I will definitely make this recipe again. I guess I’m being just a bit pedantic.

Roadside Produce Stands

One of my favourite things about summer is when the farm stalls start popping up in parking lots and along the main drag, not content to wait for the next farmers’ market to get all that great produce out to their customers. Sometimes it’s a single pickup truck with its bed full of corn or flats of foraged berries (if I’m ever near Sudbury in the summer, wild blueberries are a must). Sometimes it’s well-established farm booths, neatly organized with multiple products all protected from the sun and rain by pop-up tents. Whatever the style, the food is always much fresher and tastier than the stuff from the grocery store, which is usually picked when not-quite-ripe and shipped in instead of ripening properly under the sun. Due to ordering in bulk, grocery stuff is often cheaper, but you can’t beat the quality of the roadside stand.

Of course, due to our short growing season, the roadside farm stand is subject to seasonal and weather-driven fluctuation. Last year, when we had so rain that there was flooding and standing water in so many fields making it impossible to cultivate, there was a lot less available when it came to fresh local produce. Ditto the particularly dry years. But such is the way of the farm and garden.

Right now there’s a great variety of farm-fresh goods available. Garlic scapes are one of the first crops available around here in June, but the garlic plants keep growing flower stalks, so farmers can sell them for a good long time into summer.

Young carrots — true young carrots and not those “baby cut” fakeries available by the bag in the grocery store — are starting to become available now. The ones from my garden aren’t usually available until fall (if I tried to harvest now, they would look a lot like this), but most of the farms around here start their growing seasons early under the grow lamps.

The green onions are nice and crispy…

And zucchini are starting to become available! I’m particularly fond of the ones that grow in such interesting shapes, although they taste exactly the same. I’m trying to grow zucchini this year, but the chipmunks and earwigs love my gourds, so I historically haven’t had any luck. My friends, who generally have better luck than I, often have excess zucchini to gift me come fall, though. The kids love it, especially as zucchini sticks. The round ones pictured above are better shaped for stuffing, though.

We’ve been gorging on raspberries for a week or two now, but they’re still a personal favourite.

And most exciting at the moment, the corn has started to roll in! The local peaches-and-cream corn is my husband’s personal favourite, so we eat it in every form starting about now. Last night we just threw it on the barbecue whole on low for half an hour, and then peeled it and ate it off the cob. Delicious!