To begin with the Lebanese cuisine, one must not ignore the Lebanese bread which is the main utensil used to wipe off the wide range of mezze dishes, followed by fingers and tongues to lick off any remaining drips and sauces.
Click here to watch The making of Lebanese Saj Bread (source: Annahar)
When I was a kid, I grew up in an old fashioned house that I miss so dearly now. We had the ugliest heating system men ever created called “Soubia” which also knew a funny term ”babor” because of its sound that resembled to having a Titanic in your own living room when congested.
Every kid I knew has burn scars on his/her ass caused by the soubia because of its risky installation right in the middle of the room, and kids would play around it until the disaster happens; The mother whirls to treat the burns with dental floss, and the grandmother watches with sorrow and mumbles “Ya Adrit el Roum!” (Saint Mary of the Orthodox!) until the episode is over and another one starts.
The Soubia had a lot of functions; while burning asses was the worse side of it; the good sides were really useful. Remember aunty Virginie in my previous story; the one who eats a kilo of oranges at each visit to Aunty Matilde? She used to peel the oranges and place the skin on top of the Soubia to fragrance the room with citrus, creating a Buddhist environment in the heart of a Catholic city.
Basically every house that had a Soubia, also used it to heat water, make Turkish coffee, roast potatoes and chestnut, and (my favourite part) toast Lebanese bread to create a semi-crunchy char flavoured piece of bread consumed-while-hot with Labneh, Haloumi, and Bulgarian cheese…Sensational! Tears of joy! Seriously what else do you want from life?!
Out of desperation, I make my Labneh from Greek yogurt. To make your own, you just need a draining bag or a loose weave fabric, or clean socks (maybe not) fill it with Greek yoghurt, and hang it above the sink for few hours to drain most of the water.
From Lebanese bread, came the evolution of Man’oucheh or Zaatar Pide (also known as Lebanese or Oregano Pizza), the best and cheapest way to start your Monday to Saturday in Zahle, with an upgrade to “Knefeh” (sweet cheese bun) on Sundays only because it’s God’s day, we are all dressed well to go to the church, our hair is brushed for once, and for some reasons they all fit well together ( God + nice hair with gel + colourful shirt = Knefeh).
Another version of Lebanese dough is transformed into a “Kaakeh” for the afternoons. Traditionally; it’s a bag shaped bread filled with dry Zaatar (Oregano) until Beirut killed the tradition by filling it with “Picon” cheese.
Click here to watch the making of Kaakeh (Source: Annahar)
The best Man’oucheh is made in a wood fire oven and is very cheap to buy, but if you want to make your own, you need to make a pizza dough: Mix 800g strong white bread flour, 1 tablespoon of sea salt, 14g dried yeast, and 1 tablespoon of caster sugar. Make a hole in the middle and pour 650ml of lukewarm water. Mix all together very well. When the dough comes together, flour your hands and knead it backward and forward until you have a smooth and elastic ball shape dough. Place it in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let double in size for about 45 minutes.
Bring the dough, sprinkle the surface and the dough with a little flour, and roll it out into a rough circle about 0.5 cm thick. rub it with zaatar mix, and place the pizza in the oven until the dough is cooked (normally 10 to 15 min).
Eat plain or fill it with fresh tomatoes, cucumber, mint leaves and olives.
For those wondering if I have burn scars on my ass, I don’t. But my hand got its share once.