Fasting, feasting, friendships forged over food
Jane Jeffes is a producer and director and former head of ABC Religion & Ethics. A UK-Australian dual national she is based in Sydney, Australia.
Special friendships are made over food and last Friday and Saturday, the Recipes for Ramadan team took over Burnt Butter’s professional studio kitchens in Rosebery for two days whipping up fabulous food, friendship and fun with popular Sydney-based foodie influencers Lina Jebeile (aka The Lebanese Plate), Fatimah Omran and Walla Abu-Eid.
The plan was to shoot all three making two or three dishes and across the course of the two days we whipped up a feast fit for kings but not that difficult to make at home.Lina Jebeile.
Lina shared her secret to produce the silkiest smoothest-ever hummus, and then introduced me to chicken mloukhiya. Her family calls it ‘ugly delicious’ but my family absolutely loved it and my daughter is now searching where to buy the leaves on-line! If anybody reading this, can supply me I’ll be eternally in your debt!
The fall-back as I understand it is spinach perhaps with lamb or beef instead of chicken although we all ended up agreeing there must be a market opportunity for an online supermarket selling hard-to-find ingredients like mloukhiya.
I also loved how Lina made her stock. I grew up doing as my mother did, using the carcass left over from a roast chicken but Lina makes her stock by putting the whole chicken in the stock pot, pulling the cooked meat off later to add towards the end.
I loved watching and could have listened for hours as she explained the different cultural, food and language traditions between north and south Lebanon despite the relatively small distance that separates them. #foodie # foodblogger #influencer
Fatimah whose family came from north Lebanon whipped up two of the most moist carrot cakes I’ve ever tried. It’s not a popular word moist but I can’t think of another! Better perhaps to say it really did melt in the mouth.
Decorated with Philly cheese and lemon icing with figs to top one and raspberries the other, pistachios were the secret ingredient and prompted a memory of Fatimah’s father buying large bags of pistachios and the family sitting together for hours in the evening, shelling, nibbling and talking.
Then there was a quick turn-around turmeric semolina cake (suitable for my newly vegan daughter) and stuffed eggplant which we all agreed wasn’t really stuffed at all! Fatimah remembers it being a dish her mother often cooked for dinner parties and given eggplant / aubergine is the culinary equivalent of silk, this really does taste like a special dish.
Fatimah’s mum cooks only with salt and pepper and cumin and this couldn’t have asked for more. It’s usually served with rice or bread but I used up the leftovers on Monday night with pasta and mozzarella #yummy!
The Recipes for Ramadan team I referred to was me and Mustafa Allawi and Omar Aziz of Hazen Agency. Aside from being brilliant at web design, short films and introducing me to Instagram, it turns out they can both cook! Mustafa rustled up a wonderful Iraqi dried fruit ‘stew’ with the gentle scent of cardamom and crunch of toasted slivered almonds.
In Iraq, it’s traditionally served for lunch or dinner and he remembers eating it with rice as a child on cold winter nights in northern Iraq. It’s a sweet alternative to a main course but I think it could also be a wonderfully indulgent special occasion breakfast or even a side serving with lamb… an interesting twist on lamb and apricot casseroles I grew up with. Needless to say, I felt very guilty enjoying a late breakfast/early lunch while everyone else was fasting.
And then there was Walla and I learned to make Jordanian Mansaf (the yoghurt beef) and Msakhan (chicken pieces on bread). The Mansaf looks so special but the process seemed easier than I thought and again my family loved it so I’m going to have fun trying it at home. The Msakhan looked harder – at least for me. I really do need to find that online supplier or a Middle Eastern grocer / greengrocer in North Sydney.
Again, I loved talking to Walla about her family and her holidays every two years back to her mother’s family in Jordan and meeting her husband Khalil, whose Syrian family are now spread around the world.
Walla is an adventurous cook, not just an armchair traveller but a kitchen traveller and Khalil and his mother have taught Walla just how different Syrian food is from Jordanian, not just what is cooked and how it’s cooked but the way it’s eaten. A world away from Jordan, despite being so close.