Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Sporting Club


Beirut is very full and very busy. It’s also sunny and hot, not as hot as the summer here but enough for me to want to catch a few rays. This is difficult to achieve in-between the buildings and the traffic. The solution is to hit the Sporting Club on the Corniche. Very select, but then a lot of Beirut seem to have plenty of money. Lots of sophisticated people here and big fancy cars.


The Sporting club is right on the sea with a mixture of swimming pools (plural) and also sea pools between the rocks. Natural swimming pools with the luxury of ladders to clamber in and out. It costs $25 to get in and this includes your own cabin to get changed and leave your clothes in, sun loungers and shade – if that’s what you want- and waiters serving cold drinks. Very fancy.


We managed to sneak off for a couple of hours, our programme is quite intensive and I am finding it difficult to be inside all the time


The swim was delicious. The sea is warm enough to wallow in, the cold drinks welcome and there’s even wi fi so you can run your business or write your blog whilst you chill.

What a life!!

Cooking on the Green Line



Yesterdays expedition was slightly hairy.

Kamal is involved in an initiative called ‘Make Food Not War” and today he took us to cook with war widows in Tripoli .


The idea is to bring people together through food regardless of religion and equip them with some skills that so that they can make a living. The group of women involved come from both sides of the warring factions and working together gives them common ground. We set off early this morning through the insane traffic  heading north out of Beirut. The roads are pretty much a free for all. There are very few road markings and basically all the cars go full pelt honking and weaving in and out all frantically trying to make progress.


We stopped at a fish market on the way to pick up some fish for Sally to smoke – beautiful bright fish, bonito, tuna, parrot fish, garfish, sea bass, some of it still twitching. Sally selected a the sea bass,  a garfish and something we’re still not sure the name off.  The coast road is the main artery through Lebanon which is a surprisingly small country – no bigger than Co.Cork . It doesn’t look that small on the atlas  and of course it’s a completely different shape, long and skinny.   The closer we got to Tripoli the more road blocks we passed through and Tripoli itself is something of a full on war zone with fully manned tanks, machine guns and sand bags. The buildings are covered in bullet holes and some aren’t there any more at all. The building where the cooking initiative is held is right on the Green Line. Smack bang in the middle of the troubled zone. Luckily it was quiet today but it definitely added a certain edge, not our usual cooking location.


The doors were manned by armed soldiers and we were welcomed in and taken upstairs to meet the ladies.who were in the middle of making “maamoul’ sweet pastries to celebrate Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holiday which is this weekend. There was an enormous lump of dough on the counter and dates and nuts were being pounded to make the fillings.


They took a break to check out Sally’s fish smoking lesson.



They found the idea of smoking fish very strange.The idea of cooking fish in smoke didn’t appeal at all and they were looking at each other sideways, very sceptical. Sally, being the genius that she is at her craft soon had them filleting and brining then placing the fish on her jerry-rigged smoking gadget. Fifteen minutes later when the fish was cooked they were persuaded to have taste and  were absolutely amazed. Next thing the plate was empty!


I got stuck into the cookie department. The cookies are made with fine semolina, butter and rose or orange water kneaded together with a little dried yeast until smooth then filled with either dates mixed with a little coconut and butter or walnuts or pistachios mixed with a little sugar syrup and rosewater.


There’s definitely knack to assembling them and my first couple of attempts were rejected but once I got the hang of it it was full steam ahead



Here’s the recipe to make quite an enormous amount. Scale it down if you don’t want to supply a market stall!

2.5kg fine semolina

1 kg butter

2 cups sugar

2 cups rosewater

2 cups orange blossom water

1 tsp dried yeast

Put the semolina on the counter, chop up the butter into small cubes, add the dried yeast and sugar and knead everything together. Gradually add the rose water and orange blossom water and keep kneading until silky. Leave covered with cling film for 2 hours

For the fillings

mix chopped walnuts with some sugar syrup and rosewater

chopped pistachios with sugar syrup and orange blossom

Chopped dates with a little desiccated coconut, a little butter and sugar syrup. This needs to be pounded to a smooth paste.

Next take little walnut balls of the dough and press them into a circle in the palm of your hand. Put a little spoonful of filling in the middle and carefully pull the sides together to close the parcel. The little parcels are then put into moulds and press them to fit snugly them tip them off and rap them sharply to tip them out.


Bake at 180c until lightly golden. Let them cool off then dredge them with icing sugar.








Beirut, Beirut

Beirut is one crazy place. very diverse and fast moving.  We arrived here two nights ago to the first rain since May –  there it was, bouncing off the pavements to our alarm and the joy of the Beirutis.  We took a hazardous taxi ride to the guesthouse where we are staying, passed out and when we woke the next morning the rain had stopped and the skies were blue.

Con, myself and Sally Barnes of Woodcock Smokery are here as guests of a very special man called Kamal Mouzawak, the man who bought  farmers markets into the city of Beirut where small producers can sell their produce in the city. He has also set up a kitchen called ‘Tawlet’ Souk el Tayeb. It’s an open kitchen where everyday a different producer/cook prepares typical food from his/her region. This is our headquarters while we are here. The daily feast is amazing, a huge variety of salads, vegetable mezzes, meats, fish and different grains. The tabbouleh we ate is nothing like the tabbouleh that we make. It’s pretty much the opposite comprising 90% fresh herbs and 10% bulgar. We will be redefining our idea of Lebanese food while we are hereIMG_1863

Today began with breakfast – labneh, olives, tomatoes, eggs with sumac, fresh cheese with tomato jam and flat breads with zatar.


There was a little break for a planning meeting washed down with a glass of Arak, the local aniseed flavoured drink which looks innocent but would be lethal in quantity! We talked about what we would like to do and what had been organised for us. This went something like food, food, food, a trip to Tripoli to cook with war widows, wine tasting near Batroun – the Bekka Valley , the famous wine producing area is off limits at the moment due to kidnappings and road blocks, a trip to the farmers market and more food. This was followed shortly after by a large lunch.


Everyone that we meet is super friendly and hospitable. I think visitors are pretty thin on the ground around here.

We finished the day with more food. We were invited to the tasting of a a new menu by a man called Wahel, His food establishment is on the same street that Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Druzes political party lives on which means the security is very high. The street is blocked by sandbags and guarded by armed soldiers. Wahel jokes that tis means he can have a street terrace as no traffic is allowed through.

This is pretty much the attitude of the Beirut people that we have met so far, upbeat and positive. It’s the only way to be!