From Beirut to London in 100 Dishes

Lebanese Barbecue two — and Pineapple Shishas

DSC_0314When I was growing up in Beirut, it was for old men hiding behind clouds of smoke from a world of shirked responsibilities in rundown cafes.  It would have been unthinkable for a young girl to smoke a shisha — or hubbly bubbly, hookah, whatever you want to call it.  Times change and the shisha has become hyper chic not just amongst young Arabs, but Asian and British kids here in London.  I never thought I’d fall for it, too, but I have.  There’s something intoxicating, dizzying about the hit of warm aromatic smoke — not to mention the hypnotic bubbling of the water pipe. It’s incredibly unhealthy of course — some studies say one session is equal to about one-hundred cigarettes.  There’s a new, seemingly less toxic way of enjoying the flavour at least — through vaping and e-shishas with their more than one-hundred flavours.  But it’s not the same — there’s none of the ritual.  Preparing the coal and getting the shisha going whether you do it yourself or a waiter does it for you in a restaurant is an essential part of the experience.   I have to confess I have only had shisha with tobacco and one of the flavourings like black grape, cherry or melon.  Being Lebanese and spending many of my summers in the Bekaa valley, never having tried it Shishawith anything stronger may seem as odd as a cockney not having tasted jellied eels, but it’s true.  I find it a strong enough drug as it is.  At Arab-themed parties where the guests are done up in their thobes and ghutras,21st Birthday.JPG it’s a defining moment of the experience — and often a revelation, though one with a sting in the tail, for those who’ve never tried it.  In Beirut, too, its image has changed radically.  Young girls with their perfect cosmetically altered Nancy Ajram noses and Haifa Wehbe hips languidly entice and ignore their boyfriends with a shisha pipe in the corner of their collagen pillowed pouts.  And you can order takeaway shishas now that are brought on mopeds and set up for you in your home.  The pineapple is extra — a tasteful little touch for the true cognoscenti — a strawberry or two won’t do any harm either…Shisha.jpg

Anyway, this is not a recipe for shishas or a guide on how to do them.  Even though they’re an integral part of the Arab experience at the many events I’ve done here in England — as much as the belly dancer and the baklava.  And — if you’re not going the route of a whole sheep — the Lebanese barbecue I was writing about in the previous post.  You’ve seen the shish taouk, the kofta mashwe, now here is the final part of that trio — lahim mashwe.IMG_8199

Lahim Mashwe

1 Kilo of lamb shoulder cut in small bite size cubes

16 cherry tomatoes washed

16 small white onions unpeeled

1 tea spoon of sun dried tomato paste

2 tea spoons of red grape vinegar

2 large spoons of olive oil

1 tea spoon of salt

1/2 tea spoon of pepper

1/2 tea spoon of paprika

1/2 tea spoon of cinnamon

16 wooden skewers soaked in water for 10 minutes


Wash the tomatoes and peel the onions and leave aside

In a large bowl put the lamb cutlets cut into cubes and add all the ingredients

Mix well and leave to marinate for 2 hours or overnight

Put two lamb cubes on each skewer, then add an onion followed by two lamb cubes followed by one tomato then another two cubes

Once the coal is very hot, grill the skewers, each side for 4 minutes or until golden

Serve hot with hummus and saffron rice

You can cook the kebabs under the grill instead of the barbecue.

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