From Beirut to London in 100 Dishes

Araa wa batinjan mahsi — season of harvests

IMG_1158The smell of wood smoke at night, mist on the water meadows at dawn and IMG_6794strange suburban trees heavy with incongruous fruit — that’s what the season of harvests means to me here and now.  It’s been a good year with plenty of sun and rain.  My small garden is witness to it.  A lemon tree that has struggled through two winters has produced large and succulent fruit.  I hesitate to pick the lemons as I don’t know when or even if the tree will be able to bear such fruit again.  Of course it’s nothing compared to the groves of lemon and orange trees where I used to play in my family’s village in the Bekaa valley.  IMG_3184But it feels so rare and hard won to have grown such fruit from scratch here in England that it pleases me more than I can say.   This year our vine tree that had been bare and nearly dead IMG_6491 (1)for the past two years was also suddenly laden with bunches of grapes.  I have more faith in the vine and the chances of grapes next year so I have no problem in picking them and guzzling them on the spot — perhaps with a matching grape-flavoured shisha.  IMG_4841The figs have also been abundant, although the squirrels have probably already had the best of the crop.  Our cat Bowie and the squirrels seem to have come to some kind of deal — perhaps something like the de-confliction agreement the Russians and Americans are recently said to have reached over Syria.  Bowie lets them have the figs as long as he can get on with finding the most vulnerable and helpless small animals to toy with and perhaps also the narcotic angel trumpets that flourish beside the fig tree, perfuming the night even as winter approaches. Harvest was a time for my whole family to get together in the Bekaa — those who lived off the land the whole time joined at weekends by those who had chosen or had had chosen for them a very different life in the city.  It was both beautiful and boring for me.  But I loved the richness and abundance of tastes that the season brought — as well as the promise of even better things through the winter as the year’s produce was laid down in storage.  Of course it’s very different here.  I have no direct contact with the deep countryside and the work that is done there. Instead, I forage around my neighbourhood for the fruit that grows almost surreptitiously and by accident, ignored by everyone else.  To celebrate this time of year, I have been making stuffed marrows and aubergines, filling them with rice, meat, fruit and spices.  It is a hearty, healthy dish, bursting with life — for one last moment just as the fields here and in Lebanon are shorn of all their riches and go into hibernation.  IMG_8356_2


3 Long Marrows and 3 small Aubergines
(you can use courgette or butternut squash)
100g of rice washed
100 of fresh minced lamb
1 small tomato peeled and diced
1 small onion peeled and diced
1 pinch of saffron
1 tea spoon of ousfour if available
1/2 tea spoon of cinnamon
1 tea spoon of black pepper
1 tea spoon of salt
1 large spoon of vegetable oil
6 table spoons of fresh waterIMG_5405

For the sauce
4 cloves of garlic peeled and crushed
1 glass of fresh tomato juice
1 tea spoon of sun-dried tomato paste
2 lemons juiced
1 tea spoon of dry mint
1 tea spoon of salt
3 glasses of waterIMG_6890

Wash the rice couple of times with fresh water, drain and leave aside

Wash the long marrow and cut the top off and peel the outer skin

Wash the aubergines and cut the top off

Core the vegetables, using an apple corer or a Lebanese mana’ara/courgette corer – this might be tricky the first time, but don’t worry practice makes perfect

In a small bowl put the washed rice, minced lamb, diced tomato, diced onion, saffron, oussfour, cinnamon, black pepper, salt and vegetable oil

Mix well then divide the rice mixture in 6 portions

Stuff all the long marrows and aubergines equally and put in a medium pan

Pour 1 large spoon of fresh water inside each stuffed vegetable

Make sure they stand up – if not, put a cling film or foil on top of each one so the rice doesn’t spill out during cooking

In a small bowl, crush the garlic, tomato juice, the sun-dried tomato paste, lemon juice, dry mint and salt, mix well and add to the long marrows and aubergines

Add 3 glasses of water to the vegetables, cover the pot with the lid and put on the hob at high temperature

Once the sauce starts to boil reduce temperature and leave to cook for 30-35 minutes or until the rice is cooked and the vegetable outer skin is soft

Serve hot with Lebanese flat bread and black and green olivesIMG_5158

One comment

  1. Jeanne

    How wonderful to come upon your reminiscences of your home country, and the equally lovely way you present food. Please can you tell me what ‘ousfour’ is? Is it a spice mixture or herb?


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