The Middle Eastern Feast

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Josephine mentioned wanting to make a feast of dishes and, quite honestly, I’m drooling all over this Middle Eastern meal – homemade pita, hummus, and even a spice mix. The sun is shining around here and I’m thinking that a Middle Eastern feast for family and friends would be just the right way to convince spring to stick around for good. -Maggie 

My fondest memories as a child were the weekend family feasts that were hosted by my grandparents in their backyard.  Aunts, uncles, cousins and friends would often unite merrily to overindulge on my grandmothers cooking.  An affair that required a whole weeks preparation, my grandmother would spend hours, sometimes days, slaving away in her kitchen, mustering up an abundance of heirloom recipes to serve at the table on the weekend.

Born in Tripoli, my gradmother was privy to a combination of Lebanese culinary styles.  Lebanese cooking is a fusion of earthy, hearty traditional peasant dishes that originated from the many mountain villages and Levant and European inspired contemporary cuisine. Having migrated to Australia in the early sixties, my gradmother used food as a way to reconnect with her home country.  Likewise, I have continued to serve Lebanese recipes at my table to remind me of growing up as part of a big family in Austraila.

The Middle Eastern culture loves the experience of sharing plates and tasting many flavors. A typical meal consists of a vast variety of mezze plates.  Each plate uses a simple combination of vegetables, grains, legumes and spices that are often cooked in ways that can be preserved.

Unlike those before me who menus were dictated by the seasons and the produce available, I hardly had to forage for foreign ingredients at my local grocer.  After collecting my necessities, I was able to whip up a collection of my favorite recipes from my home kitchen in Hong Kong.

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The Middle Eastern Feast

It wasn’t until we moved to Hong Kong that Luke and I had to master the art of making pita bread. Bread is crucial to enjoying Lebanese cuisine. Pita bread or Lebanese bread (wider diameter and much thinner) is so elastic that it can be wrapped around any food. We often use bread as a substitute for cutlery at our table.

Za’atar is a traditional Lebanese seasoning that remains a staple in my kitchen. When mixed with olive oil you can enjoy it on bread, meat and salads. One of my favorite way to enjoy it is to rub the dry za’atar mixture onto the juicy flesh of a ripe tomato and drizzle with a light layer of olive oil. It is absolutely delicious!

Hummus is a chickpea based dip that can be enjoyed alone with bread and olive oil or used as a condiment for meat. This recipe has been created and perfected by Luke. I hope that you enjoy his recipe as much as I do.

The tender and juicy Lamb Kebab is a much loved addition to any Lebanese meal, the simple recipe invites those eating it to season it, dip it or even wrap it in bread. My approach was inspired by Salma Hage’s recipe in her beautiful book The Lebanese Kitchen. I served my skewers on a best of wild rice seasoned with pine nuts, cumin and a light drizzle of olive oil.

Ingredients:

For the Pita Bread
  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • 2⁄3 cup room temp water
  • 3 1⁄2 cups white bread flour
  • 1 1⁄2 teaspoon ground sea salt
  • 1⁄2 cup room temp milk
For the Za'atar
  • 1/4 cup sumac
  • 2 tablespoons thyme
  • 1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoons marjoram
  • 2 tablespoons oregano
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
For the Hummus
  • 2 tins chickpeas
  • 1⁄2 cup chickpea juice
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons of tahini
  • Pinch of salt
For the Lamb Kebabs
  • 1 kg boneless lamb leg
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dry oregano
  • 3 cloves garlic

Directions:

Making the Pita Bread
  1. Dissolve yeast into 3 tablespoons of lukewarm water.
  2. Sift together flour and salt into large mixing bowl.
  3. Add yeast mixture and gradually add the remaining water and milk.
  4. Mix all ingredients with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined.
  5. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface.
  6. Knead dough until elastic.
  7. Shape the dough into a ball and put in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap.
  8. Let dough stand for 1 hour, and preheat oven the 230 degrees (Celsius).
  9. Uncover dough, turn it out and divide into 6 balls.
  10. Roll out each ball into 20 cm circles.
  11. Put circles onto baking sheets, brush with a light layer of water.
  12. Bake for 7-9 minutes until golden brown.
Making the Za'atar
  1. Lightly toast sesame seeds in pan.
  2. Combine all ingredients (including toasted sesame seeds) in food processor and mix.
Making the Hummus
  1. Drain chickpeas and set chickpea juice aside.
  2. Put chickpeas, lemon, garlic, olive oil, tahini and salt into blender or food processor.
  3. Drizzle 1⁄4 cup chickpea juice over ingredients and blend until thick in consistency.
  4. If mixture is too dry add the remaining juice or as much is needed to achieve a fluffy yet thick consistency for easy dipping.
  5. Scoop dip into bowl, cover with cling wrap and set aside in fridge to chill.
Making the Lamb Kebabs
  1. Trim the fat from the lamb leg and slice the meat into strips
  2. Pour olive oil, lemon juice over the meat
  3. Add salt, pepper, oregano and crushed garlic cloves
  4. Toss all ingredients until meat is entirely covered
  5. Leave meat to marinate for 1 hour
  6. Skewer the meat
  7. Heat skillet or fry pan until hot
  8. Cook the lamb for 3 - 6 minutes (medium rare)
  9. Serve alongside hummus, lebanese bread, and season with za’atar
Photos styled and taken by Josephine Rozman; plateware courtesy of Pantry Magic and Loveramics, Hong Kong.

Eat Boutique is an award-winning shop and story-driven recipe site created by Maggie Battista–shop girl, writer, author, and creative business coach. After hosting pop-up markets for 25,000+ guests, Maggie is working to open her first permanent Eat Boutique–a food-retail concept space with a new way to the very best food–as well as coaching women in food to reach life and business goals. Her second cookbook, A New Way to Food: 100 Recipes to Encourage a Healthy Relationship with Food, Nourish Your Beautiful Body, and Celebrate Real Wellness for Life, will be published by Roost Books on February 5, 2019. 

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