Food for Thought

On Fridays, Rosie serves a mixed stew of New Jersey food and dining information. Today, read about Taste of Beirut cookbook by Joumana Accad.

TASTE OF BEIRUT
Delicious Lebanese Recipes from Classics to Contemporary to Mezzes and More

By Joumana Accad

Baba ghanoush, falafel, hummus, tabbouleh, lentils and yogurt are just a few of the Middle Eastern foods that we love, so when this new cookbook, Taste of Beirut by Joumana Accad came across my desk, I could not wait to read it and try some of the recipes. Accad was born in Beirut, Lebanon and came to the United States in 1979. Her food blog TasteOfBeirut.com features Lebanese recipes.

The 150-plus recipes, accompanied with colored photographs, range from breads, grains, sandwiches, soups, mezzes, vegetables, seafood, meat and meatless main courses, desserts and much more. Not only do I now have many new recipes, all of which take an hour or less to prepare, but I found the Do’s and Don’ts of Lebanese Cooking and Eating a particularly informative chapter. For example, Accad explains how to store pita bread, freeze lemon juice, onions, and legumes. Lebanese ingredients and their uses, such as tahini, carob molasses and orange-blossom water are described making these ingredients approachable to cooks who may be unfamiliar to them. Recipes include: Kibbeh in a Tahini Citrus Sauce (Kibbeh Amabiyeh); Spiced Fish, Beirut-Style (Samkeh Harra Beirutiyeh); Lebanese Couscous (Moghrabieh); Classic Tabbouleh Salad; Mint Pesto; and a speedy 10-minute version of Baklava. Here is one for you to try:

CLEMENTINE AND MILK CREAM
(BALOUZA, MODERN-STYLE)
YIELD: 8 SERVINGS

This dessert is easy to prepare and looks impressive. It is inspired by a traditional milk and fresh orange juice pudding called balouza, which consists of milk pudding (muhallabieh) topped with fresh orange cream and served in individual ramekins.

Puddings are thickened with starch (cornstarch or wheat starch) and do not use eggs. The rule of thumb is: Use 1½ tablespoons of cornstarch for every cup of liquid. Use more, say, 2 tablespoons per cup, if you would like the pudding to be thicker. Add sugar to taste, a drop of flavoring (orange blossom water and rose water), and you are done. I have added a bit of amardeen syrup to the clementine juice for a deeper flavor, but this is an optional step.

Amardeen is an apricot paste from Syria that is exported all over the world, primarily to Middle Eastern markets. It is sweet and tangy, with an intense apricot flavor. It used to be an after-school snack for kids in Lebanon before the invasion of chips. Amardeen syrup is also available in bottles (especially during the holy month of Ramadan when nourishing drinks are so crucial). If you’d like to add that enticing apricot flavor, then going with a bottled syrup is definitely easier. (The paste needs to be soaked in water overnight, heated up a bit, then mixed with water in a blender.)

This dessert is easy to prepare and looks good! The only slight difficulty lies in scooping out the clementine pulp delicately so as not to tear the shell. An easier option is to serve it in pretty glass cups, the traditional way (milk cream at the bottom). The deep orange color is a result of adding amardeen (apricot) syrup to the clementine juice. Amardeen syrup is found in all Middle Eastern groceries or online. Its intense apricot flavor pairs very well with the milk cream and deepens the taste of the clementine juice.

Ingredients:
1 cup clementine juice (about 12 clementines)
½ cup amardeen syrup or 1 large piece of amardeen sheet, chopped up and soaked in ¾ cup of hot water overnight and pureed in a blender
¾ cup white sugar
¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons orange-blossom water
1 cup whole milk
1 cup whipping cream (or whole milk)

Directions:
1) Put the clementine juice, amardeen syrup, and enough water to measure
2 cups in a saucepan over medium heat. Add ½ cup of the sugar and
¼ cup of the cornstarch and stir until the mixture thickens, adding 1 teaspoon of the orange-blossom water at the end. Spoon into glass, cups or hollowed-out clementines.
2) Place the milk, cream, remaining sugar, and remaining cornstarch in a saucepan. Stir over medium heat until thickened, adding the remaining orange-blossom water at the end. Spoon gently over the clementine cream. Cool, cover, and refrigerate.

NOTE: The amount of sugar can be altered without affecting the texture of the cream. The orange-blossom water is a traditional flavoring (or rose water), but could be substituted with others, such as vanilla.


Recipe reprinted with permission from Taste of Beirut by Joumana Accad
HCI Books/September 2014
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