I can’t get Lebanese food off my mind. Maybe it was the visit to London last weekend that included TWO visits to the excellent Ishbilia in Kensington), maybe it’s the genes, maybe it’s that Lebanese food is delicious and we can’t get the real deal here in Bloomington. Whatever.
I have a friend and fellow food writer who’s got the same yearning for grape leaves and kibbeh, and we’ve been planning a communal feast for a while now – somewhere off in the distant when-we’re-not-so-busy future. But I came home from London hungry, and we’ve set a date for early December and invited enough friends to fill a long table for ten.
But what to cook?
Friday morning we sat down with every Middle Eastern cookbook we own (there were more than 20 on the table, including the one from my grandmother’s Syrian Orthodox Church in LA, circa 1969) and began to plan. We are “just” going to do a mezze, lots of small dishes, but by the time we got done listing the must-haves (classics like hummus, tabouleh, kibbeh, labneh), some favorites from other Middle Eastern cuisines (Imam Biyaldi!), and a few things we were seduced into trying (like the gorgeous eggplant slices with yogurt, tahini and pomegranate from Arabesque) the list, like all good mezze lists, grew long.
Currently it looks something like this:
Bread and zaatar
Hummus with fried lamb
Smoked eggplant salad
Stuffed grape leaves
Eggplant slices with yogurt, tahini and pomegranate
Grilled chicken with sumac
The prep has begun with mail order purchases of cheese, olives and chilies, and the ordering of lamb. Tomorrow I will get the pickled turnips underway. Presumably I will eat other things between now and Dec. 1, but my dreams are running to zaatar over pumpkin pie spice just now.