One of the most wonderful gourmet experiences is to have a meal in someone else's home. There is nothing else quite like the love and attention most people place on cooking for friends and family. I am blessed to have friends from a variety of backgrounds and truly enjoy the opportunity to sample cuisines from around the world and immerse myself in the experience.
Last Sunday, I got to join my friend Nancy's family for what she termed, "A Big Fat Lebanese Birthday Party". This involved several dozen of her relatives and an enormous buffet of Middle Eastern delicacies. I volunteered to be the photographer for the day as a chance to meet everyone and capture this fun afternoon (btw: My flickr sight is clogged with 50+ photos from the party...so stick to the links on this one!)
Her mother spent the entire afternoon in the kitchen! She only left once...to watch her grandson open his birthday gifts.
The menu included...
Boiled fava beans lightly salted and served with lemon wedges. I think this is the Lebanese equivalent of Edamame.
Lubia: Green beans and tomatos. I don't have a recipe, but it appears that the tomatoes and green beans are stewed and then chilled before serving.
Fatoosh: The super salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, a tart vinaigrette with sumac and topped with fried pita chips.
Tabooli: A great salad of parsley, tomatoes, cracked barley and another great vinaigrette.
Hommos: Chick peas, garlic, tahini, and olive oil blended into a heavenly spread.
Shish Tawook: Mostly grilled chicken that was marinated in tahini
Shish Kafta: My Wasband refers to these as "donkey dicks". Not a very nice way of describing such a scrumptious blend of ground lamb and spices, shaped according to his description, and baked to meatloaf consistency.
Fatayer: These are little square or triangle shaped pies that hold either ground and seasoned lamb, spinach and pine nuts, or cheese. I love them. Often they are lined up like little soldiers on a serving tray, which makes them look particularly smart, and they are delicious.
Rice: My friend's family serves their rice pilaf with corn in it. Yummy.
Baked Kibbe: More ground lamb shaped into mini footballs and fried. Somehow they managed to conceal a few pine nuts in the center of each little orb.
It didn't end with the buffet. Once dinner seemed to be officially over, the pastries started flying on large silver trays...variations of baklava and others that I couldn't name but had no trouble trying...then came the Turkish Coffee...served from small pots into demi-tasse.
That's when they broke out the Argeelah. Each pipe was stuffed with fresh tobacco leaves that had been stewed in rose water and/or apple essence. It took me a few tries to learn how to puff on the Argeelah without inhaling the smoke and choking. Once I got it, I was unstoppable!
I, of course, had to pause to ask for a lesson in Argeelah etiquette. I learned:
- Hold the hose and mouthpiece with your right hand, as the left hand is viewed as being unclean in some cultures.
- When passing the mouthpiece, pass it with your right hand, and make sure the face of the mouthpiece is facing you. If the mouthpiece is facing the recipient, this can be viewed as a sign of disrespect.
- When lighting the coal, hold it in midair with the tongs. It should spark for a few seconds. After the coal has finished sparking place it back down on top of the tobacco.
Got it? So there I was, sipping Turkish Coffee and joyously puffing on the Argeelah. If I could have learned a little Arabic you would have come upon the scene and thought I was part of this wonderful family.
Just when I thought I couldn't take on anything else, trays of fresh cut fruit arrived at the table. It's summer, so they had watermelon, pineapple and yellow cherries.
As the sun started to set behind the house, I departed with a flurry of hearty handshakes and cheek kisses (Left, Right, Left! Three quick kisses in each good-bye) feeling very full and very loved.
The good news: The family owns the Middle East Market on 2222 North Reynolds Road. Many of Nancy's family members work there and cook there. I will be using the Market to cater a meal for one of my customers next week and reliving this fabulous, sensuous experience - minus the Argeelah.
N.B., I am not insensitive to the timing of this article and the current crisis in Lebanon. Keep in mind that the afternoon included intimate stories from one of the family members present who had to flee the country with her children as the military conflict began. In addition, there was an ongoing broadcast of a Lebanese news station via satellite television.
“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".