Tag Archives: Lebanese

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Arabella’s Restaurant & Bar

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I’m a little embarrassed to say that in the six or so years I’ve been living in my corner of Erskineville, I still have restaurants and cafe’s I’ve never stepped into. I mean, these places are within my immediate neighbourhood; less than five minutes walk from my house. Am I alone in being like this? Probably not. I should be supporting my local businesses, but when you’ve got neighbouring areas with a plethora of choices, hell, an entire city, it’s easy to forget what’s on my doorstep.

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A few of us wanted to “go local” for an early dinner one night so, in my mind, I went through all the places we frequent along King Street south. Slim pickings, but it’s still a decent selection. I craved for something other than the usual pizza, Indian, Turkish or Macedonian so as we walked up King Street I suggested Arabella’s as we walked past it. Something tells me the weekends bring the belly dancers so a weekday visit was a good choice as I’m not one for cultural performances while I’m trying to eat.

Much like Al Aseel, another Lebanese place I tried late last year, the set-up is more contemporary rather than traditional garb adorning the walls and seating on the floor. Plush red high-backed chairs, slightly-bejewelled pendant lights hanging from the ceiling and the odd water pipe displayed in niches. Ok, maybe a little traditional garb.

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Being the first ones to arrive meant the entire place was ours, for a little while anyway, and we could just sit back and graze at our leisure. Lebanese Almaza ($9) beer helped cool us down and a selection of hot and cold mezze to get the ball rolling. Beautifully smokey babaganouj ($13) with fried squares of flat bread, some of those ubiquitous pickles that adorn just about any Lebanese table and one of the finest hommous I’ve encountered. Not just ordinary hommous ($16), this was the stuff that’s topped with tender bits of lamb, pine nuts and really good olive oil. In the end I just left the flat bread in the basket and ate it with a fork. Loved it.

I don’t eat Lebanese food all that often so it was here that I tried fattoush ($16) for the first time. What we got was basically a salad of cucumber, tomato, radish, leaves and slightly-stale bits of flat bread. Lemon juice and tahini are the predominant flavours, making for a refreshing salad. I was completely intrigued by the tomme (or toum) which simply translates to garlic. I’ve had that white garlic sauce you get on kebabs many times but this one prompted me to ask how it was made. It’s an emulsion of garlic, extra virgin olive oil, lemon, salt and crushed ice. It’s the crushed ice that gives it that slightly grainy texture and whiteness.

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Now, it was this little dish that caught me off guard. Kasbah dejaj ($16). I knew what I was in for as the menu simply read – chicken livers, herbs and fresh pomegranate. This meant one thing. It was all mine as nobody else at our table ate livers. Damn, what a pity. Whilst the livers may have been slightly over-cooked and no fresh pomegranate made it to the bowl, overall it was pretty bloody special. Pomegranate molasses stickied things up a tad, marrying perfectly with the iron-rich flavour of the liver.

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Another dish I loved, as we all did, was the mansef lamb ($28). A generous mound of rice cooked in cinnamon and laced with torn shreds of steamed lamb, Lebanese 7-spices, a mixture of nuts and a side of slightly sweetened yoghurt. Not that we needed it, we also got some coriander potatoes that are seriously all about the garlic and lemon. Geez, we must have smelled a treat that night.

Some prawns were given to us by mistake, we said as they hit the table, but the friendly guy insisted we have them. Huh? It was a prawn cocktail of sorts, just lightly spiced and minus any cocktail sauce. Thanks guys! Juicy little fellows, they were. The final savoury dish was a large whole snapper ($32), grilled and topped with a curious concoction called tarjen. Of course I needed to know what went into it and am soon told its made up of grilled capsicum, lemon, tahini, a little chilli, garlic and ginger. Beautiful flavours that complement the flakey fish nicely.

I would have loved a coffee afterwards but that would mean buzzing for the rest of the night. Instead it was a minor sugar hit via a small selection of pastries and Turkish delight. It took six years to get to this place just five minutes from my house? Pathetic. I’m going back for some grilled lamb real soon.

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  • Arabella’s Restaurant & Bar
  • Shop 12/489-491 King Street
  • Newtown 2042
  • 02 9550 1119
  • website
  • Arabella Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon
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Al Aseel

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The first time I ate at Al Aseel was for a quick weekend lunch. I actually had no idea it was located right next door to Luxe Bakery in that gorgeous sub-divided cottage on Missenden Road. I barely remember the last time I visited a Lebanese restaurant. All I recall was a heap of deep-fried food and a sweaty belly dancer at one of those little themed joints on Cleveland Street. I’m so used to seeing Middle Eastern restaurants decked out in more traditional garb as opposed to the belly dancer-free contemporary fit-out of Newtown’s Al Aseel.

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Opening the menu for the first time was a little overwhelming for me. I couldn’t help but be dazzled by the rather large selection of delicious-sounding offerings. With so much I initially wanted to try, the fried kibbe (10) was a good place to start. Four perfectly-shaped footballs of spiced minced meat wrapped in kibbe and crushed wheat, fried until as bronzed as a Bondi tanorexic. No slouch in the flavour department but nothing to get overly excited about either.

Unlike the lamb shank (24) that came as melting and tender as ever, spiced up with typical Middle Eastern flavours and a side of ghashwet al-ruz, rice laced with browned minced meat and nuts. Great stuff made even better with the complimentary pickles and flatbread.

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My second visit ended up being a work-related one. It was my suggestion we go to Al Aseel for our work end-of-year-slash-Christmas-slash-Hanukkah dinner; a chance to try more from the menu. A trio of mixed dips (15) – hommos, baba ghanouj and labne with deep-fried flat bread – got the ball rolling. All quite standard and tasty but the addition of dried mint through the labne wasn’t a great hit. A little unexciting was the arnabeet (9), slightly floppy florets of cauliflower with tahini sauce as a flavour booster.

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Char-grilled lamb is almost always a winner in in my books so I was glad a plate of lahem mishwee (22) made it to the spread. Marinated chunks of lamb, severely dry and overcooked except for a few of the pieces with onion, parsley and a garlic sauce. Well done meat-eaters would have been pretty happy with the longer chewing time the lamb required.

The monek (12) sounded good on the menu – Lebanese sausages with lemon and pomegranate syrup. In the flesh it was a tasty huddle of chipolata-like sausages swimming in oil and a sedimentary layer of tangy pomegranate molasses. Once mix up and spritzed with lemon it was pretty decent.

The hands-down star at the table on that particular evening was the grilled haloumi (15). Just look at it. Glistening with olive oil, caramelised and tarted-up with pomegranate molasses. Should have ordered two serves. Hold on, we did.

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The calamari (27) was also a bit of a hit; char-grilled and lightly doused in sweet chilli. Sadly the two of us that ordered the samka harra (25) didn’t finish it and didn’t think much of it. Grilled barramundi fillet topped with a patterned squiggle of mildly spicy tahini sauce and pine nuts. Way too much of the tahini in ratio to the overcooked and very strongly-flavoured fish. I was actually doubting it was barramundi as I’ve never tasted it as fishy as we had here. A third visit is unlikely.

  • Al Aseel
  • 189 Missenden Road
  • Newtown 2042
  • 02 9550 3194
  • website
  • Al Aseel on Urbanspoon
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Abla’s Pastries

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It may not look like much, in fact it’s pretty ugly, but what lays inside this concrete building has people flocking from all over town to get their fill on flakey and sticky Middle Eastern pastries. Got the midnight munchies? Yep, they’re open pretty late.

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As soon as I walk in the immediate thing that hits me is air that’s dripping with the scent of sugar and rosewater. To the right is one long cabinet filled and topped with those large, round baking trays laden with a huge variety of pastries. Most things are pre-sliced so it’s as simple as requesting whatever you want, it’s weighed and boxed. Sometimes they’ll even let you try before you decide.

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To the left is another long cabinet filled with Western desserts and pastries, chocolates, cellophane-wrapped gift packs, even kiddie themed sweets. Our small group grabs a few plates of pastries and sit with an average coffee whilst sampling each one of them. Admittedly there were a few hits and misses but it’s all about trying just about everything. Right?

Whether you’re here to sit and have a coffee while you down copious amounts of sugar-soaked pastry or grab a mixed box to take to a bbq, Abla’s sure is worth a schlepp to the west.

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  • Abla’s Pastries
  • 48-52 Railway Parade
  • Granville 2142
  • 02 9637 8092
  • website
  • Abla's Pastries on Urbanspoon
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Shish barak

I’ve had this recipe in my iPhone for over a year now. I remember flicking through cook books at Miss K’s place in London last year and photographed a few pages to add to my “I’ll make it one day” pile of recipes. Do I remember the name of the cookbook? Sadly not. Anyone that’s spent more than five minutes on this website may soon enough realise I have a penchant for the dumplings and something like shish barak is right up my alley.

Making your own pastry is the preferable way to go but to be honest I’d probably try wonton wrappers next time I rustle up these savoury little dumplings. Less work and a slightly finer pastry could be a good thing.

A recent purchase of a yoghurt maker had me lumped with a substantial amount of natural yoghurt, so the first thing I decided to try with it was this creamy and savoury recipe that’s perfect for a dinner starter or component to an elaborate Middle Eastern feast.

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makes about 34 dumplings and serves 4-6

 

  • 250 g plain flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 60 g clarified butter, melted
  • 40 g clarified butter, extra, for serving
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely grated, for serving
  • 1 tbsp mint leaves, chopped

filling:

  • 20 g clarified butter, to brush
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts
  • 250 g lamb mince
  • 1 tsp ground allspice (pimento)

yoghurt sauce:

  • 3 cups natural yoghurt
  • 2 tsp cornflour
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten

 

For the dough, place flour and 1 tsp salt into a mixing bowl and add ¾ cup water a little at a time, combining until the mixture forms a dough. Cover with plastic and allow to sit for ½ hour.

For the filling, melt the clarified butter in a frying pan and cook the onion over medium heat until soft. Add the pine nuts and allow them to brown, stirring constantly. Increase the heat to high and add the mince and allspice, stirring until the mince browns. Season to taste and allow to cool.

Preheat oven 190°C and lightly grease a baking tray.

Roll the dough on a floured surface to about 4 mm and cut into 6 cm rounds using a drinking glass or cutter. Place a teaspoon of the meat mixture into the centre of each round, fold the round in half to form a crescent, pressing the edges together to seal. Wrap the crescent around one finger to form a hat (tortellini) shape and press the ends together.

Arrange on the baking tray, brush lightly with clarified butter and bake for 10-15 minutes.

Place the yoghurt in a large saucepan. Combine the cornflour with 1½ cups water and stir until smooth, then add it to the yoghurt with the egg white and 2 tsp salt. Cook the yoghurt mixture over medium heat until it thickens, stirring constantly.

Add the dumplings to the yoghurt, reduce heat to low, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not boil the sauce.

Prior to serving, melt the 40 g clarified butter in a small pan and fry the grated garlic gently. Add the chopped mint and remove from the heat.

To serve, arrange the dumplngs on individual plates and drizzle over the yoghurt sauce. Pour the butter over the dumplings and serve with cooked rice.

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Falafel stuffed spiced quail with salata el-raheb

This dish has a bit of an exotic air about it. The quail recipe is something I rustled together using the spice blends from Sami’s Kitchen I now have gracing my spice cupboard and the salad recipe was borrowed from Joumana at Taste of Beirut. Both go together beautifully. A bit of patience is required with deboning the quail but if you’re not fussed about bones, just leave the little birds intact and stuff them like a regular chicken. To be honest the deboning isn’t all that tricky and rather than explain how it’s done, just watch this video. Just remember to start this recipe the day before you want to serve it.

falafel stuffed spiced quail with salata el-raheb (Monk’s salad)

serves 4

for the quail:

  • 4 quails, deboned
  • 2 tbsp Shish Tawook spice blend by Sami’s Kitchen
  • 1 tsp coriander roots, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • good pinch of sea salt
  • 1 tbsp lime juice, plus its zest, finely grated
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper

 

For the marinade simply combine all the ingredients and allow the quails to marinate overnight in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Drain the quail of any liquid and sew it back into its original form using toothpicks, leaving an entry point between its legs for the stuffing. Stuff the falafel mix gently into the cavity and seal with another toothpick once done. Tie the legs together with string or strips of green onion that has been softened under hot running water. Arrange the quails on a baking tray, brush with the marinade, and bake for 30-40 minutes or until done.

To serve, remove the toothpicks and arrange on a platter with the Monk’s salad, a few greens, some yoghurt or hummus and flat bread.

for the falafel stuffing:

  • 1 cup dried chickpeas
  • 1 cup dried broadbeans
  • 1 tsp bicarb
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp Falafel spices by Sami’s Kitchen
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • ½ cup fresh coriander leaves
  • ½ cup fresh parsley leaves
  • sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

 

Cover the chickpeas and broadbeans with water, add the bicarb and allow to soak overnight. Drain and rinse well.

Combine the soaked chickpeas and beans in a food processor with all the remaining ingredients and blend until a soft but coarse mixture forms. Remove the mixture and refrigerate for an hour before using to stuff the quails.

Any remaining falafel mix can be rolled into small balls and deep-fried for a snack, or frozen for later use.

for the Monk’s salad:

  • 1 x 500 g eggplant
  • 1 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 cup spring onions, finely chopped
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • ¾ cup green capsicum, seeded and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • Salt, to taste

 

Peel and cut the eggplant into slices and sprinkle with salt; set aside for half an hour until it extracts the liquid.

In a mixing bowl combine the parsley, spring onion, tomatoes & capsicum.

For the dressing, pound the garlic into a paste using a mortar and pestle with a dash of salt. Pour in the lemon juice, olive oil and pomegranate molasses and mix well.

Wipe the eggplant slices dry and sprinkle with olive oil; bake in a 180°C oven for 20-30 minutes or until soft. Chop the eggplant into dice and transfer to the salad bowl. Add the dressing and combine all of the ingredients; taste for seasoning and serve.

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Shawarma lamb with cucumber za’atar yoghurt

I’m not one to shy away from making a spice blend from scratch, as I did recently for the heavenly Moroccan lamb shanks with ras el hanout, so when I came across a ready-to-use blend of spices called shawarma by local producer Sami’s Kitchen I thought I’d give it a burl. Shawarma is something just about everyone is familiar with and if you think you’re not, cast your mind to the last time you tried or walked past one of those twirling spits at a Lebanese takeaway, compacted with meat that is shaved and packed into pita bread with tabbouleh and hummus for your late-night street food snack.

I’ve stepped away from the traditional with this recipe and used the Sami’s Kitchen Shawarma spice blend in lamb mince before shaping it into bite-sized morsels. These are perfect for a bbq or just wedged into a warm pita roll with the cucumber za’atar yoghurt, some shaved red onion and a few salad greens. It’s light and aromatic with the warmth of cumin, nutmeg, cardamom and many more spices.

shawarma lamb with cucumber za’atar yoghurt

serves 4

 

  • 500 g lamb mince
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely grated
  • 1 tsp lemon rind
  • 3 tsp Shawarma spice blend by Sami’s Kitchen
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1½ tsp za’atar spice blend by Sami’s Kitchen
  • 1/3 cup Lebanese cucumber, grated
  • 200 g Greek yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, finely grated, extra
  • 1 tbsp mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp za’atar

 

In a large bowl mix the lamb mince, 2 cloves of grated garlic, lemon rind, shawarma spices, salt and pepper. Shape tablespoonfuls of the mixture into balls and thread onto moistened skewers.

Combine the oil with the zaatar spice mix. Heat a char-grill of griddle pan, brush the lamb with the oil and za’atar mix and cook on all sides until cooked through.

For the yoghurt, combine it with the lemon juice, 1 clove of grated garlic, cucumber, za’atar and chopped mint leaves.

To serve, simply dip the lamb into the yoghurt mix or serve in pita bread with a few salad greens.