Darling daughter enquires whether I would help her cook a meal full of Eastern promise on the occasion of her birthday … a dinner for six or eight. Sure! why not! what a great idea! I respond enthusiastically. I adore Lebanese food … my family lived in Beirut for just over three years while I was at boarding school, and holidays there were amazing at any time of year and even though I was much more into boys than I was into food at that time … the scents, tastes, texture, colour and consistency of Lebanese food struck me as unforgettable even at that young, gastronomically inexperienced age.
One of the best dinners said daughter and I shared much more recently in London was at the wonderful Lebanese restaurant called by the unfortunate-sounding name of “Fakhreldine” (making one wonder who ‘Reldine’ might be …). Lebanese and, generally speaking, the Levant of the Mediterranean, is intriguing through and through and its introductory dishes to a meal, the “Mezze”, cannot fail to impress even the most jaded of palates. I had the good fortune to have parents who were posted to places where the local food was always special and something to write home about … so, on top of Lebanon, we also spent some time in Cyprus. More Mezze … bliss! Some of the happiest of Proustian moments have come to me via the traditional cuisine of the Levant.
This said … one tends to forget how long it takes to get such a meal going! It always looks so simple and easy to prepare … and belies an impressively time consuming preparation. Ah well … never mind … maalish! as they say in Arabic …. tant pis …
So, onto the menu: tahini, baba ganoush, tabbouleh, hummus, sambousek, tzatziki, lamb skewers, spicey meatballs, saffron rice …. all made from scratch. And then falafel (out of a box) … and a spinach and feta pie with phyllo pastry … It was the first time any of the invitees had ever tasted these dishes and they all glowed and loved them. So … although I am sure my/our rendition of this sublime cuisine was not authentically ‘authentic’, I take comfort from knowing that it was close enough!
There was also pitta bread … and a fattoush salad …. and the birthday cake too … naturally. These were the photos that anyone found time to take … for the rest, it was all about living the moment … the way it should be!