Some people think of pulp fiction for summer reading. I love to browse cookbooks that transport me to another land and its cooking, cookbooks that tell a story and are not simply recipe compilations.
My guilty pleasure this month is Maureen Abood’s Rose Water & Orange Blossoms, which not only explores Lebanese cooking, a rich cuisine with which few of us are familiar, but is full of charming stories about growing up in a Lebanese-American family in Michigan and of finding family ties in Lebanon.
One memorable meal there begins with fresh fava beans: “We plucked them from their pods, popped them from their thick green skins, salted them and ate. It was the finest palate cleanser I’ve ever tasted,” she writes.
Abood made me want to see Lebanon if only to taste man’oushe, “street corner bakery food. You get it wrapped in paper and off you go.” It is a flatbread, “chewy, but with a crisp exterior, blistered and warm, topped with za’atar or cheese, filled with tomatoes and pink pickled turnips and mint and folded over on itself. ... Warm-from-the-oven man’oushe is something bread dreams are made of.”
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Abood was greatly influenced by her grandparents and talks of “their childhoods in mountainous and verdant Lebanese villages, their marriages (arranged: I was, and remain, fascinated), the arduous journeys they made a century ago to start new lives in the United States, and their infrequent return visits back home, where the ravages of war would hold them, and all of us, at arm’s length.”
Most of all, she lets us begin to know Lebanese cuisine, which is aromatic — rose water, lemons, mint, orange blossoms — and inherently healthy: yogurt and chickpeas, bulgur and nuts, eggplants and tomatoes and pomegranates.
I made a warm potato salad from the book that was simply fabulous, just potatoes, olive oil, lemon juice, green onions and mint. I also enjoyed the whitefish crusted with pistachios and the tabbouleh salad lightened with cubed avocado. Cooking from this book is easy as the recipes are clear and most of the ingredients readily available. The recipe here makes a grand summer feast: lamb kebabs brightened with mint and olive oil.
If I had to choose a favorite childhood taste memory, it would likely be the first time I had s’mores on a Girl Scout camping trip in the pine barrens of southern New Jersey. That caramelized hot marshmallow melting the chocolate on a graham cracker, eaten in the glow of a campfire on a crisp fall night, was as addicting as any dessert I’ve had in a 5-star restaurant. If you aren’t wishing for a s’more right now, you’ve been deprived.
S’mores are on my mind since we just crossed National S’mores Day off the calendar. All kinds of s’more derivations touted by various media flashed on my computer screen, from cocktails (oh, no) to a complicated truffle that would take hours to make.
To my mind, nothing will compare to the original, especially when eaten around a campfire, but the quick little bonbons here, from FamilyFun magazine, have a lot of appeal. You make them in a flash, no camping required.
By the way, the first published recipe for a s’more is found in a book of recipes published by Campfire Marshmallows in the early 1920s, where it was called a Graham Cracker Sandwich. But the accompanying indicates the treat was already popular with both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
Q. I recently had the house salad at a Fort Lauderdale restaurant that was incredibly different. I thought the dressing was made with chia seeds but when I tasted it (I didn’t order it, a friend did) I could tell it was poppy seeds. Can you get the recipe?
A. The restaurant did not respond to your request, but I think you’ll be happy with this one, from the Old Florida Seafood House in Wilton Manors, which closed last year after a long run. Make it a day in advance so the poppy seeds get soft and release their flavor. The dressing is sweet, with a nice kick from the mustard, and works well with strong flavors like kale and broccoli.
Q. I am looking for an old Florida type to tell me how to make mullet burgers. These were a favorite childhood food many years ago, when my grandfather would take us out fishing on his boat and we’d pull up to a little island somewhere and camp overnight. He made them with a lot of Tabasco, I remember that. I’ve never found them on a menu anywhere, or in a cookbook.
Johnny Moore, Sunny Isles.
Send questions and responses to LindaCiceroCooks@aol.com or Food, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172.
Grilled Lamb Skewers with Fresh Mint Sauce
2 pounds leg of lamb, cut into 2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons kosher salt
Few grinds of black pepper
1 large red onion, cut into 2-inch cubes
1⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
Place the meat on a parchment-lined sheet pan, season generously all over with salt and pepper, then set aside to come to room temperature. Heat a gas or charcoal grill to medium-high heat. Thread the skewers, preferably stainless steel, with a pattern of 2 pieces of meat, then 1 chunk of onion, repeated, leaving a bit of space between all of the pieces (about 1⁄8 inch).
Brush the meat and vegetables with olive oil. Place on the grill; for medium-rare meat, cook for 10 minutes with the lid down, and then flip with tongs and grill another 8 minutes, lid down. Alternatively, cook the skewers on a broiler or sheet pan under a high broiler for about 30 minutes, turning them over halfway through cooking.
Remove the skewers from the heat and let them rest for 10 minutes. Remove the hot meat and onion from the skewers by pushing them off with a fork. While the meat is resting, make the mint sauce by dissolving the sugar in the vinegar in a small bowl, and stirring in the shallot and mint. Serve alongside the grilled lamb. Makes 8 servings.
Note: The key to proper grilling of most meat is to bring it to room temperature for up to two hours before cooking. This ensures even cooking and prevents the exterior from burning before the interior is cooked. If you’re using wooden skewers, soak them in water for 15 minutes before cooking so they don’t burn before the meat is ready.
Per serving: 218 calories (46 percent from fat), 11.2 g fat (2.4 g saturated, 7.3 g monounsaturated), 82 mg cholesterol, 25 g protein, 11 g carbohydrates, 0.6 g fiber, 1064 mg sodium.
Source: Reprinted with permission from “Rose Water & Orange Blossoms” (Running Press, $30).
Old Florida Poppy Seed Salad Dressing
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon dry mustard
3/4 tablespoon garlic powder
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
2 cups vegetable oil
At least 24 hours in advance: Place all ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake until well blended. Keep refrigerated. Makes about 1 quart, 64 servings of 2 tablespoons each.
Per serving: 80 calories (79 percent from fat), 7 g fat (0.8 g saturated, 1.3g monounsaturated), 0 mg cholesterol, 0 g protein, 4.2 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 112 mg sodium.
Source: Cook’s Corner archives.
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup crushed graham crackers
Line a tray with parchment paper. In a small bowl, melt the chocolate chips in the microwave according to the package directions. Place 1/2 cup coarsely crushed graham crackers in another bowl. Quickly dip one marshmallow at a time in the chocolate, then in the cracker crumbs. Let them cool on the tray. Makes 12.
Per serving: 107 calories (36 percent from fat), 4.7 g fat (2.6 g saturated, 1.6 g monounsaturated), 0 mg cholesterol, 1 g protein, 17.8g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 24 mg sodium.
Source: Adapted from FamilyFun.