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Beirut exists today as a crumbling, bullet-ridden melting pot of exquisite food and enchanting, endlessly hospitable people. The urban landscape is unique, typified by pastel buildings where concept stores sit side by side with garages fixing vintage Chevrolets – it feels at once like Berlin and India.
Most of all, though, they want to be left to cook, eat and enjoy food and live their lives as beautifully as their evolved culture demands they do.
There is no one who embodies the essence of what Lebanon is more than my friend Kamal Mouzawak, farmer, food artisan and culinary activist. Since my first visit in 2006, he has emailed countless yallas for my return; as Lebanon has been close to my heart and my stomach ever since, I felt it was time now, with my four-year-old son Öni.
Kamal assured me that all was peaceful on the ground and it was. We booked into the four-bedroomed Hayete guesthouse in Ashrafieh, Beirut, a hybrid of Oriental and European architecture with some Brooklyn neon, mother of pearl mirrors, Russian art photographs, mid-century furniture and a huge birdcage where Birdie would chirp us awake in the morning.
Breakfast would arrive, not too early – Turkish coffee with manakish, the za’atar flat breads filled with labneh, feta, cucumber, mint and olives, making a perfect, typically Lebanese start to the day.
Then it was on to school for Öni, whom I enrolled in a French school in Gemmayze for the weeks we were there. He came back smelling of eau de citron, as Amal, the warm-hearted woman teacher kissed and hugged him as he came and left.
He picked up some words in Arabic and French, talked fondly of the hummus, labneh and flat breads which were a staple on the school menu, made new friends and experienced something uniquely different.
After I dropped Öni off to school, I would walk or get an always-eventful service taxi to Kamal’s restaurant Tawlet. Meaning Table in Arabic, the simplicity of Tawlet’s name is indicative of its simple yet empowering ideals.
It is an aesthetically striking space run by inspired and dedicated people. It brings old traditions of Lebanese food and recipes to modern Beirutis by hosting 25 women in rotation from all areas of Lebanon. Each day a different cook comes to produce food from her region. Tawlet thus feels unique – changing daily yet remaining the same.
I spent my time in Tawlet working and observing. Having a restaurant myself in Ireland, it is fascinating to watch another run so well and with such a strong culinary and community commitment. Kamal has created a model of space, food and ideology that is utterly where food is at right now in a global context. I am not alone in thinking that – René Redzepi from Noma has invited Kamal and 25 of his cooks to the MAD Food Festival in Copenhagen in August.
Mornings were spent prepping, drinking anise tea and chatting with Fadi, Ellie and Sami, my workmates. There are many idiosyncrasies to this country but the use of English, French and Arabic all in one conversation has to be the best, a testament to the diversity and the cohesion of these exceptional people. Conversations with Lebanese friends meander along in various languages and I love the rhythm of it.
Tawlet attracts fascinating people and so days are full of conversations with NGOs, environmentalists, UN workers, the odd intrepid tourist, diplomats and so on. Each conversation or lunch is seasoned with exceptional encounters, which is the essence of this vibrant city.
Lunch in Tawlet is a buffet of 15 to 20 dishes and always a feast. In Lebanon you start with the mezze – stuffed vine leaves, hummus, kibbeh, fattoush, tabbouleh – then you move on to the hot food, lamb with roasted almonds and freekeh, for example. You can wash it all down with arak or any of the exceptional Lebanese wines.
Lunch finishes with exotic desserts and with the classic café blanc, simply hot water with a few drops of orange blossom water.
There are a few rules when eating – it’s rude to mix up courses, ruder still to refuse food and the height of rudeness not to have endless amounts.
The Lebanese are always eating one meal and planning the next – food is their life-blood, it defines their culture like literature does the Irish.
At weekends, the desire to escape traffic and the busy social life was intense and we headed to Batroun, a seaside town an hour north of the city. Small alleyways with food sellers drew us in. On the night of the Good Friday candlelight parade we passed a tiny house with the divine smell of baking, a simple bakery where fig rolls specially for Easter called maamoul just out of the oven created another golden food memory for Öni.
If not in the country, we would head to Souk El Tayeb, the farmers’ market Kamal set up. Suppliers come every Saturday morning from all over Lebanon, including war-torn Tripoli in Libya.
They are the most engaging, passionate food people I have ever met. They brought endless gorgeous products like Chouf black honey, yellow pomegranates, rose jams, date juice, all the mouneh (summer produce preserved for the harsh winter), carob molasses, green almonds and candied fruit.
The whole of Beirut shows up in a celebration of food and traditions no longer lost. Children run around and taste and laugh and then everyone gravitates to the central table for the eating and drinking.
Mouzawak arrives and I ask: “Are you proud of what you have created?”
“No, I am just happy,” he says, and he has every reason to be.
Lebanese people asked me constantly how I felt about their country. “It is opening like a flower,” I would say, and as the days passed each brought new encounters and experiences that both Öni and I will long remember.
Tourism is down 37 per cent this year. As a tourist you will be treated like royalty and rewarded endlessly. You will connect with the humanity of these people and you will need your clothes let out at the bounty and goodness of the food.
Yalla to Lebanon, don’t be afraid.
Kamal Mouzawak is a Lebanese food visionary. He has created the farmers market Souk El Tayeb in Beruit, which brings people from all over Lebanon to sell their produce. He set up Tawlet in an old garage where small producers and cooks from around Lebanon can come to cook the regional recipes. He also extends himself way beyond these two spaces into a number of other projects including education, writing and various international public speaking. He is due to participate again at the MAD food circus in Copenhagen.
Drop Everything asked Aoibheann Mac Namara of Ard Bia at Nimmos to hit him with a Q&A on food, life and getting things done.
What motivates you every morning?
“Be the change you want to see” said Gandhi, which means, in other words like, shut the fuck up, you know? Stop nagging and go just do it. Just do it. And this is what motivates me every everyday. If we have mind and energy, what is it all for…? What can my contribution be to life? This is what I think. In Islam they say every act is an act of adoration. Do the best thing possible, what ever you do. This is your act of adoration this is your contribution to life, speaking, cooking… do your job what ever it is… talk, write.., do the best possible.
How do your projects come about?
Projects are simply an expression of what you want to do. So you believe in something and projects are just an expression. I started with the farmers market and it was about supporting small farmers and producers who are doing an amazing job. How to bring small producers from land to city rural to urban with a developing purchasing power? It was an organic evolution. Then we realized we needed food education for children, food and feast regional food festivals in the villages, then we thought to enjoy the cuisine itself, then Tawlet came about. Tawlet is not just about the produce but it is about the cuisine itself, cooked by the woman themselves or the producers themselves.
What are the driving forces in your life?
Well I told you, be the change you want to see… and amazement by life and its expression. I am not religious at all. I was born into a Christian family but from a very young age I saw people destroyed by religion. If your God is right then mine must be wrong or vice versa so how can this be? There must be a bigger truth than all of these religions I totally believe in a wonderful amazing big super power but I don’t want to explain, or understand, or preach at all… I just try to celebrate and enjoy it in every single breath. I respect religions but I do not believe in them.
Are there personal and professionally principals in your life that are one and the same ?
Totally the same. Totally, how can we be schziophrenic you know? They have to be one and the same. Life, a certain way to live, different expressions of who we are … life, house, family, friends all facets co-exist… they can not but be the same… you can read someone from one detail and you can see the whole person.
What does food mean to you in its very essence?
It’s a wonderful expression of people, of their land. It is the most important most authentic expression of people, their land and their history. So for me it’s a story rather then a gastronomic adventure.
So has America lost touch with its roots? Not at all. America is a mish mash of cultures and its cuisine is the same. It’s the most authentic expression of people, their land and their history.
What do the next five years bring for you?
I never think five years or ten years, it’s one belief and one vision that brings different expressions along the way.
How do you feel you’ve impacted on the Lebanese society, food scene, the people, the culture?
I am just doing my job. But as I am a face, and a mouth, I must speak… but every time I am trying to do something I am just speaking for Suzanne who makes the best Kibbeh, or Amalie who is making the best breads. My work is to talk about these people and I have to do it as well as their Kibbeh and their breads. This is how I see it.
How did it come about that this is your vocation?
I am a son of farmers and producers, this is the most important thing. I was born between gardens and kitchens.
What’s the future for Lebanon?
Ouff!! Who knows… it’s a country of uncertainty… unfortunately… which makes it very exciting for a visitors and very tiring for those that live here. You know, it’s a lot of adrenaline, which makes dipping in and out for a week or two, or a month or two amazing, but when you live in so much adrenaline on a daily basis… it’s like, can I go to Switzerland?!
At some points I want to have a green light or a red light that on may 15th I have a meeting and it is ON. Things can be unpredictable all the time, this is what we live in.
Will you live here forever?
I am living here today… I believe very much in the here and now. Wherever I am it’s, you know, how to make the best contribution to life? And how to enjoy wherever I am, here and now… How to enjoy it the best for me, for me to be able to give out the best… on whatever level it is.
But I feel, you know, this place gave me a lot and I am grateful to this land first of all, and secondly if there are things to be done here and there… if I am not going to do them… not me as Kamal, but me as a Lebanese, then who will do them? I have a certain devoir, what you call devoir? Duty.
Public office is that a possibility for you?
I’ll do whatever. And if you want to make any real change you need to be in the system.
But the system might not be ready for you?
Well I don’t know, we have to try… OK yalla let’s have lunch!
Our team have put together the most amazing weekend brunch menu guaranteed to ease you into a lazy weekend. Feast your eyes on this! Saturday and Sunday brunch menu Ard Bia granola, seasonal fruit compote, natural yoghurt
Stuffed French toast, poached pear and soft cheese, cinnamon Orchard syrup
Buttermilk pancakes with orange, lemon and poppy seed, whipped mascarpone, runny honey
Poached Market eggs, herby hollandaise, baked ham and wilted spinach on potato cake
Full fry, Colleran’s smoked streaky bacon, oaty black pudding, Sausages, roast tomato, Poached eggs, spiced tomato relish, toast.
Poached Market eggs, roast mushroom, grilled halloumi, herby hollandaise on potato cake
Hippy Fry, poached eggs, roast mushroom, spinach, roast tomatoes, potato cake spiced relish
Hollandaise Baked ham Brown, white toast Spinach Potato cake Sausage Roast mushroom Haloumi
Almond and chocolate cake
[Serves about 10]
This cake has gathered something of a following in the west. Suitable for coeliacs and loved by chocaholics, it is also a very clever cake because it is virtually fool proof.
INGREDIENTS 200g / 8oz chocolate, 70% cocoa solids (we love Green & Blacks) 125g / 5oz butter, softened 125g / 5oz caster sugar 4 eggs, seperated 200g / 8oz ground almonds
To serve: icing sugar
INSTRUCTIONS Preheat oven to 180′C/350′F/ gas mark 4. Grease and line a 20cm diameter baking tin.
Bring a pot of water to the boil, reduce to a summer and place a shallow heatproof bowl on op to make a bain marie. Break the chocolate into pieces and place in the bowl to melt gently, stirring occasionally.
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy – you can do this is a food processor orin a bowl with a wooden spoon. Add the egg yolks together with the ground almonds and melted chocolate. Mix well to combine.
In a clean bowl whisk the egg whites until stiff and gently fold into the batter, mixing until integrated.
Pour into the baking tin and bake for about 30 minutes, or until an inserted skewer or toothpick comes out clean.
Allow to cool in the tin for about 15 minutes before inverting on to a plate. Dust with icing sugar and serve simply with a good pot of tea or coffee
Autumnal squash soup with toasted cumin seeds
This warming soup is a favourite consolation in Ard Bia when summer has finally slipped away and autumn is settling in – just the thing to cheer you up on a rainy day in the west!
INGREDIENTS 3–4 tablespoons olive oil 2 onions, diced 5 garlic cloves, bashed with the back of a knife and peeled 2 teaspoons cumin seeds 1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped Salt and pepper, to taste 1 carrot, peeled and roughly diced 2 sticks of celery, roughly chopped 1.2kg squash of choice, peeled and de-seeded (butternut squash or pumpkin are the most common) 1 litre vegetable stock 1 pinch of cayenne pepper (optional) 3–4 handfuls of fresh coriander, picked
INSTRUCTIONS Heat a large heavy-based pot over a medium heat and, in the following order, add the olive oil, diced onion, bashed garlic, cumin seed, ginger, salt and pepper, carrot and celery along with the cayenne pepper, if using. Sweat over a low to medium heat until the onion and vegetables soften a little and the cumin seeds are toasted.
When you think you’ve enough flavour in your pot – the change in colour is a clue but you’ll know by the delicious aromas – add your chosen member of the squash family.
Then barely cover with stock, cover with a lid and allow to simmer until the squash is cooked– about 20–25 minutes, but it will depend on what type of squash you used, so check by piercing with a knife. Allow to cool a little before blending. Add a little water if the soup needs thinning out.
Check the seasoning for taste and serve garnished with fresh coriander.
Serves 4–6 as part of a mezze spread with two or three other dips
1 green chilli, seeded and ﬁnely diced 1 garlic clove, bashed Splash of sherry vinegar Splash of milk 250g / 8oz feta (we use St Tola’s Greek-style cheese)
Combine the chilli, garlic and vinegar in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add the feta and pulse until fully mixed through, taking care not to over-blend as the feta will become very watery. Check consistency and add a little milk to adjust. Aim for a moist thin dip rather than a thick purée. You could add a touch more vinegar at the end to adjust taste.
Wonderlust stage at Body & SoulWonderlust is brought to you by pop up productions
A stage of curiosities at Body & Soul, Wonderlust is dedicated to the exchange of wonder and ideas. Expect inspiration, music, talks, discussions, live performance, and other eclectic experiences.. Happenings in the mix include Sonic Revelations, Trailblaze, Come Rhyme with me, Philosophical Musings, Illuminati Salons, Scientific Discovery, Cool Collectives , Chats and Lols, Cups of Tea , Fun and Games, Bingo, Ballroom Dance offs, Bedtime Stories, A bespoke Choir Service and Things That Make You Go Hmmmm. For full line up details see below. bodyandsoul.ie/wonderlust
TRAILBLAZE The Trailblazery will host a two day extravaganza showcasing and promoting creative and socially engaged ideas, people and possibilities from Ireland’s most exciting cultural provocateurs. Experience a platform where pioneers share their personal moments of risk and inspiration. DIY activists, artists, musicians, designers, social architects, entrepreneurs, and educators of all ages and persuasions - blazing trails in their own spectacular or intimate way. Speakers include Darragh Doyle ( Social Media Storyteller ), Grace Dyas ( TheatreClub), Joan Mulvihill (Irish Internet Association), Sheila Gallagher (Green Sod ) Rosie O’Reilly (Re-dress Fashion Initiative), Colm Keegan (poet), Ruth Meehan (Film Director & Writer) and Susan Quirke (Social Activist), Davie Phillips (Cultivate) Mari Kennedy ( the ireland : iceland project ) Ruairí McKiernan (Social Architect) Themes : Sat - Things that make you go Hmmmm? & Sun -Between The Click of the Light and the Start of the Dream
MUSIC Ambient sets at sundown from some of Ireland’s sonic wunderkinds. From the sacred to the secular, with spiritual laments and feisty folk songs a plenty, expect magic and moonlighting from Patrick Kelleher, Daitihí Ó Drónaí, Traz, Rhob Cunningham, Elaine Mai, Hidden Highways, Twin Headed Wolf, Lisa O’Neill and more.
TEA & SYMPATHY Tea for two and two for tea. Bite-size conversations with harmonious pairings of Ireland’s movers and shapers. This series will explore passion, ideas and philosophies on work, play and life. Speakers include Michelle Darmody (Cake Cafe), Aoibheann McNamara (Ard Bia at Nimmos), Grace Dyas (THEATREclub), Philip McMahon (This is Pop Baby), Michael McDermott (Le Cool Dublin), Una Mullally (journalist and broadcaster), Shane Byrne (THEATREclub) and Dylan Haskins ( DIY Activist ) & Neil Watkins ( Actor, Writer, Year of Magical Wanking )
DISCUSSION : IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT We are marking the Summer Solstice 2012 with a discussion on the evolutionary edge we find ourselves at in Ireland, and in the world today. What does it mean to be alive at this point in time, at the end of the world as we know it? Exploring ideas around social activism, culture, politics, science, spirituality and the digital realm, the conversation will be chaired by Mari Kennedy of the ireland : iceland project and features John O’ Donoghue (former broadcaster and youthful octogenarian), Dolores Whelan (shaman and scientist), Ruairi McKiernan (social activist), Peter O’ Brien (cultural creative/Upstarter) and Darragh Doyle (social media storyteller)
COME RHYME WITH ME Verbal highs and down-low oral riffs, Come Rhyme With Me brings you a Thesaurus Rex of slammed-down words. Una and Ragin and their merry word-bandits of Temper-Mental MissElayneous, Raven and guests, will get your tongues wagging. Oh come all ye phonetic freaks and lingual lovers and articulate your tittle-tattle. We will lust up your language, retort, retract, respond and rap your rants around this watercooler we call Body&Soul.
BINGO & RAFFLES Dancing Queen, seventeen! Buckle my shoe, twenty-two! Brush up on your bingo lingo and join us for a bit of old-fashioned fun and frolics with a surprise comedy host with the most. Hosted by the one and only Neil Watkins (Heidi Konnt and Year of Magical Wanking) with the help of his lovely assistant the delectable Brian Quinn ( BQ )
PARLOUR GAMES Expect extreme welly throwing, sackless races and games of physical dexterity with matchboxes and blindfolds. During the Victorian era in Great Britain and in the United States, gentlemen and ladies amused themselves with Parlour Games at small parties. Events are competitive, but cumulative scores are not usually kept. The phrase "parlour game" is used in political dialogue to accuse opponents of using nebulous or confusing language when describing a particular position on an issue. Games mistresses are Lara Campbell and Victoria McCormack. Tea and Marietta biscuits rewards for best teams.
BALLROOM DANCE–OFF A little light relief for the feet with the sensational David McDermott as dance instructor. Don your best tea dresses and pin stripe suits and learn to dance the Foxtrot with a step out of rhythm and a step back in time.
CHOIR SERVICE We’re exercising our vocal chords and asking you to come join us. If you fancy your moment of glory on a stage at Body and Soul festival come to our choir practise and worship with your lungs.
INGREDIENTS 125g strong white flour 125g brown flour 50g sunflower seeds, plus extra for topping 50g sesame seeds, plus extra for topping 50g pumpkin seeds, plus extra for topping 50g pinhead oatmeal 1 tablespoon baking soda Pinch of salt 20g olive oil 300ml buttermilk
Preheat oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Grease a 900g loaf tin.
In a large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients, mixing well. Add the oil and half the buttermilk, stir well to mix and add the rest of the buttermilk bit by bit. You’re looking for a moist consistency but don’t want it to be too wet or sticky.
Transfer the mixture to the greased loaf tin. Score the surface with a sharp knife. (Because we include a little white flour in our recipe, the bread will rise more than traditional soda bread. It needs to be scored to rise evenly.)
Scatter the top with extra seeds and bake for about 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the bread comes out clean. Allow to cool a little before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.
240g melted butter 120g good quality cocoa powder (eg Green and Blacks organic cocoa) 300g brown sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla essence 4 organic eggs beaten 120g gluten free flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 50g chopped pecan nuts 50g chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 180C line a small baking tin with baking parchment, making sure to leave an over hanging edge as it makes it easier to take out later on Mix the melted butter with the sugar and incorporate fully add the beaten eggs and the vanilla essence and mix thoroughly now add the nuts sieve the gluten free flour and soda into the mixture (very important to always sieve gluten free flour and soda so as to make sure there is no big lumps) pour into the tin evenly and then bake for 25 - 30 mins
*Brownies are supposed to be very moist so dont be alarmed if even after 30 mins it still feels a little wobbly. Leave to sit in the tin for at least 30 mins before attempting to take out (it needs to set a little otherwise it will all fall apart) and try your best to leave them until they are completely cool before eating. This is probably the most difficult part of this recipe.