I am going to tell you a story that is one of my favorite food memories with
and why I chose this soup to begin my review of her cookbook
(US). What makes it even more special is that it is set in Sarka's house and
who has made Bethany's mouth watering recipes come alive in the book and given them their due credit!
So.... Rewinding to
I was embarking on my Europe travels and beginning my journey in London. Sarka had kindly offered to put me up at her house, where Bethany and her sister, Joslin, were already holed up working on
. Over the next few days, the house would become more populated as Juls, Al and Regula arrived and we all had a blast and lots of good food! But, when I arrived at her doorstep at about noon, it was just Bethany, Joslin, Sarka.
It was nearing lunch time and Beth was craving
soup. Now, I had never heard of kishk before but when Beth explained that it is a powdery cereal of burghul (cracked wheat) fermented with milk and laban (yogurt), I became very curious about the soup. In an effort to be useful and get out of the way of the conference preparations, I offered to make the soup as Sarka had all the ingredients already.
Everybody concurred and Beth gave me the recipe for four people. Off I went to the kitchen and started collecting the ingredients. I had nearly everything and then noticed the garlic. The recipe on the piece of paper said
2 bulbs of garlic
. I was a bit curious and went back and tentatively asked
if she had intended two cloves of garlic
. The response was an uproar of laughter and much leg pulling about Beth's love for garlic!! It was
indeed to be two BULBS
Amused, I went back to the preparation. The recipe is really easy and came together in just a few minutes. The soup was incredibly flavorful;
rich and comforting yet light and refreshing
. And, I don't think it could have worked with any less garlic, whose flavor is just subtle and not at all overpowering for the amount used. The kishk itself was an eye-opening flavor profile. It's tangy as you would expect from a fermented grain but with a citrus note that brings out the lightness in the soup.
In just under half hour, we all gathered around a big pot of soup, ravenously hungry and still smiling at my garlic surprise. The aroma of the
soup rich in flavor from the bulgur and lamb confit
kept enticing us to ladle ourselves to several helpings until we had scraped the bottom of the pot! It was a lovely long lunch, the first of several amazing meals that I had the joy of sharing with the group and as more trooped in. To this day, we laugh about this incident and mirth is never lost! :)
I have since then eaten many of the creations cooked by Bethany, included in the cookbook, and they are all simply amazing. I have known her for three years now, and, every time I have met her, there has been food and a lot of warmth and passion for middle eastern cuisine. Like the lively evening two years ago in NY when Mr. Zenchef and I were treated to a very special tasting menu of Lebanese food cooked by Beth at a local Lebanese restaurant in LES. My favorite dish that night was a risotto she made with Freekeh.
Beth also organizes Taste Lebanon, a multi day culinary tour through the country that showcases the beauty of the land and cuisine! I have been dreaming of going on that for a very long time and I plan in the next few years. If you have an interest or curiosity for the region and an appetite for delicious middle eastern food then I highly recommend this tour especially since it will be enlivened by the lovely presence and knowledge of Beth herself!
Until then, the cooking the cuisine is my escape to that famed land of richness. I have been eagerly awaiting this book and was so thrilled to be finally holding it my hands! When I received Beth's book, it was a no-brainer that I would start my journey with the Kishk, Lamb and Kale Soup. There is a special place for this recipe in my heart and I wanted to share the story and flavor that is so distinctive of Beth and her food!
The best part of the cookbook is that it has recipes for every type of cook and every style of meal from the easy, quick ones like the soup to more elaborate meals that need time to work its magic, from meals for two to family style ones that are perfect for gatherings of fun and laughter, of single plate meals to tasting plates and everything in between. I have been closely associated with the cuisine for several years now and I think that the best part about it is its judicial use of spices, flavoring the food yet allowing the ingredients' flavor to shine through.
Kishk, Lamb and Kale Soup
(Recipe reprinted here from Pomegranates and Pine Nuts with permission from the author and publisher)
3 T salted butter
1 garlic bulb, finely crushed
1 T aleppo pepper flakes or crushed chili flakes
1 tsp all spice
2 T dried mint
14 oz ground lamb
2-1/4 cups chopped kale
1 cup kishk
4 T pine nuts (I used pistachios)
4-1/2 cups hot water
mint leaves to sprinkle
salt and pepper
bread to serve with
Melt the butter in a pan and saute the garlic for a minute until aromatic. Add the pepper flakes, all spice and dried mint and stir well to combine. Add the ground lamb and cook until browned, stirring often. Add the kale an mix well, letting it wilt.
Sprinkle the kishk and stir to combine. Heat through and then pour in the hot water a little at a time, stirring well to prevent lumps. Keep adding the water until the mixture is creamy and brothy and has reached your desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Toast the nuts in a pan until fragrant. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with nuts and mint. Serve with warm Arabic bread or any crusty bread.