Hello to all ‘out there’

I learned so much yesterday from giving you the recipe for kibbi, that I feel a need to share it with you before I begin in earnest, so indulge me a little!

First of all, what my family called KIBBI can also be found under the name KIBBEH or KIBBE. Many Middle Eastern countries have some version of this dish using a similar name.

My family ate two kinds of kibbi: Kibbi Nayyeh (raw kibbi served with pita bread) for Mezza (breakfast) and Kibbi b’Zait (baked kibbi in oil) for celebrations or dinners. No one battered an eyelid at eating raw mince in our household, including my English father. However, let me add that I don’t think I would eat it today like we did then!

And as for those spices? You know, the ones Maria knew all about and I had never heard of? Well, I googled them (of course) and found out that she was talking about the spice known as BAHARAT SPICE MIX.

Baharat is the Arabic word for spice, deriving from the word bahar meaning pepper. Used as an ‘all rounder’ in the food of the Middle East.  Here is a recipe – although the spices can vary from country to country apparently:

Baharat Recipe

2 tbsp Ground Cumin
2 tbsp Spanish Paprika
2 tbsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 tbsp Ground Coriander
1 tsp Freshly Grated Nutmeg
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
½ tsp Green Cardamom Pods Freshly Ground

The spice we use ‘ALLSPICE’ is the dried powder of the berry from the Pimento tree and not a combination of spices. So, some Lebanese folk may use the Baharat spice mix but my mother’s family, the Roofayel family. did not use it. Now that I have cleared this up, I will begin my tale.

When I think of kibbi and grape-vine leaves I am taken back to my childhood in the 1950’s when we visited our Lebanese grandparents on most Sundays until I was 12 yrs old. They lived in Merivale St, South Brisbane (near Southbank). We grew up thinking that all grandparents spoke Arabic – or at least English with a very broken accent! My father’s mother was living in England most of this time.

Sundays at my grandparents were  always full of Lebanese people coming and going. The six of us children did not speak or understand Arabic although my mother understood every word – but I never heard her speak that language.  When asked questions in Arabic, she always answered in English. This was good as it usually happened when Grandma did not want us children to hear something so it enabled us to figure out what they were talking about! Strangely enough they never twigged.

The most common phrase  in Arabic that I heard on Sundays was: ‘tinne vin chan shy mille ma roof?” (Bear in mind that this is my childish interpretation of what I heard at the time). But I knew exactly what it meant, and it was always said with a a lot of gestures invovling the arms! It was that wonderful Lebanese hospitality offered whenever someone arrived asking: “Would you like a cup of coffee or tea?” And always food of course.

Because most of our cousins would also be visiting on any given Sunday, there was always things going on, the boys were usually the ringleaders. Like the time we discovered the Lebanese word for the toilet: shasma. As only children can, we sniggered behind our hands saying it as often as possible and laughing uproariously (when appropraite). Another word was: sharteene (and there was a male and a female version). The devil. According to my grandmother, the sharteenie was responsible for everything us kids did wrong!

No one knew what was going to happen in that household. Some Sundays, the Lebanese men would gather  and would be smoking a hubba bubba (an instrument for smoking – see picture below) or cigerettes and playing cards around a table with an old blanket on it (to protect the table perhaps?) Poker was the game. Winning was the aim. Money was involved. Arak was the drink of choice (50-63% proof). An interesting combination to say the least .

There would be yelling and shouting in Arabic (normal conversation for the Lebanese)   The women would be in the kitchen. Every now and again, my grandmother’s voice would cry out in this loud and drawn out broken English: “Niiicolaaaaas, coma here righta now!” He was always in trouble my poor old grandfather. No wonder he died 24 years before she did. It may be a man’s world in Lebanon but all the women I knew from that country controlled what went on in the house.

And so folks, you can imagine how the Sundays of my childhood were spent.  They were certainly never dull.

I have only given you a short taste of Sundays with my grandparents, and as I have so much more to tell you, I should share a little more with you all tomorrow. Look for the final chapter then.

In the meantime,  I would like to leave you with a quote I found today which I liked: TO ERR IS HUMAN – AND SOMETIMES IT’S THE BEST THING…