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August 26, 2006

Kebab: An Ancient Mesopotamian Treat by Nawal Nasrallah

Kebab: An Ancient Mesopotamian Treat by Nawal Nasrallah
Adapted from a previously published article in Radcliffe Culinary Times vol. xiii, no. 2, fall of 2003)       
Iraqi Cookbook website


    If ever you order kebab at an Iraqi restaurant, brace yourself for a surprise. Instead of the familiar marinated skewered lamb cubes, you will get laffat kebab (kebab wrapped in bread). It consists of an elongated ground meat patty, seasoned with salt and pepper; grilled on a brazier till succulent, speckled with tangy red sumac, and garnished with thinly sliced onion, chopped parsley, tomatoes and probably pickles. The whole mixture would be rolled in flatbread or stuffed in diamond-shaped bread called samoun.        

    Kebab to Iraqis is what hamburger is to Americans. Specialized restaurants are everywhere. There was a time in downtown Baghdad where two major kebab restaurants competed with each other, like McDonald's and Burger King in the States. The best kebab, however, was provided by the small carry-out restaurants at the roofed sug (marketplace) next to the holy shrine of Al-Imam- Al-Kadhum, a descendant of the prophet Muhammad. As children, our eagerness to pay homage to that place was not motivated by our religious zeal as much as by a much more mundane desire to enjoy once again those delicious kebab sandwiches. They came with lots of greens, herbs, onion, pickles, and an ice-cold creamy yogurt drink. We devoured this treat picnic style, sitting on a spread blanket at one of the cool, breezy, roofed niches surrounding the huge yard of the shrine.        

    That was the kebab we knew growing up in Baghdad. To watch an actor in an Egyptian movie sinking his teeth into grilled rib chops or chunks of meat and call it kebab used to puzzle us. Why on earth were they calling that kebab? Surely that was tikka!  We also used to dance to an imported tune, Shish Kebab, twisting and twitching our `shoulders; we didn’t know that the kebab in the title was not the same as ours. The world outside is not as particular as Iraq in its kebab terminology. It is all kebab to them-- cubed chunks of meat, vegetables, even fruits, or patties of ground meat. To distinguish between the two types of grilled meat, sometimes the word kufta (ground meat patties)1 is used, as in the Turkish kufta shish kebabi as opposed to the Hindi tikka kebabi used to designate cubed chunks.       


Continue reading "Kebab: An Ancient Mesopotamian Treat by Nawal Nasrallah " »

August 20, 2006


                         by Habeeb Salloum


photo copyrighted by Montérégie

    The first time that I stepped in the midst of a sugar maple forest with sap dripping into  buckets, attached to almost every tree, I felt an air of excitement.  A few minutes later as I entered a sugar shack, listening to a syrup-maker relating the story of maple syrup, I became intoxicated with the enticing odour coming from the steaming vats.  All the time we stood by the smiling syrup-maker, he kept an eye on the boiling sap - called by some of its fans 'liquid gold'.  As happens to the gold ore in its raw stage, the maple sap was before us being refined into a valuable commodity.       
    The Québec cold and harsh winters, followed by warm and sunny spring thaws give that Canadian province an advantage when it comes to the production of maple syrup.  The ideal weather conditions produce the sweetest and most flavourful maple syrup not only in Canada, but around the world.  This, combined with the thousands of acres of natural maple forests, makes Québec the number one place on the globe when it comes to the production of maple syrup - more than  90% of Canada's maple syrup production and 70% of the worlds' supply.       
    The making of this natural sweet was inherited by the early settlers from the aboriginals who lived in Québec, southern Ontario, and the northeastern region of the U.S.A.  In all these areas of North America, the top of the six species of sugar maple trees, Acer saccharum (the true maple sugar tree), is found.       
    The Sugar Maple, also called Rock Maple, can grow up to 23 to 30 m (75 to100 ft) tall, with trunk diameters of 0.9 to 1.2 m (3 to 4 ft).  Its leaves are 7.5 to 13 cm (3 to 5 in) across and usually have five lobes, separated by rounded, shallow indentations.  The margins of the leaves are indented with sparse, large, pointed teeth.  Canadians esteem the leaves of this tree important so much that they are inscribed on the country's national flag.  A very useful tree, its sap, taken from the trunk, is used to make maple syrup and its wood is used in the manufacture of furniture.       
    After the French began to settle in what is now the Province of Québec, the Indigenous Peoples taught them the art of producing maple syrup.  In the ensuing years, harvesting this sweet sap evolved into becoming a basic part of the settlers' lives.  Before the 19th century, the major source of high quality pure sugar consumed in Québec was produced from this Aboriginal gift to the incoming Europeans.       
    For Québecers, from February to mid-April, when the sap flows, it's a looked-forward-to time to enjoy this gift of nature.  For hundreds of years the Indigenous Peoples employed clay pots to boil the sap over  a blaze, topped only by a roof of tree branches.  For the settlers, over the years, this simple fireplace evolved into the sugar shacks, where, besides boiling the sap, they became gathering places to socialize and enjoy a traditional meal.       
    Even though all over North America and other parts of the world, maple syrup is known as a breakfast delight, the Indigenous Peoples used it to enhance wild game and, later, the French settlers added it to all kinds of dishes.  Today, when the sap runs, family and friends gather at the sugar hut, where tables overflow with the traditional maple syrup foods.  After gorging on these gourmet delights such as maple-baked beans, maple omelettes and maple desserts, family and friends stream outside for the usual hot maple taffy, served on a bed of fresh snow.  For the true Québecois, a visit to the sugar shack in spring has become a type of pilgrimage.       

Continue reading "MAPLE SYRUP - QUÉBEC'S LIQUID GOLD by Habeeb Salloum" »

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