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May 09, 2006

BESIDES TACOS AND FAJITAS, MEXICO HAS ALSO A VEGETARIAN CUISINE BY HABEEB SALLOUM

Mexicofruit_and_vegetables_for_sale

BESIDES TACOS AND FAJITAS, MEXICO HAS ALSO A VEGETARIAN CUISINE
                                             by Habeeb Salloum
                     ------------------------------------------------------------------
    From the border of Mexico to the Arctic Circle 'Let's go and have a fajita' is now almost as common among the teenage crowd as 'let's go for a hamburger' .  The words of a traveller who wrote, "Mexican food excites the passion, seduces the body, then sends one into ecstasy" are now becoming a reality in North America. 
    Mexican dishes, complex, delicious and rich, still rest firmly on their Aztec and Maya origins - once one of the most varied and exotic cuisines on the globe. The cooking of that country, one of the oldest in the world whose history goes back some 5000 years, is spreading like wild fire from the northern borders of Mexico to the Arctic Circle. Besides fajitas, empanades, enchiladas, tacos, tamales, toastadas and tortillas, are now to be found throughout the Americas.
    It is said that Montezuma, the last Aztec ruler, selected his daily meals from some 300 exotically prepared foods and, no doubt, from among these were a good number of vegetarian dishes.  In fact, the central core of the indigenous kitchen included, besides chillies and tomatoes, corn, beans and squash - called by some food writers `the holy threesome'.  Even though, in our times, most Mexican foods are served with meat, there are numerous delightful vegetable dishes in that country, with roots that go back to pre-Columbian times.  Some still carry their Indian names like mole, a series of well-known sauces , deriving their name from the Aztec molli.

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April 18, 2006

MANSAF: THE PRIDE OF JORDANIAN CUISINE by Habeeb Salloum

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    The first time I sat down to a feast featuring mansaf was in the countryside near Amman, the capital of Jordan.  Surrounded by distinguished-looking men in flowing Arab robes, I reclined quietly beside my host around a steaming platter of rice covered with lamb and nuts. The conversation was almost zilch as we gorged ourselves on tender and succulent meat served over steaming rice, made even tastier by the yogurt and spices.
    Being an honoured guest, my host picked out for me the choicest pieces of meat as he urged me on.  In the best tradition of Arab hospitality he made sure that I was overfed.  Of course, I did not need much encouragement.  Every mouthful of the appetizing food made me crave for more.  It was a feast that I have always remembered.
    In Jordan mansaf, the pride of Jordanian cuisine and the national dish of the country is usually prepared for and served to esteemed guests primarily on special occasions such as weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries.  The dish possesses an important symbolic function within social gatherings, it being offered as the ultimate to the honoured guest.  The daily family food of the people is often not as sumptuous but healthier - much of it relating to earlier times when most of the inhabitants of today's Jordan were poor Bedouins, peppered with a few peasants.
    Mansaf stands as the ultimate of Jordanian cuisine - a part of Arab gastronomy, which is one of the world's most sophisticated and elaborate cuisines.  Jordanian food, although having some unique attributes, is part of this Middle Eastern distinctive culinary heritage, but stemming more from traditional Bedouin cooking.
     A mansaf feast is taken seriously, and hours are spent in its preparations.  A dish of lamb seasoned with herbs and spices, it is served on a large platter on a bed of rice in a tangy yogurt sauce and sprinkled with almonds and pine nuts.  Traditionally, the yogurt used is jameed, a type of salted dried goat milk.
    The main course of a mansaf meal usually begins with several varieties of mazza, or hors d'oeuvres and with several salads as side dishes.   Bread, usually khoubz sh'rak, a large thin, round unleavened bread, accompanies every meal and a dessert or fresh fruit ends a meal.  Lastly, comes the famous Arabic coffee without which no meal is complete. 

 

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October 03, 2005

The Foods of Aleppo- The Haute Cuisine of Syria

THE FOODS OF ALEPPO - THE HAUTE CUISINE OF SYRIA by Habeeb Salloum

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    We had arrived in Aleppo, Syria’s gourmet capital, that afternoon and had settled down in Chahba Cham Palace Hotel, the city’s top class abode.  However, we did not rest much.  I along with my daughter, were excited and we could hardly wait for the evening when we were to dine in one of the hotel’s fine restaurants.  A friend of mine in Damascus, Syria’s capital and the oldest inhabited city on earth had insisted that if we were to truly know the joys of Syrian cuisine, we had to try a buffet of Arab foods held on the weekend at Aleppo’s Chahba Cham Palace Hotel. 

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