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Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Armenian Manti and A Quickie In Beirut!


What better way to welcome a new year than with a spontaneous vacation and a quick trip out of town? My 2012 kicked off with a trip to Beirut, where we got together with family, celebrated my brother in law's engagement and got to meet new people while catching up with old friends :) I take it as a good start for a new year, and hopefully an extended tone of happy times and friendships throughout the year.

Beirut - Lebanon, to me,  is a city reminiscent of old times. Times at which people lived simple and happy. Times of food, music and dance, through which the Lebanese express a love for life. In every bite, tone and move there is a reflection of love, social belonging, a belief, or even a political or ideological view on life. It is refreshing to be in an Arab city where people are so opinionated and expressive. From the youngest to the oldest, they would all sit in the same restaurant, bar or cafe and would not refrain from sharing their most inner views of society, politics and world affairs. Very evocative of the 70's Paris and its intellectual cafes. Beirut is, in that sense, beautiful! The Lebanese are very positively engaged people who believe strongly, and live fully. A virtue that seems to have gotten lost in the bubble of passive modern living, in which we seem to be continuously racing on that treadmill marathon of cash collection and daily chores. Beirut has managed to keep the spirit alive, and to keep its people very much existent and active.

The bustling streets of the humble Hamra area are vivacious and full of energy. You are instantly put in a lively mood, once on Hamra streets. As you step out, you are greeted with cars honking and breaks squeaking, while being repeatedly invited to ride a taxi from the 1930's. Coming from the city of air conditioned cars and elevators, escalators and in-mall taxi rides, I just wanted to walk, in the crisp fresh air, down the streets of a past that seems so near. "No thank you" I said, and watched them smile and move on to the next pedestrian in line. Very basic, but with much soul, it is simple life!


When it comes to food, Lebanon is way too known for good food than a small blog intro would do justice for. Lebanese cuisine is famous the world over! So much so that most Arabic and Middle Eastern cuisine offerings are referred to as Lebanese food, even if they originally sprung out of other countries and regions! The dining experience in Lebanon is superb. With many offerings and restaurants to choose from, all of which are exquisite, you are never short on good food while there.  (I have put a list of "must try places" at the bottom of this post for you to check out). However, and back to Hamra; right at the corner of every turn is another snug neighbourhood pub that makes you want to tuck in for long hours of Jazz and Blues amongst the multi-layered tunes of Oriental Jazz. One very favourite pub of mine is Artur's Regusto, in Hamra square. A small Gastro-pub that serves up a storm of phenomenal Armenian food. It is very strange that Dubai has no Armenian Restaurants!! Or has it? Do you know of one here? I have not been across any Armenian Food in Dubai, which is strange really, as Armenian cuisine is ultimately Divine! From Sujuk (Armenian Sausages) to Pastrami (Armenian Bustarma, which is a prep of highly spiced cured or air dried raw beef), to Fakhara Manti, and everything else in between, Armenian food is a generous serving of goodness. Armenians are not shy about using spices in their food, which makes their cuisine's offerings rich and highly flavoursome. Artur has delighted my taste buds with his Armenian delights and was actually my introduction to that cuisine, of which I have become a huge fan. I have tried many Armenian restaurants throughout the years, which were great, but I remain a loyal fan of Regusto's, and always go there when in Beirut. The atmosphere of the place is very warm and cosy, it feels like you are amongst family. There is always interesting Jazz music in the background, and intriguing chats and comments, except for the days when a football or basketball match is on, where it becomes very sportively charged. I could spend the whole night there.


Since a new year intrinsically suggests beginnings and all things new, I have chosen to start the year with a recipe from a new cuisine to my blog. I have not before posted any Armenian cuisine recipe, and will start with the famous and utterly delicious Armenian Manti (when in Lebanon, make sure to visit Regusto and order their Manti: to die for!).

Regusto Gastro Pub- Hamra/Beirut
Manti is a concoction of small dough parcels, traditionally filled with ground lamb meat. The dough parcels are made from basic pasta like dough. The meat is traditionally enclosed by the dough parcels, however, modern preparation would keep the top open, revealing a bit of the filling. Once filled, the parcels are baked in a moderate oven till browned, then topped with tomato sauce and cooked till liquid is almost fully absorbed (a little bit of the sauce will remain and become thickened). It is then transferred to a serving dish, and topped with a minted yoghurt sauce, and sprinkled with Summac. With that said, I find that the parcels get quite wet with this method of cooking. Regusto's way of offering these makes more sense to me, as they chose to bake the parcels and serve the tomato and yoghurt sauces on the side instead. The result is remarkable! As you would still get a crunch from the manti instead of a soft bite, which to me enhances the texture tremendously.

In my recipe of Manti, I want to serve a twist to the traditional. I went with an Armenian Sujuk filling (Armenian sausages), instead of the traditional lamb filling, and chose to serve it the Regusto way: sauces and spices on the side. It turned out fabulous, and definitely one that I will be making lots of. In addition to making Manti, I have used the Sujuk filling in making actual encased Sujuk, and have also used it in making Sujuk Patties for a twist on a beef burger. The sujuk filling can also be cooked and used to top Hummus instead of Awerma or minced meet. Whichever way you decide to go, this is a recipe worth having, and one that is versatile and best loved.
Here is how I made it.....


Manti Made with Armenian Sujuk Filling
For Sujuk Filling
You Need
250g ground beef (15% fat)
250g ground lamb (15% fat)
2 tsp ground paprika
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground fenugreek
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper (red chili powder)
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp salt

For making Manti Dough
You Need
3 1/4 cup flour
2 eggs
1/2 cup water
1 tsp salt
a pinch of freshly cracked black pepper
2 tbsp butter, melted

For Tomato Sauce
You Need
300 ml Chicken broth
1 1/2 tbsp Vegetable Oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
1 small can tomato paste (4tbsp)
3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup red wine or 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt & Black pepper to taste

For Yoghurt Sauce
You Need
Dried mint to taste
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 cups plain yoghurt

Start by making the Sujuk Filling, a day before. mix together all the Sujuk Filling ingredients, and make sure it has all been incorporated well together. Cover with nylon and let sit in the fridge for 24 hours, in order for the flavours to develop.

The next day, make the dough. In a large bowl mix together, by hand, the flour, eggs, water and seasoning until the mixture forms a dough. Grease your hands with the melted butter and start kneading the dough until it becomes very smooth. Cut the dough into two equal pieces and form a ball out of each piece. Place each in a separate bowl and wrap with nylon wrap. Let the dough rest for 1-2 hours.

When the dough has rested, Roll it out (one ball at a time), on a lightly floured surface, into 1/8 inch thick. You can use a rolling pin to roll or you can roll the dough using a pasta roller. Cut the rolled dough into squares of the desired size (I like to make small manti pieces - 1 inch, but feel free to make them bigger). You can either cut using a ruler and a knife or using a cookie cutter - whatever is available. Fill the centre of each square with a small amount of filling, or the 1 inch size a small dessert spoon full would do. Then brush the sides of the dough with egg-wash and  pinch up the corners together to close, leaving the centre revealed as in the picture above. Repeat, until all the quantity is used.

Pasta Roller


Grease the bottom of a shallow, preferrably earthware (Fukhar) baking pan, or any shallow baking pan and place the pieces of Manti closely together in a single layer. Bake the Manti in a preheated (350F) oven for 20-30 minutes or until browned.

Meanwhile, Make the tomato sauce by sweating the chopped onions, and crushed garlic in the hot oil until translucent and not browned. Add the chopped tomato and cook for 5 minutes, season and cook stirring for 30 seconds. Add the chicken broth, tomato paste and red wine and stir to incorporate, bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced by half.

Make the Minted yoghurt sauce, by heating up the chicken broth and yoghurt, without boiling (boiling will cause the yoghurt to split and curdle. the idea is just to heat it up slightly. Mix in the dried mint and season.

When the Manti is finished, arrange on a serving platter. Place finished tomato sauce in a bowl or mini pan, sprinkle the tops with chopped parsley and place next to the Manti. Place the minted yoghurt sauce in another mini pan or bowl next to the Manti, and then in 3 separate mini plates place summac in one and all spice in another and zaatar in one. Place these small plates of spices on the table next to the Manti & Sauces for guests to help themselves if desired.

Serve hot. Worth every bit of effort!!

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PS Another place I have been to this time around and totally recommend, The Loge in Gemmayze! Amazing night out with a hustle and a bustle! An assortment of performers, and a colourful menu of music and flat out wild night out! I don't know if we were lucky, but if the place is usually like the night we spent there, then it is worth queuing for.



Must-Try Food & Drink Stuff in Lebanon

  • Regusto- Hamra Square
  • Al Mayass - Armenian Restaurant
  • Eau De Vie - Intercontinental Cuisine, and lounge/bar Phoenicia Hotel
  • Al Sayyad - Lebanese Seafood
  • Ferdinand - Pub in Hamra
  • Hamra Cafe for salads, shisha, snacks and coffee
Armenian Food is a must try when in Beirut

The following options are inspired by my brother in law and his lovely fiance, who are residents of the amazing city and know it best. Description in their own words:
  • "La Parrilla" an Argentinian steak house in Gemmayzeh. It is very up scale dinning, soft music and setting. Amazing steak with wonderful sides. 
  • "Regusto" an Arminian restaurant/pub on hamra street. You may know it as arthur. it's a very very casual place with great drinks and must try doo doo shots. The basterma is the best as is his Manti. 
  • Chili's" in Gemmayze. I know it's a chain, but they have the best strawberry margaritas in town and so far no one has beaten their fajitas. 
  • "Abdel Wahab" Mono street, for Lebanese food. It's a very nice atmosphere with great service and food. 
  • "Shalouf" it's in Jezzine. It has the best food around! A must-try is their kibeh balls :) That's what I call them. They are kibeh in a dome shape, with stuffing of kibeh and labneh. Everything is made from Jezzine locally and tastes wonderful!!! 
  • "Al Azrak" in Jbeil. Has the best seafood around!!! Try everything grilled or fried. They also have great specialty drinks :) 
  • "Charlie's Hotdog" Bliss Street. If you want something to eat right after you finish clubbing, grab a hot dog from a stand. It's great! Try it with cheese and chips!! 
  • "Sahyoun Falafel" Downtown. if you are looking for the best falafel sandwich go to sahyoun!! One, because it tastes amazing. Two, because it's a very old place that kept it's standards up and three, because it's fun to watch them make the sandwiches...if you are in Hamra and want a good falafel sandwich Barber is pretty decent.
Have you been to any of the restaurants above? Do you have any more restaurants that you would add to the list? Please leave a comment and share your favourite Beirut/Lebanon spots with the readers, am sure they would love to try them out :))

Welcome 2012, a year I am dedicating to good food :)  

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