A cook book I was browsing yesterday, purchased from a company specializing in “remaindered” items (i.e. publishers’ unsold stock and therefore at a “bargain” price) jogged my Mid-east memory cells and I thought, “Yes, there’s an idea here for this week’s column”.

It was in the 1960s. I was in a car on with no air-conditioning on a very hot July day climbing eastwards up the mountains of Lebanon on the busy, windy road to Damascus, the capital of Syria, and onwards to Amman, Jordan. It was exciting, because it was my first such trip (my second was also exciting – see Note) An older book about Lebanese cooking, some years in my possession and a great favourite, describes this journey with the stunning view as you breast the ridge of the hills much better than I can…

clip_image002 clip_image004

“A few miles beyond the lovely tree-lined main avenue of Sofar, the highway reaches its summit at the 5,000-foot-high Dahr al-Baidar pass, which on winter weekends would be alive with skiers and fun-loving Lebanese out for an excursion in the snow. After Dahr al-Baidar the road descends abruptly into the peaceful Bekaa Valley, but not before one is rewarded with an unforgettable view of its long patchwork quilt of colorful square fields nestled between the protecting ranges of the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon.

The excitement engendered in us by this majestic sight was due partly to our now being only a few minutes from our destination, for as soon as we came down into the valley we would be in Shtora. With its invigorating climate and pleasant surroundings, the town was a popular health resort and a favorite haven for honeymooners. Situated at nearly the midpoint between Beirut and Damascus, it had long been an ideal resting place for travelers”. From “Recipes and Remembrances”, which is still available on-line. It is one of just a few books I read, re-read and follow recipes from regularly.

Most obligingly, Ms Uvezian then offers a regional recipe, which I cook now and then and love dearly.

Ground Meat Kebabs with Sour Cherry Sauce

Kabab bi Karaz Hamud

Variations of this dish are to be found all over Lebanon and Syria, especially around Aleppo. This recipe comes Sonia Uvezian’s Shtora kitchen, where she used to make it with tart, juicy, black cherries from the family orchards and serve it with warm flatbread, plain or saffron rice, or bulgur pilaf.

Ingredients for 4 – 6 servings

700 g /1½ pounds lean boneless lamb or beef, ground (minced) twice

1 medium onion, grated

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 scallions, finely chopped

Fresh coriander or spearmint sprigs

Sour Cherry Sauce (see below)


Ideally this is cooked on an outdoor charcoal grill. But under your gas or electric grill will be good, too.

1. In a bowl combine the lamb or beef, onion, cinnamon, and salt and pepper and knead the mixture vigorously until it is well blended and smooth.

2. Cover and chill for one hour.

3. If using, prepare charcoal grill.

4. Divide the meat mixture into 36 balls.

5. Moisten your hands with cold water and form the balls into 4 cms/1½-inch-long sausages around flat-bladed metal skewers, pressing and molding the meat mixture to the skewers and leaving about 5cm / ¼ inch between each sau­sage.

6. Grill the meat on an oiled rack set 2 to 3 inches above glowing coals, turning frequently, 10 to 12 minutes or until it is evenly browned on all sides and cooked through. Alternatively, the meat may be broiled (grilled.)

7. With the side of a knife or fork, carefully slide the kebabs off the skewers onto heated individual plates.

8. Sprinkle with the scallions and garnish with the coriander or spearmint sprigs.

9. Serve at once with the Sour Cherry Sauce.


Add 2 tablespoons pine nuts to the meat mixture.

When the kebabs are done, remove them from the skewers and add them to the Sour Cherry Sauce. Cook gently about 5 minutes and stir in the scallions, if desired. Omit the coriander sprigs. Serve over a bed of pilaf or pieces of warm flatbread.

Sour Cherry Sauce

Salsat al-Karaz al-Hamud

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

pounds sour cherries, stemmed and pitted

½ cup water

3 tablespoons sugar, or to taste

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste

Salt to taste


1. In a medium enameled or stainless steel saucepan melt the butter over moderate heat.

2. Add the cherries and cook, stirring, about i minute. Add the water and bring to a boil.

3. Cook the mixture, uncovered, a few minutes or until the cherries have softened and given off most of their liquid.

4. Stir in the sugar and cinnamon and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens.

5. Season with the salt. Serve hot with ground lamb or kibbeh kebabs or with poultry or game birds.

6. Makes about 1¾ cups

Note: If sour cherries are unavailable, substitute ripe fresh cherries, pitted and add ¼ cup freshly squeezed and strained lemon or lime juice along with the sugar and cinnamon. Do not use canned cherries for this recipe.

Lamb and Tomato Tarts

To serve six


ABOVE: Not Elizabeth David’s “An Omelette and a Glass of Wine”, but a Lebanese Pastry and a glass of Arak, which is anise flavoured and similar to Greek or Cyprus Ouzo, but a lot stronger. As with Ouzo it turns white when water is added. It is a splendid aperitif and with water a most suitable companion for Arab food.


400g plain white flour 1 teaspoon caster sugar 1 sachet baker’s yeast Half teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon olive oil


200g minced lamb

250g tomatoes

1 small onion

A few drops of pomegranate molasses, or juice.

Salt and pepper

To accompany: natural yogurt (“Strangato”)


1. Dissolve the yeast in 250ml warm water.

2. Place the flour, sugar, oil, salt and yeast mixture in a food processor.

3. Pulse slowly for a couple of minutes. The dough should come away from the sides; if it does not, add 1 tablespoon flour.

4. Take the dough out of the processor, sprinkle with a little flour to stop it sticking to your hands, place on a work surface, divide into 6 equal parts, cover

and leave to rise for at least 30 minutes.

5. Generously flour-She work surface. Flatten the 6 dough balls by hand, turn over and flatten again with a rolling pin. Cut out 6 circles, 8cm in diameter,

and lay on a baking tray covered in greaseproof paper.

6. Leave for 15 minutes.


7. Preheat the oven to 200°C (gas mark 6-7)

8. Blend the tomatoes and the onion with salt and pepper, add a few drops of the pomegranate.

9. With a fork or pestle, combine with the minced meat.

10. Divide the filling among the pastry circles and spread evenly.

11. Cook in oven for 7 minutes.

12. Serve with yogurt.

NOTE – “Royal Wings and a Royal Roller”


A few months after my car trip from Beirut to Amman, I had occasion to make the trip again. That time, I flew; on a “Caravelle” jet of Royal Jordanian Airlines, a pretty aeroplane like the one pictured above. Security was always noticeable at Beirut airport, but it was extra heavy. After take-off we knew why, when this announcement came from the flight deck in Arabic, French and English: “Good Evening ladies and gentlemen. This is the captain speaking. Tonight I have the honour to tell you that my co-pilot is His Majesty King Hussein, who will be flying us to Amman” His Majesty made a good landing.

A week or so later, I was returning from Jerusalem to Amman (this was before the 1967 “6-day War”) in a somewhat ramshackle taxi. It was about 50 miles, across a mostly flat, sandy terrain. About half way, we encountered a dusty Rolls-Royce coupé, stopped at the road-side. Sitting on the lowered canopy was the sole occupant, H.M. King Hussein, chatting to a desert Bedouin, whose camel was a few metres away trying to sniff out something to eat from the sand.

Greetings and chat were exchanged. Security? Who needed it then?



In the “old days” (say fifty years and before) farmers used to keep a proportion of the flocks of their sheep for several years. They would produce several lambs in this time. After which they would be killed and eaten as “Mutton” (any animal of more than one year qualifies for this definition). This was tasty, but tough and often with a good leavening of fat. Hence “slow cooking”, either by boiling (as in Ireland and the UK) or slow pot-roasting (as in Kleftiko) was customary, to tenderize and break down some of the fibres of the meat. Those with lesser incomes opted for the cheaper, tougher parts and slow-cooked.

In earlier times, Ireland was poverty-stricken and ridden with starvation – hence the emigration of a large number of its people to the United States and other countries. Ordinary people often had very little and sometimes no meat in their diets. What there was was often tough and fatty and, chopped up in small quantities, used to “extend” the quantity of stews or casseroles. One recipe became the generic “Irish Stew” and known around the world, wherever the Irish went.

The lines below are a parody from the British humorous magazine, Punch (circa 1860) which would have been sung to the tune of a very popular Victorian song, or “air”, called "Happy Land”. They are also the virtually complete recipe.

Irish stew, Irish stew!

Whatever else my dinner be,                                                                                                                                                                     Once again, once again,

I’d have a dish of thee.

Mutton chops, and onion slice,

Let the water cover,

With potatoes, fresh and nice;

Boil, but not quite over,

Irish stew, Irish stew!

Ne’er from thee, my taste will stray.

I could eat Such a treat Nearly every day.



Classic Irish stew! Perfect for a winter’s day.


Ingredients for 4 – 6 servings

800g stewing lamb (ask the butcher to cut off the bone and into pieces, or use cutlets with bones removed)

2tbsp vegetable oil

500g potatoes, more if you like, peeled and cut into chunks

2 medium onions

150g carrots, chopped

2 leeks, sliced Seasonal ingredient

100g pearl barley

750ml lamb stock

¼ of cabbage, sliced

Sea salt

Freshly ground pepper


1. Pre-heat the oven to 160 C.

2. In a large frying pan heat a tablespoon of the oil over a moderate heat.

3. Add the lamb, and fry until brown, turning it over from time to time.

4. Remove the lamb and place in a lidded casserole pan, cover with the potatoes, onions, leeks, carrots, pearl barley and season.

5. Add the stock and cook in the oven with the lid on for one hour.

6. Add the cabbage and cook for a further hour adding more stock, if required. Serve hot.

7. Some cook books recommended drinking Guinness or other dark beer with it. Me, I’ll take a glass or two of a good young Cyprus red.


To transform this recipe into an Irish hot-pot, you add a couple of the lamb’s kidneys, and remove the lid for the last half hour of cooking. You bring the potatoes to the top of the stew, and put them back in the hot oven to brown the edges. I like to add a couple of dumplings per person to this stew (put into the pot 45 minutes before serving)

Fennel Braised with Tomatoes

clip_image004         Plainly braised or turned in a little butter our Cyprus fennel is delicious as a side dish to roast meat, or even fried fish. Add another flavour with tomatoes and, with some fresh bread and a glass of wine you have a lovely light lunch.

Ingredients for four servings

2 Fennel bulbs, leaves, tops and choggy bits removed.

2 Sprigs of flat-leaf parsley.

2 Small garlic cloves

Half can (400g size) of tomatoes, drained and chopped (Or two or three fresh, ripe tomatoes, skins removed. I don’t mind the pips, but remove these, too, if you like)

60 ml (half cup) of extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper


1. Cut each fennel bulb in half, from top to bottom, then slice each half length-wise, 1 cm thick.

2. On your chopping board, combine parsley and garlic

3. Chop finely.

4. Place mixture in a medium-size heavy flame-proof casserole.

5. Add the fennel, tomatoes, and olive oil.

6. Season with salt and pepper to taste and pour in 125 ml of water.                                                                                                                        7. Cover and simmer over low heat for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the fennel is tender.

At Last! Cyprus Wine on the Web


Many years have elapsed before Cyprus wines have become properly represented on the Internet. It doesn’t seem long – a few months, perhaps – since I searched the Web and there was not a definitive source of information about the vines, wines and winemakers of Cyprus. Looking recently I found one. It is called Cyprus […]

[Continue reading...]



As yet another year comes to a close (where did it go to?) I realise that I have now been writing professionally about food and drink for almost 55 years. At 85 I wonder if I am – or on the way to be – the world’s oldest food and wine writer? Who cares! Not […]

[Continue reading...]

Patrick Skinner’s FOOD, DRINK AND OTHER MATTERS–November


    THE MEZE TABLE The sight of a meze table fully set is an inspiring one. “How on earth have they done all that?” you ask yourself; but if you look, on closer inspection a lot of the little dishes have come out of jars, cans, packets and the freezer. And you can produce […]

[Continue reading...]



“Vietnam” is a word that excites very different emotions in people of different ages. For the young and adventurous it can mean a back-packing holiday with a difference. For the well-off it may mean comfortable hotels and touring a large country enjoying lush scenery and varied human activity; from a train window on the “Reunification […]

[Continue reading...]