Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Lebanese winter brunch: kishk and bayd bil lahmeh

A steaming bowl of kishk on a winter’s day will warm you up in no time. This tangy, sour soup is made from fermented yoghurt to create a creamy, satisfying meal, which is often served at breakfast in Lebanon.

Across the Middle East, Turkey and the Balkans, kishk has different names and different uses, but Yotam Ottolenghi says in The Guardian that the Lebanese (along with Syria, Jordan and Palestine) describe kishk as the preserved fermented yoghurt and wheat.

“At the end of summer, just after the wheat harvest, bulgur is made by boiling, drying and crushing the grain. This is then mixed with the yoghurt, spread on a tray and left until the grain has absorbed all the liquid. The kishk grains are then spread on cloths and left to dry in the sun; a final rubbing reduces them to a powder.”

Another chef I admire, Maureen Abood, says this food preservation method in Lebanon is known as ‘mouneh’, and is necessary to survive during the winter months in the mountains.

While kishk is added to soups and stews as a thickening agent (as well as a powerful punch of flavour), in this instance, I was given it to eat as a breakfast soup. A small amount of minced lamb is stirred into the reconstituted kishk to make a comforting dish which reminded me of a garlicky porridge (check out Maureen’s kishk on her beautiful blog Rose Waterand Orange Blossoms).

Kishk powder
Mixed with a little lamb mince

I was struggling to describe the taste, and on reading Ottolenghi’s column, he did so perfectly: “Its popularity derives from a depth of umami flavour similar to that you might find in a mature cheese such as parmesan.” Parmesan, that's exactly right!

Served with the kishk soup, was man'ouche, which I tried when I visited Beirut over the summer. But alongside za'atar man'ouche – which I adore– a thicker version of the salty kishk with chopped tomatoes was spread on the dough and placed in a hot oven like a pizza.

Kishk man'ouche
Kishk man'ouche and zata'ar man'ouche

This hearty brunch of kishk soup was also accompanied by minced lamb with eggs, which in Lebanese is called ‘bayd bil lahmeh’. The eggs were thick and luscious from the lamb fat – another substantial breakfast, which reminded me of a lamb shakshuka, minus the tomatoes. I thought this would be my favourite dish of the brunch feast, but it was definitely the kishik.

Unlike my ful breakfast in Beirut, which is complemented by mint and onions, this breakfast was partnered with calmer vegetables including radishes, cucumber and peppers. And of course, like all Lebanese meals, flatbread is used to mop up the meat (and to dip in your kishk soup).

All washed down with a minute Lebanese cup of coffee

I love how breakfasts in Lebanon are so varied, from sickly sweet knafe to slightly bitter ful. Us Brits have bacon and eggs, cereal, and that's about it. And while pancakes are a staple on brunch menus and avocado toast is the hottest trend to hit London’s food scene in recent years, don’t kid yourself, the first comes from across the pond, while the latter is distinctly down-under.

After writing this blog for the last 18 months I hope it shows how it is possible to expand your breakfast repertoire and, especially with my Middle Eastern learnings, it’s definitely OK to add a bit of spice to your morning meal.

For more Lebanese breakfasts, read my Breakast in Beirut blog post.