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Le Mignon, where the only thing that groans is the table

PUBLISHED: 16:22 09 April 2009 | UPDATED: 16:06 07 September 2010

BY BRIDGET GALTON LEBANESE cuisine is characterised by a table-groaning feast of Middle Eastern dishes such as hummus, falafel and lamb kofta. Beirut-born Hussien Dekmak opened Le Mignon restaurant, famed for its authentic home-style cooking, in Camden Town in 1997. Now he

LEBANESE cuisine is characterised by a table-groaning feast of Middle Eastern dishes such as hummus, falafel and lamb kofta. Beirut-born Hussien Dekmak opened Le Mignon restaurant, famed for its authentic home-style cooking, in Camden Town in 1997.

Now he is sharing his expertise with a cookbook of dishes from his native country.

"In Lebanon, the table is always full," he writes in the introduction. "Soups, salads, mezze and main dishes are all served at the same time and shared around."

The Lebanese Cookbook, (Kyle Cathie, £14.99) hopes to show how easy it is to conjure up the Lebanese dishes based on vegetables, nuts, pulses, olive oil garlic, herbs and aromatic spices.

It's simple, healthy food made with fresh ingredients, says Dekmak, and a quick flick through reveals he's not kidding.

His lentil soup is flavoured only with an onion and a tablespoon of cumin, his rocket and radish salad by olive oil and lemon juice, his hummus by salt and lemon juice (ice is the magic ingredients for smooth consistency, apparently).

But the recipes are light and fresh, zinged up with a squeeze of lemon or chopped coriander and mint and you can learn a thing or two - that Cos lettuce is the most popular in Lebanon, and sumac is a spice made from the dried powdered berries of the sumac tree.

For a cook seeking more challenging fare there are dishes such as aubergines stuffed with rice, tomatoes, herbs and something called Lebanese seven spice (cloves, cumin, nutmeg, coriander, cinnamon, pepper and paprika) or meat pastries filled with lamb, pine nuts, cinnamon and labneh (thick home-made yoghurt).

There is also kibbeh, a traditional Lebanese dish that involves stuffing minced lamb, onion and pine nuts inside a dough of more minced lamb, bulgar wheat and spices before it is cut into squares and baked.

At the back, dessert involves a few milky or rice-based puddings but, no offence, it's not what you go into a Lebanese restaurant for.

The main dishes mostly revolve around lamb, (although there are a few chicken and fish recipes here) many are very simple, no wonder Dekmak sources his ingredients from Lebanon to ensure his dishes contain maximum taste.

This one-note tendency is my problem with Middle Eastern cuisine - it's a once a month eat - although I reserve the right to eat the shawarma lamb more often.

Thin slices of lamb shoulder marinaded overnight in orange, lemon, garlic, bay, cloves shawarma spices, vinegar and mastic powder (an aromatic resin) then baked for 20 minutes and served in pitta - a rich man's doner kebab if ever I heard it.

The Lebanese Cookbook by Hussien Dekmak (Kyle Cathie, £14.99)

Bridget Galton

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