An introduction to the varied ingredients of Lebanese food, as taken from our second cookbook.
Eating food at Comptoir, as in Lebanon, is all about sharing, and the way we do that is by having lots of small dishes on the table at once so that everyone can try a spoonful from different dishes as opposed to separate plates served to each guest. We call this way of eating a mezze (pronounced mez-ay), and it’s our tradition rather than a modern thing. With the recipes in the book, think about having a few different dishes on the table for the meal, some served cold and made ahead combined with other quickly prepared recipes.
What I miss most about Beirut is the huge bunches of mint you see at the markets. You sometimes find them at Asian shops here, but there’s something slightly depressing about the tiny packets containing just a few sprigs that you usually see at the supermarkets. In our kitchen we have so many uses for mint: infused to make a type of tea, chopped and mixed with labneh or yoghurt, steeped in syrup to make a cold drink or sorbet, chopped into salads or mixed with raw meat. What I’m really saying is make the most of it and don’t waste it. Put fresh mint in a man’ousha or a wrap and it changes the whole flavour. It can even be dried in a low oven so that the leaves can be crumbled. It loses that fresh aroma but instead takes on a curious flavour closer to black tea that we use in some dishes. When you buy mint, don’t be in a rush to wash it and don’t just cram it into a corner of the fridge like a cabbage. Treat it with the care you’d give to fresh flowers: have a jug ready filled with.