Jordan

Jordan is situated in the heart of the Middle East, almost land locked but for a for a short coast on the Gulf of Aqaba. Officially The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan since independence from Britain in 1946. King Hussein ruled Jordan from 1953 until his death in 1999, when his son King Abdallah II assumed the throne. Since 1989, all elements of the Jordanian political system have been on a road to greater democracy, liberalisation and consensus building.

The population of Jordan is estimated at 9.5 million as of 2016. Jordan plays host to enormous numbers of refugees, with 2 million Palestinians, 1.4 million Syrians, 700,000 Iraqis and 15,000 Lebanese. Archaeological evidence shows that humans have lived in what is now Jordan for at least 90,000 years through the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. It has been ruled by the Mongols, the Crusaders, the Ayyubids, the Mamluks and the Ottoman empire.

Tourism in Jordan is affected by regional turbulence but despite this it is still considered to be a major influence on the economy. The most popular tourist attractions are the historical cities of Petra and Jerash. Other highlights include Madaba’s Byzantine era mosaics, the Dana Biosphere Reserve, Wadi Rum, Al-Maghtas and the Dead Sea.

The cuisine of Jordan has developed over the centuries. Popular ingredients include olive oil (they are one of the largest olive producers in the world), herbs, garlic, lemon, tomato sauce and yoghurt. Mansaf is the national dish (lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt called Jameed). Other dishes I came across were Mujaddara (lentil and rice casserole), Freekeh (poultry or meat fried in oil and braised with water, salt, and cinnamon bark) and Kousa Mahshi (meat stuffed courgettes). We had friends visiting for the weekend so I decided to do Mezze, which is a highly popular style of eating in Jordan. I made Kefta (spiced ground meat), Falafel (fried chickpea balls), Tabbouleh (bulgar wheat salad) and Cucumber & mint yoghurt dip. I served it all with flatbreads and pitta breads. It divided the group a little, but overall we enjoyed it.

Rating: (a high) 7/10

Serves 4 with leftovers
Prep time: 3 hours
Cook time: 1 hour

Tabbouleh
½ kg tomatoes
½ cup olive oil
½ cup lemon joice
1 cup cooked bulgar wheat (follow instructions on pack)
2 large onions
3 ¾ cups of finely chopped parsley
3 ¾ cups finely chopped mint leaves
1 tbsp salt

Cucumber & mint yoghurt dip
½ cucumber
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
500g plain yoghurt
1 tbsp salt

Beef Keftas
750g ground beef
2 onions
2 tsp minced garlic cloves
1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
2 tsps salt
2 tsps black pepper
2 tsp ground allspice
1 tbsp oil
½ cup passata

Falafel
2 cups dried chickpeas
1 cup dried broad beans
1 onion
3 cloves of garlic
½ cup of chopped parsley and/or coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander seeds
1 tsp black pepper
Salt to taste
2 tsp baking soda

Tabbouleh
Cook the bulgar wheat according to the pack instructions
Chop tomatoes very fine and sprinkle with salt
Chop onions very fine and add to tomatoes
Add parsley and mint leaves
Stir together with the bulgar wheat
Add lemon juice and olive oil and mix well

Cucumber & mint yoghurt dip
Dice the cucumbers
Crush the garlic with salt & mint; stir into yoghurt
Add cucumbers and serve with mint garnish

Keftas
Preheat oven to 175c
Half the onion and cut about 1/4 of that half into thin slices, then the rest of the onion shred with a hand vegetable shredder OR chop, mince garlic and chop parsley, then add it to the meat
Add seasoning to the meat, salt, ground black pepper and allspice
Drizzle oil on top of the meat mixture and mix with your hands (you can put the mixture in a bag and massage it to avoid getting tpp messy).
Brush oil on the bottom of the baking pan, then press down the meat mixture, from one corner to the other until it is equally spread.
With two fingers, (index and middle) make little lines, from one end to the other. This will speed cooking process and in a way looks like boneless riblets.
Spoon over the passata, and spread equally on the top of the meat mixture, then place those thin onion slices on top, a sprinkle with salt and pepper and a little more parsley
Bake for about 20-25 minutes in the preheated oven. It will shrink from all the sides of the pan

Falafel
Soak the chickpeas and fava beans for at least six hours or overnight
Blend the soaked chickpeas and fava beans, onion, garlic, and chopped parsley into the food processor until all the ingredients are combined into a nice, thick paste
Empty the mixture into a bowl, add the salt and spices, and mix them well with a spatula
Add baking soda to the mixture and mix well
Scoop the mixture with a spoon or your hands to form ball shapes and deep fry them in vegetable oil until they are a nice golden brown colour

 

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Lebanon

Lebanon, officially the Lebanese Republic is a sovereign state in Asia.  It is bordered by Syria to the north and east and Israel to the south

The earliest evidence of civilisation in Lebanon dates back more than seven thousand years in Byblos, where it is said the first alphabet was created.  The country’s name is known to be the oldest in the world and has remained unchanged for over 4000 years.  There are 4.5 million Lebanese in Lebanon and around 18 million living outside Lebanon.

Lebanon’s recent history is one of conflict and suffering. In 1975 civil war broke out, lasting 16 years, eventually ended by a Syrian backed initiative. During the civil war, in 1982 Israel invaded following PLO attacks. Hezbollah (The Party of God), a pro-Syrian Shia military/political movement, with financial backing from Iran, was formed in the 80s to primarily harass the Israeli occupation. It has significantly grown in strength over the years.  Tensions still continue and Lebanon’s borders with Syria and Israel remain unresolved.

Despite the decades of civil war, invasions and terrorist attacks, it is a country that is home to stunning ancient ruins, beautiful mountain vistas and Mediterranean coastline beaches.  Top things to see according to Trip Advisor include the Temples of Baalbek, National Museum of Beirut and the Crusader Castle in Byblos.

The food of Lebanon is considered some of the Mediterranean’s best food – mezze (small dishes), kibbeh (spiced minced lamb in a fried bulgar wheat shell), dhourba bi kousa (courgette & milk soup), daoud Pasha (meatballs with pine nuts).  I decided to make one of their most famous dishes – tabbouleh (bulgar wheat salad).

Rating: 8/10
Prep time: 15 minutes + 40 min for bulgar to soak
Serves: 2-3

1/2 cup bulgar wheat
1 cup boiling water
220g tomatoes roughly chopped
1/2 medium onion finely sliced
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
3 tbsps olive oil
Juice of 1 large lemon
Salt & pepper
1/2 cup black or green olives (optional)

Put the bulgar wheat in a bowl with the boiling water and a little salt. Leave to soak for 40 minutes, then drain.
Take a salad bowl and add the bulgar wheat, tomatoes, onion, parsley & mint. Mix well.
In a separate bowl or jug, beat the oil with the lemon juice and season with salt & pepper.
Pour it over the salad & mix thoroughly.
Put the olives on top and then chill the salad in the fridge for 2 hours.
Add a sprinkling of parsley to garnish and serve.

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Ingredients for tabbouleh
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Tabbouleh
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Temples of Baalbek
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Beirut