I am very interested in the food of the Middle East [ a fascination which probably began at school in London, where Jewish friends would invite me home and, from their mothers, I would learn something of their culinary traditions] and the echoes of it that you find in other Mediterranean countries.
A cookbook I use a lot is Diane Seed's Top 100 Mediterranean Dishes. [This might be an updated edition of it. The one I have was published by the BBC.] The recipes in it work better for me here than they did in the UK because of the freshness of the authentic ingredients. But I still have to send to Britain for some of the spices! For example, there is sumac in the dish in the photo which is called Syrian Chicken. According to my reading, the plant grows here but I have never seen the spice for sale in Sicily. For this recipe you line your casserole dish with flat bread and layer onions, chicken [I use thigh fillets], sumac and seasoning, drizzling all with olive oil. Then you make a lid from more bread and drizzle oil over that, too. The pane arabo on sale here is perfect for it.
I've mentioned previously that lamb is difficult to obtain here, except at Easter or from the frozen food centre. Well, last week I asked one of the nearby butchers to ring me if and when any came in and, as I was passing the shop yesterday, he rushed out and cried, "Signora! Signora! C'è dell'agnello!" ["There's lamb!"] If I had been a car, I would have screeched to a halt. So in I went and got some chops, some pieces and, for the first time since I've been here, some minced lamb. [I have frozen it all in small quantities.] One of the dishes I like to cook with minced lamb is Claudia Roden's Baked Kibbeh*. Now, as I hadn't cooked this since I left the UK, I couldn't remember all the ingredients until I looked the recipe up again [and it took me all day to find it as I had misfiled the cutting - aarrrgh!] and it contains bulgur wheat, which is not available here. What I want to know is, what can I use as a substitute? In Middle Eastern Food Roden says that there are Jewish versions of kibbeh / kubba made with matzo meal and she gives recipes for these in The Book of Jewish Food. But I can't get matzo, either! She also states that a ground rice version is made in Egypt. I had thought of using couscous. Are there any kibbeh makers among my readers who know whether couscous would work or who have other suggestions? I would be most grateful to hear from you.
There is general information on kibbeh here.