…from the California Kitchen
How you doin’? I can’t help but smile when I tell this story, although it’s always better told in person over cocktails. We were contacted on the internet to submit our credentials to develop a unique Lebanese restaurant concept for people in Azerbaijan. One week later we were awarded the project and were asked to come to Baku to meet with the client. Little did we know that this would turn out to be something of a James Bond novel type story visiting many cities and countries in Europe and the Mid-East.
The first thing we had to do was find out where Baku, Azerbaijan was. We found it’s a small country located in a crack between Georgia and Iran—not the safest place in the world considering that there had been a state of war (shooting war) between Armenia and Azerbaijan for years (and it still goes on today). Of course, one never knows what the Iranians are up to.
We were supposed to meet our client in London and travel to Baku with him so he could get us into his country. After waiting a week for Azer, eating at many of the Lebanese restaurants in London we found that he couldn’t get into the UK due to passport irregularities and never showed—a little unsettling to say the very least. Joan and I hopped on plane to now meet Azer at the airport in Baku.
After clearing customs (which wasn’t all that easy), we finally connected with Azer and were whisked to a new hotel, unpacked and had our first business meeting… here is the gist of the meeting. A Russian-Azerbaijani (formerly KGB… yes, for real) living in Baku wanted to open a chain of Lebanese restaurants in capitol cities across Europe. The targets (pardon the pun) were Kiev, Berlin, Paris, London and Washington, DC. It sounded like a secret agent’s hot list to us. So, we put our on trench coats and started on the “mission.”
I must reiterate… this was the strangest project we ever worked on—the details could and will fill a book someday. In the meantime, rest assured we were not involved in any illicit or covert activities for either side.
We developed a restaurant concept named SPOT and opened the first unit in Berlin in a vacated 3-story McDonald’s that was built directly over Adolph Hitler’s Berlin bunker where he took his own life—no kidding. As we dug down deep to fix a foundation leak, we found numerous artifacts—Nazi rifles, helmets, medals and papers that we had to turn over to the German government. This was one helluva experience and I swear it’s all true.
SPOT’s food was fabulous! Our company did a great job in the test kitchen to bring authentic pre-war Lebanese food to the customers of SPOT. I still get a hankering for Man'oushe and Hummus. Man'oushe is a delicious puffy bread that is made in a hot deck oven. It is often topped with za'atar, a popular mix of herbs and spices served in the Middle East.
This recipe is easy and delicious! The flatbread can accommodate other types of toppings on it. The toppings vary from minced meat, feta cheese, fresh herbs like mint, cucumber, tomato and za'atar and is great dipped in hummus.
Okay, here's the Man'oushe (bread) recipe so you can begin to taste the flavors of old Beirut, by way of Berlin and Baku.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Proof time: 1 hour
Bake time: 7 minutes
Yield: 12 pieces
For the dough
2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons honey
3 teaspoons dry yest
6 cups bread flour
3 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
Semolina (for the baking; not the dough)
For the za'atar topping (optional)
2/3 cup za'atar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
To make the dough
How To Serve
Quip of the Day: “I recently purchased a toilet brush. Long story short—I’m going back to toilet paper as soon as possible.”
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