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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fast Food

Hummus with Pomegranate
In Orthodox tradition, the time before Christmas is a time of preparation.  Even the word "advent," referring to the coming of the Lord, derives from the Latin "adventus" meaning the coming.  For us, this time of preparation is a time to fast. The time starting with the Nativity is the time to feast.

There are various rules attendant to fasting and some seem rather complicated.  Generally speaking, one is to refrain from animal products.  Specifically speaking, any priest or monastic will tell you that following those rules is nice but meaningless unless you fast/refrain from evil thoughts or deeds.  Someday, I want to follow both the general and specific rules.

Almonds, Olive Tapenade, Red Pepper Puree

While we were in the Middle East, advent began [per the Gregorian calendar].  So, I was startled when our guide mentioned that we would be eating "fast food" -- a term we reserve for quick takeout food or junk food.  But, in cultures where fasting traditions are important, the cuisine of advent or lent can be exquisite. 

Whether we were in restaurants or were experiencing the delightful hospitality of monasteries, the food we ate in Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey was delicious.  The main meal was lunch, which typically lasted a few hours and consisted of 10 or 20 dishes!  The table would be covered with small plates of mezzas [think tapas] -- each interesting and tasty and worth trying and then worth repeating.

Beets with Corn, Parsley, and Lima Beans with Peppers and Tomatoes

One of my favorite dishes was a sauteed Swiss chard with caramelized onions.  Another mezza that I loved was barley with lentils.  No photos of these -- I was too busy eating!  Anyway, just when you think you cannot eat another bite, the main course arrives.

Grilled fish with Potatoes, Lemon and Toasted Pita Chips
Then, when you really think you cannot eat another bite, you change tables ... everyone goes to the fruit and dessert table signifying that the meal will end in about a half hour or so.


Fruits with a delicate Custard

Knafeh or Kadaif

More fresh Pomegranate
The truth is that we did miss wine on this trip.  There was a local wine in Lebanon that was OK, but we're finicky.  The popular beverage with a kick is Arak.  It is a clear distilled alcoholic liquid that turns milky white with the addition of water.  Neither Mr. Wonderful nor I like Arak's anise or licorice flavor, so we avoided it.  While the coffee was good, there was always hot tea or an interesting cold drink.

Lemon and Mint Tea
I know that we were often fasting, but it felt like feasting.

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