I have traditional Middle Eastern mezze in my fridge, courtesy of Almond Bar, pre-prepared and ready to be popped in the oven and on to a hot grill plate and consumed possibly with a home-made mint lemonade later this afternoon.
These small dishes — koush mehshi (stuffed grey zucchini), lamb kafta, and irresistibly sweet and florally fragrant baklawa — are the product of a cooking class i participated in at Almond Bar as part of the Crave International Food Festival.
For the uninitiated, Almond Bar is a treasure of the Sydney restaurant scene. It’s a Syrian family run affair located in Darlinghurst. This cosy narrow restaurant, with a beautiful engraved wood wall, delights customers with family recipes and wholehearted hospitality.
Having eaten at Almond Bar several times, i jumped at the chance to squirrel away some of the culinary secrets of the Salloum family. And while the cooking class only ran during this month’s Crave festival, the lamb kafta and baklawa are on the daily menu, while koush mehshi is likely to return when grey zucchini season is back in full swing.
In fact, the whole menu is abundantly enticing and i’m already factoring in a return for the traditional Middle Eastern breakfast menu they offer on the first Sunday of every month.
The restaurant is run by sisters Carol and Sharon Salloum. Sharon is the whizz in the kitchen, from where she showcases many of the recipes handed down by her mother, Violet. Carol manages the restaurant.
Violet and Carol were on hand to assist Sharon’s cooking class: Carol delivered refreshing hand-blended mint lemonade, and Violet assisted participants with some of the trickier steps.
This friendly female triumvirate run a well-oiled machine. Sharon has a seemingly infinite knowledge of traditional spice mixes — such as seven-spices, za’tar, and sumac — how best to handle produce, and happily offloaded many of her personal tips and tricks of the trade.
We stuffed grey zucchini with chickpeas, rice, parsley, onion, capsicum, and tomato and liberally seasoned the stuffing with salt and pepper and dash of chili powder. They will be baked in minted tomato sauce.
We moulded kafta — minced lamb mixed with red capsicum, parsley, onion and seasoned with salt and pepper and seven-spice mix — onto wooden skewers ready to be grilled at home.
We prepared baklawa — layers of filo pastry with chopped walnuts and drenched in sugar syrup fragranced with rose water and orange blossom water — in small aluminum trays, ready to be baked at home.
Sharon fed us her own preparations throughout the class so i know when i cook the dishes this afternoon we’re in for a feast. I’ll also be first in line for the Almond Bar cookbook, which is in preparation and expected to be published next year.
379 Liverpool Street
02 9380 5318
Note: The Food Sage attended the cooking class as a guest of Almond Bar and Crave Sydney.