Happy Easter!

If you were observing Lent you are probably celebrating the end of the 40 days with some feasting today. While I’m not religious I am interested in the rituals and traditions of Lent, so I recently attended a demonstration class at The Essential Ingredient with Joseph Abboud, the chef/owner of contemporary Middle Eastern restaurant, Rumi, entitled ‘Rumi’s 40 days of Lent’.

Rumi has been on my to-eat list for a while but my weak excuse for not getting there so far is that it only opens evenings, when my outings are somewhat restricted by a young baby. But after attending Joseph’s class I have renewed vigour for getting myself out to try his take on Turkish, Lebanese and Persian cuisine.

Before attending the class I also had a preconceived notion that demonstration classes were a bit of a waste of time when there were so many chefs I could watch on TV. Now I know the difference is like watching a music concert on a screen and attending the gig. The experience is much more satisfactory in real life and what I didn’t realise is that you actually get to taste the food being demonstrated as well! I thought you just sat around watching an upside-down mirror and taking notes.

Anyway, this demonstration class was themed as a Lentan feast. Over the course of 2.5 hours Joseph and his assistant demonstrated five traditional Lebanese dishes typical of the more restrained meals eaten during Lent – lots of vegetables, mostly vegan fare. If this is fasting, then I’m all for it!

Eggplant M’nazleh. Cubes of deep-fried eggplant folded though a slow-cooked tomato, onion, chilli, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg sauce. As a variation Joseph also sliced the eggplants and deep-fried them until very dark, which I preferred.

Deep fried cauliflower florets (meant to look very dark brown) with caramelised onions, currants and pine nuts. This dish has been on the menu at Rumi since day one and is a delicious way to serve a very underrated vegetable.

Baked fish with homemade tahini and toasted almonds, pine nuts and walnuts. Joseph buys his nuts and other Mediterranean ingredients from Miramar Nut Shop (313 Lygon St, Brunswick +61 3 9387-6805), Basfoods (419 Victoria St Brunswick +61 3 9381 1444) while his olive oil is locally made by Pitruzello Estate (25 Deverall Rd Sunbury +61 3 5428 3055).

Green beans braised with onion and garlic. The kind of dish that his mum would leave on the stove before going to church and it’d be ready when she returned. I’ve never eaten braised beans before and was surprised to find that grey, soggy looking beans can be very appetising!

Ma’mool – date filled biscuits to celebrate Easter and the end of Lent. Date paste is not a traditional filling and Joseph’s approach to cooking is not to change the traditional recipe unless it tastes better or improves the original.

And finally, the decorated eggs that you saw at the top of this post. These look like wood-turned eggs and the trick is to knot the egg inside a stocking with a parsley leaf then put the egg into a pot of onion skins (red or brown) to dye the outer shell. The flavour inside isn’t affected and the parsley leaf creates a delicate stencil pattern.

If all the chat and tasting about food isn’t enough to get you to a cooking class, as an attendee of a class you get a 6% discount off your purchases at The Essential Ingredient. While drooling over the shelves of delectable goodies I ended up raiding their discount shelves of biscuits, spice mixes, panettone and cycling home with a Himalayan salt brick :–)

The Essential Ingredient runs a cooking class schedule throughout the year of local and international chefs that would make your mouth water. Check out the schedule here and book early.

Rumi’s 40 Days of Lent with Joseph Abboud, The Essential Ingredient, Prahran Market, Elizabeth St, South Yarra +61 3 9827 9047

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