Lebneh and jam, my new killer combo for late night munchies

Sushi with the lovely blogger behind Dubai-bites. An evening of Kashmiri chai and chatter at Tea JuncTion. And I still felt the need to swerve* off the road for more food last Thursday night, only for this beautifully irresistable creation…

…a lebneh and jam manosheeh.

*safely I might add, since my dad is reading this post and my car keys risk being be confiscated, no matter how old I am – and rightly so – for rash driving. If there were a safe last minute swerve, indicators and all, I had executed one right there.

I’d been splitting hairs as I approached the u-turn stop light.

…[amber] mmm…manakish, I love manakish! Should I try that joint? Naaaah, it’s late…

…[red] I slowed to a stop, still fixated by the tiny green “Manakish” sign across the road, jammed in between a line of restaurants close to Lamcy in Oud Metha. But I do have the munchies! …or should I just nibble on something at home? Except that there’s nothing as yummy as manakish at home, so maybe I should…? But am I really thaaaat hungry? Yes I am. DONE. I’m going there.

[GREEN] …hm. naah, maybe I’ll just come back.

And then, just as I was about to pass it right by, that dingy green Manakish sign called out to me like the wicked queen with the apple. Yes, but wait ’til you taste one, dearie. Like to try one? Go on. Go on, have a bite. [sinister wicked cackle]

Within seconds, I had parked my car in a fortuitously empty parking spot. The fickle woman in me had melted into that little girl in front of a candy floss machine. Yes, I want it. I SO want a bite.

As I strolled in, I saw the typical makings of a Lebanese corner bakery. The guy near the shawarma spit. The Arabic soap opera playing on the TV against the wall. The warm bready scent from the manakish ovens inside. And then I paused. Here was something unexpected — Bob Marley and the rest of Jamaica painted on the walls?!

That’s when it hit me. This used to be none other than one of my former, most loved, and now-closed, restaurants in Dubai – Bluefields (that I’d blogged about here last year). The Jamaican gem of a place that had introduced me to oxtail stew and one of the best vinegar-soaked grilled red snapper creations I’ve ever deboned and dug into, had now been annexed to the Mount Lebanon restaurant next door. My heart sank as memories of slow braised oxtail meat and Jamaican roti came flooding back to my mind. The Lebanese bakery hadn’t yet redone the colorful walls that were Bluefields’ legacy, in fact, they’d even left the Bluefields name on the top of their green signboard — something I noticed days later as I flipped through my photos. They’d presumably just taken over and switched out the bottles of allspice with tubs of za’atar. This whole plan of mine suddenly felt so wrong…I should have just gone home.

Well luckily for me, I stayed. Even luckier that I bothered to read through the manakish options, and to try something different from my usual za’atar and cheese manakish. And luckiest that the friendly server advocated the manosheeh with lebneh, a sort of Greek-style strained yoghurt, and jam. I can ram my head against a corrugated concrete wall for being surrounded by Lebanese bakeries in the city, and not ever having tried this brain-dead simple combination before. It was so classic, so timeless, SO ridiculously good. If an artist threw creamy splodges of sour lebneh against a round dough canvas, swirled in thick blobs of sweet tangy apricot jam, and dotted in nutty black sesame seeds across the wet layers, all with eccentric artistic flair, this is the priceless piece of modern art he’d come up.

The manosheeh base had this perfect pizza-style crispiness, just thick enough to hold the weight of thick strained yogurt, yet thin enough to fold over and eat like a sandwich for brunch. Or as in my case, for a midnight snack, which is really the best time to enjoy brunch foods anyway.

Oh, if it weren’t obvious already, this manosheeh has made my Best Seven of 2011 list, ousting Kosebasi’s sun-dried tomatoes, which are undoubtedly still awesome, but that have had to give way to even better eats that have been making my plate throughout the year. Here’s a picture of the old Best Seven of 2011 list, so that you can bid a bittersweet adieu to Kosebasi’s tomato starter before it gracefully steps off winners’ podium.
Bye bye sun dried tomatoes.
Back to my lebneh-jam-sesame-seed combination, which is so versatile and inspiring that I’m going to start playing around with it on weekend mornings. Maybe simply smeared between two slices of toasted bread and paired with a cup of steaming hot chai. Or a scoop of lebneh dolloped onto American-style pancakes, thick apricot-maple syrup drizzling down the edges, and a crunchy sesame seed garnish. Or as inspired by a recent BBC GoodFood magazine recipe, lebneh and jam slathered between two halves of a French brioche, rolled in egg, thrown in a hot skillet french-toast style, and finally slid off onto a plate alongside some sesame-sprinkled grilled apricots.

I’d have attempted a Lebanese-Jamaican rendition too…but for now, having noshed on Mount Lebanon’s manosheeh against the colorful murals of Bob Marley and the rest of Jamaica, I’d say that my nightly experience last Thursday comes pretty darn close.

Bakery / Cafe right next to Mount Lebanon Restaurant
On the road opposite Movenpick Hotel, Oud Metha
Phone: +971 (4) 335-7377

Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

9 thoughts on “Lebneh and jam, my new killer combo for late night munchies

  1. Sally says:

    Love the Bob Marley combo! Bread and jam is great in all incarnations.

  2. Farheen says:

    Best things in life always turn out to be the simplest ones tooo!! Post + Manakish = Yummmilicious!!

  3. Devina Divecha says:

    Kindly do not make me laugh out loud in the middle of a work day while I aim to stay professionally silent but fail :P
    Haha nice one.

  4. dina says:

    Lovely one, really feels as if we were walking with you as you strolled into the place and had the bite!!! Im running to the fridge to dig into the labneh Ive got..Ta!

  5. InaFryingPan says:

    @Sally – Agreed, but the key is the lebneh, bread + jam + creaminess of some sort = hallelujah.

    @Farheen – Tell me about it. Gimme a tub of jam, a tub of lebneh, and a bunch of sesame seeds, and even I could whip up some wicked magic in my kitchen within minutes! (ok that might be stretching it…unless I threw it between two slices of toast. But even then it would be pretty darn good.)

    @Devina Divecha – muauahahahahaa…food over serious work, any day! I’m glad you have your priorities right lady ;) Treat the boss out to a manakish and all will be taken care of.

    @dina – Bon appetit! [Hm…why don’t I keep tubs of lebneh in my fridge? I need to start stocking up if I’m going to start experimenting with this combo…]

  6. Rashmi Chadha says:

    This is beyond brilliant ! Im drooling……………Promise to take me here when I visit ??????? x

  7. saleem says:

    Must try labneh with jam – why would I take your car keys away ?

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Rashmi Chadha – OF COURSE! How is that even a question – you just get your sweet self over here, and we’ll knock out all the veggie and dessert treats on my Best Seven of 2011 list…and more!

      @saleem – …to be discussed over dinner. ;)

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