A window into Lebanese cooking

Farrah Praisal
If you have never experienced Lebanese cuisine then you don’t know what you’re missing, and if you don’t know a kibbeh from a tabouleh, the Garden Bar and Restaurant is a good place to get your bearings. The food is fragrant, the service is friendly and the breezy garden is a nice change. It’s a cheerful little spot with fresh Lebanese, Western and Thai offerings but it’s the Lebanese dishes that make it a real dining destination. The Garden Bar and Restaurant are indeed a hotel bar and restaurant but they stand alone as a testament to one mans passion for his native treats and sweets. The affable proprietor, Mohamad Jesr, is a well known fixture in Chiang Mai and he pours his heart into cooking the culinary favorites of his birthplace using authentic recipes and ingredients.
Among the many starters available, I think the standout as well as the best sampling dish is the “Mezze Platter” which includes a healthy portion of potato with coriander and garlic, braised cauliflower, hummus, baba-ganouj and mushrooms in coriander and garlic. Mezze is equivalent to Spanish tapas which means “little tastes,” a snacking tradition. Each dish is delicious unto itself but also scrumptious when blended together on a piece of freshly baked pita bread. And fear not…if you fall in love with one of the dishes they are all on offer separately in large portions too. Another personal favorite of mine is the “Head of Garlic Roasted in Olive Oil.” Here the chef takes a whole large head of garlic, slices off the top, covers the garlic in olive oil and bakes the whole thing in foil. The result is delicious, smooth cloves that are easily removed and spread on the accompanying toast for a yummy and healthy taste treat.
On the main course side, one should try the “Kafta in the Oven” made with fresh ground beef, parsley and onions, fresh tomatoes and potatoes baked in a tomato sauce with pomegranate puree. There is also an excellent “Chicken la Kiev” consisting of a beautiful chicken fillet stuffed with garlic, herbs and butter and baked in the oven. You may have noticed that the majority of the dishes on offer are healthy and many are also vegetarian. Another touch that sets the Garden Bar apart are the house-made pickles.
Any visitor to a Lebanese restaurant should also dip into the house-made hummus, pronounced hoomoos, which is a Turkish word meaning “the real thing.” It’s a wonderful, smooth chick-pea puree with a lemony tang and a deep flavour served on that fresh, puffy pita bread.
Desserts range from the Western house-made “Cheesecake” to the Lebanese “Namoura with Almonds and Cream in Lemon Curd and Caramel” and also include delicious sorbets made on site from seasonal fruits. Rumour has it that “shawarma” (a Lebanese version of the Greek Gyro) is coming soon for you lamb lovers as well as a “Cherries Jubilee” for the ‘sweet tooths’ like me. Plans are also in the mix for an indoor area for those who prefer four walls and an air conditioner.
No one is perfect and on some occasions the food can come out slowly, so order on arrival. Everything is fresh – go on a night when you can enjoy a slow food experience rather than a quick bite. If you want to enjoy any of these treats in the comfort of your own home The Garden Bar menu is also available on Meals on Wheels for U. Bon appetit!


PILC’s Satay Chicken

This is another recipe from the PILC charity recipe book called “Our International Secrets” and since the ladies of the club are very international, the recipes cover a wide range of items from different countries that you can produce in the kitchen. I like this satay recipe as you don’t need wooden skewers!

Cooking Method
Heat a wok or large frying pan over high heat. Add the oil, chilli and chicken and cook for 2-3 minutes until golden. Do not put too much chicken in the pan at once - best to cook in two batches - or it will stew, not fry.
Add the snow peas and cook for one minute, then add the combined coconut cream, peanut butter, soy sauce, stock, fish sauce and sugar and cook for a further minute or until slightly thickened.
Stir in the coriander and serve with steamed rice.

Ingredients                   Serves 4
Polyunsaturated oil                2 tbspns
Chicken breast fillets (sliced)            4
Long red chillies                              2
Snow peas (trimmed)              200 gm
Coconut cream                          cup
Crunchy peanut butter            2 tbspns
Soy sauce                            2 tbspns
Chicken stock                           cup
Fish sauce                             2 tspns
Brown sugar                          2 tbspns
Coriander leaves                   1 cups