Last week I told you about the Middle Eastern feast and the Turkish butcher shop. This week I wanted to share with you the tricks behind putting together a very easy Mezze Platter. This requires a quick visit to Melbourne’s Arabic precinct and the The A1 Lebanese Bakery, Sydney Road, Brunswick, just a few doors up.
Sydney Road and the suburb of Brunswick features heavily in book one, ‘Awakening the Lost Woman’. It is where my heroine Christina moves to when she starts university. Back then it was a down-at-heel industrial suburb, with cheap housing and rents drawing new immigrants and students. Sydney Road was also once the main highway connecting Sydney to Melbourne and although this is no longer the case the road is still a busy thoroughfare with a mish-mash of shops. Above the shops you can see some of the original ornate Victorian facades built during the gold-rush era in the late 1800’s.
This is Christina’s first impression of the flat she eventually moves in to…
Sydney Road Flat
I had been boarding with a woman who took in country students. We didn’t ‘click’. I hated the long commute to and from the dreary outer suburbs, so it was with some relief I found the one room flat above an old shop front near JD. It was cheap, near work and just a short tram ride to uni.
The entrance was right on busy Sydney Road. The small plaque set into the decorative façade said 1880. After climbing the narrow staircase I opened the door onto one large room. An ornate plaster rose decorated the ten foot ceiling. Two grand windows, facing the street, lit the room. Against the back wall was a rudimentary kitchen with an old enamel gas stove and a sink cupboard. A small bathroom was tucked into the corner, barely hidden by a rickety old screen. Despite it being filthy with nicotine stained walls and pigeon shit piled below the windows, I could see what it could become. I couldn’t wait to move in and make it mine.
We’ve been coming to the A1 bakery since the kids were little and it’s become a Saturday lunch ritual. At first it was a real culture shock and I tried to capture this feeling when Christina takes her parents to the bakery.
We were all starving and I wanted them to try some of the food I’d discovered on this vibrant street. Sydney Road was home to a vast array of middle eastern shops. The street was teeming with life. Burqua clad women buying exotic looking food, men sitting outside cafes smoking hookahs, families gathering to share delicious flatbreads at the Lebanese bakeries. Even grandfathers carried boxes of sweet pastries, gift wrapped to bring to the homes of friends.
What would my parents be feeling in this alien environment? I took them into my favourite bakery across the road and waited in the queue to buy the manoushe, Lebanese pizza.
But Brunswick, and Sydney Road, is becoming a gentrified, a bit like Brooklyn. Slowly the Middle Eastern shops are being pushed out by hipster cafes, vintage clothing stores and the hottest new restaurants. Luckily the A1 bakery has stood the test of time and is still a thriving business keeping us all fed with delicious Lebanese pizza’s, sweets and breads.
I needed to pick up a few things for Saturday nights dinner. It was late Friday afternoon and the bakery not so busy. At lunchtime the place is packed with hungry diners.
I went to the counter and couldn’t resist ordering some of my favourite pizza’s. They are unbelievably cheap and priced from $1.50.
All the pizza’s are made fresh. While I waited I chatted to Daniel, Windy and Tarek about my book and how their bakery featured heavily in the first few chapters. I told them I wanted to explore the idea of how food helps break down social barriers. Daniel liked this idea and extended the concept by taking me out the back to show me how the pizza’s were being made, to get a closer look at the bakery about which I’d written so extensively.
Windy was just taking chewy loaves out of the oven.
The weighed up yeasty dough sat proving before being rolled.
My absolute favourite, spicy lamb, was being made.
Across the kitchen another delicious and beautifully light pizza was being assembled…zataar, sujuck, feta, tomato and spinach.
Scrumptious spinach and feta pies awaited one more fiery blast in the main oven before being ready to serve.
At the back of the bakery I picked up some supplies…olives, dolmades, spices, tahini, pickled turnip.
It was a bit late in the day for a coffee but I would happily have downed 2 of these on our regular Saturday lunch. Even better, at $2.50 a cup, it is probably the cheapest coffee in Melbourne.
In the cabinets are the sweet treats.
Often I’ll buy a selection of baklawa, knaifi, semolina cake or date biscuits rather than bothering to make a dessert.
My pizza’s were ready, my grocery shopping done and flatbread bought. If I hit the roads now I’d beat the traffic.
When I got home the Lamb pizza (right) and Haloumi Cheese pies (centre) were wolfed down and I was everyone’s favourite human. I reserved the bitter herb Zataar pizza for the Mezze platter. If you are not eating the pizza’s straight away it’s better to order them par-cooked and cold (they freeze really well). Heat them and finish the cooking just before you’re ready to serve.
So much of this food has now become a pantry staple,always on hand and really easy for me to put together a quick mezze platter. This is what we ate on the night of the feast…
FLAT BREAD CRISPS AND AN EASY MEZZE PLATTER
The flat-bread comes in packs of 5 ($1, or 80c for day old bread, and ridiculously cheap). Today I will use 3 for the crisps and save 2 to serve fresh with the dips.
For the crisps, drizzle and spread a little olive oil over the bread. Then sprinkle with paprika, cumin and salt flakes. Any spice mix will do, just put together whatever takes your fancy…think rosemary, cracked pepper, sesame seeds and lemon for an Italian antipasti platter?
Stack and cut bread into quarters,
Place wedges on tray and bake in a hot oven till bread becomes golden brown and crisp. This won’t take long so keep a close eye on your oven.
Once removed from oven let crisps continue to dry on a cake rack. The crisps keep for ages if stored in an airtight zip-lock bag.
In the meantime choose a couple of dips. I’d frozen a huge batch of hummus and babaganoush so all I had to do was raid the freezer. The bakery make a delicious range of traditional Lebanese dips and I always use these if I have none at home. But honestly store-bought dips are fine.
The olives I coated in lemon juice, zest, chili, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Instead of the usual crudites I mixed batons of carrot with bright purple pickled turnip. A really pleasant salty/sour combo.
And for something a little crunchy, a half cup of ajvar (eggplant and spicy pepper pickle) mixed with 1/2 cup of roughly crushed almonds.
And this is how it all looked. A platter in minutes with very little stress.
I understand that some of these ingredients might be hard to find but… write a list, google your nearest Middle Eastern deli and take yourself on a bit of a culinary adventure.
And if that’s a bit too scary, drop me a line and next time you’re in Melbourne I’ll take you to Sydney Road myself and introduce you to some of the gorgeous people like Billy, Hafize, Daniel, Windy or Tarek, all keen to share some of their rich culinary world with food lovers like us!
Thanks for reading.
Cheers, Anna x
Love you to read my books
The Lost Woman series follows the sexy adventures of Christina as she makes her way through a world of new media, design, fashion, travel, and … men.
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