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19 May 2011

Wild Fennel & Potato Fritters, Taste Lebanon News & The Wonderful Man Behind Za’atar Zawtar

Wild Fennel & Potato Fritter

It’s hard to define Abu Kassem in a few words but genuine, humble and generous would be a good start.

Wild Za'atar

He is known for the za’atar he grows in the fields surrounding his home in the south of Lebanon and considered to be one of the few enterprising farmers who started domesticating the wild za’atar plant (thyme), which was previously only collected from the wild. He’s since developed the brand Za’atar Zawtar which combines the fruits of his labor, namely the za’atar mixture which includes dried za’atar, sumac, salt and toasted sesame seeds.

Wild fennel & Potato Fritters

I first met Abu Kassem last year when Kamal Mouzawak of Souk el Tayeb introduced us and suggested I pay Abu Kassem a visit in his village of Zawtar. I shook Abu Kassem’s hand, exchanged a few words and told him I would be visiting him in the next month.

I’ve since returned several times, with my own family and also taken Taste Lebanon guests to visit him and his lovely wife, Fatima, in the lush surroundings of Zawtar which include picturesque rolling hills (you’d think you were in Tuscany) and the meandering Litani River.

Wild fennel & Potato Fritters

On one of my recent trips to Abu Kassem’s, we drove through some narrow, dirt roads to reach one of his fields when he asked me to pull over quickly. He got out, walked off track and then hunched over. I knew he was picking something as I’ve seen him do this before when he introduced me to the varieties of wild za’atar. This time though he returned with a bushel of wild fennel. “hol elkon” (for you and your family) he said with extended arms. He then went on to share his wife’s recipe ratio for making them into fritters.
Potato Fritters made with Wild Fennel

Fatima’s recipe only included flour, the herbs & eggs but when I got home I noticed some potatoes that were on their way out and decided to incorporate them into the recipe. They really turned out lovely and while you could bake them, if you wanted to, I personally find the “crispiness” you get from frying them so satisfying.

Note: I have just launched a new website for Taste Lebanon which also includes new services that we offer such as cooking workshops and more. If you want to join us on the 3rd edition of Culinary Journeys across Lebanon (September 15th-23rd 2011), then be sure to head on over and register as soon as possible. The next one is going to be a filmed documentary in collaboration with the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism, get in touch for more information.

Wild Fennel & Potato Fritters, Taste Lebanon News & The Wonderful Man Behind Za'atar Zawtar
 
Author:

Ingredients
Wild Fennel Potato Fritters
  • 700g of potatoes (around 4 medium sized) shredded and juice squeezed out
  • 300g Wild Fennel leaves or dill, finely chopped
  • 50g of flour
  • 4 cloves of garlic, pressed
  • 3 eggs, combined
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of hot pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of allspice
  • Vegetable oil for shallow frying (depends on skillet size)
For the Tarator
  • 250ml tahini
  • Juice of 1-2 lemons, to taste
  • 2 garlic cloves- pressed
  • Water-enough to dilute to a creamy consistency
For the Tahini
  • mix together the tahini with the garlic and juice of 1 lemon. You will notice a thick paste develop. This means you are doing right. Now dilute this paste with some water till you reach a creamy consistency (you don’t want it too runny). Now if you feel you need more lemon and salt adjust seasoning to taste.

Instructions
  1. Have the potatoes readily shredded (use the thicker setting on a cheese grater) and remove as much of the juice as possible as this will affect the texture of the fritters.
  2. In a deep skillet, pour in enough oil for shallow frying (you want to cover about half of the fritter patty) and adjust heat to medium-high
  3. Combine the shredded potatoes, chopped wild fennel leaves (or dill), garlic, hot pepper, allspice, salt, flour and egg. Mix well and then shape into  palm-sized patties. Carefully place them into the hot oil using a slotted spoon. Fry on each side for about 2-3 minutes.
  4. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool for a minute on grease proof paper.
  5. Dish up with lemon wedges and tarator sauce on the side. Sahtein!

 

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22 thoughts on “Wild Fennel & Potato Fritters, Taste Lebanon News & The Wonderful Man Behind Za’atar Zawtar

  1. What a truly lovely person!! I love his smile and how he has his arm around his wife. So sweet. 🙂 The fritters are beautiful and I agree, crispy is best. 🙂

  2. I couldn’t figure out why I was so darn hungry, then checked my email and there was a beautiful picture of Wild Fennel & Potato Fritters – now I understand. I’ve missed your recipes Bethany!!

  3. I met Abou Kassem too and his wife and lovely family and really admired these folks for their generosity and courage in the face of terrible adversity. This bush of wild fennel is amazing! The fritters look just delicious!
    Wishing you the best time on your next tour of Lebanon and looking forward to watching the film related to it!

  4. I failed to mention that you could also include some onions in the recipe with or instead of garlic. Enjoy and many thanks for your kind words. Everyone that visits Lebanon should meet Abu Kassem

  5. My heart strings were pulled back to our lovely, much abused country, that I miss so deeply. I tell my children there is no place else in the world like Libnan and I wish they could experience It like I did. My hat off to you and your wonderful work in bringing the best of our exquisite food to the web! God bless.

  6. I get a warm fuzzy feeling just seeing the pictures of Abu Kassem – such a privilege to have met himself and his family in person. Back home a few weeks now and missing Lebanon lots! And needless to remark, I approve greatly of the addition of spuds to the fritters 🙂

  7. i *love* that top picture of you and abu kassem. without even looking at the other pictures of him and his large smile or even reading your lovely words about him, it just shows that he is so friendly, warm-hearted and generous. and from all that i read here on your blog and elsewhere by you, it seems that that describes the lebanese so well. how lucky for all the people on your taste lebanon tours to experience that firsthand. and speaking of the tour and that outrageous 7 day itinerary… there’s a visit to “a seven-story Middle Eastern sweets castle” ?! — a SWEETS castle ?! 😉

  8. Abu and Fatima look adorable. Their loving warmth is so infectious. And that brick wall behind them in the picture is real! Oh, how I long to experience village life. You were so lucky to visit Zawtar. The potato fritters look delicious.

  9. Bethany, I discovered your blog when I came across Taste of Lebanon, seriously considering signing up for the September session! I absolutely adore Lebanese flavors – or at least whatever we get of it in Dubai – and the thought of visiting a za’atar field is so exciting!

    Look forward to following your blog, and hopefully signing up for Taste of Lebanon!

  10. I’m new to the foodie social world and just discovered your blog! I love it. I am thinking of starting a food blog (am based in Beirut). Any tips? @michakhoury

  11. I just discovered your blog and love it! I enjoyed reading all the posts that I managed to check out in this short period but look forward to reading more. And this recipe looks delicious. Have to give it a try.

  12. What a lovely story and the fritters? Wow. They look absolutely delicious. I’ve just discovered your blog and looking forward to returning for future posts 🙂 I’ve got a little pot of za’atar in the cupboard which I hardly ever use – now I have an excuse!

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