List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Libya
Sometimes all it takes is putting out some intentions into the world to make something little happen, or something a little less cringe. It doesn’t always work out that, by mentioning my hoped next country in the previous cookery post, I will have the recipes and time to do it justice. This week I got exceptionally lucky by finding somewhere they would sell me barley flour, otherwise there would have had to be a last minute replacement nation.
Libya (like neighbouring Algeria) is an interesting case when it comes to a melting point of cuisine types within Africa, as most of these influences are actually quite old – especially when compared to how colonialism shaped some of the foods eaten further south of the continent. By sitting on the westernmost extreme of the Ottoman Empire, Libyan food sees elements coming from the Levantine traditions. It has also seen Mediterranean, North African and Berber influences just because of where it sits bang in the centre of Africa’s northern coast.
As such, there is a whole lot of things that could be made which could be found in Libya – most of them being their own twist on another’s cuisines staple. Since I had both the time and inclination this week – I have made both a main and a dessert. The main being a traditional Libyan food, the dessert being a rather delicious variation on something I am not usually a big fan.
Bazin is a type of unleavened bread you find in Libya that is primarily made of barley flour and can be seen as an analog to the dumplings we Brits put in stews. Despite there only being one ingredient essential to make an authentic bazin, the barley flour, it was weirdly hard to actually find what I needed. Thankfully, you can buy barley flour online and it arrived the day before I planned to make it – so crisis over.
Served with the bazin is a stew made from lamb, tomato, potato and paprika that you mop up with your large dumpling that’s sat in the middle of the plate. Despite how this may look, this is not a time consuming recipe (thanks again Taste of Beirut) – which allowed me to play a lot of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in between oven alarms.
The stew itself was a bit spicy (because I overdid it), but it was fine with that big simple barley dumpling to help temper the heat. Seriously, this is something I would happily make and eat again in the future – maybe I’ll get better at making the central bazin dumpling that looks more picture perfect.
Dessert: Bakalawa bil Jibna
This is unlikely to be the last time that I make a type of baklava for this food quest, but I just couldn’t resist this recipe from Libyan Food. After all, I am more than partial to cheesecake – so a baklava filled with a cream cheese custard flavoured with rosewater was extremely tempting. This from someone who usually finds baklava to be too sickly sweet.
I really should not have worried, because whilst this recipe is sweet – this is far more in the region of what I find delicious. It tastes like it you wrapped the filling of a rose cheesecake in filo pastry and then topped it with some honey-rose syrup. The recipe makes 25 large pieces, and these have already made my mum and my neighbour very happy as I made too much to fit in the fridge.
Now that I have made my own baklava, I really do appreciate how much work it takes to make some of these. Especially those made of homemade kataifi pastry which, despite being delicious, are way too much work for me to attempt right now. I might, however, be tempted to make more baklava in the future.
So it turns out that Libya has a wealth of delicious looking food worth exploring. By researching and making some of these, I feel I have gained a better knowledge of this area other than the awful stuff I’ve seen on the news. I hope that, as I continue to explore the food of this region, I’ll find more delicious stuff. As for the next country, this is still up in the air – but it’s going to be either Asian or European.