I attended a Lebanese cooking class last week, expecting to just learn the secrets behind one of my favourite cuisines, which I did... But on top of that, I also met an inspirational woman, who has allowed me to share her story.
Norma Dakhoul runs a self-titled cooking school called Norma's Lebanese Foods. How she got there, is fascinating.
You see, Norma was once a hairdresser. She says she left that to pursue something different and ended up taking a secretarial course, which landed her in an assistant role within the motor industry. This meant she went from working in the vibrancy of the city to the industrial scenes of Wetherill Park, approximately 34km west of Sydney.
Adapting to change has never been an issue for Norma, who grew up in a migrant household, in a small village in the north of Lebanon. She passionately tells me that although her parents were married in Australia in the 1950s, her father's love for Lebanon led the whole family back and forth several times. This cultural influence is strongly projected once Norma starts the food preparation and warmly talks of the flavours she grew up with.
Her strong family values are also obvious throughout the cooking class as she frequently offers tips for family meal planning, adapting to the needs of the different appetites in her household.
After the birth of her first child, Alex (now 14), Norma became a stay-at-home-mum. And shortly after the birth of her second child, Victoria (now 12), her entrepreneurial drive was strong.
While her first food-related business idea of lunch catering was short-lived, Norma went on to convert her dining room into a hair salon and thus began the satisfying journey of working for herself.
However, she eventually developed RSI (repetitive strain injury) and was left in limbo.
What's surprising is that next, she bought a tile shop! Completely out of her comfort zone, she quickly forced herself to learn to read architectural drawings and developed a basic understanding of the building industry to service her customers.
Unhappy with the lifestyle of working long hours in a trade which she was not passionate about, Norma sold the business after 2.5 years and earlier this year, moved onto her most obvious passion - food.
Norma's down-to-earth personality creates an easy learning environment and her health-conscious approach to traditional Lebanese cuisine is lovable.
During this class, I am taught a smoky baba ganoush, fattoush (also known as peasant salad or queen of the salads), kafta, batata harra and namoura, a fragrant semolina and yoghurt slice.
Here's the recipe for the kafta:
Kafta is a versatile mixture of lamb mince that can be stewed with homemade tomato sauce, chargrilled over a barbeque or pan-fried. It can also be shaped into patties for a tasty burger or spread onto a piece of Lebanese bread for a quick pizza.
Kafta is so delicious, I didn't realise it was so easy to prepare!
Recipe by Norma Dakhoul
Makes 18 small sticks
500g fine mince, lamb
1 cup parsley
1 large onion
A piece of red capsicum, approximately 2x10cm
1½ tsp salt
1 tsp all spice
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ hot paprika
Place onion, parsley and capsicum in a food processor; blend mixture until coarse. Transfer to a large bowl, add the spices and knead until well combined. You may need to add a few drops of water so the mixture comes together.
Divide the mixture into 18 portions about the size of an egg. Insert the skewer through the kafta and mould to desired shape. You may need to dampen your palms to avoid kafta sticking to your hands.
Drizzle some olive oil over the kafta sticks and cook in heated skillet for 2 minutes on all sides.
Norma's Lebanese cooking classes are infused with culture and the feast at the end of the demonstration is well worth the wait. We finish off with a slice of nammoura, a shot of Lebanese coffee and a long conversation about Sydney's Lebanese dining scene.
For a taste of Lebanon, Norma recommends the following restaurants -
328 Church Street, Parramatta, NSW
Phone: (02) 9633 1611
379 Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst, NSW
Phone: (02) 9380 5318
ARAX Fine Lebanese Cuisine & Wood Fire Pizza
670 Willoughby Rd, Willoughby, NSW
Phone: (02) 9958 1518
175 Wattle Street, Mt Lewis,NSW
Phone: (02) 9707 3055
Chahine Lebanese Cuisine
Shop 3, 7-9 Cross Street, Bankstown, NSW
Phone: (02) 9709 8081
30b Haldon Street, Lakemba, NSW
Phone: (02) 9740 3589
For more information about Norma's cooking classes, including The Passion & Taste Of Lebanon events held during the Crave Sydney Food Festival, visit the below website.
Norma's Lebanese Cooking Class
1st Floor, 70 Bronte Road, Bondi Junction, NSW
Phone: 0413 354 058
JENIUS and a friend attended Norma's Lebanese Cooking Class as guests of Affinity PR and Norma Dakhoul.