I am not that familiar with Lebanese cooking. Kelowna is rather slow when it comes to ethnic cuisine to be properly established within the restaurant scene.
When I was growing up in Prince George, Northern British Columbia, during the 1990’s it was a completely different story. I grew up knowing the spice of a good Jamaican patty and a Jamaican close friend of the family who would show me how to dance as well as her take on a shepherd’s pie. I would spend afternoons with my mom’s best friend who was from Fiji and her husband from India – freshly made rôti rolled with melted butter was a treat I would ask for regularly.
During Canada Day, Fort George Park would be packed with families lunching al fresco with a plate of each vendor’s ethnic cuisine gracing their picnic blanket: Greek, Italian, Jamaican, Indian, and so on. But sadly no Lebanese, or at least that I can remember as a kid.
Additionally, as a pregnant woman in the Okanagan wine country, I am craving events that are wine/spirit free with a focus on good food. I’ve also been craving breakfast foods more than ever. The Lebanese menu provided by Saj Common Kitchen looked to fulfill my craving requirements exactly.
Saj kitchen, owned by Betty, is predominantly for hourly rental and listed as a “culinary incubator”. If you have the need for a larger commercial kitchen or if you want to plan a party then you can rent out the large kitchen fitted with commercial ranges and ovens, plenty of refrigeration space and anything a professional or serious chef would need to get the job done.
But here’s where the culinary incubator comes in, Saj Common Kitchen also offers culinary classes and ethnic meals including Lebanese Mezza or a traditional Lebanese breakfast. I discovered tickets to Saj’s Common Kitchen via EventBrite after perusing the culinary offerings within Kelowna in the coming months.
Okay now let’s get to it, the food. Lebanese Mezza is composed of what I and many other Canadians might not immediately think of as breakfast food. When we sat down we were treated to saj bread, triangles of pita bread and rounds of flatbread baked with za’atar which is a mixture of herbs, sesame and sumac. These are the vehicles for the vegetables and various types of cheeses: yogurt cheese with olive oil, unripened salted cheese and goat cheese topped with candied pumpkin, honey and pistachio.
Saj bread is one of the stars of the meal due to its versatility. Betty has a wonderful video on the Facebook page (shown above) that shows the challenge of making traditional saj bread which Betty is also photographed holding to demonstrate the sheer size.
Betty, owner of Saj Common Kitchen and our host, instructed us to be inventive with our pairings but traditionally you’d use the Saj bread either make a sandwich-like dish with the cheese and vegetables of your choice or to scoop and pick up your food. I treated it like a charcuterie paring everything with anything in arm’s reach.
As we waited for the second course of food people started to mingle and as I discovered, many attendants were either familiar with Lebanese food and Lebanon or were Lebanese. Our table had plenty of experts to tell us what should traditionally be paired with each cheese and dish, how lightly our coffee should be sweetened and which dishes Betty was toning down the garlic for our pallets.
A traditional Lebanese Mezza has plenty of vegetables and in this case each dish was scaled down as many Canadians have told her that it is too much food! Luckily, there’s never too much food for a pregnant lady and I could keep up.
Served only after mezza is the Turkish coffee. An even stronger version of espresso with roasted and ground cardamom added prior to brewing to make a naturally sweet and powerful kick to your morning. As an avid coffee-lover, I could only handle one cup of this rich brew. Not only because my doctor instructed 2 cups max but I wanted to avoid the jitters throughout the rest of my day. You can buy Turkish coffee to brew at your own home at places like Superstore here in Canada. Look for the added cardamom on the face of the coffee bag or make your own by adding cardamom seeds to your coffee grounds!