Hump Day: Cooking Camels With Anissa Helou
If you follow the blog of Anissa Helou - and you should; nobody this side of Paula Wolfert writes better about Middle Eastern food, offal, or Middle Eastern offal - you've read her missives on desert truffles, Gaziantep katmer, and the exotic-sounding salad of purslane, cherry tomatoes, meqteh and spring onions that turns out to be the one that Michelle Huneven once taught me to make from produce at the local market. (Meqteh is the Arabic word for those sweet, nearly seedless ridged things sometimes called Armenian cucumbers; purslane is the same as what Mexican markets call verdolagas.) You've also read about her various camel obsessions, not just camel burgers in Dubai, but the severed camel heads hanging outside Syrian butcher shops and minced camel kebabs.
"All good Muslims must eat camel meat at least once a year,'' a driver once told her. "Why? Because camels, unlike most animals, are faithful. They don't allow their camel wives to be seduced by other camels!''
But in between asides by cookbook author Fuschia Dunlop on a Chinese camel's foot she once ate in Dunhuang and by former L.A. Times writer Charles Perry on a 10th-century Iraqi camel dish with homemade soy sauce, Helou admitted a few weeks ago that she had never tasted camel's hump - that she had never seen a recipe for it, and that at a recent traditional feast in the women's quarters of a house near Abu Dhabi, she learned that the hump was traditionally reserved for the guest of honor, who in this case was not her. To taste a camel hump, she learned, it would probably be necessary to buy and roast an entire baby camel, $1000 at least.
Did she track down her prey? If you doubted it, you've never met Helou. If you've ever wanted to observe the preparation, cooking and carving of camel hump, her blog provides a rare opportunity. The way things are going, we'll probably see a camel-hump truck parked out behind the Brig within a month or two.