Is Arak - Milk of Lions - the right drink for you?
What is Arak ?
Arak is a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean aniseed flavored liqueur. Raki, Zivania and Ouzo are similar alcoholic drinks related to Arak, popular in Turkey, Cyprus, and Greece. Arak – the name in Arabic can be translated as "sweat"- is a colorless, unsweetened distilled alcoholic liqueur that is usually strongly flavored with aniseed. It has absolutely no connection with another similarly named liqueur, Arrack (which comes from an entirely different part of the world). Arak is made by fermenting grapes (though dates, sugar, plums, figs, and molasses can be used depending on the region where it is made) with water, aniseed and – sometimes – some additional sugar. Cheaper Araks have more sugar than actual grapes, expensive varieties have little, if any, extra sugar added.
How to drink Arak
Arak in its pure form is colorless. Stronger than many other traditional liqueurs, Arak is most usually not drunk straight – in its crystal clear state – but is most generally mixed with water and served ice cold: 1/3 Arak to 2/3 Water and ice.
As water is added, Arak takes on a milky, opaque color when water is added. Traditionally, Arak is also mixed with fruit juices or teas.The aniseed liquor has also been nicknamed “halib al seba″ or “Milk of Lions” when back in the old days it was drunk by men in the mornings to show off strength and masculinity along with the belief that such a practice can also bring health. It is usually accompanied by snacks or titbits known as mezza, much like the Spanish tapas or served at BBQ’s.
How Arak is made
It’s a Middle Eastern custom for the local village distiller to throw a party whilst distilling his Arak. Arak is distilled twice – once to coax the alcohol out of the fermented grapes, and once more to blend the alcohol with the aniseed – the quantity of aniseed used in the second distillation has a direct impact on the quality of the resulting Arak.
Arak is mostly stored in clay jars, a tradition which dates back to early Phoenician times. In these jars, the Arak will mature and acquire a mellowness which is peculiar to clay aging.
Dating from sometime in the early Islamic period, this liquor is one of the most ancient libations of a Middle Eastern culture,. Interesting, because of Islam’s prohibitions against strong drink !
How to make homemade Arak - shot in Syria
Arak and Mezza
Arak requires Middle eastern food, like small servings of feta cheese, rice and pine nut stuffed vine leaves, marinated olives, thinly sliced spicy sausages, cracked wheat balls stuffed with raw, chopped lamb, fried mussels, fried cubed lamb liver sprinkled with chopped parsley, red mullet roe blended with mie de pain, olive oil, lemon juice, fried smelts, poached sliced cold lamb’ brains with vinaigrette dressing, roast leg of lamb with vegetables, soy beans cooked in olive oil and tomatoes, plenty of flat bread and good company !
Arak Recipe Suggestions
Although often used as an aperitif, Arak can be an ingredient to Middle Eastern cooking as well.
- 12 king prawn cutlets, peeled and deveined, leave tail on
- 1 clove crushed garlic
- 1 Tsp Olive oil
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 60 ml Arak or Raki (Aniseed spirit)
- 2 Tsp Chopped green onion
- 8 stalks watercress
- 1 radish sliced thinly
- 1/2 cucumber diced into quarters
- 1/4 green chili pepper diced
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2tsp black pepper
- Arrange on a round flat plate a layer of watercress, cucumber, chili pepper and radish on a round flat plate.
- In a fry pan, heat up the oil on a high heat, add garlic, lightly brown.
- Add prawns to the pan and season them with salt and pepper. Add wine and cook, until most of the wine has evaporated, which takes about 2 minutes, flipping the prawns over. Allow prawns to pink slightly.
- Add Arak, and watch out for flambol to rise. Lower heat, add chopped onion. Prawns should be just about cooked. They be slightly firm but not rubbery. cook on low for about 3 minutes, remove from heat, place on prepared dish, and pour over the rest of the cooking liquid on top. Serve with a slice of lemon.
- 450g (1 lb) butter, softened
- 125g (4 oz) icing sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- 750g (1 ½ lb) plain flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 225g (8 oz) blanched almonds, finely ground
- 6 tbsp Arak or Ouzo (Arak is recommended)
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Mix together the butter, sugar and egg yolks until creamy. Mix the arak in well, then sift in the flour and baking powder. Knead into a firm dough, then add the nuts and knead again. Press the dough into small cookie shapes about 5cm (2 in) across and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Sprinkle with a little more icing sugar and allow to cool.
Mussels in Arak
- 1 medium onion, finely diced (can use shallots as well)
- 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1kg of fresh mussels- cleaned
- 125ml Arak
- 50ml dry white wine
- 15g of butter or 1 tablespoon
- 10g fresh corriander (cilantro), finely chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- On medium to low flame, sautee onions/shallots till soft and translucent, about 3-4 minutes.
- Add garlic and sautee for a further 1 minute, stirring often.
- Add Arak and white wine and let it reduce by half, about 2 minutes. Stir often. (If you know how to flamber, you know what to do)
- Add the butter, mussels and salt. Cover and give a nice gentle shake.
- Cook for 3-4 minutes to get moist and juicy mussels. You don’t want to overcook them because they turn dry and tough. Garnish with corriander.