Category Archives: Middle Eastern

The foods of our past…

I have recently been reading a lot about English food history. It started with an interest in the Victorian era and has developed on from there, and I have now finished my second book about English food history from medieval times to modern day. I find it truly fascinating and I am reminded time and again that nothing is new; no recipe is ever 100% original: we may revise, remodel, recreate, we may update, rediscover old recipes, forgotten ingredients and lost methods, and we apply new methods, modern appliances and ideas, but nothing is ever truly brand new. Food’s been around for too long.

I am loving making these ‘new’ discoveries and learning about our food heritage, so I’d like to share a few fascinating facts in amongst my posts and I hope you enjoy them.

For example, as you know, I love Middle Eastern cuisine and in the UK the recent boom in interest in Middle Eastern cuisine may be responsible for introducing many people to having pomegranate seeds being strewn across salads and savoury dishes, above is an example of one of my past dishes doing just that, as opposed to merely eating them as fruit or in a sweet recipe; I had no idea that we actually grew pomegranates in the UK in medieval times. Likewise, Middle Eastern fare has also introduced many people to the delights of dried barberries, like below, and again, we grew barberries in the UK in medieval times and they were used widely in recipes.

Sweet potatoes have been riding a huge wave in recent years, we’ve baked them, made them into fries and wedges, they’ve been put into cakes and breads and desserts, slices have been toasted, anything that can be done to a potato has been, but the reality is that they’re not new. The methods are new, but not the potatoes. Sweet potatoes are actually the first potatoes that we ate in the UK in the late 1500’s, (and even then they were being cooked with spices and added sugar), white potatoes were introduced soon after but their full popularity didn’t catch on until the early years of the 17th century.

Almond flour, almond paste, almond milk, almond butter – so much the remit of healthy eating these days – again, nothing new here; in medieval times all of these were used widely in cooking, not for boosting health, but for ease. Almond flour was used widely to thicken sauces or in place of breadcrumbs; almond milk was a safer bet than some dairy milk, it also kept for longer, and was sometimes more easily accessible; likewise with almond butter, instead of dairy butter during a period when storing fresh foodstuffs for any period of time was impossible.

For this post, I’d like to focus a bit more on bread…anyone who knows me, or reads my blog, or follows me on Instagram, will know that I am an avid and regular sourdough baker so the ‘rise and fall’ of bread in our food history always interests me…

Bread has featured heavily in every era of British food history, in various forms, as with most cultures and their food histories. In England in medieval times, and for several centuries following, white bread was considered king. The best loaves were considered to be white ‘manchet’ loaves and would have been readily enjoyed by the gentry and aristocracy, and aspired to by those with less means. To achieve this though, bread was often being whitened by unscrupulous bakers for centuries, adding lime, chalk and particularly alum as a bleach. And as industrial knowledge grew and milling capabilities advanced, the wheat germ was being milled out of the grain to make it even whiter, but therefore vastly reducing the breads nutritional value at a time when bread was a key staple of the nations diet.

Down the social scale, breads were often made up of a mix of wheats and grains, depending on what was available, and when their availability was limited, loaves could be boosted by pea powders. When wheat and grain harvests were very poor, whole loaves might be made from peas and beans, so whilst white bread was considered the height of sophistication, it lacked the nutrition, and I imagine flavour, that the bread that the poorer people were being given.

When you think of the rise of artisan bread makers we currently have, and the supposedly experimental breads that are being made with ancient grains, you realise again, that nothing is new. The mixed grain loaves that were considered as breads for the poor would now be considered the better choice by many – I know I’d happily choose a brown or mixed grain loaf over a straight white one. And the use of pea powders is very interesting – current interest for pea protein powders, and beans being used to bake cakes and breads seems so innovative, but they’re not. Which makes you realise just how creative cooks were all those hundreds of years ago.

What I also loved learning about, is the use of ‘trenchers’: these are basically bread plates.

Prior to the ceramic plates that we know today, our ancestors used pewter plates; before that, in Tudor times they used thin wooden boards to eat off…but before ALL of them, in Medieval times, people ate off bread trenchers. These were slices of bread cut especially to be used to eat off. Four-day-old coarse wholemeal bread was cut into 2-3 inch thick slices, about 6 inches wide, and diners placed their meat on the trencher. Alternatively, the trenchers could be hollowed out loaves, much like we sometimes see creative people using to serve soup nowadays.

In grander homes, if the trencher became saturated it was replaced with a new one and the sodden one was thrown to the dogs, or they were collected and given as alms to the poor. In poorer homes the diner ate the trencher as well as part of their meal.

Can you imagine how good that bread must have tasted with the juices of the food soaked into them?

Which is why this fascinates me in particular because in the Middle East if you eat in a Lebanese restaurant, for example, you will often be served your food choice sitting atop pieces of thin round Arabic bread. Only last week, my husband was served his chicken shish (kebab) sitting on a piece of lovely thin bread in our local Turkish restaurant. Throughout the Middle East, marinated meat dishes, lovely salads, even chips, will be served on top of a slice of khobez bread. This means that whatever juices, flavours, dressings and/or oils are on/in the food, soak down into the bread and that piece of bread ends up tasting AMAZING and often the best bit of the meal! Just like bruschetta covered in tomatoes roasted in garlic & olive oil, or a slice of sourdough with runny egg oozing into the holes….hmmmmmm….so good! Is there anything that isn’t good on a slice of bread?

I guess that’s what pizza basically is after all…

So, with this in mind, next time you serve up a salad, maybe tabbouleh, or fattoush, or some tasty marinated spiced meat kebabs or vegetables, especially if they are barbecued, lay a thin bread like khobez or open pitta bread underneath them, or, go the whole hog and ditch the ceramics completely – bring back trenchers I say and enjoy all those lovely flavours soaked into tasty bread! AND save on waste and washing up – what’s not to love?!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these little snippets and that you don’t mind me sharing more in the future 🙂

Happy Easter to those celebrating it, and happy Fiesta Friday to all those bloggers taking part, this week we are co hosted by our wonderful FF founder, Angie, ably assisted by Abbey.

**The information in these books has been collated by historians from letters, diaries and books as well as records, inventories, orders and receipts found or kept from large, grand and royal households, and from the businesses that supplied them. Consequently, much of the information can only be traced back to medieval times, which in the U.K. denotes the period of the mid 1100’s to the late 1400’s, before we entered the reign of Elizabeth I.

EDIT: I’ve been asked by a few people what books I’ve been reading so here is my list so far…

The Art of Dining – A History of Cooking and Eating by Sara Paston-Williams

A History of English Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright

The Greedy Queen: Eating with Victoria by Annie Gray

How to be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman

The Victorian House: Life from Childbirth to Deathbed by Judith Flanders

If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley

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My idea of ‘fast food’…

I don’t eat what is typically called ‘fast food’. I don’t buy or eat any ready made foods, I make everything I eat. I therefore make sure that my fridge contains things that I’ve made, various dishes, sauces, dips, prepared vegetables, cooked grains, at all times, so that I always have choices of my own food readily available. On the very rare occasion that I haven’t got anything immediately and readily available, and I’m hungry and want something NOW, I reach for the eggs…

Eggs cooked in a tomato sauce is my ‘fast food’.

I’ve always got eggs, and I’ve always got a jar of passata (sieved tomatoes), so that becomes my starting point, and then I add whatever takes my fancy from my fridge or kitchen cupboards. This can include any leftover vegetables, as below, any veg that needs using up (like the spinach included above), herbs, spices, chilli sauces, whatever takes my fancy…

And then I make holes in the mix and crack eggs into them and cook them through.

I usually then also add grated or chunks of cheese (as you can see on all three concoctions), sometimes I sprinkle over seeds or nuts, and very quickly, and simply, I’ve got a filling, tasty, healthy, colourful meal….

This can also be a perfect way to top up on protein for a vegetarian like me, particularly after exercise.

If you already make similar dishes, or fancy giving one a go, just grab some passata or tinned tomatoes and start building a sauce; look around your kitchen and take inspiration from what your fridge or cupboards have to offer, and add some texture and flavour and substance; then once you’re happy with it, make wells in the mixture and break eggs into them and cook.

Then, do as I do, and eat it straight from the pan! Perfect!!! That’s your meal right there – fast and fabulous 🙂

Falafels cooked in a aebelskiver/poffertjes pan..

I’ve made falafels many times before, always oven baked because I could just never bring myself to fry them! I’ve also seen posts from people using a poffertjes pan to cook falafels, and other patties and Indian cutlets, and decided it was time for me to finally treat myself to one.

For me, I remember this type of pan from my childhood for making mini Dutch pancakes ‘poffertjes’, but to you it may be an aebelskiver pan, used for making similar Danish goodies. It makes total sense to use them for cooking falafels or patties on a hob/stove with minimal oil. You can see below the tiny drops of oil in each hollow which proved to be a perfect amount…

I used it for the first time today for falafels and I will definitely use it again for these and other concoctions. 

The recipe I’m sharing below is a pretty standard falafel recipe, it is simple to play with it and create your own versions however. Today I threw together chickpeas, spring onions, garlic, dried herbs, spices, chickpea flour and lemon juice and it worked a treat! I got in there with my hands and started making little balls of mix which I flattened slightly in preparation to cook them. 

I have to tell you – I didn’t weigh or measure anything and I produced the perfect number of patties for the pan by pure luck….or sheer fluke!!!

Ingredients

250g dried chickpeas, placed in a large bowl of water and soaked overnight
1 medium red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 bunch flat leaf parsley
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 cayenne pepper (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt to taste
Flour of your choice as needed – I used chickpea flour, but it can be any flour 
Some people also add half a teaspoon of baking powder, I didn’t this time


Method

Wash and drain the chickpeas
Put everything EXCEPT the flour in a blender and chop to a chunky crumb, then put it all into a large bowl
Add enough flour to bring the mixture together in your hands, then create small balls of the mix and flatten them slightly to make the falafel shape 
Put your poffertjes pan over a low/medium heat and place a small amount of oil in each dip and allow it to heat up briefly
Place a falafel in each dip and cook for about 15 minutes depending on the size and the heat your using, I kept checking mine and moving the pan around as it doesn’t sit evenly over the gas on the hob/stove 

I served mine on freshly made homous as is traditional, I highly recommend it! 

I’m taking my falafels to this week’s Fiesta Friday, co hosted this week by the lovely Jhuls and Antonia

Uses for spice mixes…

Picture the scene: you’ve got a selection of spices mixes in your cupboard that you’ve made or bought for a particular recipe and never used again…or someone has bought you a great set of spice mixes from the lovely people at Spice Kitchen, for example, and you don’t know what to do with them, here’s some ideas for you. In fact, this is why I love making spice mixes because you can use them so easily.

Whatever the spice mix, whatever the origin, these ideas will work with whatever you’ve got to hand..

An easy dip

Stir a teaspoon of any spice mix into a small bowlful of natural yoghurt, ideally Greek yoghurt, or a mix of half yoghurt/half mayonnaise. Allow at least an hour for the flavour and colour to develop before serving. Stir again before serving. 

Pimp your homous:

Add a teaspoon of any spice mix to a pot of shop bought homous, or a small bowl of homemade homous. Allow at least an hour for the flavour and colour to develop before serving, it will be even better the next day. Stir again before serving. I particularly like using my Moroccan spice mix or harissa spice to do this. 

Eggs:

Sprinkle a pinch of spice mix over cooked eggs prior to eating.

Stir half a teaspoon of spice mix into scrambled eggs or an egg mixture prior to making an omelette. Try a Mexican spice mix for starters. 

Eggs and tomato sauce in one!

Tomato sauce:

Make an easy tomato sauce and add any of the spice mixes as it cooks.

Soups:

Add a teaspoon of the spice mix to any premade soup, or add several teaspoons to your own homemade soups as you cook the base ingredients.

I’ve made a lot of soups recently, for example, this soup above is made of olive oil, onions, garlic, carrots, water and baharat spice mix. I’ve made similar in the past with Mexican and Indian spice mixes. 

Whereas this soup is made with cauliflower and a Japanese curry powder. 

Roasted chickpeas:

Drain a can or jar of chickpeas and toss with a tablespoon of oil and a couple of teaspoons of spice mix and roast in a single layer at 180C until the chickpeas look roasted and tasty, and before they start exploding in your oven.


Roasted nuts
:

Pretty much the same as above, more details on my post here. 


Rice/grains
:

Stir some spice mix through any cooked rice or grains prior to serving.


Salads
:

Mix a pinch of spice mix with homemade or shop bought salad dressing, or just sprinkle some spice mix over a salad just before serving.

Salsas:

Finely chop fresh mixed herbs, garlic, maybe a chilli, with olive oil, lemon juice/your choice of vinegar, and add some spice mix.


For marinading
:

Cut 2 your choice of vegetables or meat into chunks, put them into a plastic bag (preferably one without any holes) in it, add 2 heaped teaspoons of spice mix and shake the bag to mix it round and cover all of the chicken. Leave in the fridge to marinate for at least an hour, maximum 24 hours before cooking. 

Alternatively, mix a couple of teaspoonfuls of spice mix with a couple of tablespoons of oil and create a paste. Add you choice of veg/meat and thoroughly stir it through the paste. Leave in the fridge to marinate for at least an hour, maximum 24 hours before cooking. 

Or, add a couple of tablespoons of spice mix to a couple of tablespoonfuls of natural yoghurt, below, and marinade as above. 


These work well if you are then grilling/broiling or barbecuing the vegetables/meat.


Roasting vegetables

Toss prepared vegetables in a drizzle of oil and a couple of teaspoons spice mix and roast until ready. More details here

OR…..throw some spice mix into your bread dough! 

I’m taking my spice mix ideas along to this week’s Fiesta Friday, co hosted this week by the lovely Ginger and Suzanne

Moroccan spiced carrots, chickpeas and spelt…

It’s no secret that I love autumn, I love everything about it: the cooler temperatures, the beautiful colours, the changing leaves, the abundance of root vegetables…I didn’t mean to make something that almost epitomises autumn in a bowl, but that’s how it ended up! Maybe it’s just in my soul?!

In the beginning it was going to be a soup, but I can’t always bring myself to blend up the vegetables, they look too good whole, so this morphed into something else, not really a stew because it’s not very liquid, maybe a warm salad, or just as the title of the post says: ‘Moroccan spiced carrots, chickpeas and spelt’. I just kept adding things until I thought it was perfect!

I didn’t measure anything but I do remember how I made it so hopefully I can still share the process and it might be interesting…

In a large saucepan I heated some coconut oil, and added some chopped red onions over a medium heat; after several minutes and once the onions looked liked they were starting to brown, I added chopped garlic, cooked for a minute, then added liberal amounts of a Moroccan spice mix that I made previously. 

Again I cooked this for no more than a minute then added water to stop the spices from burning. I then added a great pile of peeled and chopped carrots, topped up the water until it covered them, added salt and pepper, then brought it to the boil. As the carrots cooked, I added some spelt, then later some chickpeas and chunks of butternut squash that I’d already roasted, chopped coriander (leaves and stalks) and finally some dried barberries for the colour and little surprise shots of their tart sweetness. 

And pretty much left it to bubble away until the carrots were cooked, but not mushy, and the spelt was cooked, adding water when necessary. 

Eating some with some tahini, as I did when it was just made above, you can still see the lovely colours of the individual ingredients. 

By the next day, the flavour had developed even more but the colours had all merged together and become one autumnal palette..

It’s the kind of dish that just gets better and better, and one I’ll be making again and again, and no doubt evolving as I do!

Happy Autumn everyone 🙂

A salad of dreams…

…well, to me anyway!!! 

I’ve made this salad several times recently because it’s been so good! It’s eminently pimpable, and even better 2-3 days later, so a winner in my book.

When I think of the salads of the past, of a bit of limp lettuce, a few slices of tomatoes and a bit of cucumber, I can see why people might think salads are boring…but this is nowhere close to boring. Not to me anyway….red onion, tomato, chickpeas, sweet potato, spices, flavours….it’s all good 🙂

Having just thrown this together, I have guesstimated the quantities that I used, feel free to amend based on taste and discovery…

Ingredients

1 large sweet potato, washed and cut into chunks

2 medium tomatoes, sliced

2 medium red onions, sliced

1 can/jar chickpeas, drained and washed 

1 tbsp pomegranate molasses

1 tbsp tamarind paste

1 tbsp lemon juice

1-2 tsp cumin seeds

1-2 tsp pul biber chilli flakes 

1 tsp amchur (dried mango) powder 

Handful of fresh coriander, chopped 

Handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped (optional) 

Olive oil 

Method

Mix together the tomatoes, red onion, chickpeas, pomegranate molasses, tamarind, lemon juice and spices. Stir it well then leave it for the flavours to develop and the juice to emerge from the tomatoes. 

*I leave mine overnight in the fridge for use the following day, although, it is already tasty once you’ve made it, it will be even tastier after a few hours. 

A few hours later, or the next day, boil the sweet potato chunks until they’re nicely cooked but not disintegrating. Drain and allow to cool slightly.

Put the salad together by adding the sweet potato to the tomato and onion mix, add your coriander and parsley, if using, and drizzle with olive oil.

Serve on its own as a meal, or with a meal, and be prepared to want to lick the plate! 

Note: if you find the mixture of tangy flavours too sharp, swap the pomegranate molasses for some a little bit of honey.

I’ve also made this with lots of extra coriander and parsley and minus the sweet potato and the flavours are still so good.

It would also be great with any kind of grains soaking up those lovely flavours…actually, now that I’m reminded of how good it is, I think I’ll make some more, right now….

I’m taking my salad of dreams to this week’s Fiesta Friday, co hosted by the lovely Jhuls and Ai…check it out for a great collection of recipes…

Smoky aubergine & lentil dip, preserved roasted red onion relish, and everything in between…

This week I made this lovely dip from Hanady’s blog, it’s made with gorgeous soft aubergine flesh and lentils – the recipe calls for green lentils, i used brown ones and they worked great. 

With the leftover lentils, I mixed them with chopped fresh coriander & parsley, garlic and spring onions, olive oil, apple cider vinegar and pomegranate molasses, and left them to marinade for a few hours. This is what I served some of the dip with, above, and then threw over some dried barberries, below..

Which I ate with grilled slices of courgette…

Do check out Hanady’s recipe, it’s lovely, as is all of her blog

With the leftovers of the leftovers I made myself a little platter of the aubergine and lentil dip, the lentil and herb salad, and I blended some of the herb and lentil mix with some yoghurt and tahini to form a third concoction…

And then the rest of the herb and lentil salad got added to some more chopped herbs and spring onions and quinoa…

Which I ate with some of the preserved roasted red onion relish…

….which brings me onto Laura’s excellent recipe

I love roasted red onions, and I love the idea of any relish, but not all of the sugar that they usually require. Laura’s recipe includes no sugar at all! Hurrah!!!!! It’s just the onions, salt, and apple cider vinegar. 

I’ve now made a couple of batches of this, and I will probably continually remake it as my stocks diminish. I’ve added the onions to everything: salads, dips, grains, veg, my husband has added it to his homemade chicken burgers and thrown some over pizzas, it’s so fab to have a jar of in the fridge. 

This week’s onions are so purple, the colour is lovely, last week’s were more red..

The slight amendments I’ve made to Laura’s recipe is that I roast my onions in a tiny drizzle of olive oil, uncovered, and keep them moving during the roasting time; then I chop them quite finely. I also scrape out all of the sticky bits of roasted onion from the pan into the mixture. But otherwise, it’s all thanks to Laura for this one 🙂

This adds to the collection of jars of goodies that I have in my fridge, always jars and jars of homemade goodness…

A shot of all of the jars of my creations in my fridge last week – I do love having a fridge full of possibilities!!! 

I hope you’ve had a great weekend, and have a great weekend to come. I’m going to take Hanady’s and Laura’s inspirations over to this week’s Fiesta Friday and share my leftover creations with this month’s Cook Once Eat Twice collection…