Category Archives: Middle Eastern

Aubergine boats…

As I mentioned in my previous post, I love aubergines cooked whole, whether over fire on a barbecue, under a grill, in an oven or over a gas burner. The flesh becomes meltingly soft, it is truly the best way to cook aubergines.

Sometimes I remove the skin to use the flesh in a salad or dip, but I don’t like the waste, so I usually eat the whole thing.

However you choose to cook your aubergines whole, do remember to prick the skin otherwise they will explode!

If I don’t chop the aubergines up for various uses, I like to use them whole and fill them with whatever I have to hand..

This one was filled with quinoa and a sauce made of fresh spinach, garlic, almond butter, buttermilk, lemon juice and courgette, and topped with cumin seeds, Aleppo chilli flakes and sesame seeds. On the side is a grilled red pepper dip.

This one is filled with more quinoa mixed with chopped herbs, garlic, spring onions, spices, olive oil, lemon juice, and drizzled with tahini.

Whatever you fill your whole aubergine with, ensure that it is packed full of flavour and not too dry, this will then seep into the soft flesh and create a whole edible wonder 🙂

Hot or cold, whole aubergines work as the perfect carrier for my foods…happy weekend…I think it’s long overdue that I visit Fiesta Friday and say hello to my fellow bloggers….do pop over and see what great food other bloggers are sharing…

Advertisements

The colours of my food…

Laura’s recent post about eating a rainbow made me realise it’s been far too long since I shared some of my food; colour fills my world, my kitchen cupboards (the spices, the crockery, the vegetables..) my wardrobe, and definitely my plate…

I can’t imagine not eating a variety of colourful flavourful dishes throughout the week. Not only is it good for your health, it’s HAPPY food! Happiness on a plate!!

This summer I decided to follow in the steps of many of my US food blogger family members and invest in a gas grill/BBQ to be able to cook outside when the temperatures rise and not turn on the ovens in my kitchen unless really necessary. Every time we use the BBQ I therefore also ask my husband to grill stocks of vegetables for me to use through the week…

A sea of goodness and possibility on our new grill/BBQ

I love these vegetables freshly cooked, cold, reheated, marinated, turned into dips, in endless ways. Having them already cooked means that they are full of that great chargrilled flavour and immediately ready to use…I like that too!

I think my favourite, which isn’t shown here, are whole grilled aubergines, the flesh becomes meltingly soft and so good for some many salads or dips, or used here as a perfect boat to fill with all sorts of my concoctions – including this one which was made from spinach, fresh coriander and hazelnuts, then drizzled with a nut butter dressing and sprinkled with Aleppo chilli flakes

The red peppers are great for salads, dips, harissa, sauces, like this red pepper homous…

I like nothing more than making up some sort of salsa verde, (which is what the two first pics are below), whether it’s based on chimichurri, chermoula, an Indian coriander chutney, or any mix of fresh herbs, garlic, spring onions, spices, olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice, maybe add some pomegranate molasses, and marinate chopped roasted vegetables with it, and leaving them to develop great flavours together…

Salsa verde always goes well with sweet potato, the sourness from the lemon juice/vinegar/pomegranate molasses is a work of art against the sweetness of the potato

This concoction, as shown at the top of the post, is an example of everything in one bowl: lots of the chargrilled vegetables with a salsa verde of some sort. It got better day after day as the flavours developed.

My Instagram account shows even more of these dishes, and more details of what’s in them, but for now, enjoy the colours of my world…

Enjoy!

What does ‘spicy’ mean to you…?

This weekend I spent Saturday at the BBC Good Food Show manning the stand of my lovely friend Sanjay (Sanjay and I bottom right, above) and his even lovelier business Spice Kitchen UK, along with Sanjay himself and his lovely Mum, aka Mamma Spice…

Above: Sanjay and his Mum, and examples of their beautiful spice tins covered with beautiful wraps made from saris, handmade by Mamma Spice.

What a great way to spend a day, surrounded by such beautiful products, supporting lovely people and talking about spices. It made me realise just how much I know about spices, and food history, and ways to use spices, and the various spice mixes, it was a revelation to myself if no one else!

It also made me realise that the people I was talking to seemed to fall into 3 groups:

Those who love spices, and are comfortable and confident using them, and loved finding spices available of such great quality;

Those who are venturing into the world of spice and would like to learn how to use spices more in their cooking*;

And those who totally disregard spices and tell you that ‘they don’t like spicy food’.

And it’s this word ‘spicy’ that made me want to write this post.

When I talked more to this group of people, if they stopped long enough to chat, what I discovered is that most of them viewed ‘spicy’ food as hot, as in chilli hot. They’re experience has often only been hot curry and they haven’t been impressed and have therefore written off ‘spicy’ food as a result.

To me, food cooked with spices is full of flavour and aroma and warmth and layers. The decision to add chilli remains with the cook, although using spices is not a prerequisite for including chilli. I often use collections of slices in dishes where no chilli is included.

One lady told me specifically, and quite disdainfully, that she didn’t like spicy food and didn’t use spices, but her son did and she bought him a spice tin as a gift. Before she walked away, I couldn’t help myself and asked her if she makes Christmas cake; she answered that she does. So I asked if she puts spices in it; and she answered that she does, listing cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. And so, I said….you DO cook with spices 🙂

So, what does spicy food mean to you? Is it a description that has become synonymous with chilli hot food? Is a better description for food full of flavour developed from spices, but not chilli, ‘spiced’ food? What do you think?

*By the way, to those people who want to know more about cooking with spices, I highly suggest that you take time to read recipes and see how cooks and chefs put spices together. I would cook exactly to recipes for a while whilst building your confidence, then start ditching the measuring spoon and going with your gut. And remember that there is no right or wrong here, just degrees of flavour.

A week of wild garlic…

Every year, around this time, I see so many posts on blogs and Instagram of people sharing their wild garlic creations. And each year I’m so envious!!! I’ve tried wild garlic once, having paid a fortune for it at a local ‘posh’ greengrocers, and I know it’s lovely, but I’ve never found any locally to be able to forage for myself…until this week!

I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for weeks around where I walk Bob every morning; I know that wild garlic tends to grow in wooded areas, and where we walk isn’t wooded at all. Except for one small area, and this week, there it was! I finally found my own local supply of wild garlic…

In this small wooded area, running along a path we walk up and down regularly, is an area of bountiful, gorgeous wild garlic.

Oh the joy! I cannot tell you how excited I was!!! And by the look of it, no one knows it’s there, or maybe just doesn’t know what it is, which is even better 🙂

I immediately sent the photo above to Kellie, who is a wild garlic guru, to double check my find, but I was pretty sure I was right. I collected some there and then, using one of the nappy sacks I can for cleaning up after Bob, and returned the next couple of days with bigger bags and some gloves and foraged to my hearts content.

So, there’s been lots of careful washing and drying of leaves and stalks and flowers in my kitchen all week, the smell has been amazing, it’s got such a lovely smell, not as strong as bulb garlic, but you can tell what it is; and there’s been lots of concoctions, which I am sharing below. It honestly feels like such a gift from nature, and has made me smile all week; the pure simplicity of collecting, cooking and eating gorgeous fresh food direct form the earth is wonderful – I totally get those of your who grow your own food!

The leaves, stalks and flowers are all edible, and all have different strengths; the stalks have a stronger flavour than the leaves, and the flowers are stronger again, but none as strong as bulb garlic. You can eat them all raw or cooked. You can sauté the leaves like spinach, you chop it and add it to salad, the possibilities are endless. So here’s a few rough ideas to tempt you, apologies for the lack of quantities, I’ve just provided lists of ingredients and suggestions…

Chargrilled red pepper & WG harissa

Long red peppers, chargrilled, peeled and deseeded

Wild garlic leaves and stalks, washed and dried

Tabil spice mix (toasted cumin, coriander & caraway seeds, ground)

Pul biber flakes

Olive oil

Lemon juice

All in a blender and whizzed tougher.

WG & preserved lemon harissa

Wild garlic leaves and stalks, washed and dried

Spring onions, whites and greens roughly chopped

Half a preserved lemon, roughly chopped

Ground cumin & coriande

Pul biber flakes

Olive oil

Lemon juice

All in a blender and whizzed together, but not for too long, it’s nice rustic.

WG flower homous

Make your standard homous recipe but leave out the garlic, and add some carefully picked wild garlic flowers at the end, stirring them in by hand. Leave it a day before eating it for the flavour to develop.

WG cream cheese

Whizz up WG leaves and stalks, or just the stalks, or just the leaves, with your choice of cream cheese.

WG & pumpkin seed dairy free pesto

WG leaves and stalks chopped up with toasted pumpkin seeds, olive oil and lemon juice. Add your choice of cheese at will 🙂

WG & spring onion salsa verde

Wild garlic leaves and stems, washed and dried

Spring onions, whites and greens, roughly chopped

Homemade apple cider vinegar

Pomegranate molasses

Ground cumin & coriander

Pul biber chilli flakes

Olive oil

Chop all together in a blender to the consistency of your choice.

WG, tahini & yoghurt sauce

Blend WG leaves and stalks with tahini, yoghurt and lemon juice, and use at will like this, or add to other ingredients to create a dip, like below

Spiced carrot & WG, tahini & yoghurt dip

Carrots cooked in olive oil with red onion and garlic and my Moroccan spice mix, whizzed up with some of the tahini and yogurt sauce from above.

And to finish…

This was a mixture of some of the WG cream cheese mixed with the WG pesto, plus some boiled chunks of sweet potato and topped with wild garlic flowers.

I’ve also sautéd leaves with added spinach and quinoa, and eaten a fair amount of raw leaves in the process too!

I hope I didn’t lose you halfway down the page with all of my WG creations?! If you find some, I hope you enjoy it as much as I have 🙂

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

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