Archive for the ‘Middle Eastern Style’ Category

There was a glut of fresh figs on our market during the autumn and I was able to buy a whole tray really inexpensively.  My family could eat a whole tray in one sitting and these were particularly sweet and soft, but I squirrelled a few away so I could try this wonderful sounding dish.  At the same time on the market there were the last of the years peaches and nectarines, a little hard and not easy to ripen, so not especially good for eating, but ideal for cooking which brings out their flavour beautifully.  A good reminder of the last of summer.

My starting point for this recipe came from Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson and had the exotic sounding name: Figs for 1001 Nights.  I gently grilled the fruits in the spiced butter as in the original recipe but using peaches as well as figs.  An alternative would be to pop them briefly in a hot oven, but I would only do this if I already had the oven on to cook something else  – flash grilling is fine.  Nigella used a little rosewater and orange flower water in her basting mixture.  I used the orange flower but although I had the rose water in my cupboard I left it out as my daughter sadly dislikes the traditional rose turkish delight flavour.   I do have a bottle of rose syrup in the cupboard, however, so I used this as a pouring sauce for those of us who do like it.  (As an alternative she used a little honey, which proved equally as good as honey and figs are also a good match.)  Rose syrup is a lovely item to have in the cupboard and is delicious with rhubarb and yoghurt, or poured over ice cream, however it is very sweet so I suggest it is used sparingly at first as it can be quite overpowering.  I have some sachets of vanilla sugar, bought on holiday in France, with one being just about 1 tbsp.  If this is not available then substitute granulated sugar and a very small amount of vanilla extract, one or two drops maximum.

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Grilled Figs & Peaches
(Serves 6 – 6 figs & 6 peaches/nectarines)

1 fresh fig per person (or 2 smaller ones)
1 fresh peach or nectarine per person
25 g unsalted butter
½tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp vanilla sugar
1 tbsp granulated sugar & 1 or 2 drops vanilla extract
½tsp orange flower water
To serve:
50 g pistachio nuts, chopped
Crème fraîche
Rose syrup, to drizzle – to taste or honey

1. Preheat the grill on a high heat – alternatively use an oven set to a high heat, at least 200oC/400oF/Gas 6.

2. Carefully cut the figs with a cross shape as if quartering them but do not cut righ through to the bottom and then gently press each fig.  They should look like four petalled flowers.

3.  Cut the peaches or nectarines into halves or quarters, depending on size, removing the stones.

4.  Place the opened figs and peach/nectarine pieces in a snugly fitting single layer in a heatproof dish.

5.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan or in the microwave in a glass microwave proof bowl or jug.  Stir in the cinnamon, sugar and orange flower water until the sugar has dissolved.  If you are using rose water rather than syrup, as in the original recipe, add it at this point (½tsp should be enough).  Stir well and baste the figs and peaches/nectarines.

6.  Place under the hot grill or into the oven for just a few minutes.  The fruit should warm through slightly and the skins should start to blister from the heat.  Beware leaving too long, especially if oven cooked, as the fruit can become over soft and could also burn.

7.  Serve immediately giving each person two figs and one peach or nectarine (either two or four pieces depending on how they have been cut.   Add a generous spoonful of crème fraîche and pour over the brown cooking juices  and a drizzle of rose syrup (if you have not used rose water in the cooking mixture) or honey.  Finally sprinkle over some chopped green pistachio nuts.


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I missed Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer series the first time it was shown on television, but have caught the repeats on UKTV Good Food this summer.  Za’atar chicken is lovely for a hot summer day.  It needs some advance preparation but can simply be popped in the over to cook when required.  The chicken is amazingly moist and delicious … need I say more!  Nigella suggests serving Za’atar Chicken with Fattoush, a North African/Middle Eastern salad containing toasted pitta bread, which I have already posted.  It is a wonderful combination of flavours and both are recipes I shall be making again and again.  Coriander & Chickpea Couscous Salad could be served as an additional dish if needed.

The recipe can be found in the book of the series, Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson.  This recipe was part of the ‘Amber’ TV programme: each episode is named after a colour, with the recipes fitting each title.  Clever, although the book is more traditionally laid out.  I am sure that this recipe could also be cooked on a Barbecue, although I have not tried it (suggest a brief pre-cook in the microwave before barbecuing to make sure the chicken is thoroughly cooked).  I did some research and found a recipe for Za’atar mixture and made my own as I had all the ingredients in the cupboard.  Za’atar Spice Mixture (click for recipe already posted on this site) is simply a combination of roasted sesame seeds, sumac, thyme, oregano and salt.  It is aromatic and definitely not spicy, the sumac giving it a lemony flavour.  I have chosen to be more generous with the Za’atar mixture as we love the flavour.  I used the chicken thighs suggested in the recipe but the Za’atar Mixture would be good, I’m sure, liberally spread over a whole roasted chicken.

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Za’atar Chicken
(Serves 4)

4 large chicken thigh pieces (with or without skin)
4 tbsp olive oil
4tbsp Za’atar Spice Mixture 
Salt, preferably sea salt

1.  Remove the skin from the chicken pieces if you wish before marinading.  Place the chicken in an ovenproof dish or tin.

2.  Spoon over olive oil and za’atar mixture.  Turn pieces in the dish so they are well covered.  Season and cover.  Alternatively the chicken pieces can be placed in a large plastic bag with the oil, za’atar mixture and seasoning.

3.  Place in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.  If using a china dish then remove from the fridge and bring up to room temperature to avoid breakage.

4.  Preheat the oven to 220oC/425oF/Gas 7.   Place the dish in the centre of the oven, covering for about 20 minutes, then removing the cover and cooking for 35-45 minutes in total, or until cooked through to the bone. 

5.  Serve with Fattoush Salad and possibly with Coriander & Chickpea Couscous Salad as an extra.

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Fattoush is a delicious light summery salad well known across the Middle East.  It is packed full of fragrant flavours – lemon, sumac, mint and basil.  Fattoush can be served with any Middle Eastern, Mediterranean or even North African main dish making a good light alternative to a couscous based salad.  This recipe, from Nigella Lawson, was originally served alongside Za’atar Chicken.

The recipe below is almost the same as the one in the book Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson, in fact it was the repeats of the television programme that accompanied the book that originally alerted me to the recipe.  This was, however, just my starting point.  Some more research showed me that this is a fairly basic recipe to which other ingredients can be added, as you wish.  Optional extra ingredients widely listed are lettuce, radish, parsley, carrot (grated or batons), red or green pepper, red cabbage, black olives or pomegranite seeds (or arils): I particularly like the sound of this final idea. Feta cheese is another optional ingredient which would make this a more substantial salad (in fact this recipe is not unlike Greek Salad and has very similar basic ingredients, with the feta cheese and olives replaced with pieces of pitta bread, basil and sumac).  Not unsurprising really given the close proximity of Greece to the area normally considered as the Middle East.  It is perfectly acceptable to use pitta breads that are slightly stale: this recipe was used by cooks in the middle east for this very purpose.

Middle Eastern Fattoush Salad
(Serves 4)

2 pitta breads
3 or 4 spring onions (depending on size) or ½ finely chopped red onion
1 cucumber, quartered lengthwise and chopped
4 tomatoes, chopped
Generous handful of fresh parsley (flat leaf if available), chopped
Generous handful of mint, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed or finely chopped
6-8tbsp olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
1tsp Sumac powder to sprinkle over finished salad
(see also list of optional ingredients above)

1.  Prepare the spring onions or red onion, cucumber, tomatoes, herbs and garlic and mix gently but thoroughly together.

2.  Dress the salad with the olive oil, lemon juice and a little salt.  Refrigerate until almost ready to serve.

3.  It is good to have the pitta breads slightly warm and still crisp so this final stage should be done just before serving.  Split the pitta breads in half and toast or put in the oven for five minutes.  They should be slightly crisp but not completely brittle.

4.  Using scissors, snip the toasted pitta breads into medium to small pieces and stir into the salad mixture.

5.  Sprinkle over the sumac so it is noticeable but not too thick.

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This basic Hummous (or Hummus, there are various spellings) mixture can be served as a snack, a starter or appetiser or as part of a buffet.  Traditionally Hummous contains tahini, a sesame seed based based paste, but as long as the sesame flavour is present the finished Hummous is, I find, indistinguishable.  I add the flavour by either adding ground toasted sesame seeds or, more usually (because it is easier) sesame oil, which is always in my cupboard.  Hummous is a vegetarian dish, but much loved by the members of our household, who are all non-vegetarians.  It is a quick and easy recipe and very useful as it can be made in under 10 minutes.

The original recipe for Red Pesto Hummous was pulled from a magazine advertising Flora products, but this is my own variation of what seemed a very good idea!  The pesto Hummous is equally as delicious made with green pesto and both could be put on a buffet table side by side: just add half of each colour of pesto to each half of the blended chickpea mixture.  For extra flavour I added 2tbsp toasted crushed (or ground) sesame seeds to the original recipe (sesame is a traditional ingredient in Hummous), plus a pinch of salt, although these could be omitted.  Alternatively the mixture could be blended with sesame oil in place of the half fat spread, in which case the seeds can be omitted.

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(Serves 4 – more at a buffet)

400g/14oz tin chickpeas, drained
1tsp lemon
1 small clove garlic
2tbsp sesame oil or low fat olive spread
2 tbsp plain yoghurt
2tbsp toasted ground sesame seeds (microwave or grill until toasted) – omit if using sesame oil
To serve:
Drizzle over Olive or Sesame oil (optional)
Sprinkle sumak or paprika or cumin (optional)

1.  Put all the ingredients, apart from those added when serving, together in a food processor and blend.  The texture can be either chunky or smoother depending on the length of processing time.

2.  Serve with toast or pieces of warm pitta bread.  It can also be used as a dip at a buffet with a selection of crudities: sticks of carrot, cucumber & peppers plus bread sticks.

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Red or Green Pesto Hummous
(Serves 4 – more at a buffet)

400g/14oz tin chickpeas, drained
1tsp lemon
1 small clove garlic
1tbsp low fat olive spread or sesame oil
1 tbsp plain yoghurt
1 tbsp red or green pesto
2tbsp toasted ground sesame seeds  – omit if
using oil
To serve:
Drizzle over Olive or Sesame oil (optional)
Red – Sprinkle sumak or paprika (optional)
Green – torn/chopped basil (optional)

(Adjust the proportion of spread/sesame oil, yoghurt and pesto to personal taste.  Ready made pesto can be strong so use just 1tbsp first time.)

1.  If making two different colours put all the ingredients, apart from those added when serving and the pesto, together in a food processor and blend.

2.  Divide the mixture in half and add ½tbsp of each colour to each half of the basic mixture.

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The spices used in this dish can be found across North Africa, well into Asia and beyond, so this is a dish which crosses cultures.   Add a little less liquid and some chicken or lamb plus pickled lemons and/or olives and/or dried fruit and the flavours easily make it North African or Middle Eastern style food.  If the liquid, apart from the tomato juice, was not added at all it would equally well be at home as a side dish at an Indian style meal. I expect, with further tweaking, it would also fit into other cultures.  Here, however, it is simply served as a warming and filling soup and is almost a meal in itself.

I am not sure why I had not seen this recipe before but it was brought to my attention by a post from LoubyLou, on the ‘Nigella’ forum, hunting for a long lost favourite Sarah Brown recipe (sadly the forum and all its useful shared information and forummers recipes are no longer in existence, at least in the same format).  I own four Sarah Brown books and I found what I think is the same recipe in the book Sainsbury’s Healthy Eating Cookbooks: Beans, Nuts & Lentils.  I just had to try it out and sure enough it was lovely.  We really liked the pronounced ginger flavour (I may have overdone it a bit) but it was a bit spicy for my daughter who added a little yoghurt and then loved it too.  The method below is almost as in the book, but halving the ginger which is actually, rather than the chilli powder, the main source of heat.  Double the amount below for a spicier soup.  It is always good to add fresh coriander if available, reserving a leaf or two to garnish.  I did feel the quantity was rather scant to serve 4 unless you only plan to serve a small bowlful: as a lunch dish it needs extending, possibly by doubling.  This is a chunky rather than smooth soup, with the chick peas as the largest pieces, so chop the onion finely.  The original recipe suggests using dried chick peas as an alternative: 3ozs (75g) dried peas yield around 6ozs (150g) cooked peas.  I find it easier to open a tin, especially as they have become so inexpensive to buy, but for those on a budget I am sure that dried peas would still be cheaper.

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Spiced Chick Pea & Tomato Soup
(Serves 3/4)

2tsp/10ml olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1tbsp/15ml ground almonds
2tsp/10ml garam masala
½tsp chilli powder
1tsp/5ml ground coriander
1tsp/5ml turmeric
½tsp/2.5ml grated fresh root ginger
14oz/400g tin of plum tomatoes, pureed
14oz/400g tin chick peas (see above for using dried peas)
½pint of vegetable stock, possibly a little more
Salt & pepper
A handful of chopped fresh coriander, if available, reserving a few leaves to garnish.
A spoonful of yoghurt (optional)

1.  Heat the oil in a saucepan and gently fry the onion until soft, but do not let it brown.  Add the garlic and ginger and cook gently for a further 2 or 3 minutes.

2.  Mix the ground almonds and the spice powders with a little water to make a paste.  Add the paste to the onion/garlic/ginger mixture and cook for 2 or 3 minutes.

3.  Stir in the finely chopped tomatoes, chick peas and stock.  If the chick peas are tinned in water then this can be added as part of the stock, even if it is slightly salted.  (The seasonings can be adjusted later.)  If using home cooked peas then the unsalted cooking liquid can be used as part of the stock.

4.  Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes to enable the flavours to develop.  Top up with a little more water as necessary.  Check seasoning and stir through all but the reserved fresh coriander just before serving.

5.  Garnish with a sprig of fresh coriander and serve with crusty bread or alternatively with soft or toasted pitta or a similar flat bread.

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Versions of this yoghurt mixture are part of the cuisine of a number of cultures, each of which has its own name: Cacik (Turkey), Tzatziki (Greece), Raita (India), Tarator (Eastern Europe), Mast-o-khiar (Iran/Persia)are just some.  The recipes all differ slightly and each cook would have their own version as well, but these are the mixtures I use.  All have two basic ingredients in common: Greek style yoghurt and cucumber. My versions of Tzatziki, Cacik and Raita can be found below. I have not made Tarator, but understand that its ingredients, as well as yoghurt and cucumber, include garlic, dill and walnuts. Mast-o-Khiar – Persian Yogurt & Cucumber Dip is a simple combination which also includes mint.  Sumac, a rusty red powder which has a slightly astringent citrus flavour, is widely used in middle eastern cooking and is available from some ethnic grocers.  I found some in our local Turkish food shop.

100_5701 Tzatziki

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(Quantity as appropriate to number of diners. Serve as a side dish or dip)

Greek style yoghurt
Pinch of salt

For Tzatziki add:
Chopped fresh (not dried) mint (plus a sprig to decorate)
Lemon juice (and a little zest if you wish)
Olive oil (drizzle over to serve)
Garlic (Rub container with a cut clove. Use fine chopped for a stronger flavour)

For Cacik add:
Chopped fresh (not dried) mint (plus a sprig to decorate)
Sumac powder
Olive oil (drizzle over to serve)
Garlic (Rub container with a cut clove – for a stronger flavour use finely chopped garlic)

For Raita add:
Cumin powder, to taste
Chilli powder, to taste
or ½-1 very finely chopped fresh green chilli
Chopped fresh (not dried) mint (plus a sprig to decorate)
or Finely chopped fresh coriander (plus a sprig to decorate)

1.  Finely chop the cucumber (sometimes the cucumber in raita is grated) and mix with the yoghurt and other flavours as in the individual ingredient lists above.  Store in the fridge, covered, until needed.

2.  Stir again, especially if made in advance, and decorate with a dusting of spice and a mint sprig just before serving. Add a drizzle of olive oil for Tzatziki and Cacik.

3.  Serve as an accompaniment or a dip: Tzatziki with Greek food, Cacik with Turkish & Middle Eastern food, Raita with food from the Indian sub-continent.

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I was intrigued by the rusty red powder which was liberally sprinkled over our dinner in our local Turkish restaurant.  After enquiring, the waitress told us it was Sumac (sometimes spelled Somak) and I realised that I had read about this middle-eastern seasoning not long before in foodie biography set mainly in Egypt.  When I got home I did some more research and realised that this powder was not obtained from the Sumac tree which has such beautiful foliage in our back garden each autumn but from a closely related plant.  This link gives a little more information.  We are fortunate to have many ethnic shops in our little corner of London, which is a wonderful multi-cultural melting pot of peoples and their foodstuffs.  Sure enough I found Sumac powder easily in the local Turkish supermarket and managed to borrow the book from the library again.  The recipe I remembered was for a simple marinade for chicken and was originally designed for using on whole small chickens and served with roasted bananas.  I used the same marinade ingredients with skinned chicken thighs or breasts and adapted it for cooking indoors rather than on the barbecue, using either a conventional oven or a ‘George Foreman’ style grill.  It was delicious and I will definitely be making it again.  It is an ideal dish for summer visitors when you want to spend minimal time in a hot kitchen: perfect accompanied with rice, salad and a spoonful of Cacik (a yoghurt, mint & cucumber mixture – see Basic Recipe: Yoghurt side dish -Tzatsiki/Cacik/Raita) served on the side, plus of course, the grilled/roasted banana recommended in the original recipe. (Grilled Courgette and Aubergine are a tasty addition as well.)  Versions of the yoghurt mixture are part of the cuisine of a number of cultures, each of which has its own name: Cacik (Turkey), Tzatziki (Greece), Raita (India), Tarator (Eastern Europe) are just some.  Sprinkle a little more rusty coloured Sumac powder over the dish before serving.  Sumac has a slightly astringent citrus flavour.

This dish was taken from Apricots on the Nile by Collette Rossant.  I have adapted the idea for using individual chicken portions, usually skinless thighs.  For a special occasion use one skinless chicken breast per person.  If you have a charcoal grill the chicken can be barbequed as suggested in the original recipe.

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Grilled Chicken with Sumac
(Serves 4)

1 or 2 Chicken thighs per person depending on size (or other joints)
Small bananas (about 10cm/4″ long, if available) for grilling/roasting
Courgette or Aubergine, in slices, for grilling/roasting – optional

1 medium onion, very finely chopped
2 limes, juiced
2tbsp olive oil
1tbsp sumac powder
2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
Salt & pepper

1.  Start the recipe the day before, or at least in the morning before an evening meal. Remove the bones from chicken thighs, wash and dry them.  Skin them if you wish.

2.  Mix the marinade ingredients together in a large glass bowl.  Mix the chicken pieces well so they are coated with the mixture and leave in the fridge to infuse.

3.  In advance of cooking, lift the chicken pieces from the marinade and remove any excess mixture. Place the bananas in the marinade mixture whilst the chicken is cooking.  Courgette and/or aubergine slices can also be placed in the marinade if you wish.

4.  Grill the chicken pieces under a low grill.  Make sure they are thoroughly cooked by piercing with a knife in the thickest section so that any juices run out clear. 

5.  Set the chicken aside to keep warm.  Remove the bananas and vegetables, if using, from the marinade  Remove any excess mixture and briefly grill until very slightly browned.

6.  If you have a George Foreman grill de-boned and flattened chicken pieces should be cooked according to the grill instructions.  Once the chicken is cooked the bananas can be briefly grilled on the same machine, but not for too long as they soften very quickly.  Courgette and aubergine slices can be flash grilled at the same time.

7.  Serve the chicken and grilled banana (plus courgette and/or aubergine slices) sprinkled with a little more sumac, along with rice, green salad and a spoonful of cacik.

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