Category Archives: Middle-Eastern

Adventures with Ingredients: Kadaifi Pastry, Sweet Cheese, and Kunafa bi Jibin

sideI’m on leave at the moment, and also engaged in a terrifying cookbook cull, which is causing me to madly read as many cookbooks as possible in order to feel less guilty about my terrible cookbook habit (it has, at least, reduced from the 3-book-a-week habit I had in the late 90s, but it’s still pretty severe, not least because I’ve graduated from little tiny Women’s Weekly cookbooks to more expensive and exotic tomes.

One of these is The Arab Table, by May Bsisu.  It’s a book that fascinates me and also fills me with fear – every single recipe seems to go for pages and is *unspeakably* complicated.  The idea of cooking a full meal from this book is terrifying.  (The recipes are all very traditional, and, to be fair, their length is largely due to Bsisu’s conscientious descriptions of exactly how to do things.)

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Recipe: Preserved Kumquats (an unfinished tale)

My brother has a kumquat tree.  It’s quite an enthusiastic tree – apparently it bears fruit all year round, relentlessly.   Since kumquats are not, on the whole, a fruit you can just eat off the tree, he has been looking for things to do with them – and perhaps even more for people to give them to.  In particular, he’s bored with sweet kumquat recipes.

I have, in fact, made excellent kumquat pectin jellies in the past, but this was basically a labour of insanity, because zesting enough kumquats to make a batch of jelly is extraordinary fiddly and time-consuming.  Thus, I too was interested in a savoury use for kumquats (particularly given my brother’s increasingly pressing offers of kumquats by the tonne).

Anyway, at some point in the dim distant past, I remember seeing a recipe for kumquats preserved in the manner of Moroccan preserved lemons, and being of an enquiring disposition (and in possession of a kilo of kumquats), I decided to give the idea a try.  Of course, the recipe is long gone from my browser’s memory (particularly given that I now have an entirely different computer), but I had Stephanie Alexander’s preserved lemon recipe to guide me, so I boldly sallied forth into the world of briney citrus. 

So, will my kumquats be a tremendous success?  A hideous failure?  A curiosity?   Only time will tell…

Your Shopping List

850 g kumquats (like you need to buy them.  If you have them, you have them, and if you don’t, the supermarket won’t be much help to you)
200 g salt (yes, I mean 200 g)
2 cinnamon sticks
3 bay leaves
1-2 teaspoons fennel seed
a piece of ginger root about the size of your thumb

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Recipe: Baklava

I promise there will be a Timon post in the next day or two, but I’m still rather bushed from the last few weeks, and photo posts always take me hours, so you will just have to make do with a recipe for the time being (not an actual recipe for ‘the time being’, though.  I’m not sure what that tastes like, and I haven’t written the recipe for it at any rate). Oh, how you suffer!

Don’t be intimidated by this recipe.  It’s time-consuming and a little fiddly, certainly, but if you take it slowly it’s actually very easy.  And it’s delicious and keeps for days, so it’s worth making the time to make it. 

Two tips for filo pastry without tears (of either kind, in fact): first, never buy the frozen version – defrosted frozen filo pastry is unbelievably fragile and will fall apart if you so much as look at it cross-eyed (and after ten or so layers, you will definitely be cross-eyed).  Seriously, I’ve given up buying the stuff because it always makes me cry – if it’s a choice between frozen filo pastry and cooking something different for dessert, I will cook the something different every time.  Get the stuff from the fridge section.  Trust me on this.

Tip two is that olive oil spray is inauthentic but awesome – I don’t, in fact, use it in this particular recipe, but there is nothing to stop you doing so, and I’d certainly use it for this if I were in a hurry or feeling generally impatient.   I do use it for a lot of other things.  It’s awesome for so many reasons I can hardly count them.  For one thing, spraying a layer of olive oil onto filo pastry is much, much faster than brushing it with butter, and lowers your chance of tearing the pastry significantly.  For another thing, it’s a bit lower in fat (you use much less of it), and of course it’s also vegan.  Olive oil-brushed filo is a bit crispier than the buttery kind, and you might even find you prefer its lighter flavour.

This recipe is lightly adapted from one in Tessa Kiros’s book Food From Many Greek KitchensPretty much my entire feast yesterday came from this book, and it was all lovely, so I can heartily recommend it.

 What are you waiting for?

Your shopping list

360 g white sugar
2 tbsp honey
strip of lemon peel
juice of half a lemon
2-3 cinnamon sticks
150 g almonds
150 g pistachios
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp cinnamon
22 sheets filo pastry (1 packet should do it)
150 g butter, melted (or your trusty olive oil spray!)
30-50 whole cloves
 

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Recipe: Drained Yoghurt (Labneh)

I’m not sure you can call something with exactly one ingredient a recipe, per se, but this is a really useful thing to know about, very easy, and a basis for all sorts of yummy things.  This is basically a yoghurt cheese, which you can make as firm as you have the patience (or planning) for.  It’s somewhat similar in personality to cream cheese, but has the advantage that you can choose what ever variety of dairy product you like to start with – low-fat or full-fat, cow, goat or sheep’s milk, according to taste or lactose tolerance.  Rumour has it you can even make this using soy yoghurt, but given the difficulty of finding a plain soy yoghurt in Australia, this is probably not going to be practical for my local vegan friends.

The only trick to this recipe is that you do need to start it at least 6 hours ahead of time (though I understand that soy labneh takes less time).  But since you don’t actually have to do anything with it during this time, we’re really talking a matter of planning rather than work.

The fun part, of course, is all the stuff you can do with it when it’s done… see below for many, many ideas.

Your shopping list

2 kg yoghurt of your choice, but bear in mind that you do want a reasonably well-flavoured yoghurt, and thicker, Greek-style yoghurts are easier to work with.  And yes, I know this is a lot of yoghurt but you will be losing a lot of the bulk as the liquid drains out, especially if you are using a fairly thin yoghurt or draining it for a longer time.  There’s really not much point in starting with less than 1 kg if you want a usable amount at the end.
 
You will also need cheesecloth (ha, like I can ever find that), clean chux wipes (the option preferred by my cheesemaking teacher), or a sacrificial tea towel (which you will really want to rinse out immediately after use, or horrible things will start growing in it very quickly), as well as a seive or colander and a bowl to sit it on.

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Recipe: Potato Salad with Saffron and Herbs, for Beth

This is another recipe that I promised to pass on more than  a year ago.  Maybe two years go.  Oh dear.  Sorry, Beth… Anyway, this recipe’s a real delight – light and herby and tangy, without the creaminess of traditional potato salads, but with so much more sharpness and flavour.  Also, it’s vegan!

The recipe originated in Julie LeClerc’s cookbook, Made in Morocco, which I can heartily recommend, though not quite as much as Taking Tea In the Medina, which I love even more and is one of my go-to books for things middle-eastern. I’ve added more herbs, and have upped the dressing-to-potato recipe because I’m evil like that.  Enjoy!

Your Shopping List

750g new potatoes, washed but not peeled
a good pinch of saffron threads
2-3 little red salad onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
several handfuls of herbs – Julie suggests mint and coriander or parsley (and in much smaller quantities) – I tend to use all three, plus whatever else I can find in my garden – a few sage leaves, some rosemary, basil, chives, tarragon, whatever. I recommend this approach!
salt and pepper to taste
 
 

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Recipe: Pistachio and Cardamom Kourabiedes

I intended to go to the Food Bloggers’ picnic in Melbourne today, but just couldn’t drag myself out of bed again today.  And then I spent the day alternating between lurching, zombie-like around the house, and feverishly baking because I wanted to use all those exciting new spice mixes from yesterday!  Apparently, I can be awake and alert while cooking even if the rest of me is completely absent.  Oh, and I did manage to do some music theory worksheets, but I kept on zoning out and writing everything in seven sharps or seven flats, for reasons that are still not clear to me.  Possibly, I just like writing sharps and flats on things.  So that wasn’t very productive.  And now the house is full of spiced biscuits and spiced chocolate bread and vanilla sugar meringues and nobody to help us eat them.  It’s a hard life…

Oops…

But!  I did have this brilliant idea about Christmas presents for everyone this year, so all is not lost!  This is definitely a case of buying people a present I would like to receive myself, but I think it would be fun to give people one or two really interesting spice or herb blends, along with a recipe card for something gorgeous to make with said spices or herbs.  There are probably people I know who wouldn’t want anything of the sort, but I suspect I can get through a lot of my list in this fashion.

So the recipe that follows probably isn’t going to be of much use to anyone who doesn’t have access to the pistachio and cardamom sugar from Gewürzhaus… though, of course, you could make it with ordinary sugar and a teaspoon or so of cardamom, and get some of the idea.  It’s pretty lovely like this, though.

Your Shopping List

125 g butter, softened
50 g pistachio and cardamom sugar, or 25 g icing sugar + a teaspoon of cardamom
25 g icing sugar, plus more for dusting
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp orange flower water
150 g plain flour
150 g ground almonds (I used the coarsely ground ones which still have some of the skins in them – very untraditional, but nice)
1 tsp baking powder
 
 

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Recipe: Lemon Drink with Orange Flower Water

This is based on the recipe from Abla’s Lebanese Kitchen (speaking of Lebanese restaurants which I really must visit), but it’s inspired by the amazing lemon drink we had at Sabas on Saturday.  It’s quite quick to make, and an excellent use for all those lemons you have on your tree at this time of year.  Also, like many of these rather sweet, perfumed, Middle-Eastern drinks, it’s just the right thing to refresh and restore you after an afternoon spent digging in the garden and getting it ready for your Spring planting…  So it’s seasonal in every way.

Your shopping list

100 ml white or caster sugar
500 mls hot water
500 mls cold water (or you can just use 1 litre of cold water, but it does make it a bit harder to dissolve the sugar)
250 ml lemon juice
15-20 ml orange flower water (or rosewater, if you want to do this Abla’s way, or 10 ml each of rosewater and orange flower water), or to taste
 

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Eating out: Sabas Lebanese Restaurant

We met up with Andrew’s parents for lunch today.  They live in Glen Waverley, which is not terribly close to Coburg, and given Andrew’s current homework load, and my current tiredness load, I suggested meeting somewhere between the two suburbs to save everyone driving and cooking time.  Ivanhoe looked like a good compromise location, so I went a-Googling and suggested Sabas.

I haven’t eaten Lebanese food in years.  We used to go out for Lebanese reasonably often when I was little, but when we moved to Adelaide there was a distinct lack of Lebanese restaurants, so we’d go Greek instead.  The part of Coburg I now live in is known as Little Turkey for its very large Turkish population and commensurate number of Turkish restaurants, and there’s a somewhat dodgy Greek place on our corner, but not a Lebanese restaurant in sight.  So I was pretty excited at going back to my childhood in this way!  And also at going to a new restaurant, something we don’t do very often.

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Recipe: Not Really Moussaka

It tastes much better than it looks…

So I had this idea about making vegetarian moussaka with some of the leftovers and veggies I had in the house.  And I looked at the Delia vegetarian moussaka, and liked the look of it, so I thought I’d give it a try.  But then I couldn’t leave it alone, because I realised she was doing it wrong (moussaka has to have layers or it doesn’t count, at least in my book).  And then I had to send Andrew out for Emergency Potatoes.  And then it would barely fit in my casserole dish even when I pressed it down really hard, so I couldn’t give it as much custard as it deserved (and a sane person wouldn’t have given it any).  And then I realised that I actually had a casserole dish which it would have fitted, only now it’s way too late because it’s all in the oven.  Also, it’s 8pm on a weeknight and I’ve only just got this in the oven, possibly because I only started cooking at nearly 7pm and then I fiddled around being indecisive about the recipe and not multitasking.

It’s going to taste fantastic, you know, but I really could have done it better.  Much better.  This quantity looks like it will feed about 6-8 people, depending on how hungry they are and whether they are having bread and salad on the side, and also depending what’s for dessert, because you have to leave room for dessert, you know.  Even when it’s chocolate pudding from a box.  Which it might possibly be, but I’m allowed to do that, because it will also be with fresh strawberries and stewed rhubarb and icecream, which makes it Healthy.  Well, maybe not the ice-cream, though, you know, calcium is good for humans, and anyway, who needs to worry about healthy when you’ve just eaten a main that is packed full of vegetables and lentils?  Not you.  Not me, either.

OK, maybe I should just get on with the recipe.

Your shopping list

2 eggplants
olive oil
salt, pepper
75 g puy lentils
75 g green lentils (or use 150 g of either puy or green)
375 ml vegetable stock (from a box, or make your own)
400g tinned tomatoes, or leftover quick tomato sauce
1 tsp cinnamon
200ml red wine
2 tbsp tomato paste
600 g potatoes, thickly sliced
2 brown onions, chopped fairly finely
2 capsicums (one red and one green, ideally), chopped
6 cloves of garlic, crushed (or to taste.  I am a garlic fiend, and six cloves is positively moderate in my book)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried mint
500g yoghurt
2 tbsp flour
2 eggs
200 g feta
50 g parmesan

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Recipe: Rosemary Chicken Skewers with Fruity Pilaf

I wanted to do something beautiful with those rosemary branches.  That’s pretty much all the commentary this gets, because that was the entire inspiration for this meal.  This recipe is truly mine – I’ve made jewelled pilafs to a number of recipes, but this isn’t any of them, and marinades are something I tend to improvise.  I had to make an effort to measure things.  Depending on the size of your dish, you may need to use more or less marinade – just keep the proportions about the same and you’ll be fine.

Your shopping list (serves 4)

8 large, woody rosemary stalks
4 chicken breast fillets with tenderloins, or 8 chicken thigh fillets
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup good extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
couple of splashes of white wine vinegar
4 cloves garlic, sliced
seasonings of your choice – I used a teaspoon of French Lavender Salt and a little rosemary and it was amazing, but salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme would be a lovely combination too
25 g butter, pref. salted
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup water or stock
a good pinch of saffron
1 cup basmati rice
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup pistachios, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup dried cherries, halved (dried cranberries, currants or dried figs would do if you can’t get cherries)
1/4 cup dried apricots, sliced
1 punnet cherry tomatoes
1 red capsicum
1 lebanese cucumber
extra virgin olive oil (infused with lemon or blood orange, ideally)
white wine vinegar
Greek yoghurt, to serve
 

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