I bought Arabesque by Claudia Roden about 6 years ago, and have cooked many dishes from it over the years. It is a one stop shop for Turkish, Moroccan and Lebanese cuisine, all presented with beautiful photography.
I recently finished some exams (i.e. no cooking for 3 weeks!) and have started to get over a series of colds, so felt up to the challenge of cooking something completely different. I had guests for Sunday lunch, so decided to plan a Lebanese style meal, to try out all those dishes I’d wanted to make from the book. I especially wanted to try Konafa, a cream filled vermicelli pastry I enjoyed in Egypt last year.
The full spread consisted of:
Stuffed aubergines with yoghurt sauce and pitta bread
Borek – filo pastry with lamb mince and pine nut filling
Filo pastry pie with chicken filling
Baba Ghannoush – aubergine and tahini dip
Tabbouleh – bulgur wheat salad
and Konafa for dessert.
The aubergine dish and filo pastry meat pies had the same filling – minced lamb with fried onions and pine nuts, seasoned with cinnamon and all spice. The tomato sauce is very easy to make – just chopped tomatoes with pomegranate molasses and salt and pepper. I added some passata which I had at home to give it a richer flavour.
The filo meat pies looked pretty with the yoghurt sauce sprinkled with dried mint, but were a little bland in flavour. Claudia Roden advises that the meat needs to be very well seasoned for the dish to hold its own, but I can imagine that an Indian version (with plenty of chilli!) would work better for my family’s palate. The pastries themselves were quick to make, as the filling is simply rolled up in half a filo sheet and then coiled up.
Olives in an Anthropologie bowl
Homemade hummus – the technique for this is very simple – a recipe is given below. The Aubergine dip is made in a similar way.
Baba Ghannoush – this is one of my favourite dips and one I thought would be difficult to make. In fact its very simple and looks impressive.
A close up of the filo meat pies
There isn’t a decent shot of the chicken pie, which was the most unassuming dish, yet the one enjoyed the most by my guests. The chicken filling took a long time to make, as it required 600g of onions to be fried slowly until caramelised, before adding the chicken, cinnamon, cardamom and sumac, a powder made from dried berries used in Middle Eastern cooking. The chicken would make a good dish on its own to eat with rice or pitta bread as an accompaniment. The pie was assembled by layering filo pastry sheets brushed with butter to cover the base of the dish, then adding the filling, before covering with more layers of filo.
Juice of 2 lemons
4 tablespoons of tahini paste
1 large tin of chickpeas (400g)
1 clove of garlic (crushed)
extra virgin olive oil
Mix together the lemon juice and tahini in a large bowl, the tahini will seize and then soften again. Add chickpeas and garlic and blend. Add water if necessary to make a thinner paste. Season with salt, and pour into serving bowl. Drizzle with olive oil.
3 aubergines instead of chickpeas, otherwise ingredients as above.
Prick aubergines with a fork all over, place under a hot grill until skins are blackened and the flesh is soft underneath. Cool and then peel. Leave the flesh in a colander to drain any excess liquid. Mix together the lemon juice and tahini in a large bowl, the tahini will seize and then soften again. Add aubergine flesh and garlic and blend. Season with salt, and pour into serving bowl. Drizzle with olive oil.
NB The Konafa will be posted separately, if I can find a picture of it! I forgot to take one in the rush but my sister has promised to send me one.