What? It’s salad, I promise. I created this recipe for Big Green Egg UK. It’s an idea I nicked from the Americans, who are very serious about their pumpkins. I’ve given it a British touch though – booze. Beer is mixed with cream and poured into a hollowed out pumpkin along with chunks of sourdough and plenty of cheese. The result is like a pot of gooey fondue, in an edible smoked pumpkin bowl.
I have a Big Green Egg BBQ. I know. It’s okay, you can hate me. In all fairness, you should be grateful, actually. You heard. You should be grateful I haven’t been boasting about this for the past year because that’s just about the amount of time I’ve owned this piece of exceptional BBQ equipment. I’ve actually been very kind, if you think about it properly. I can contain it no longer, however: BGE’s are incredible. Everyone should sell an organ (might need two actually) in order to buy one.
Anyway, this recipe. I’m always seeing hibiscus flowers around Peckham but I’d never bought them. I knew that they’re used to flavour the ‘sorrel drink’ that one finds in Caribbean takeaways but…yeah that was the limit of my knowledge. They also love them in Mexico though I’ve since found out, which is where my flowers actually came from, brought back as a gift by a friend. Apparently they use them a lot more in cooking there, and also eat them candied as sweets.
The amount of flavour and shocking red colour that leaches from a handful of the dried flowers once soaked, is staggering. The flavour is a bit like red berries, with a tart, lemony edge and it occurred to me that this might work very well indeed with lamb.
I steeped the flowers with an assortment of Mexican chillies: piquin (quite hot), guajillo (fruity), puya (similar to guajillo but hotter) and pasilla (literally: ‘little raisin’). Then I added garlic (because it’s lamb, and it’s the law) and bay. The resultant liquid was a frankly terrifying shade of red which stained the meat the colour of those curly pigs’ tails, tongues and penis shaped things (penises?) you see piled up in Brixton market. Thankfully, it was also extremely tasty: a sort of fruity, floral (yes I know), smoky thing going on.
I dunked the lamb into its bath for 24 hours, then drained it, rubbed the meat with more chillies and rammed with more garlic before cooking low and slow in the Egg. The marinade I reserved, reduced until syrupy and used for basting. That gave it a lovely sticky glaze. The leftovers were mixed with juices from the drip tray to serve at the table. We ate it in a sort of feverish caveman style, hunched over, fingers in, after-dark.
Oh and those things wrapped in foil around the outside of the lamb? Yeah they’re called ‘Death Star Onions’. They need work.
BBQ Leg of Lamb in a Hibiscus Marinade
The idea here was to get a subtle flavour seeping in from the marinade, then add the rub for more of an aggressive ‘crust’ to form during the first part of cooking, then add the glaze after that. Seemed to work.
1 x 2kg bone-in leg of lamb
For the marinade and basting liquid
50g dried hibiscus flowers
2 bay leaves, torn in half
4 cloves garlic
A few peppercorns
1 dried guajillo chilli
1 teaspoon dried piquin chillies
1 dried puya chilli
1 dried pasilla chilli
100g golden caster sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
For the rub
1 dried guajillo chilli, de-seeded
1 teaspoon dried piquin chillies
1 dried puya chilli, de-seeded
1 dried pasilla chilli, de-seeded
2 tsp sea salt
10 black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic
In a saucepan, combine the hibiscus flowers with 1 litre of water, plus 2 cloves of garlic peeled and bashed a bit, the bay leaf, sugar and the chillies. Simmer this mixture for 5 minutes. Allow the marinade to cool then make slits all over the lamb, submerge it and refrigerate overnight. I had mine in there for 24 hours and I turned it once and basted it a few times.
When ready to cook the lamb, remove it from the marinade, pat dry, then strain the marinade into a bowl through a sieve. Add the extra sugar and reduce the marinade by about half until it starts to look thicker and more syrupy.
Prepare the BBQ. You want it at about 150C. You want to set up a drip pan too. This is going to be different depending on the type of BBQ you have.
Blitz the chillies, salt and peppercorns for the rub in a spice grinder. Rub this all over the lamb. Slice the 2 cloves of garlic and push the slices into the slits in the lamb.
Cook the lamb for about 2.5-3 hours until tender. After the first hour start basting it with the marinade mixture every 20 minutes or so. There will be marinade left over, so mix this with the lamb juices from the drip tray and serve at the table.
I go through 1kg tubs of yoghurt at an alarming rate. I love its cool creamy blandness, which can take on many other flavours, be they salty, spicy or sweet. It’s no wonder it’s so important to so many cuisines. One of the reasons I love Turkish food so much for example, is that every meal is accompanied by yoghurt based dishes; cucumber, purslane or celeriac are my favourites, swathed in thick, whippy clouds. They beg to be dunked into with too much fluffy bread. It would be impossible to do a no-carb diet in Turkey unless you have some seriously steely willpower. I put on about half a stone in the week we were there, which just goes further towards proving that bread should be considered as the One True Evil if you are ever trying lose any weight. It obviously had nothing to do with the all the kebabs and künefe I was scarfing three times a day.
I can’t believe this tastes so good, because it has only a few ingredients: courgettes, chilli, yoghurt, salt and an optional squeeze of lemon. The key really is in the method. The courgettes must be salted and allowed to drain their liquid, otherwise you’ll have a soupy disaster on your hands. If you want to take this in a slightly different direction, with more of an Iranian bent, then a little chopped mint would be lovely.
Courgettes with Yoghurt and Chilli (serves 4 with other dishes)
450g courgettes, young if possible (different colours make it look extra pretty)
1-2 red chillies, seeded and finely sliced or chopped
Enough natural Greek style yoghurt to combine (about 5 tablespoons or so)
Squeeze of lemon (optional)
Bread, to serve
Grate the courgettes (most easily done in a food processor with grating attachment). Put them in a colander then sprinkle with about a level teaspoon of good salt and toss well. Set over a bowl or the sink for about half an hour, to drain their liquid.
Put the yoghurt in a bowl and beat it a bit with a fork until smooth. Put the courgettes in a separate bowl and add the chilli then gradually add some yoghurt until it’s all nicely bound together. Taste for seasoning, it will probably be salty enough. Add the lemon if you like. Scoff with bread and kebabs.
Since returning from an Istanbul > Beirut > Istanbul jaunt way back in April, I’ve barely scratched the surface in terms of recipes I want to re-create. Despite writing about lahmacun, yoghurt with celeriac, liver and onions Turkish stylee, and Turkish lamb meatballs with rhubarb, I am in no way through dealing with Istanbul, and I’ve barely started on you, Beirut, posting only about the marvellous man’oushe.
This recipe was inspired by a restaurant in Istanbul that actually, we didn’t much like. I think that happened once in our entire trip. It’s in Beyoglu, which seems to be the trendy bit of Istanbul. It’s also the area I enjoyed the least. It felt a bit young and hip and I dunno, I guess I’m really not the latter, because it’s just not the kind of atmosphere I enjoy when I’m exploring a new city. Is that weird? Maybe that’s weird. It is? How dare you! I’m very cool, it’s just that a thousand spaghetti-strapped women and block print embellished denim-ed men leaning around in bars playing Europop isn’t my idea of a good time. That’s a really unfair picture of Beyoglu in general, but perfectly accurate when it comes to the surroundings of this restaurant. The staff thought they were THE SHIT, too, prancing around like the restaurant floor was a fashion show or something. Totally aware that’s the kind of thing my mum said when I asked if I could have those high-heeled patent sling backs for my first year at Big School, but anyway.
They did one good thing, and that was to introduce us to adana kebabs rolled up into cigar shapes inside very thin bread. This is brilliant because you get the contrast between crisp bread and soft meat, but also because all the juiciness from the lamb soaks into the bread. This one dish made the whole sorry experience worthwhile. There’s also the opportunity to roll all sorts of other goodies inside with the meat of course, which I duly did…ranging from yoghurt, to feta, to spring onions. There was something else too but I’m not prepared to admit it.
It took a bit of experimenting to get the recipe right. Although the meat remained moist (there is a shit load of lovely fatty lamb in there after all…) they just weren’t QUITE juicy enough, so in the end I decided to cook the kebabs, before spreading the bread (lavash, by the way, it’s appropriately thin) very sparsely with some of the meat mixture, plonking the ‘bab onto it, rolling up, then commencing crisping. It does weird you out a bit, putting cooked meat on top of raw, but it’s only for a moment and anyway, just get on with it.
The other major change I’ve made with my adana is to add some Georgian ajika paste so this is a little bit fusion I suppose but come on, Turkey and Georgia are bordering countries. Ajika is a rather fierce chilli paste, which some dunce rather dopily describes on Wikipedia as ‘vindaloo strength’. It’s pretty hot, basically, but with an incredible flavour. It’s a magic ingredient, the kind of thing you end up chucking into all sorts of dishes. I’ll post my own recipe for it here soon.
BBQ Adana Kebab Rolls (makes about 6 kebabs, depending on size obviously)
400g fatty lamb mince, 150g lean lamb mince (such as neck)
1/2 red pepper
1 tablespoon ajika paste
2 cloves garlic
Few pinches salt
Spring onions, finely sliced (optional)
Blitz the lean mince into a blender with the onion, pepper, ajika and garlic. Add the fatty mince. Season highly with salt and give the meat a really good mix, kneading it with your hands almost like bread for a few minutes. Refrigerate for an hour or so if you can before shaping onto soaked wooden skewers (the kebabs will be easier to turn if you use two per kebab), then refrigerate again. Reserve about a tablespoon of meat per kebab, for smearing on the flatbreads later.
When ready to cook, prep your BBQ, and when the coals are covered in white ash, sling those ‘babs on, they won’t take long – 5 mins each side. Don’t try to turn them until they’ve built up a crust or else they wills stick. Cut a piece of lavash large enough to encase each kebab (remember you’re rolling it up), smear this with a tablespoon of the reserved meat, then plonk your cooked ‘bab on top and add any cheese, yoghurt, spring onions you fancy and roll it up. Slap back onto the grill until crisp on each side.
I like to serve these with extra garlic yoghurt and huge plates of herbs.
This is a nifty wee dish to bash out on the BBQ. What? No it’s not raining, you’re imagining things. Okay it is, but this is Britain; stick a brolly over it. The flavours here aren’t for the faint-hearted anyway; there’s liver, which some people are against, and a large amount of onions. Oh and an extremely spicy dressing. I have warned you about the last bit.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I recently went to Istanbul. The Turkish absolutely love their liver, and I’ve been hankering after some of those deftly cooked cubes, hot off the grill, charred without and softly offaly within. This is similar to many preparations we ate in that glorious city and it’s very easy to make as the liver is grilled simply and the spices dusted on afterwards. The onions are dressed in fierce Turkish chilli paste and pomegranate molasses, the latter giving a sort of curious perfumed back note against the HARDCORE FIRE of the biber. Addictive stuff.
Liver and Onions, Turkish Style
For the onions
2 onions, cut into half moons
2 tablespoons Turkish chilli paste
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon black urfa Turkish chilli flakes
2 teaspoons hot chilli flakes
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Soak your onions in iced water for 30 minutes. Mix together the dressing ingredients. Dry the onions on kitchen paper and mix with the dressing. Leave for 1 hour before serving. They’re even better the next day.
For the liver
Lamb’s liver (this works with any amount as you’re just dusting it with spices)
Give the liver a rub with a little oil and whack it on a BBQ for a couple of minutes each side, or until charred on the outside and still a little pink within. Once cooked, transfer to a warm plate and dust lightly with ground coriander, chilli and plenty of flaky salt. Serve immediately with the onions.
Like every other cook, I plan my holidays around what I can put into my gob, and where. Neither I, nor the majority of my friends would consider going away without having made The List, a document on which is collated restaurant and other food oriented recommendations extracted from mates, Twitter and Google in the weeks running up to the trip. As useful as these lists can be however, I also find them an albatross. There’s a lot to be said for exploring a city simply by arseing about with no particular plans or direction, and it can often lead to the best discoveries. I stumbled across Has Urfa Lahmacun for example on a morning when we were slightly lost, and desperately hungry; we just pitched up there out of necessity and had one of our favourite meals of the trip. Being too tied to The List can mean one ends up ping ponging from place to place, frantically trying to tick off experiences without stopping to actually enjoy just being somewhere new. I’ve definitely been guilty of that.
What I try to do now is just mark out a few places that really MUST be visited, and keep the rest in reserve. Çukur Meyhane, a ‘Turkish pub’, was in the former category; I’d heard good things about the food, but also I knew that (DANGER! DANGER!) they specialise in raki. If you’re not familiar, raki is an anise flavoured spirit, like pastis, Pernod, or arak, but with the ability to induce next-level drunken irritability. Unfortunately we have quite a taste for it. Or should I say ‘had’. The fridges at Çukur Meyhane are rammed with bottles distilled in different areas of Turkey (some labelled with people’s names – for their use only), but I have to admit, they all tasted the same to me.
What I really enjoyed was the food. We gorged (and I do mean gorged; I rolled around afterwards like a fatted seal pup) on aubergine and yoghurt salads, pastries, stuffed vine leaves (not sure I’ll ever really come round to liking vine leaves that much), and a seriously good grilled liver flecked with ground coriander and chilli, which I’ve since tried and failed to re-create on the BBQ. This yoghurt dish was my absolute favourite. You’ll find a yoghurt meze dish on every menu in Istanbul, but this was different. At first I thought it contained grated celery which had been allowed to drain its water, but then I recognised the earthiness of that weird knobbly root. I’m not the biggest fan of celeriac in soup, or even just cooked, to be honest; baked in ash at The Ledbury is one thing, but at home? Meh. Remoulade all the way, for me, and now of course, in this yoghurt. It spoke to me, basically. Give it a whirl.
Raki pictures line the walls at Çukur Meyhane
The original: yoghurt with celeriac at Çukur Meyhane
Hazy Raki days
Yoghurt with Celeriac (we ate this as a meze between 4)
500g full fat Greek style yoghurt. I used Total, but you could also use a strained yoghurt. Don’t use low fat if you can help it and don’t use one that is too thin (hence my suggesting strained if you can’t find the Total brand).
Juice 1/2-1 whole lemon
Small handful parsley leaves, finely chopped
80g celeriac, grated
1 large clove garlic
Cook the garlic clove in boiling water for 3 minutes, then drain and set aside. Put the yoghurt in a large mixing bowl, then beat it with a fork until smooth. Grate in the celeriac and squeeze in about half the juice from half the lemon. Crush the garlic clove and add it, then stir in the parsley, add a good pinch of salt, and set aside to sit for an hour or so at room temperature. After this time, stir again, taste, and add more lemon juice and salt if needed. Eat with warmed or toasted bread.
Çukur Meyhane, Kartal Sokak 1/A, Beyoglu, Istanbul
Quite a few tables were reserved on the evening we went, so get there early or call ahead.
Almost looks a bit artfully food styley styley, that photo, doesn’t it? IT’S LIKE YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW ME. Then you clock the gnawed chicken bone on the right, the Iphone slung to the left and you realise, yeah it’s just a genuine mess on my table, actually. Wang it on there and chow down, as I believe they say on Downton Abbey.
I cooked this chicken on the BBQ, which is how I will be cooking all of my food until Monday, since I had what is known to all rational (urgh) and calm people as a GAS CRISIS. The flame in my oven started burning orange instead of the regular, non-panic-making blue, so faster than you could say ‘Google is the first port of call in a potentially serious situation’ I was reading combinations of words like ‘incomplete combustion’ and ‘carbon monoxide production’. It did at least explain why the ragamuffins took 40 minutes longer to cook than they should have done. Mmmm carbon monoxide laced corn muffins. Think I’ll probably need to get back to you with that recipe at a later date. Still ate them. Well, half of one; the rest are still on the balcony.
The chicken however was awesome and I want to tell you two pieces of information with regards to jerk chicken. The first is that this method of soaking bay leaves in water and making a little bed for the chicken with them on the grill is brilliant, and probably the closest we’ll ever get here to replicating the flavour of allspice wood. The second is that my jerk marinade has some new threads, designed by my old roomie, Vicki Brown. I love them. As soon as I get my arse in gear there will be a new shiny website for it too, but you know, I’ve got 99 problems right now, and potentially slipping away in a gas induced coma during the night is one of them*. Might take me a while to get around to that website thing. You can buy the marinade here as before though, in Persepolis in Peckham and possibly maybe shortly in some new exciting new places which I’m too scared to tell you about in case something goes wrong.