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.
Beirut was quite peaceful when I visited back in April. There was a lingering military presence on the streets but hey, what’s a few machine gun armed soldiers and the odd tank between neighbouring countries? Our main concern when we were there wasn’t safety, but trying to find things. You’ll see what I mean if you go. No-one has any idea where anything is, especially not taxi drivers, who will stop several times on each journey to ask people for directions. It’s a disorientating place of many contrasts, without any real sense of cohesion. Hardly surprising.
We had been trying to find a market, Souk el Tayeb, which was apparently Beirut’s ‘first farmers’ market’. Despite a fairly central location we were flung from a taxi nowhere near it, and we’d been wandering up and down empty streets for half an hour or more. The buildings in the area are new, but old in style, which makes for a strange atmosphere – a bit like being in the middle of a film set. I imagine. Anyway we turned a corner and there it was, a very modern looking market that wouldn’t be out of place in the UK, with plastic gazebos and olive bowls.
El Hariri mosque
Labneh balls preserved in oil, cheese and pickles
Pastries with various cheese and vegetable fillings
Cakes decorated with dried fruits
There is also a restaurant associated with the market called Tawlet, the aim of which is to show off the talents of chefs from different villages around Lebanon, and also to use produce from the market. The food is great, but you should know that it’s nowhere near the market. Just a heads up. Nobody knows exactly where it is, of course. Our taxi driver stopped the car several times, wandered in and out of shops and did a lot of pointing and head scratching before we worked it out ourselves and told him where to go. It helps a lot if you speak French, by the way. Most people will speak a little English, but will more than likely be fluent in French.
Heaven is the buffet at Tawlet. Hummus, labneh, flat bread, herbs, artichokes, tabbouleh, cheese, peppers, yoghurt, kibbeh nayeh. On the right were dishes of rice and lentils. There was a dessert counter elsewhere.
A close up of that glorious kibbeh nayeh (raw lamb with bulgur, onion and spices)
Don’t mind if I do. See the rosemary at the top – it was very young and soft and used as a sort of salad leaf. A lovely idea.
This lady was cooking on a rickety grill at the front of the restaurant.
So anyway, it inspired me, this market, or rather a particular woman inspired me with her folded flat breads and her man’oushe. She made a triangular arrangement stuffed with onions and a very lemony tasting leaf which I thought had to be sorrel. I’ve since learned that it grows in the mountains in Lebanon. Well done, taste buds. Combined with the sumac it makes for a sharp filling which is excellent with rich cheese. I came across some sorrel at a UK market recently and off I went to make pastries. I fashioned them into little triangle shapes because frankly they look really cool and they’re actually pretty easy to do. Mine lack a little finesse, granted, and the filling kind of burst out a bit but it’s hard to completely stuff them up and I’m quite cack handed at baking. We scarfed all of these in one sitting. For breakfast.
I’ve so many recipes I want to make based on my trip to Beirut so it’s about time I pulled my finger out and got on with it. Next up, the hummus recipe that has been torturing me for six months.
Souk el Tayeb, Beirut Souks, Saturdays, 9am-2pm
Tawlet, Sector 79 – Naher Street # 12 (Jisr el-Hadeed), Chalhoub Building # 22 – ground floor facing Spoiler Center, dead-end street at the corner of Maher Flower shop – left side, corner building.
Spinach, Cheese and Sorrel Pastries (makes loads, um, say 25-30)
This super silky dough recipe is courtesy of Peckham Bazaar
500g flour, type 00
1 tbsp fine salt
60 ml olive oil plus more for brushing the edges
250-300 ml warm water
1 egg, beaten
Mix salt and flour together then mix in the oil. Slowly add water to make a dough, then leave to rest for 45 minutes to an hour. Now make the filling.
For the filling
1/2 onion finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
400g spinach, washed – leaves roughly chopped, stems finely chopped (you could also use chard)
50-100g white Turkish cheese such as Tulum (or use feta)
1 teaspoon sumac
Cook the onion gently in about half a tablespoon of oil, until it is soft but not coloured. Add the garlic for a minute or two, stirring, then set aside to cool. In a large pan, add the freshly washed spinach and allow to wilt down. Add the sorrel at the last minute and allow to wilt also. The sorrel will wilt quickly and turn a murky colour which is sad but normal. Set the leaves aside to cool, then squeeze out as much water as possible. Roughly chop them, then mix with the onion, sumac and cheese. The amount of cheese is up to you, but it’s best to have just a little I find, otherwise the pastries are too rich. Taste, then season with salt if necessary.
To assemble the pastries
Preheat the oven to 180C
Once the dough has rested, get your corn starch, luxuriate in the bonkers weirdness of the feel of it (it also makes a non-Newtonian fluid if mixed with water). Spread the corn starch on a work surface. Divide the dough into small balls. Cover in the starch, cut the ball in half, cover both halves in the corn starch and push back together. Then roll out. You want it to be about the thickness of a 50p coin, not mega thin.
Use a glass or something similar (I used the bottom of a cocktail shaker) to cut circles from the dough. Put a blob of filling mixture in the centre of each circle but don’t over-fill, about a heaped teaspoon should do it. Brush the edges of the circle with oil then bring up one side, and pinch in the other side until it meets in the middle. It’s hard to describe this but actually very easy to do, just have a go. Pop onto a baking tray, brush with beaten egg, and bake in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes or until golden. Cool on a wire rack.
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.
I recently went to Cornwall, where I met a man called Philip Stansfield, who makes Cornish Blue cheese. I’ll be completely honest from the off and say I’d never even heard of it and so, it was a huge relief to find that the cheese tasted good (really excellent, actually), considering I’d spent the half hour prior to tasting it getting all enthused about the production process and the man himself. I know you’ll have no sympathy whatsoever when I say this, but it can be damn awkward to find oneself at a tasting when the product turns out to be a bit shit.
So we had toured the dairy, roaming like cattle through pasteurising rooms, curd cutting areas (technical term) and ageing rooms (shipping containers) where the air was so thick with ammonia and flora I found it tricky to breathe. Whoever is responsible for turning every one of those cheeses must have lungs of steel. Or full of cheese mould. “Is it a hernia, doctor?” “No I’m afraid it’s a truckle.” Each room contained row upon row of cheeses at different stages of maturity, some sporting impressive furry tufts on the rind, “just like my cat!” I commented, wittily, more than once. I know.
Despite appearances, production is relatively small scale, and that’s the way Philip wants to keep it. He’s a smart man who knows his product is excellent, and he knows that other people know it too. He has just a few other people working with him, particularly at busy times of the year, and one of them is salting cheese when we arrive. “This is very physical work” Philip tells us, and I can see. The woman is lifting, salting and re-stacking cheeses at some speed, and we work out (well, someone else works out), that she must be shifting about 200kg all told. Who would’ve thought that cheese could keep you slim?
What really pleases me about Philip’s story is that he turned to cheese-making because he honestly didn’t know what else to do. Dairy farming wasn’t a good place and he basically needed to survive any way that he could. “I thought right, I’ve got cows, I’ll make some cheese.” Of course many failed attempts followed, but when he got things right, he scooped the prestigious ‘Champion Cheese’ title at The World British Cheese Awards. Amazing. He recalls the event “The judges were down to the final three, and I could see a cheese that looked a bit like mine in front of them… “So what does a winning cheese taste like? Well, it’s a mild blue, and deliberately so, because Philip likes the creamy base flavour to show through; many blues are dominated by the mould, and can taste what I like to refer to as (again, technical term, so brace yourself), ‘a bit bitey’. There’s the familiar salty twang of a blue though, and boy has it got some length.
A young cheese
So Philip asked if I would do a couple of recipes for his website in return for this little tour and of course I said yes, GIMME THE CHEESE! Ahem. I’ve done one for summer, which is so simple a calf could put it together and I’ve pointed you to another suitable for winter, which you can actually eat at any time of year should you wish. I will allow it.
Watermelon and Cornish Blue Cheese
I refuse to insult your intelligence by giving you quantities here.
Watermelon, seeds removed and cubed
Cornish Blue cheese
Good flaky sea salt, preferably Cornish
Good olive oil
Arrange watermelon on plate. Crumble on cheese. Sprinkle salt. Swirl with small amount of olive oil.
If you fancy something a bit more hearty, perhaps after a bracing Cornish coastal walk, then this baked gnocchi recipe is for you. Just swap the Gorgonzola for Cornish Blue, obviously.
Kookoo sabzi is basically an Iranian omelette with a whacking great load of herbs in it. I became rather attached to it as a weekend breakfast option a year or so back and it’s really very good in a sandwich too, just wrapped in warmed flatbread with some slivered pickles and a splutter of hot sauce (there’s a recipe for that sandwich in a very good book about sandwiches from around the world I’ve heard mentioned somewhere occasionally perhaps maybe).
Kookoo sabzi flatbread wrap with Iranian pickles and hot sauce
Anyway on Tuesday it was the day of the pancakes and so I found myself wondering what a load of skinny kookoos would be like rolled up around a stuffing and baked in a cheesy sauce. They were very easy to make and flip in a little non-stick pan, and I filled them with what was basically a mixture of posho garlic shrooms (chanterelles and chestnuts) and spinach, and baked them in a sauce rammed with cheddar and Lancashire cheeses (what I had in the fridge). Oh and I grated some rather suave aged Comte on top, because I also had that in the fridge, because I’m a member of the Food Tosserati.
The kookoo made this whole dish really pleasing because they’re just so fragrant with herbs and bitey with spring onion; they lift the whole thing meaning you can eat a large amount and not feel in danger of developing diabetic neuropathy the instant you stop eating and slump on the sofa in front of The Restaurant Man. Come to think of it, a gluten free cheese sauce would also make this a good alternative for coeliacs in danger of missing out on cheesy baked pancake things come Fat Tuesday.
Kookoo sabzi stuffed with garlic mushrooms and baked in a cheesy…okay I don’t know what to call this but it’s well tasty, promise.
For the pancakes (makes approx 10 pancakes)
3 tablespoons self raising flour
1 large handful parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 large handful dill, finely chopped
1 large handful coriander, finely chopped
3 spring onions, finely chopped
For the filling
100g chanterelle mushrooms
200g chestnut mushrooms
1 regular onion
3 cloves garlic, crushed
350g spinach, chopped roughly if leaves are large (include the stalks, finely chopped)
Knob of butter
Veg oil or similar, for frying
120g cheese, grated (I used a mixture of cheddar and Lancashire)
Comte (or another cheese, obviously, to grate on top)
This method looks long and it is really, but you can get most of it going at the same time.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 6/200C/400F.
Beat the eggs together and sift in the flour. Whisk the mixture to combine; it will go lumpy which is annoying but just whisk the shit out of it. Mix in the chopped herbs, spring onions, and season highly with salt and pepper.
Set a small frying pan (mine is 6 inches diameter) over a medium-low heat and add a scant splash of oil, then wipe it around with a piece of kitchen paper. Add enough eggy mixture to make a very thin ‘pancake’, spreading it out with the back of a spoon. Cook until almost set (it’s so thin it will cook almost all the way through without turning), then, when almost set, flip it over for 30 seconds or so to set the other side. This is about a hundred times easier than it sounds. Repeat until all the mixture is gone.
Once the first pancake is out of the way, you can get the filling on at the same time. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and sling the onion in to soften. Once translucent, add a knob of butter and the mushrooms and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes or so, stirring regularly. Set aside, then add the spinach to the same pan and allow to wilt down and cook until no liquid remains in the pan. Mix with the mushrooms. Season.
To make the cheese sauce, wang the flour, butter and milk into a pan and bring to a simmer, whisking it with an air of nonchalance. Once simmering, cook out gently for a few minutes, then add the cheese. It will melt pretty fast. Season with salt and pepper.
To assemble your masterpiece, roll each pancake around some of the filling (not too much). Line them up in a baking dish. Cover with the sauce. Grate a little Comte on top. Put in the oven. Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden.
Final batch of borek
The Turkish Food Centre in Camberwell sells a really mean spinach and cheese borek. It’s a snazzy swirly number which has been making a regular appearance in my face of a Saturday morning. Last week though, one just wasn’t enough. With hindsight, it would have been easier to nip down to the TFC and buy another one, because I basically spent the entire weekend battling with the pastry recipe.
It came from my mate, but it’s not his fault I ballsed it up to be fair; he was working when I asked him for it, and I got drip fed bits in Turkish whispers over the space of a two day period. The first batch were um, pretty interesting. ‘Oh, isn’t it weird that there’s no folding of the pastry after I’ve brushed it with butter?’ I thought to myself. Weird that, considering I’m trying to get it flaky. How will it do that without any layers? So in realising that mistake, in engaging with the culinary knowledge I have built up over a number of years, I decided promptly to just carry on regardless like a complete and utter tool. The pastry was shit, and everyone on Twitter laughed at me, saying the resulting borek looked like turds. THANKS YOU GUYS.
Borek or turds?
So I tried again. Goddam it’s hard to roll that pastry out really thin; it’s just flour and water, and the fat is brushed on in the form of melted butter between the folds. I even bought a special skinny rolling pin in not one, but two different lengths, so I have a reeeeeally long one specially reserved for that time when I need to make a borek the size of the Starship Enterprise. That’s big, right? I hate Star Trek. I think.
I used a spiced butter – actually the niter kibbeh from this recipe but think about it, nigella seeds totally work in borek – and I folded and rested and rolled and made a right royal mess and in the end they looked…well, they looked a lot better than the first batch. The flakes were there but the pastry was nowhere near as plainly and obviously rammed with delicious butter like the TFC version, which is rubbish, because it was. After two days and 30 odd borek I declared temporary defeat. The next day my mate came around, had a look at my efforts and said all they needed was a bit longer in the oven. Arse. “Other than that” he said, “totally nailed it!” and he knows his shit in the borek department. So in your faces Twitter followers! Behold my tasty pastry turds!! (top picture by the way). Bottom line is that the recipe below is a sound one, so knock yerselves out. What do you mean I’ve put you off trying?
Spinach and Cheese Borek (makes 12)
325g Turkish flour (I bought mine from the TFC and I knew it was the right one because it said ‘borek’ on the front. Genius)
1.5 teaspoons white wine vinegar
Spiced butter (recipe here)
600g spinach, roughly chopped
175g Tulum cheese (or use feta)
Half an onion, finely chopped
1 egg, beaten
A skinny rolling pin helps here. I bought mine from – you’ve guessed it – the TFC.
Mix the flour and water together then knead until lovely and smooth. I did this in a Kitchenaid mixer with a dough hook. Let the dough rest under a wet cloth for about 30 minutes.
Make the filling by washing the spinach and then putting it straight into a large saucepan, lid on, low heat, until it is all wilted down. Allow to cool then squeeze out as much water as possible. Chop finely. Gently cook the onion in a little olive oil until soft but not coloured. Allow to cool then mix with the spinach. Stir in the cheese. Taste and add salt if necessary.
Separate the dough into balls, each weighing approximately 45g. On a lightly floured surface, roll each ball out as thinly as you can, into a circle shape. You should be able to see through the dough when it is thin enough. Brush the pastry with the spiced butter, then fold it in half and keep folding until you have a small square of pastry (about 4 folds). Let rest for 10-15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200C. Roll each ball out again as thin as you can, in a circle shape. Add a thin snake shape of filling around the bottom half of the circle and then roll up into a cigar shape. Curl the cigar around into a snail shape. Brush each with the beaten egg and bake for 30 minutes or until a lovely golden brown colour.
‘Dirty veg’. This isn’t some new dude food trend, but a pretty shit hot way of cooking vegetables on a BBQ. Cooking something ‘dirty’ basically means cooking it directly on the coals. I found this on a blog called Country Wood Smoke, which is written by a guy down in Devon who appears to be married to his BBQ. Actually I have many friends like that. Hang on, actually I’m a bit like that…
Anyway, the idea is simple and brilliant; nothing ground breaking but a real trick up the sleeve nonetheless. Basically, man-down-in-Devon (real name – Marcus) is saying, ‘what the hell y’all doing slinging your vegetables on dat grill when you could be charring em directly in the coals you bunch of absolute fookin’ numpties?’ because in my head Marcus has an accent which is a cross between Southern American, gangsta and Scottish. Wouldn’t that be a thing. Weirdy hybrid accents are cool. I met a man recently who had an accent which was a cross between Georgian (ex-Soviet state Georgian), and cockney. That was hilarious. I really liked him. He didn’t like me because I laughed every time he said something.
Anyhow. Get yourself some hardy-ish veg like peppers and courgettes and some onions, oil them up, salt and pepper them, then stick them directly in the coals once they’re ready for cooking (ie when the flames have died down and they are white/grey). Turn them occasionally until they’re charred in places all over. You think the courgette won’t cook, but it will. It’s also nice to do some more delicate veg, so once you’ve taken peppers et al off the coals and put them aside, get your er, BBQ wok (a wok with holes in) or, if like me, you don’t have one, a metal colander, and put that directly in the coals. Oil and season up some cherry toms and also some baby corn and put them in, tossing them about quite often, until they’re charred in places too. When all veg are done, chop them finely; the smoke and char flavour is just wonderful. What difference does it make cooking them in the coals rather than on the grill? Well they taste smokier, they cook in about 2 minutes flat and above anything else, it’s just really FUN.
Not quite cock rocket veg arrangement
Makeshift BBQ wok. Probably should warn you I can’t really get all the burnt bits off the bottom…
When you first put the vegetables in the coals you will think, ‘I can’t eat it that! It’s all dirty!’ That of course is stupid. They don’t come out covered in ash, just nicely charred and tasting amazing. Woman up.
We ate them wrapped with salsa, and some queso fresco, which is a Mexican cheese in case you don’t know. The idea that you might not know it will sound ridiculous to any American or, indeed, Mexican readers (sure I have loads), but it’s really not a cheese that is available here. And now someone is making it in Peckham. I know. Gringa Dairy is under an arch on the Old Kent Road. This means there are now like, 3 reasons to love the Old Kent Road! There’s Gringa and Shu Castle and also the fireman in the window – you’ll know what the last reference is all about if you know the Old Kent Road. I can hear at least two of you shouting, ‘I know the fireman in the window!’
The cheese is a bit like feta, but less salty, more creamy and a little less crumbly. You could slice it, for example. It’s apparently a right ball-ache to get the cheese tasting the way it does in Mexico due to issues of climate and method. I can’t say I’ve tasted the original to compare but by gum it tastes just perfect with a bit of dirty veg of a summer’s eve. Give it a whirl. We also splodged on some sour cream plus green chillies (note to self – CHAR THOSE TOO). A squeeze of lime caramelised on the grill…
I don’t want to make some cliche about this being the best vegetarian BBQ food as if there’s nothing good for vegetarians to eat from the BBQ. It is, though.
Dirty BBQ Veg (two of us managed to plough through this – disgraceful)
2 large red onions, peeled and quartered
Handful baby corn
Handful cherry toms
Handful garlic cloves, unpeeled
Oil up the veg and season with salt and pepper. As I said the peppers, courgette and onions can go directly in the coals, just move them around a bit – this is proper instinctive cooking you cavewoman, you. Once done, set aside then do the baby corn, chillies, tomatoes and garlic in a metal colander or BBQ wok, if you’re well organised and er, have one. Move them frequently. When all veg are charred, chop them up. They should still have nice crisp, charred bits on the outside, but will be soft inside.
Serve with tortillas/tacos, sour cream, salsa, queso fresco…wrap em up. The possibilities for variations on garnish are obviously many.