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.
I have adored pickles since I was a little girl. Apparently, at one of my birthday parties I refused to join in with anything because I wanted to hide on the stairs and concentrate on consuming a jar of pickled onions. I didn’t want anyone else to have any. Thinking about it now, I’m not sure too many other 6 year olds were that into them.
Back then I remember only pickled onions, beetroot, cucumbers and red cabbage being widely available in the UK, but nowadays pickling is fashionable. We preserve everything from carrots to American-style watermelon rinds. Corn is particularly good as a pickle. In my recipe there’s a whack around the chops from the scotch bonnet chillies, but they’ve been crucially mellowed by the vinegar, and I can’t wait to finely chop them to use as a garnish. Spring onions and coriander went in too. This pickle is great straight from the jar but I’m going to try it on breakfast tacos. Recipe soon.
Pickled Corn with Scotch Bonnets and Spring Onions (Fills 3 x 1 litre jars)
6 ears of corn, 4 sliced into chunks, 2 shaved of the kernels
1 scotch bonnet chilli, de-seeded and sliced
2 spring onions, sliced into large pieces
75ml lime juice
500ml distilled white vinegar
4 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons sugar
Simmer the corn chunks for 4 minutes, then plunge into ice water (leave the shaved corn raw). In a pan, heat the vinegar, sugar and salt until boiling. *See note below if using old style Kilner jars.
Divide the lime juice, chilli slices, coriander, spring onions and peppercorns between sterilised jars. Add the corn and divide the pickling liquid between them. Top up with water if necessary.
Seal the jars and leave for a few days before trying.
* A note about Kilner jars: the new ones have clip seals but if you’re using the old style, it suggests you heat your liquid to 82C rather than boiling, before pouring it into your jars. You then put the round disc on top and screw on the outside bit. The instructions say that a vacuum will be formed inside, and the top will be pressed down and sealed (not popped up so you can press it down with your fingers). What no-one tells you, is that this doesn’t always happen straight away, sometimes it takes a few hours. This is pretty obvious when you think about it. Maybe I was just being a bit dense.
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.
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.
A proper late summer job, this. Everyone is trying to find something to do with marrows, because they’re everywhere and they’re massive and people are passing them around frantically lest they be eating marrow for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“I’ve brought you a marrow!”
*frantically hides 10 other gifted marrows*
Actually this year I’ve only been given the one, and it is splendid. I wanted to do something with it that ACTUALLY TASTED NICE though, you know? I just didn’t think it was possible, actually, which is why I defaulted, like I do every single year, to the idea of making marrow rum. Yes, you can make rum from marrows. I decided to ask Twitter what it was like, and then I remembered, I know someone who has actually made it. I would ask him. He made the below video in response.
And so yeah I decided not to make it *cough* this year. It would have to go into my lunch and dinner and so I made this frittata, which I wasn’t even going to bother telling anyone about but bloody hell it was delicious. The key I think is to cook the marrow so that it still has some bite, i.e. don’t let it go soft or worse, mushy or even worse, watery. The courgette flowers look gorgeous of course but when used like this rather than deep fried you can actually taste them. They have a really pleasant peppery flavour that is not really discernible when they’ve been stuffed with cheese and deep fried, even though of course I do like things that are stuffed with cheese and deep fried because I am NORMAL. The basil is, well it’s basil and you know all about that – tasty, innit. So it’s all very high summer, yah? And I didn’t even pay for the courgette flowers like a knob this time! My friend Tai grew them in her garden.
So there is a way to cook a marrow that isn’t a) stuffing it or b) making a watery curry or stew or something.
I still have about 3 feet of it left of course. Any other bright ideas?
Marrow, Courgette Flower and Basil Frittata
1/3 marrow, diced (not too small, about the size of a er, dice, actually)
1 large onion, chopped
1 small red pepper, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
6 or so courgette flowers, cleaned (wash them gently, pick out the stamens from inside and pluck off the hairy stalks)
Small handful basil leaves
Piece of cheddar that was lurking in the fridge that is about 2/3 the size of a playing card? Sorry. It’s cheese, don’t worry about it.
Sprinkle of Turkish chilli (optional)
In a frying pan (I use a skillet for this), heat a little olive oil and fry the onions, marrow and pepper quite vigorously to start off with to get a bit of colour on the veg then turn the heat down and cook until the marrow is beginning to soften but still has a nice bite. Add the garlic now and let it cook out for 5 mins or so, stirring often.
In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork so they break up. Grate in the cheese, add salt and pepper (generous amount – eggs need it) and the Turkish chilli if using and mix well.
Flatten out your veg in the frying pan and make sure all is evenly distributed. Pour the eggy mixture over evenly and press everything down so it is covered. Press the courgette flowers on top. Do the same with the basil leaves. Turn the heat right down, cover and cook until the frittata has set.
‘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.