بلاد الشام / Bilad al-Sham / The cuisine of Levantine

When the weather is hot my cooking turns to the middle east, as you will have noticed in recent posts. I find that I cannot manage to eat large meals, and whilst salads can be exciting, a Meze type meal is healthy, easy to digest and great fun to create.

Shawarma is traditionally cooked on a vertical spit, and comes from the turkish word ‘çevirme’ which means turning. One of my food heroes Yotam Ottolenghi has his version of the dish in the book ‘Jerusalem’ which was also a TV series shown on BBC 4.

Spices for Shawarma

 Lamb & MarinadeAs you can see, quite a lot goes into this dish apart from a leg of Lamb, that has been ‘punctured’ with a long thin knife to let the marinade penetrate over a 24 hour period.

If you want to have a go, you will need Peppercorns, Clove, Cardamom pods, Fenugreek seeds, Fennel Seeds, Cumin Seeds, Star Anise, Cinnamon sticks, Nutmeg, Ground Ginger, Sweet Paprika, Sumac, Sea Salt, Fresh Ginger, Garlic Cloves, chopped fresh Coriander, Lemon juice and……………………..Groundnut Oil………..!

Pop all the ‘seedy’ spices into a pan and dry roast them, the kitchen will be filled with exotic aroma’s n no time at all. Grind the spices once heated through and add to a bowl with everything else and you have you marinade. Once done, take you leg of lamb and puncture the meat in several places and then put into a dish, smother with the marinade and rub well in. Cover and stick in the fridge for 24 hours, taking out from time to time to turn over and make sure the leg is really well coated.

Soused Onion

Completed OnionI was planning to serve the Lamb with various salads, a simple Red Onion piquant one was created by combining Sherry Vinegar with Rape Seed Oil, Salt, Pepper, Lemon Juice and Zest, and some fresh Coriander and finely chopped Mint.

The second Salad was some Baby Gems leafs, Tomato, Cucumber, Coriander (lots), and a dressing of Sherry Vinegar, Rape Seed Oil and Za’atar.

The lamb goes into a low oven (150 deg Fan, 170 deg Convection), for 4.5 hours. You need to add some water from time to time and cover the meat for the last 3.5 hours so the spices do not burn.

Cacik I made some Cacik to go with the Lamb, Yoghurt, grated Cucumber, Garlic, some Lemon Juice and drizzled with Olive Oil and sprinkled Sumac on the top too. I do like this particular dish, its adds a freshness and tartness which goes well with the Lamb, especially when served in grilled Pitta Breads, used a pockets to hold the various tasty fillings.

As you can see from the heading photograph, this meal is pleasing on the eye as well as giving the tastebuds a real treat. As the Lamb is cooked gently, it is meltingly tender and when stuffed into a ‘Pitta Pocket’ with the various salad’s and Caciik, you end up with the most delightful fresh taste, that will take you to the Casbah’s of distant lands.


Bacchus – Prestbury, Cheshire

A meeting in Macclesfield was an excuse for an overnight and some good food.

Prestbury is a quaint little village in Cheshire and the location for Bacchus, a delightful restaurant in the village centre. Their website quotes modern english with a hint of european influence.

The midweek special is very good value for money, 2 course’s for £16 or 3 for £18, including coffee and petit fours, and I arrived with a good friend who I had not not seen for about 8 years so the night was particularly special.

First course was Tempura Hake, with beautiful Chips, home made Tartare Sauce, the dessert was quite delicious, Pineapple Tarte Tatin with Lavender Ice Cream.

Service was unfussy but attentive, the food superb and ambience was perfect.

If ever you find yourself in the neighbourhood, book a table, you won’t be disappointed.

A Mixture – شكشوكة‎ or שקשוקה (Shakshouka)

I was not expecting to cook over the weekend, but the heat of Sunday evening and the lure of the kitchen got the better of me.

We have been having a clear out and re stock in the kitchen, herbs and spices from Steenbergs recently purchased have included Sumac, Za’atar, Dukkah, Turkish Oregano, Spearmint from Egypt so opening the herb and spice cupboard is like an unknown journey across the seven seas!

The boss had taken our son out on sunday, leaving me to relax in the quiet and finger through some recipe books whilst listening to some hedonistic holiday anthems. Titanium, Bom Bom and Loca People hit the walls and ceilings with vigour, whilst in my head I was in far off places, Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia.
It was soon evening and what to eat….Shakshouka was the answer.
The word means mixture if you believe wikipedia, and mine was going to be a blend of a couple of recipes from two of my favourite chefs, you know who I am talking about.
We had some Toulouse sausages in the fridge, these were de-skinned and put into a bowl with copious quantities of Sumac, Oregano, Chilli flakes, Habanero sauce (just a few drops, hot hot hot!) mixed with a fork, and left to marinate for an hour or so.
After an hour, the meat mixture was rolled into small balls, dusted with flour and fried in olive oil for a couple of minutes to brown, then set aside on kitchen paper to drain.
Next, an onion was chopped and added to a frying pan with some olive oil and butter, cooking slowly for about 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, I added some Salt and Pepper, Za’atar, a pinch of Sumac, chopped Garlic, fresh Coriander seeds and Cumin seeds. Quantities are according to your taste, as sometimes I find recipes need more than stated but its your chance to experiment. Remember you cannot take out but you can always add more, so taste as you go if unsure…..
I thought we did not have any peppers in the house, but remembered that I had been given a jar of roasted peppers as part of a christmas present, they came to the rescue and having been roasted and de-skinned already were absolutely perfect. Chopped into approx. 1cm pieces they were added to the pan and cooked for about 5 minutes, stirring from time to time.
Next I added a tin of chopped tomatoes to the mixture, and a sprinkling of sugar to bring out the tomatoes sweetness and counteract the acidity. The mixture was left to simmer for about 30 minutes on a low heat, enabling the flavours to develop.
Next step was to added the pre-fried meat balls, and continue to simmer for about 20 minutes on a low heat, this ensure the meat was cooked through.
At this stage, put on the oven, and set to 160 deg (Fan oven), or 180 deg (Convection/Gas) and set aside to dishes big enough for one serving, or whatever takes your fancy.
Transfer the mixture to the two bowls, ensuring the meat balls are around the outside enabling an egg to be broken into the centre, and shrouded by the piquant tomato sauce. Then put into the oven and bake for about 20 minutes until the eggs are set, but yoke still runny.
My version of the Shakshuka was served with some nutty bread and tasted delicious. Small balls of meat that were full of garlic and punchy spices, mellowed by a slightly sweet but flavourful sauce with the egg adding both texture and richness.  To finish I sprinkled some Parsley and Sumac over the top which you can see in the picture at the top of the page.
So there we go, another trip to the Middle East and a journey well worth taking. I am not travelling so much this week so hoping to get back in the kitchen and experiment some more.
il-hanā’ wa ash-shifā (May you have your meal with gladness and health)

Sahtain – Double Health

The last couple of weeks have been manic. New car arrived, loads of travelling up and down the country with over 1200 miles already on the clock after one week. The kitchen has had a summer clean thanks to the most important person in the house, and a new collection of organic food goodies is arriving this Friday, thanks to the team at Riverford.

Reading a twitter by Yotam Ottolenghi, I have discovered a new inspiration in Bethany Kehdy.

A fantastic cook and blogger, Bethany has just launched a new book The Jewelled Kitchen, which features Lebanese food with stunning pictures and excellent instructions. At the back of the book,  details on how to make some of the spice mixes, preserved lemons, and accompaniments to the many delicious recipes in the book. Her food blog Dirty Kitchen Secrets is just awesome and inspirational, I hope one day I will be able to improve the layout and look of mine as I get more experienced, and look at some proper authoring tools to improve the design and feel of my blog.

Not being in the kitchen this week, I wanted to mention a restaurant I had a fantastic meal in whilst on business.  In Manchester, there is an eclectic mix of cuisine, I have found Ethiopian (I am going to try that one soon), and Korean is also on the list but this week it was 63 Degrees that caught my attention.

63 Degrees is a French restaurant in the Northern Quarter of Central Manchester. Run by the The Moreau family, 63 Degrees is a modern french eatery that uses quality locally sourced ingredients to delight the palate.

On Tuesdays, they have a special tasting menu that costs £25 which was within my budget and so it was ordered almost immediately on arrival, and consisted of the following;

Terrine de lapin à l’estragon et pousses d’épinard
Rabbit terrine with tarragon and spinach shoots

Velouté de courgettes
Creamy courgette soup

Saint-Jacques poêlées, écrasée de pomme de terre en vinaigrette d’herbes
Pan-fried scallops, mashed potato with herb vinaigrette

Filet de canette, polenta à la framboise et jus réduit
Duckling fillet, polenta with raspberry and reduced jus

La gourmande
Gourmet dessert platter 

I was with a good friend who persuaded me (It wasn’t difficult!) that we should try a cocktail before dinner, wow it was worth it. I had the ‘Bonne Maman’ rich, velvety apricot jam shaken with Armagnac and a hint of Lavender for a smooth, strong sipping cocktail, it was stunning. My friend had the ‘La Petite Anglaise’ The ultimate gin and tonic marries French grapefruit liqueur with British gin and slight bite of Italian bitters.  We ended up sharing the cocktails they were so delicious!!!

The food was stunning, helped along with a Sauvignon Blanc, and before desert, we did go 50/50 on the cheese course which was also quite delightful.

 If you are ever in Manchester overnight and fancy a delightful meal, try 63 Degrees, I for one will be going back.

Quickly back to Bethany, if you fancy seeing the real Lebanon from a foodie perspective then you need to check out a ‘Lebanon Culinary  Journey’, which she leads. An inspiring trip to see the real Lebanon and get to visit some of the places the produce authentic local food. Check out the website for more details. I plan to go in 2014 funds permitting.

Watch out for the next cooking experiment in the next week or so.