We don’t typically make a lot of stews because Toddler Mash doesn’t typically eat them. A couple of weekends ago, though,we ended up making a lamb cobbler on the Saturday and kusksu (Libyan couscous with spicy beef and vegetables) on the Sunday. He surprised us on the Saturday: after being lured in by the cobbler topping, he actually ate some of the lamb and vegetables. Read on to see whether the Libyan dish was a similar success.
Ingredients (we doubled this) 1lb stewing beef, cut into 4 pieces 1 1/2 tbsp oil for frying 1 large onion, halved and cut in rings 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped 2 medium potatoes, peeled and halved 2 carrots, halved 8oz sweet potato (or pumpkin or yam), cut into four chunks 1 tin of chickpeas 1 bay leaf 1 tsp hot chilli powder (we left this out) 2 tbsp hararat (see recipe below) 1/3 cup tomato puree 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes 1 tbsp brown sugar 1 1/2 tsp salt (we also left this out) 3 cups beef stock Couscous to serve
For the hararat: 2 cinnamon sticks, each broken into 4 pieces 4 tsp cumin seeds 4 tsp coriander seeds 2 dried red chillies (we left these out) 1 tsp allspice berries
For the hararat, heat a non-stick frying pan and add the spices. Toast until fragrant (about 4 minutes), stirring frequently. Allow to cool and then grind to a powder. 2. For the stew, heat the oil in a heavy casserole dish over medium-high heat and fry the beef until nicely browned on all sides. 3. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent (about 5-7 minutes). 4. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. 5. Add the chilli powder, hararat, tomatoes, tomato puree, stock, salt and sugar. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes. 6. Add the vegetables and chickpeas, return to a boil, reduce, and simmer for another 40 minutes until the vegetables and beef are tender and the sauce has thickened. 7. To serve, arrange the meat and vegetables on top of the couscous then ladle the sauce over everything.
Although this had a great flavour, it wasn’t our finest culinary moment. Most of the beef was incredibly tough, we think because we let it boil for too long instead of gently simmering it. Did this rightly put off meat-refusing Toddler Mash? No. He loved it. Rejected the beautifully barbecued rib-eye Ash served up a week earlier, but asked for seconds of this shoe leather. There really is no accounting for taste, but it did mean we could use a silly pun like ‘stew-pendous’ for the title of this post even though we didn’t cook it that well, because we made something our child actually ate. (Baby Mash was mostly interested in the carrot, incidentally.)
We did eat the leftovers a few days later, by which time the beef had softened, and this was a more enjoyable meal. We also added some prunes to the stew and some flaked almonds on top, which we thought was another improvement, if perhaps not entirely traditional.
Egypt is another country on our bucket list. To be fair, it’s probably on most people’s bucket lists. There can’t be many folk out there who aren’t even a little bit intrigued by the pyramids and wouldn’t want to see them up close. We haven’t made it there yet, though, so for now we’ll just have to make do with eating their food.
Ful medames has appeared in our research as other countries’ national dish, but we haven’t made it for any other country because it’s actually Egyptian in origin and we were saving it for Egypt. So now that we’re finally up to Egypt, what have we made? Koshari, haha. It’s the national dish after all. We’ll have to make ful medames another day, just on a whim. (We did also consider umm ali, which appears to be a sort of bread and butter pudding made with croissants. We’re pretty sure we’ll be struck by the whim to make that one day too.)
The Daring Gourmet has always treated us well, recipe-wise, so we followed her recipe again this time. She warned from the outset that making a dish that consists of rice, lentils, macaroni, tomato sauce and fried onions was going to use a lot of pots and pans, and she wasn’t wrong. Fortunately, she also wasn’t wrong when she said that in spite of this, the actual cooking part is pretty simple.
Ingredients 2 tbsp olive oil 1 cup medium grain rice (eg arborio) 1 cup brown lentils, rinsed 2 cups macaroni 2 cups vegetable stock 1 garlic clove, quartered 1 tsp cumin 1 bay leaf 1/2 tsp salt, plus more to season 1 tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
For the sauce: 2 tbsp olive oil 1 small onion, finely diced 2 garlic cloves, minced 400ml passata 2 tsp baharat spice blend (see note below) 1/4 tsp chilli flakes (optional) 1 tbsp red wine vinegar Salt and pepper to taste
For the crispy onions: 2 large onions, very finely sliced Oil for deep frying
Method Note: Prepare the rice, lentils and macaroni while the sauce is simmering and leave them in the pots to keep warm. 1. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. 2. Add the rice and fry it for 2 minutes, then add the stock. 3. Bring to the boil, decrease the heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until the rice is cooked. 4. Meanwhile, put the lentils in another medium saucepan with 2 cups of water, the garlic, bay leaf and cumin and bring to the boil. 5. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the lentils are tender. 6. Once cooked, season and drain any excess water. 7. Meanwhile, cook the macaroni according to package instructions until al dente. 8. To make the sauce, heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and add the onion. Cook until soft and translucent (about 5-7 minutes), 9. Add the garlic and saute until golden brown. 10. Add the passata, baharat, salt and pepper to taste, chilli flakes (if using) and red wine vinegar. 11. Bring it to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. 12. To make the crispy onions, heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the onions and fry until dark brown, then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on some paper towel. (A comment on the recipe said to coat them in cornflour first. We tried it with and without cornflour and didn’t honestly notice much of a difference.) 13. To assemble, mix the rice, lentils and macaroni together in a large bowl, then portion out onto plates. Sprinkle a little baharat over each serving, then top with the tomato sauce. Top with the chickpeas, the crispy onions and another sprinkling of baharat. Serves 6 generously.
A note on the baharat: if you want to make your own, you can find the recipe we used here. We think that’s what we used for this dish. It was in an unlabelled container in the cupboard so we can’t be entirely sure, and it is altogether possible that we used a spice blend from a completely different country. But we’re pretty sure it was baharat…
We also used green lentils instead of brown because that’s what we had. We probably do need to go to Egypt now just to see what this dish is actually supposed to taste like.
Whatever we made, it actually went down relatively well with all members of the household for a change. Ash started off by saying that he felt sorry for Egypt that this was its national dish, but that wasn’t because he didn’t like it, just because it wasn’t more exciting (like, say, roast beef). It grew on him though. Miranda was more open to it and enjoyed it. There’s no need to say much more – this is, we’re sure, a dish that readers can probably imagine the taste of because it’s so simple. Toddler Mash (who probably isn’t a toddler any more now that he’s – gasp – four) actually ate it, and it might be the most nutritious meal he’s eaten in ages, even if he did prefer the yoghurt we served alongside it. And Baby Mash ate it as well, for a while at least. He then turned to experimenting with gravity by dropping lentils over the side of his high chair.
We probably shortchanged ourselves with our Cypriot meal, in a way. From what we know about Cypriot food, it’s really good, and we made… a sandwich. There are undoubtedly a lot of things we could have made that would have been more exciting, but this looked straightforward so we went with it. Fear not, though: this was an excellent sandwich. The eating experience wasn’t altogether relaxing, but we’ll come to that later.
We discovered the Cypriot sandwich by chance when looking for other recipes. At first it looked like a very achievable halloumi and salad sandwich, but a bit more reading revealed that it really should contain lountza, which is cured pork with wine in it. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we weren’t able to track down any lountza, but we did find loukanika so thought we’d put our own spin on the sandwich. There were thick and thin varieties so we (obviously) bought both! A difficult search but an easy win.
So our sandwich might not have been fully traditional, but at least the ingredients were from Cyprus. For the most part, we followed the instructions on Yiayia’s Recipes, including the part that said to serve it with chips: we didn’t have to be told twice.
Ingredients (adjust quantities according to how many sandwiches you want to make) Bread (we used Turkish bread, which we thought was as close to traditional as we were going to get) Pork: either lountza, if you can get it, or, for our version, loukanika Halloumi Tomato Cucumber Butter Mayonnaise Chips, to serve (we made some normal potato and some sweet potato which worked well)
Method 1. Cut the bread into your desired size slices, wrap them in foil and warm in the oven. 2. Warm the sausages (they’re cured so don’t need ‘cooking’ as such). 3. Slice the halloumi into around 1cm slices and grill. 4. Once the bread is warm, remove from the oven, butter both slices and put mayonnaise on one slice. 5. Add the pork, then halloumi, then tomato, then cucumber. 6. Wrap the whole sandwich in foil and return to the oven for a further 10 minutes.
The sandwich? Delicious. We’d be surprised if using lountza instead of loukanika could improve it. The cheese and sausage were a bit oily and a bit salty, which was perfectly balanced by the freshness of the tomato and cucumber. The mayonnaise made all the difference too. Furthermore, it was really filling – we made an extra one expecting to want it but in the end we saved it for the following day’s lunch!
The eating experience: Toddler Mash, who loves sausages, didn’t like these ones (which is fair enough really, they’re very different from a British sausage) and has recently decided that he no longer likes halloumi. He also objects to bread with seeds on it so he had chips for dinner.
Following Toddler Mash’s lead, Baby Mash decided that he was going to loudly and passionately object to sitting in his high chair so he nibbled on some bits of dinner whilst sitting on Miranda’s lap.
Miranda therefore ate one-handed.
Ash ate really quickly to try to manage the aforementioned situation.
Jordan is on the travel bucket list, but we haven’t got there yet, so when we needed to find a Jordanian dish, we spoke to a friend who has. She didn’t know anything specific but said to look up bedouin recipes. In doing so, we found recipes for mansaf, which actually turns out to be the national dish of Jordan anyway! We chose to follow a recipe from The Odehlicious.
Mansaf is traditionally made with jameed, which is dried sheep’s yoghurt. We did try to track this down but the most reasonable price we could find was £10, which seemed a little steep for yoghurt. Much as we would have liked to make it the traditional way, we couldn’t quite justify that price. The recipe said we could substitute Greek yoghurt, so that’s what we did.
Ingredients For the lamb: 1kg lamb bone-in cuts (eg shank) Water for boiling 3 bay leaves 1 medium cinnamon stick 8 peppercorns 5 cloves 1 tsp allspice powder 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
For the sauce: 1 cup lamb stock 2 1/2 cups Greek yoghurt (or jameed if you can get it) 1/2 cup water 2 tbsp cooking oil 4 cloves of garlic 1/4 cup lemon juice
For the rice: 2 tbsp cooking oil 3 cups soaked long grain rice 6 cups water 1 tsp turmeric 1/2 tsp salt
For the topping: Fried almonds Chopped parsley
Method 1. Put the lamb in a cooking pot and cover with water. 2. Bring to the boil over high heat and then turn off the heat. 3. Dispose of the water, then cover the lamb with fresh water and bring to the boil over high heat again. 4. When it is boiling, add the spices and stir to mix. 5. Cover the pot and turn down the heat to low. Simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the meat is tender. 6. To make the sauce, blend the yoghurt and water in a blender to liquefy. 7. Transfer this mixture to a cooking pot and slowly stir for 3-5 minutes over low heat. 8. Add the lamb broth (discarding the large spices) and meat and stir to mix. 9. Heat the oil in a separate pan and saute the garlic until it starts to brown. 10. Transfer the garlic to the sauce, stir to mix and turn off the heat. 11. To make the rice, put the oil and rice in a pot and stir, then add the turmeric and salt and give it a quick stir. 12. Add the water and bring to the boil. When boiling, cover the pot and simmer until the rice is fully cooked and the water is absorbed. 13. To assemble, put the rice on a platter and top with the lamb and then the sauce. Garnish with the almonds and parsley. Serves 4
We’ve made a lot of meat and rice dishes now and this one wasn’t particularly remarkable. The yoghurt sauce made it a bit different but not special enough that we’d rush to make it again. One day, when we (hopefully) eventually make it to Jordan, we’ll have to try it the traditional way with jameed and see what that’s like.
‘Kuwait is next on our list,’ said the message that Miranda sent to her friend who had lived in Kuwait for 13 years. ‘Do you have any authentic recipes?’
‘I would recommend murabyan and kunafa!’ came the reply, the exclamation mark suggesting that this meal was going to be a good one.
However, said reply didn’t come with any recipe details so once again we turned to Google. Murabyan is a celebration dish of spiced prawns (a lot of prawns!) and rice. Apparently prawns are popular in Kuwait because they’re found in the Gulf. Not so in England, so ours were found in Tesco, meaning they weren’t particularly wonderful prawns but fortunately they did the job. We followed a recipe from International Cuisine because it was the best combination of straightforward and authentic that we could find.
Ingredients For the rice: 1/2 tbsp olive oil 1/2 large onion, thinly sliced lengthwise 1 clove of garlic, mashed together with 1 tsp ground coriander and 1/2 tbsp grated fresh ginger 450g peeled and deveined prawns 1/4 tsp black pepper 1 large tomato, cut into thick slices 2 tsp salt 2 cups water 2 cups basmati rice, rinsed and drained
For the topping: 2 tbsp olive oil 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced lengthwise 1/4 tsp ground cardamom 1/4 tsp black pepper 1/4 tsp grated loomi (dried black lime) 1/2 tsp curry powder 1/2 tsp ground turmeric 1/4 tsp ground cloves 1/4 cup fresh coriander, chopped 1 clove of garlic, mashed with 1/2 tsp ground coriander and 1/4 tsp black pepper 450g peeled and deveined prawns
Method 1. First, make the rice. Heat the oil over medium heat. 2. Add the sliced onion and saute until golden brown. 3. Add the mashed garlic mixture and pepper and stir. 4. Add the prawns and tomato and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat. 5. Add the water and salt and bring to a boil. 6. Add the rice and stir to combine. 7. Reduce the heat and simmer until all the water is absorbed (at which point remove from the heat). 8. While the rice is cooking, make the topping. Saute the onions in the olive oil until golden brown. 9. Add the spices, loomi, coriander and mashed garlic mixture and stir together. 10. Add the remaining prawns and saute until cooked through. 11. Put the rice mixture on a platter and spoon the topping on top. Serves 4 generously
Our Kuwait-dwelling friend joined us for this meal and exclaimed how authentic the murabyan looked when it hit the table. That was praise enough for us! It tasted good too – we thought the prawns in the rice would have been chewy after boiling and simmering for so long, but somehow they weren’t. The spice mixture was really flavoursome too. So it was a thumbs up from the three adults. Toddler Mash declared he didn’t like it, then tried the tiniest of tiny nibbles under coercion and then confirmed that he didn’t like it, so he had a hummus sandwich. Baby Mash was on his third day of solid foods which meant he would give anything a go, and he seemed to be a big fan of the prawns!
This was served, by the way, with cans of Sprite – the ‘traditional’ beverage of this dry country!
Now, dessert was an interesting one. A lot of countries have their own version of kunafa, which is a cheesy pastry dessert made with kataifi pastry. Some versions are made with cheese, others with cream or a sort of milk pudding, but apparently the Kuwaiti version should contain cheese. The cheese ones are typically made with nabulsi or akkawi, which are brined and need to be soaked before using. We did look for them in a few shops but couldn’t find them. Suggested alternatives were fresh mozzarella, grated mozzarella and/or ricotta. We found some ricotta with a picture of kunafa on the packet so used some of that and some grated mozzzarella. Other decisions included whether to add extra sugar, or whether to sprinkle the finished dish with rosewater or orange blossom – but apparently that would be ‘a very posh one’ so we decided to slum it without any extra flavour! In the end, after a LOT of recipe reading, we decided to follow the one on Alpha Foodie because it offered so many explanations of the different versions of the dish.
Ingredients 400g kataifi pastry 250g mozzarella, ricotta or a combination 150g ghee, melted 1 cup sugar syrup (2:1 sugar to water ratio) A handful of pistachios, chopped
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 200C. 2. Chop the kataifi dough into approximately 3/4 inch pieces (or blitz a few times in a food processor). 3. In a large bowl, combine the chopped kataifi with the ghee. Use your hands to mix it well. 4. Grease a 30cm round pan with butter or ghee. 5. Transfer half of the kataifi mixture to the pan and use your hands or something flat-bottomed, like a glass, to spread and level out the layer. 6. Add the cheese, spreading evenly, leaving an inch of space around the outside so the cheese doesn’t ooze out the sides. 7. Add the remaining kataifi and level it, pressing lightly. 8. Bake for 45-50 minutes in the middle of the oven, until a deep golden-brown colour. 9. As soon as you take it out of the oven, immediately pour over the syrup, starting from the edges and moving into the centre in a circular motion (the recipe said 1/2 cup but we ended up using a whole cup, so maybe add gradually to taste). 10. Set aside for 10 minutes for the syrup to absorb. 11. Sprinkle with the chopped pistachios and serve. Serves 8-10
Made to the recipe, this was good. With the extra sugar syrup added, it was very good. The reason it wasn’t great was the cheese: in hindsight, ricotta probably wasn’t the right choice. It’s too creamy and not stringy, and the stringiness of the cheese seems to be an important factor here. We achieved a bit of it with the mozzarella we added, but not enough. If we made it again and still couldn’t track down the authentic Middle Eastern cheese, we’d probably just use grated mozzarella. And, frankly, this one is worth making again. Not if you’re counting calories, probably, but otherwise, it was YUM and we should probably try to master it! (Not that Toddler Mash agreed, of course – again, he had a nibble and passed on the rest… which was fine because Miranda was happy to eat his portion.)
Just before starting to write this blog post, Miranda was looking at a post on Instagram that was set to the song Walking Home by John Williams (the ‘somewhere in my memory’ song from Home Alone) and it got stuck in her head. There’s a bit of irony there because, honestly, we made this Bahraini dish so long ago it’s not anywhere in our memories that’s easily accessible — in other words, it’s probably in there somewhere, but buried beneath a fog of sleep deprivation and teething pain (a discussion on whether teething is more painful for the baby or the parents — most notably the breastfeeding mother — is one to save for another day). So, with apologies for an insight-less blog post, here’s the recipe for machboos that we found on The Daring Gourmet.
Ingredients 2 large onions, diced 3 tbsp ghee 1 tbsp baharat (we had some leftover from our Omani dish) 1 tsp turmeric 2 tbsp oil About 1.5kg of chicken pieces (we bought a whole chicken and portioned it) 1 green chilli pepper, seeded and diced (we left this out) 1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced (about 5-6cm) 5 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced 1 tin of chopped tomatoes, drained 2-3 dried limes (loomi), several holes punched in each one 5 green cardamom pods 1/8 tsp ground cloves 1 cinnamon stick (about 2 inches long) 2 1/2 tsp salt 2 1/2 cups chicken stock 2 cups basmati rice (soaked for at least 15 minutes, then rinsed and drained) 3 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped Rosewater for sprinkling (optional, and we didn’t do it) Salad and raita to serve
Method 1. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat and fry the chicken pieces on both sides until the skin is brown and crispy. Transfer to a plate. 2. Add the ghee, reduce the heat to medium, and fry the onions until starting to brown (10-12 minutes). 3. Add the ginger, garlic and chilli and saute for another 2 minutes. 4. Add the baharat and turmeric and cook for another minute. 5. Return the chicken pieces to the pot along with the tomatoes, dried limes, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, ground cloves and salt. 6. Add the chicken stock and stir to combine. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 hour. 7. Add the coriander, parsley and rice and stir to combine. Return it to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for another 15-20 minutes until the rice is done and has absorbed the liquid. 8. Serve with green salad and raita. Serves 4-6
Both the quantity and quality of these photos suggest that this dinner might have been a bit of a rush job, which could be why we don’t remember it terribly clearly. One thing that has come back to us whilst writing this up is that the leg meat was lovely, but the breast was dry after all that stewing – so maybe stick to thighs rather than buying a whole chicken.
Sorry again for the lack of detail here. We’ll be more interesting next time!
Toddler Mash loves Paddington Bear, so when we found out that a local cafe was serving a special Paddington breakfast, we booked a table straight away. Knowing that this was going to be a real treat, we optimistically scheduled Qatari harees for that night’s dinner: yes, it contains things that Toddler Mash would be unlikely to touch on their own, but since it’s all blended up we thought we might be able to get away with calling it soup or ‘dinner porridge’ and get him to eat something nutritious after a calorific, sugar-laden breakfast. If not, we had khubz arabias a backup, because you can’t go wrong with bread.
Well. The breakfast was indeed calorific and sugar-laded, but Toddler Mash gave it his best shot, polishing off pancakes with Nutella, churros and a shortbread biscuit with chocolate icing, as well as plenty of hot chocolate. Whether or not his behaviour for the rest of the day was a result of that, we’ll never know, but he was grumpy, didn’t want to eat, and eventually gave up and went to bed at 5:30 with no nutritious dinner.
All things considered, that was probably for the best. The harees took much longer to cook than the recipe said it was going to, and the bread recipe was baffling: what it produced was nothing like a bread dough until we added a LOT more flour. It also didn’t puff up into the lovely soft pillows we were expecting. Miranda and Ash didn’t end up eating until about 7:30, which is a lot later than we’d have been able to keep Toddler Mash up. You can see how long it took by the way the light changes in the photos. At least we got there in the end. The recipes below incorporate our changes.
Ingredients 2 large chicken breasts, cut into chunks 1 cup whole wheat 2 cups water 1/2 cup ghee 1/4 tsp cinnamon 1 tsp ground cumin 1 tbsp coriander seeds Salt and pepper to taste
Method 1. The night before you are going to make the harees, soak the whole wheat in water. 2. When you are ready to cook, put the chicken, whole wheat and water in a pot and cook over a low heat for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Skim the froth. 3. Blend the mixture with a hand blender or food processor until it becomes a smooth paste. (We needed to add more boiling water to achieve a paste). 4. Melt the ghee and add the cinnamon, cumin and seasoning. 5. Put the harees into serving bowls and pour the ghee mixture on top. 6. Garnish with coriander seeds. Serves 2
Ingredients 1 1/2 cups warm water 1 package active dry yeast 1 1/2 tsp salt 3 cups plain flour, plus extra for dusting 1 tbsp oil, plus extra for greasing
Method 1. Put the water and yeast in a large bowl and stir until the yeast has dissolved. 2. Add the salt. 3. Gradually add the flour and oil while kneading and keep kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic. 4. Put the dough into a large greased bowl and turn the dough to grease all sides. 5. Cover with a dry tea towel and let it rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about 1 1/2 hours). 6. Preheat oven to 180C. 7. Punch the dough gently and divide into 12 equal portions. Shape each portion into a smooth ball. 8. Place on a floured work surface and dust the tops lightly with flour. 9. Cover with a dry tea towel and rest for 15 minutes. 10. Roll out each ball into a 6 inch diameter circle. 11. Place the circles on greased baking sheets. 12. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the bread puffs. Makes 12
Harees: Yes, this is meat porridge. Yes, that sounds like a revolting concept. Yes, there were a few points whilst cooking it that we seriously considered throwing in the towel and getting a takeaway. But we got there in the end, and we were glad we persevered! The porridge part itself was pretty bland, admittedly, but the spiced ghee topping, whilst probably a bit naughty in a calorie sense, really made it. The nutrition factor that we were initially aiming for was definitely there too, and we’re thinking of possibly making it again for when Baby Mash starts solids (in a week!) – maybe Toddler Mash might even try it then too.
Khubz arabi: Well, one of them puffed up. The rest didn’t (despite trying a range of methods with both the oven and the stove), and they were pretty tough and chewy, so we clearly did something wrong. Adding all the extra flour must have done something to the ratios but we’d have had glue instead of bread if we hadn’t done that, so it was better than nothing.
So, all in all, not a total success, but not a total failure either.
Whilst looking for Omani recipes, we came across Dina Macki and her website, Dine with Dina. Dina is a UK cook of Omani and Zanzibari heritage who has run Omani supper clubs in London. Her website showcases Middle Eastern food and some of her recipes have been reproduced on other websites (which is actually how we found them). Shuwa (slow roasted lamb) is Oman’s celebration dish and the first one you come across on the website (although we used this website instead). This all seemed very promising in terms of making an authentic and traditional dish.
The problem with Dina’s recipe is that it says to serve the lamb with ‘saffron or spiced rice and a yoghurt-based salad’ but there is not an obvious recipe for either of these dishes on her website. We found another Dina recipe for rice on Pink Jinn, but that was a part of a complete lamb shank dish so we had to tweak it a bit. As for the yoghurt salad, we couldn’t find much but we did come across this tzatziki-esque jajeekand it sounded like it would work so we went with it.
When we found out the lamb was to slow roast for five hours, and would traditionally be cooked in a hole in the ground, we decided to use our kamado barbecue as a substitute ‘hole’ and impart some smoky flavour on the way. Any excuse to barbecue.
Ingredients Baharat spice mix (but make a bit more than this because you need an additional tbsp for the rice. We doubled it because we’re also going to need it for future recipes): 2 tbsp black peppercorns 1 tbsp coriander seeds 1 cinnamon stick 1 tbsp cloves 2 tbsp cumin seeds 5 cardamom pods 1 tbsp ground nutmeg 2 tbsp chilli flakes
Also 1 leg of lamb 3 tbsp white vinegar Juice of 2 limes 1 tbsp salt 10 garlic cloves, crushed 50ml vegetable oil
Method: 1. In a frying pan, combine all of the baharat spices and dry fry on a medium to high heat, stirring regularly, until it is fragrant and just beginning to smoke. 2. Blitz in a spice grinder until you have a fine powder. 3. Combine the baharat with the vinegar, lime juice, salt, garlic and oil and mix well until you have formed a paste. 4. Put the lamb leg in a roasting tray that is covered with foil and cut small slits all over it with a sharp knife. 5. Pour the marinade over the lamb and massage all over the meat. 6. Wrap the foil over the meat and seal it well, then marinate in the fridge for at least 12 hours. 7. Before cooking, take the meat out of the fridge and allow to come up to room temperature. 8. Cook for approximately 5 hours at 140C (in an oven or barbecue) and allow to rest before serving. Serves 4 very generously (yes, the recipe did say serves 8… your point?)
Ingredients 1/2 tsp saffron threads 1/2 tbsp sugar 1 cup barberries (or raisins if you can’t get barberries) 2 onions, divided, both thinly sliced 1 tbsp baharat 3 cups basmati rice 4 1/2 cups lamb stock 1/4 cup cashews Chopped coriander, to garnish Pomegranate arils, to garnish
Method 1. In a pestle and mortar, mix the saffron and sugar together until it forms a powder, then add 1 cup of boiling water and stir well. 2. Pour the saffron water over the barberries and allow to soak. 3. Put one sliced onion in a large saucepan with some oil and the baharat and fry until golden (4-5 minutes). 4. Add the rice and fry slightly to coat in the onion and spice mix. 5. Add the lamb stock and leave to cook on a low heat until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is soft and fluffy. 6. Meanwhile, put the other sliced onion in a frying pan with some oil and fry over a medium heat until just beginning to brown. 7. Add the barberries and soaking liquid along with the cashews and fry for 3-4 minutes. 8. Put the rice on a platter and top with the barberries, cashews, coriander and pomegranate (then put the lamb on top).
Ingredients 1 cup plain Balkan yoghurt (see note below) 1 cup cucumber, finely diced (about half a cucumber) 1 garlic clove, finely crushed 1 tbsp mint, finely chopped Sea salt, to taste
Balkan yoghurt: we believe this is a thick yoghurt, similar to Greek yoghurt. It is typically made with raw milk and a starter culture and ferments inside its individual containers rather than a large vat. We went to our local Middle Eastern grocer and stared at all the options (most of which, interestingly, were actually German) for a long time, long enough that Toddler Mash started to get pretty bored. In the end we chose one that had a starter culture listed in the ingredients but we don’t know if it’s actually Balkan. It’s seriously creamy though. If you can’t find Balkan yoghurt, Greek would be fine.
Method 1. Stir the yoghurt in a bowl until creamy. 2. Add the other ingredients, stir well and refrigerate until using (ideally for no longer than 30 minutes or the cucumber will go soft).
Put all of that together and you get…
So why is the title of this blog ‘more than we could chew’? Two reasons, actually. The first was that this was a FEAST. We definitely didn’t need that much rice. and we’ll be enjoying the leftovers of both that and the lamb this week. We should clarify that ‘we’ only refers to Miranda and Ash though. To give him credit, Toddler Mash did nibble on a tiny bit of ‘that beef’ (the lamb), but the crust was far too spicy to give him and the rice was spicier than we’d anticipated (we used less chilli than the recipe said, but didn’t factor in the heat in the peppercorns) – so a bit more than he could chew too. He had a banana and buttered toast for dinner. Top parenting there.
The other way we bit off more than we could chew was that we somehow thought it was a good idea to barbecue, cook a fancy rice dish and buy Toddler Mash his first pedal bike on the same day. So the barbecue needed supervising, the rice needed supervising, the baby needed supervising and the excited toddler needed supervising to ensure he didn’t have a nasty accident. It was a miracle this meal made it onto the table at all. But it did (and the toddler mastered the pedals, and Baby Mash rolled over for the first time)!
And we’re glad it did, because it was YUM. The lamb was so tender it fell apart. The marinade was seriously spicy though – we were glad to have the jajeek! The rice was worth the extra effort too, and we think spending the time frying it before cooking it made all the difference. Miranda and Ash happily went back for seconds. So despite the afternoon being a little chaotic to say the least, we think it was a triumph all round.
OK, let’s get the biggest news out of the way first: TODDLER MASH ACTUALLY ATE THIS.
But we’ll start at the beginning…
Some years ago, Ash and Miranda had a wonderful dinner at Honey & Co, a Middle Eastern restaurant (now group of restaurants) in London, and then bought the book. Every recipe in it looks delicious and it’s one of those books that’s good just to flick through and read, rather than just cook from. But cooking from it is something we’d never gotten around to, and Miranda in particular was itching to give it a go.
Observant followers of this blog will know that we’ve been cooking our way around Africa, so are probably wondering what we’re doing making Yemeni dishes. Well, we have a small group of Middle Eastern countries that we haven’t ‘visited’ yet, Yemen being the first, so we were finally forced into an opportunity to explore our Honey & Co cookbook.
We decided to try Yemeni falafel. We’ve made falafel lots of times before, but have to confess to two apparently cardinal sins in the falafel world: oven baking and tinned chickpeas. The former was laziness (and an attempt at healthiness); the latter can only be blamed on ignorance, but Honey & Co tells us that falafel must NEVER be made with tinned chickpeas. It also tells us that it must be served with a tahini dip, and we also found a recipe for zehug, a condiment that Yemenis eat with everything as ‘food is not considered palatable without it’, so we had to make that too. Finally, we learnt that we should serve the falafel alongside fresh flatbreads and salad, so Ash and Toddler Mash went on an expedition to our local Middle Eastern grocer for some flatbreads and we were good to go.
Ingredients 1/2 onion, peeled (about 60g) 1 clove of garlic, peeled 125g dried chickpeas 1 green chilli, seeds and all (we omitted this) 3 sprigs of parsley, picked 1 small bunch of coriander (about 15-20g), leaves and top part of stems only 1/2 tsp ground cumin 1 tsp freshly ground cardamom pods (the book says to grind the whole pods) 1/2 tsp salt 2 tbsp gram flour 1 tsp baking powder 1 litre vegetable oil
Method 1. The night before you plan to make the falafel, soak the chickpeas in about a litre of water. 2. Put the onion, garlic, chilli and herbs in a food processor and pulse them to chop roughly. 3. Add the chickpeas and blitz until everything becomes a thick paste with small, even-sized bits. (The best way to check whether it is done is to scoop up a small amount and squeeze it together in your palm – it should hold its shape. If it falls apart, continue blitzing.) 4. Tip the mixture into a large bowl, add the spices, salt, flour and baking powder and mix until combined. 5. Heat the oil to 170C in a small pan. 6. Shape the falafel mixture into walnut-sized balls (we used a heaped half tablespoon) and carefully place them in the oil in batches, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. 7. Fry until the exterior is browned and crisped (about 2-3 minutes). 8. Remove to a plate covered with a paper towel and repeat until they are all cooked. Serve immediately. Makes 14-18 falafels
Tahini (the book tells us that the best tahini paste comes from Lebanon, Palestine or Turkey)
Ingredients 125g tahini paste 1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced A pinch of salt Juice of 1 lemon 60-120ml water
Method 1. Place the tahini, garlic, salt and lemon juice in a bowl, add half the water and mix. It will go thick and pasty but keep adding water while mixing until it loosens up. 2. Taste and adjust the salt and lemon to suit your taste buds. Makes about 240g
Ingredients (we halved these) 2 bunches of coriander, washed well 1 green chilli 2 cloves of garlic A pinch of salt 1/2 tsp ground cardamom pods (again, it said to grind the whole pods, but for this one we removed the outer skins after grinding as our pods are pretty old and they were all dry and papery) 1 small tomato, diced 2 tbsp olive oil
Method 1. Grind all the ingredients apart from the olive oil together in a food processor or pestle and mortar to form a thick, textured paste. 2. Stir in 1 tbsp of the olive oil. 3. Scoop the paste into a small jar and top with the second tablespoon of olive oil (this will help to preserve the green colour and stop the paste from oxidising). Makes about 200g
One thing we really loved about these recipes was the fact that other than the actual frying of the falafel, everything could be prepped in advance. We made it on a Sunday when we were staying home all day, so we were able to pop into the kitchen and make an element at an opportune moment, saving us the stress of having to put lots of things together at the last minute. Instead, we could just load the table with Yemeni delights and a bottle of wine and dig in.
We knew that falafel is supposed to be deep-fried but we used to make do with our oven-baked version. Unsurprisingly, these were far superior: deliciously crunchy without being greasy. The real game changer, though, was the (soaked) dried chickpeas, which gave much more texture than their softer tinned cousins. The herbs and spices blend was also different from falafel we’ve had before – they were much herbier (and very green!) and the cardamom really made them distinctive.
And – TODDLER MASH ACTUALLY ATE THIS. The first miracle was that he was willing to try it; the second was that he liked it; the third was that he asked for more. Good thing we had to buy a 1kg bag of dried chickpeas because we think we will have to make this again!
As for the condiments, the tahini was obviously excellent because tahini is excellent. We wonder whether we did something wrong when making the zehug because it didn’t live up to the hype – it was all right, but we wouldn’t say it made the rest of the meal any more ‘palatable’.
Miranda loves Middle Eastern food – could Toddler Mash possibly be following in her footsteps? Will we witness another culinary miracle next time or will we return to the status quo? Only time will tell…
In 2016, we went to a great Eritrean restaurant in Clapham called Adulis. We ordered their chef’s assortment of dishes so that we could try a bit of everything, and they all came arranged on a giant spongy flatbread called injera, the point being that the diner would tear off a piece of injera and use it to pick up the meat and vegetables.
So when it was our turn to cook an Eritrean dish, we were determined to have a go at injera. Made with teff flour, injera follows a similar process to sourdough in that a mixture of flour and water is left to ferment and grow natural yeast for a few days before the bread is cooked. We dutifully spent our £6 on a bag of teff flour, found a thorough recipe and explanation of the process on The Daring Gourmet and set to work.
The Daring Gourmet is very clear that although aerobic yeast that looks like mould will grow on the fermenting batter, if it grows actual mould it needs to be thrown out. Whilst we’re not totally sure of the difference between the two, we were pretty sure that what you can see in the photos below was actual mould – so that was the end of that.
Not to be defeated, however, we had another go. The first attempt had taken place in the middle of a heatwave so we wondered whether that had had a negative impact (not that Eritrea is known for its chilly climate). The Daring Gourmet had also said that 100% teff was hard to work with and suggested substituting some of it for wheat flour. We didn’t have enough teff left for a full batch so that worked out well, and we ended up using about 1 1/2 cups of teff and 1/2 cup white flour instead of all teff. We also let the temperature drop a bit before trying again.
Of course, cooler weather doesn’t make much difference if someone (Miranda) leaves the bowl on top of the stove when the oven is on, and sure enough, mould (and a bad smell) grew again.
We don’t actually know whether the temperature of the batter had anything to do with the mould, but we were now out of teff flour and not inclined to spend another £6 on some more, so we had no choice but to admit that injera had beaten us. Luckily we had some rice in the cupboard and were able to serve that with our own chosen Eritrean dish, lentil wat (stew).
Ingredients 1 onion, finely chopped 5 garlic cloves, crushed 1-2 tsp berbere 2 carrots, sliced into half moons 1 tin of chopped tomatoes 1 1/2 cups dried lentils (we used half red, half green) 2 cups vegetable stock Cooking oil Salt and pepper
Method 1. Add the onion to a medium pot and saute in a little oil until softened and starting to colour. 2. Add the garlic and berbere and toast gently in the oil for a moment. 3. Add the carrots, tomatoes, lentils and stock and stir well, then season to taste. 4. Simmer for 25-45 minutes depending on the lentils you have used (check packet instructions). The lentils should be tender but not mushy. Serves 4
For such a simple dish, this was actually very enjoyable. The berbere is so packed full of spices that it gave plenty of flavour to ingredients that could otherwise be a bit bland. Ash’s comment was that this was the sort of food he expected to eat as we cooked our way around the African nations: cheap, simple, filling and nutritious. Toddler Mash didn’t touch it, of course, but we’re thinking of making another batch of it for when Baby Mash starts weaning, for the same reasons listed above – we’ll be able to pack a lot of goodness into him with this one!
We may have had two failed attempts at injera, but at least our lentil wat was a winner.