Watermelon and Feta Salad

Watermelons are a big thing in my family. Actually, I think they might be a big thing in everyone's family. I think my family's obsession stems from my father; whose love of watermelon sometimes brings into question whether the love between man and fruit should really reach such heights. For him, a watermelon is a delicate thing, every stage has an intricate process. When we go to the market to pick out a watermelon he'll spend 15 to 20 minutes in ritual carefully choosing which watermelon we'd take back home with us. I don't know if this is a family thing (I mean we've never been great athletes or scholars but we may have the watermelon game down to a tee) but my dad seems to have an inner understanding of the complexities of the humble watermelon. He knows the significance of each shade of green on the outer skin and what each bump signifies (like a watermelon phrenologist) which helps him to consistently pick the most ripe, the most beautiful watermelons. So you can gather that this time of year our house is full of wonderful watermelons that are asking to be used up in creative ways and I think I have a really easy summery recipe to do just that.

Watermelon and feta is not a new combination to most Lebanese people. It's a flavour pairing that has been around since my parents were in their youth (in the 60's) and it's a favourite summer snack around our household. It's rarely ever made into a salad but I think it works with a few added twists. I've used Greek feta in this recipe but my parents prefer using a Bulgarian cheese which is not too dissimilar to the Hellenic variety but has a more complex flavour. I've also included a few chopped almonds for a bit of a different texture but you can exclude them if you so wish. Here it is:

500g watermelon - diced
115g feta cheese or similar - diced
handful of fresh mint - chopped
handful of fresh basil - torn
small handful of roasted almonds - finely chopped
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
a little black pepper
2-3 shallots - really finely diced

This may just be the simplest recipe yet. Brace yourselves...

Mix all the ingredients together. Let it sit for a few minutes. Try not to break up the cubes of cheese. Garnish with mint and serve with a side of olives.

Shin of Beef Stew with Marcona Almonds

I know what you're thinking. A stew? Are you crazy?! And the answer is...I may just be, but in my defence I tried to make this dish as light as possible! Anyway, the weather has been quite miserable lately and I wanted something comforting to eat. I could also say that I'm doing this for my Southern Hemisphere homies but that would be telling porkies. I think the issue here might be referring to this dish as a stew when if I had the mind for it I'd come up with a better name. Saying that, Koreans don't stop eating sundubu jjigae when the weatherman's map shows a sun with a smiley face on it, so why should I stop eating my stew? This is quite a filling dish but served in small portions with my honey-glazed carrots it can be transformed into a (relatively) summery evening meal.

Shin of beef is my favourite stewing cut as I think the abundance of connective tissue not only increases the flavour of the accompanying gravy but holds the pieces of meat together really well when cooked for extended durations. I like big chunks of meat in my stews and I cut the meat quite thick and I did the same with the potatoes. I also love to blend my own spice mixes and I went for a really basic accompanying flavour - I tempered cumin seeds, fennel seeds, mustard seeds and dried chilli to release their oils before crushing them. I added Thai fish sauce to the liquid to bring out the beefiness of the beef (increased umami for that 'oh mummy!' reception). Marcona almonds are a more rounded sweeter variety of almond from Spain where they're often served fried and I used them here because I think the flavour they add works really well to bring this dish to life.

I also just wanted to say that this is my 21st post and quite a few people (myself included) didn't think I'd make this blog even last a month but I've been really enjoying it. I've decided from now on to include more pictures in each entry so you lovely readers have more to gawk at. This blog is ever evolving so expect more changes along the way. I'm here for the long-haul.

Shin of Beef Stew
250-300g shin of beef diced
2 medium onions roughly chopped
2 smallish potatoes roughly diced
a handful or so of Marcona almonds
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon or so of rapeseed oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried chilli
1 cup beef stock
1/2 cup water
2-3 teaspoons fish sauce (nam pla)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
a splash of white wine vinegar
a handful of chopped parsley
salt and pepper

Honey and Sesame Glazed Carrots
12 new season carrots
2-3 tablespoons honey
1/2 lemon juiced
rind of 1/2 a lemon
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
salt and pepper

Shin of Beef Stew
Coat the beef in the flour and shake off the excess before frying the beef until browned in half of the rapeseed oil. Remove the beef and set aside. Add the rest of the oil and fry off the onions. When transluscent add the spice mix and fry for half a minute or so. Add the potatoes and the meat back into the pan or pot and add the stock and water. Add the remaining ingredients minus the parsley and salt and pepper. Bring to boil and cover. Simmer on a low heat for 3-4 hours. You need to check the pot every now and then because you might need to add a little bit of water half way through cooking. When done turn off the heat and add 3/4 of the chopped parsley, reserving some for the decoration. In a dry pan roast the almonds and then add those to the pot as well. Serve immediately or wait for it to cool down before serving with the honey and sesame seed glazed carrots.

Note: You can substitute the beef stock for a mixture of half beef stock and half Lebanese beer (such as Almaza) for an even deeper flavour.

Honey and Sesame Glazed Carrots
Using a good vegetable peeler peel away the rough outer skin of the carrots. Add all the ingredients minus the sesame seeds into a baking tray and mix around well. You need to keep turning the carrots to produce an even glaze. This should take 15 or so minutes to cook on a lowish heat. You can leave it for as long or as little as you want (I'd say the minimum is 5 minutes to produce a good glaze). When you're happy with the colour of the carrots sprinkle evenly with the sesame seeds and serve next to the stew.

Pistachio Biscotti, Cardamom Cream and Turkish Coffee

Let's get this out of the way early on: Turkish coffee is an acquired taste. Turkish coffee is dark and bitter and bares no resemblance to the generic freeze-dried lame excuse for coffee common in the UK. The coffee revolution in England has been in full swing for at least a decade and a half, and a new breed of coffee buff is taking charge. But real coffee is still in the minority and exceptional coffee is still a rarity. But in Istanbul finding somewhere that serves great coffee is not usually an issue as coffee culture has had five centuries to flourish. Coffee has ancestral roots in Ethiopia and Yemen and by the middle of the sixteenth century the coffee trail had invaded Turkey's largest city. This blog entry is my homage to the impact Turkish coffee has had on the life of Lebanese people and beyond.

One foodstuff that has been a beneficiary of the aforementioned coffee-shop boom in the UK has been the humble biscotti. Of course in Italian biscotti just means biscuit but in the English speaking world it refers to twice-baked rusk-like biscuit. Below is the recipe for my ideal coffee break: Pistachio Biscotti, Cardamom Cream and Turkish Coffee.

Pistachio Biscotti
100g self-raising flour
20g ground almonds
50g slighty salted butter
1 egg
50g crushed roasted pistachios
75-100g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cardamom Cream
1 pot double cream
3-4 pods of green cardamom
3-4 tablespoons icing sugar

Turkish Coffee
freshly ground coffee beans

Pistachio Biscotti
Put all the dry ingredients into a bowl. Whisk the egg, 50g of softened butter and vanilla extract until pale. Work the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and form into a dough. It should just about form a ball. Cover it with cling film and let it rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 190degrees Celsius and grease a baking tray. Form the dough into two sausage-like shapes some width apart (they will expand). Cook until slightly golden (15minutes or so) and take out and cool. With a pallet knife cut diagonal biscuits and turn them onto their sides. You can brush them with more butter and sprinkle with icing sugar at this point. Place them back into the oven to crisp up and brown further. Take out of the oven and cool. Store in an airtight container. Note: this should make around 10-12 biscuits.

Cardamom Cream
Split the cardamom pods and extract the little black seeds from inside. Discard the outer pod and gently grind the inner seeds. Whisk the double cream lightly before adding the icing sugar and crushed cardamom. Whisk until relatively stiff and scoop into a serving bowl.

Turkish Coffee
Heat the water in a a coffee pot on a medium heat. When the water boils mix in a 2-3 teaspoons of freshly ground coffee beans and return to the heat. When the coffee bubbles and is about to overflow turn off the heat. Serve in little porcelain glasses without any sugar. The sweetness of the biscotti and cream are a good counterpoint to the coffee. The biscotti give a nutty, buttery tone and the cardamom cream a spiced lift. I think I might go on another coffee break.

Labneh: A Love Letter

Dear Labneh,

You have been good to me. You've filled my stomach on lazy days, you've kept me going on those darker days, you've been there when I've needed you. I still remember the first embrace when everything I ever needed to know was conveyed with that very first mouthful. You make my dreams come true.

I love you.

Greek style yoghurt
a pinch of salt
extra virgin olive oil
dried mint

Mix the salt with the yoghurt. Pour the yoghurt into a clean muslin cloth and hang it up somewhere safe to strain overnight. This process gets rid of the whey and thickens the yoghurt even further (so Greek style will produce even more beautifully thick labneh). It's even better if you can find space in your fridge to hang the cloth but it's not that detrimental to leave it at room temperature. Once no more water comes out of the yoghurt you should empty the contents of the cloth into a bowl. You can serve it without anything else but it's more traditionally served with a good helping of extra virgin olive oil and dried mint. Once you've tried your own home-made labneh you'll be in love too.

Strawberry and Hibiscus Eton Mess

Now that the summer has unofficially receded I feel it is a good point to highlight what a great year it has been for British Strawberries. The harvest this year has been unusually sweet and also beautifully scented. Nothing comes close to the smell of freshly picked ripe strawberries.

I know this is another strawberry recipe but I feel that we have to make use of them whilst they're in season. This recipe adds an earthy, slightly perfumed, hibiscus sauce to the mixture of cream, meringue and strawberry and moves it beyond an ordinary Eton Mess.

Strawberries and Cream
1 pot double cream
500g strawberries hulled and quartered
1 tablespoon icing sugar

Hibiscus Sauce
handful dried hibiscus flowers
250ml water
125g caster sugar

250g egg white
250g caster sugar
250g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 110degrees C. Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form and add the caster sugar. Whisk again until stiffer peaks are formed and whisk in the icing sugar for a few minutes. Spread onto a non-stick baking tray and cook until crispy and dry.

Hibiscus Sauce
Add a handful of dried hibiscus flowers to the sugar and water and slowly bring to a boil. Let the mixture simmer until it thickens into a syrupy mixture and reduced 1/3. Cool down and then take the hibiscus flowers out.

Whisk the cream until soft peaks form and then add the sugar before whisking to a firmer peak. Crumble meringue into the mixture and fold in. Add the strawberries and fold in. Add some of the syrup and fold in. Serve in a dessert glass and top with more strawberries and more hibiscus sauce. Summer in a glass, it's a shame it's gone.


After a succession of posts that ventured away from the traditional ideals of Lebanese cuisine I've decided to dip my toes back into the tried and tested. But words are cheap and I didn't actually abide by any classic notion of what a fattoush salad is. But that's part of the fun of making a salad, it's an open invitation to be creative and I've altered and/or exchanged some of the ingredients and I've included some alternative techniques to give this classic a new lease of life. I began this blog to experiment with what New Lebanese cuisine could be and I believe this recipe to be a marker of what simple creative changes can produce. My variation of this salad is best described as the illegitimate love child of an exotic Lebanese fattoush and a sultry Tuscan panzanella. Hungry yet?


* radishes
* tomatoes
* stale bread
* cucumber
* spring onion
* courgette
* lemon
* good quality extra virgin olive oil
* sea salt and pepper
* cumin (optional)

* denotes that you should put whatever quantity of each ingredient you fancy, it's more fun to tailor this salad to your tastes.

Cut the stale bread into bite size pieces (you may need to put the bread in the oven for a few minutes so you can cut it without it crumbling everywhere). Chop the tomatoes, radishes, cucumber and spring onions roughly and place in a bowl. Drizzle with quite a bit of olive oil and lemon (the bread will soak the liquid up so over dress the vegetables) and sprinkle on the salt and pepper. Mix in the bread and let it sit at room temperature for the flavours to infuse.

Marinate sliced courgettes and radishes in olive oil, lemon and a little cumin and char grill for a few seconds. Spoon the salad into a bowl and place the grilled vegetables on top. Drizzle with more olive oil to finish. Fattoush. Done.

Salty Banoffee Pie

One of my culinary obsessions is good salt. I love being able to feel the crunch of good natural sea or rock salt on certain foods and I also love the flavour altering qualities real salt has on many ingredients. One of those ingredients that's transformed by a good pinch of salt is of course caramel. Lovely lovely caramel. The taste sensation produced by combining these two ingredients is nothing new but I feel that it's an important component in elevating a banoffee pie into something more special. The interplay between the newly altered caramel taste, the biscuit base, the bananas and the cream is so good that you'll really have to try this for yourself. I'm lucky I got pictures of this in time because my tasters scoffed it all up! Also, please click on the pictures to see them in their full glory!

Dulce de Leche
1 can of condensed milk
enough water to immerse the can (and more to keep topping up the levels)
a pinch of Maldon sea salt

Biscuit Base
crushed digestive biscuits
enough butter to hold the base
2-3 tablespoons sugar

1 banana
1 pot whipping cream
3-4 tablespoons of caster sugar
70% chocolate for grating

Dulce de Leche
Remove the label from the can of condensed milk. Pierce it in two places (on the top) with a can opener and immerse in a heavy based pan with enough water to cover 3/4 of the can. Boil the can for a good 2-3 hours to get a sauce-like consistency. Boil it for longer to get a firm caramel. You need to watch the can. Keep adding water so it consistently reaches 3/4 of the way up. Let it cool and scoop out the goodies. Alternatively put some trousers on and buy a can of ready made dulce de leche at the supermarket.

Biscuit Base
Crush some digestive biscuits (but not to a completely fine grain). Add enough melted butter and the sugar so that the crumbs stick together. Place the base at the bottom of of a lightly buttered circular mould onto a plate and refridgerate for 15 minutes. You could freeze it for 5 instead. But who has room in their freezer? Take it out so you can layer on the other stuff.

Scoop on the dulce de leche on to the biscuit base making sure not to go all the way to the edge of the mould. Sprinkle in a few flakes of the Maldon sea salt. Slice a banana and place the slices on top of the dulce de leche and the biscuit base. Whip up the cream with the sugar and add one spoonful ontop of the banoffee pie (this is my perfect ratio but add more if you feel like it). Grate the dark chocolate to finish. Watch the scavangers totally annhiliate your pie. Feel good about yourself.

Pomegranate and Mint Ribs

Mmm, ribs. Oh how I love thee. I find nothing more equally delicious and frustrating as ribs. Actually, there are quite a few ingredients that frustrate me mainly due to how much goes to waste (artichokes, lobster, crab, red mullet). Ribs seduce you only for them to reveal that 1/3 is fat, 1/3 is bone and if you're lucky 1/3 is flesh. But that's probably what makes them delicious - the idea that you have to work for a small amount of reward. I'm not a culinary masochist but I like getting involved in my food - sometimes utensils are an unnecessary barrier between us and our food and that connection should be more involved. Sure you'll be frustrated for a while but if another tray of ribs come out you'll be back on them like a cartoon wolf. Below is my idea of the perfect way of preparing ribs. Hope you like it.

a kilo or so of lamb ribs
2 tablespoons dried mint
2 tablespoons of pomegranate syrup/molasses
2-4 cloves of garlic crushed (optional)
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds crushed
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper (optional)
salt and pepper
fresh mint to garnish

You need to let the ribs marinate overnight so do this the day before. Put all the ingredients into a bowl and massage until everything is well coated. Cover with cling film and put it in the fridge for the flavours to infuse. Fire up a barbecue or your oven and cook the ribs until golden (you might need to baste if in the oven; quite a bit of fat will drip from the ribs). Serve with torn fresh mint.

Strawberry and Spicy Cinnamon Granita

One of my life goals is to open an ice cream parlour. I know, it doesn't sound like I'm aiming for much but I really love ice cream. Really really love ice cream. Hell, I love all its cousins too. Granita is a Sicilian dessert of semi-frozen sugar syrup and fruit (almost like a slush) and I love it too. This combination came about from a brainstorming session I had with two friends when thinking about how cool it would be to open an ice cream parlour with our own flavour creations on sale. This really bought out the child in me and I guess cooking in some respects does that to you. Kids are unbridled gluttons and you need to get into that mindset to really push the boundaries of what you can do with desserts. As a kid I used to love eating the spicy cinnamon jawbreakers and here I combine it with a healthy fruit kick to make a hot and cold granita.

1 1/2 cup strawberries hulled and mashed
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cinnamon stick broken into two
a pinch of cayenne pepper
a squeeze of lemon

Heat the water, sugar and cinnamon slowly on a pan until the sugar has melted and the mixture is about to boil. Take off the heat and let it cool down. Hull and mash the strawberries and then add to the syrup mixture when it has cooled down. Fish out the cinnamon bark/stick and leave on the side for later. Add the pepper and lemon juice and give it a good mix. Put it in a sealable container and then put it in the freezer. You need to work the mixture with a fork every 30 minutes until it is solid. You could do it more or less regularly depending on the texture of the granita you prefer (I left it a bit longer to get bigger chunks). Scoop out into a glass and place the cinnamon on top for decoration before serving.

Cold Yoghurt Soup with Pinenut Ravioli

It may come as a surprise to those who don't live in London that it does, in fact, have four seasons. And no I'm not talking about the hotel chain. And no those seasons aren't just four shades of grey. It's somewhat excusable to have held that belief in the immediate past when for nigh on three years the British summer never took flight so we all...took flights. This year, though, we're at the tail-end of a heatwave and everyone is searching for a way to cool down. This recipe is a reworking of a Lebanese classic known as shishbarak, which has nothing to do with skewered meat or the US President. This recipe also requires very little work, so you have no reason to suffer in the heat this summer. I think I see a raincloud overhead...

one pot bio yoghurt
75-100ml of water
a tablespoon of dried mint
some chopped parsley
however many crushed garlic cloves you fancy
olive oil
salt and pepper

Pasta parcels
a basic dough (flour, water, salt, olive oil)
3 shallots
2 teaspoons pinenut
a pinch of allspice
a pinch of mint
rapeseed oil
salt and pepper

Pasta Parcels
Make the dough and roll to about 1cm thickness and cut circles about an inch in diameter. Fry off the shallots in rapeseed oil until transluscent, add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Pick up a circle and stretch to a desired size. Fill with 1 teaspoon of the shallot and pinenut filling. Fold over to create a semi-circle and press the edges down to seal. Put these in the oven until the parcels are golden.

Yoghurt Soup
Put all the ingredients in a cold pan and work with a whisk. Check the seasoning and then put your feet up and wait for the parcels. Pour into a bowl and then add the parcles - sprinkle with dried mint and pour olive on top. Tuck in.

Coriander and Breton Butter Roast Chicken

As a child there were very few things I didn't eat. One of those things was butter. Conversely my sister had a loving association with butter - I'm sure the times we teased her about how she could eat a whole block of butter had some element of truth in it. For me butter wasn't a condiment, it was merely an ingredient. The biggest sin of all in my eyes was spreading butter on bread when making a sandwich. I mean, I know butter was used to keep the moisture of the filling from making the bread soggy but it didn't do much for me. But after years and years of avoiding butter on most things (I still included it in recipes or used it in my scrambled eggs) I've learnt to appreciate butter in all it's glory.

This recipe is both a celebration of my new found appreciation for all things beurre and a homage to my grandfather who used to love eating this roast chicken.

1 free-range corn-fed chicken
40 grams of Breton butter
1 bunch of coriander (and a little more for decoration)
a glug of olive oil
2-3 medium cloves of garlic
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C. Mix the butter, olive oil, chopped coriander, crushed garlic and salt and pepper in a bowl. Gently separate the skin away from the chicken around the breast and massage 1/3 of the butter into it. Massage the remaining 2/3 of butter around the chicken. Baste two or three times during the cooking process. I think it's better to not give an indication of how long the chicken will take to cook because it depends on your oven and the size of your chicken. Just make sure the juices run clear in the thickest part (or use a thermometer) and the skin has browned enough to your liking. The chicken should be moist and buttery with a herby twist.