Saffron and Orange Lamb Shanks (with Robuchon Mash)

So it was approaching the big night of my first underground restaurant event and I still didn't have a main course. I had sent out the invites three weeks ago. 21 days. 504 hours. 30, 240 minutes ago. How was I not panicking? I should have been panicking! Something inside me was ignoring the warning signs with an assured calm. I guess by chipping away at the expectations of my guests by suggesting in the invitations that a successful night was one in which I didn't make anyone ill and one in which I provide three moderately edible courses. It became my self-fulfilling prophecy and up until the day before the event I was walking blindly into failure. And what did I do when I knew I was gravitating towards failure? I went off and made a cup of coffee and put my internal alarm on snooze. Somewhere between making and consuming the coffee an idea hit me. Lamb! Yes! Lamb! That's kind of Lebanese, isn't it? I couldn't get the word lamb out of my head. I was just sitting there, tapping my fingers muttering the word lamb under my breath. I guess I was making lamb. What kind of lamb and how wasn't apparent just yet.

The haze of procrastination started to wear off about lunchtime when some internal resilience actually saw me make some steady progress. I typed the word lamb into google and realised I was being silly. I typed in lamb recipes and I managed to get to page three of the search results before deciding I had to actually figure out what kind of dish I wanted to make. I got up to have a breather (after two or so minutes of actual thought) and then inspiration struck. I don't know why or how but I suddenly had a vivid idea of what to make (I was even aware of the ingredients). Saffron and Orange Lamb did I even know how to make that? Maybe wasting your days away reading cookery books, blogs and magazines pays off! I wrote down the ingredients I thought I needed and went off to the butchers. Suddenly everything was okay. Melodrama was replaced by a real assured calm and I was happy with my main course selection. I decided to pair it with a mashed potato recipe inspired by Joel Robuchon's famous pommes purée. This is how I made it!

Saffron and Orange Lamb Shanks
6 lamb shanks
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 onions diced
4 carrots roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 teaspoon of cumin
1 teaspoon of saffron
3 bay leaves
4 1/2 cups of chicken stock
1 can of diced tomatoes
a splash of Worcestershire sauce
zest and juice of 1 orange
salt and pepper

Robuchon Mash
900g - 1kg of a floury variety of potato
300g butter
150ml milk
salt and pepper

Lamb Shanks
Brown the lamb shanks in olive oil and set aside. Heat up your stock in another pan and add the saffron to it. Fry the onion until translucent and then add the girl. Add the canned tomatoes and cook for a minute. Add the cumin, bay leaves and Worcestershire sauce. Place the lamb shanks back into the pan and top with the stock. Heat till boiling and then cover the pot before turning it all the way down. Cook for 3 and a 1/2 hours. Turn off the heat and add the zest and juice of an orange. Check seasoning and adjust.

Mashed Potatoes
Bake the washed and unpeeled potatoes at 180C until soft (this takes quite a over an hour). Scoop out the insides of the potato into a ricer. Set aside the riced potatoes (hah) and then work through a sieve (this is quite difficult). Add the potato to a pan with the butter and heat up until the butter has melted. Add the milk in slowly until it reaches a consistency of your liking. Add the seasoning and then serve with the lamb shanks and a little bit of the cooking juices.

Warak Einab and Labneh

Warak Einab. Dolma. Dolmades. Vine Leaves. Aren't they just the most delicious? I was thinking about how peculiar it was to a person who'd never eaten vine leaves to be served vine leaves for the first time. The texture may not suit some but the taste is universally delicious. Garlic, mint, lemon, rice and lamb? Yes, please! However, I opted for a really old fashioned recipe. This version contains no rice and no meat whatsoever. I've also paired it with a thick Labneh (click here for recipe) because it adds a much needed cool creaminess to the dish. I'm sorry that I only have one photo and that the recipe may not be exact but I think it's definitely worth the hassle.

1 pack vacuum packed vine leaves (around 80 but you only need half)
3 beef tomatoes
2 medium sized potatoes
2 medium sized onions
1 1/4 cups bulghur wheat
4 spring onions
1/2 cup of parsley
2 tbsp chopped mint
1 tsp unsmoked sweet paprika
2 tbsp tomato concentrate
4 cups of water
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 -2 tbsp olive oil

Okay, first up you need to the know the technique for rolling these bad boys. You need to place each leaf completely flat on a chopping board (rougher side facing down) before proceeding to cut off the stem at the bottom of the leaf (if it's still there). You need to spoon one to two teaspoons of mixture into the centre (just a tiny bit below dead-on) before rolling the right and left hand sides of the leaf inwards. You then roll the bottom up (not too tight) making sure to keep the opening at the bottom (so it doesn't unroll). Now onto the stuffing...

Stuffing and Cooking
Chop the spring onions and 2 beef tomatoes really finely before adding to the bulghur wheat. Add half the tomato paste, half the paprika, the parsley, the mint and seasoning to the wheat before making sure to mix well so everything is distributed evenly. You can add a splash of water or olive oil to give the mixture a better feel. Roll the vine leaves as above. This should make 40. Slice the potatoes, onions and the remaining tomato and add to the bottom of a large pan. Gently place each of the stuffed vine leaves on top of the potatoes, onions and tomato in the pan. Add the rest of the paprika and tomato paste, olive oil, lemon juice, water and some seasoning (the vine leaves should be 3/4 immersed). Bring to a slow simmer and place a cover on and cook for 25 - 30 minutes on a low heat. Some of the vine leaves may have torn but that's okay. Leave the vine leaves to cool slightly before serving with a spoonful of Labneh. Mmm.

Going Underground

Underground restaurants are everywhere right now. Every blog, magazine, newspaper and television channel has been underground restaurant crazy this past year and I thought I'd join the party before the clock struck midnight. One of the things I set out to do this year was to hold an underground restaurant (or supper club) event in my living room and this past Saturday (26th September) I did just that! I'd been planning the event for a month but being part of the Google generation my ability to concentrate was severely tested. Luckily I managed to get my stuff together and hold a pretty successful event (no one was poisoned; no expensive plates were broken).

This, being my first foray into the underground restaurant game, was limited to friends who were keen and supportive of the idea (and looking forward to getting a 3 course meal for less than the price of a mojito). This was me testing the water; I needed to challenge myself and this was the perfect environment. Having friends over made the atmosphere comfortable and I think overall it was a very good night. I'll be publishing the recipes for each course right here for you lovely people but to tide you over until then, here is the menu:

Olive Fig Grape
Menu 26/09/09

Warak Einab and Labneh
Stuffed Vine Leaves with a Thick Yoghurt

Saffron and Orange Lamb Shanks
Served with 'Robuchon' Mash

Rose and Pistachio Pots
Rose Jelly and a Pistachio Cream

I went for a Lebanese theme to tie-in with my blog and one of the courses was a reworking of an old recipe I'd already published. We had Fairuz playing in the background and plenty of Jalab drink to go round to push some of the Middle-Eastern vibe. The atmosphere created by sharing with friends and interacting between meals made this a distinctly social event and for me this was one of the best food-related experiences of my life. I'll definitely be doing this again. Thanks to everyone who came! And a special thanks to Sam for taking the pics :-)

A Paris Special

Hello! I've just come back from Paris and I've got a good few food pictures to share with you. I'll be back to posting recipes in the next blog. Eid Mubarak to anyone celebrating!

Pierre Hermé (and some Ladurée)

One of the things I really wanted to do on my trip was to visit Pierre Hermé's pastry boutique in the 6eme arrondissment but I never thought I'd have to wait an hour to get served (I was, however, expecting some delay). But testament to the quality of his pastry I actually went to two different locations on successive days just to overindulge and get a better idea of what being the godfather of pastry entails. I tried 8 different flavours of macaron, the vanille millefeuille and the ispahan croissants. The macarons were really intense delicate little flowers that were a prime example of how to make this wonderful delicacy. I love macarons and although Hermé's were very good I still had Ladurée's vanille macarons in the back of my mind. I've had Ladurée's macarons in both London and Paris now and although Hermé's macarons are slightly more exciting, Ladurée's are slightly more delicious (and slightly more expensive). My favourite macaron at Hermé was the jasmine scented one. The peach and saffron was also delicious.

The real triumph of my trip to Hermé's shops was eating that sublime millefeuille. It was flaky and delicate (it could hardly support it self) with a caramelised pastry and and an excellent vanilla kick. This was death row stuff. The croissants were another great revelation as buttery croissant was met with rose, lychee and raspberry to create a super breakfast. Only the pain au chocolat avec pistache at Ladurée could rival it in my opinion. I should also mention I had a rose St. Honoré at Ladurée which was also sensationally good and reminded of the ispahan flavours.

Chez Robert et Louise

This small restaurant de feu (powered by wood fire) in one of the main arteries of the Marais reached an overwhelming popularity after being featured on the first ever episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. This restaurant had character and charm in the bucket load and more importantly the food was delicious. I sat at the bar upstairs and enjoyed using my broken French to communicate with the staff and my companion diners. There was a lively atmosphere and we all shared a glass of rosé whilst talking about the restaurant and its overwhelming popularity with Americans and Brits alike. At one point during dinner I could hear 80% of people around me speaking in English which made for a strange atmosphere. I think the staff enjoyed my attempts at speaking French (as opposed to the tactic of some to walk in speaking English from the offset) and they even brought me an espresso at the end of the meal gratis.

For my main course I opted for the entrecôte (rib eye) cooked on the wood fired grill (pictures above and below) with a side of potatoes cooked in goose fat. The wood fired grill imparted a great clean smoky taste to the steak (cooked rare) which retained its juiciness and umami punch. The goose fat potatoes were also tasty but weren't crispy enough for my liking. We were provided with grey sea salt to sprinkle over the food but I don't think the food needed much uplifting. I definitely recommend this place but make sure to get a reservation. So many people were turned away for showing up without reservations but you might be lucky (turn up near opening time at 7pm and you might snag a table).

Pain de Sucre

I was recommended this patiserrie by a friend who told me the two owners are ex-Pierre Gagnaire pastry chefs so they had some inventive pastries to try. I didn't try the macarons here but opted for a Baobab (not the fruit) which was a clever play on the baba au rhum. There was a custard bottom with an excellent cake dome that was pierced at the top with a baster filled with rum which I was instructed to use to pierce the top of the cake to evenly distribute the liquid. This was so messy and extremely filling but also quite satisfying. I just needed a coffee to go with it and all would have been well. I know I'm in no position to suggest anything but I would also have liked a different texture to the cake...something with a bit more action for my teeth.

L'as du Falafel

I was excited about this. Apparently I was going to have the best falafel in the world (according to some internet reviewers) whilst those with more reserve said this was the best falafel you could get in Europe. Again, anything to that effect just doesn't sit right. Either way I was expecting something delicious. And I got something delicious. Really delicious and quite light. The chilli sauce was definitely great. The falafel balls were moist and not one bit greasy. But by no means the best falafel in the world! I still remember eating at the original Khalifa Falafel in the Basta (Beirut) and that for me was way and beyond this sandwich. I'd definitely recommend it for anyone looking for a quick lunch though.

Bahn Mi in Belleville

I found this area of Paris the most interesting. North African and Vietnamese immigrants settled here after Belleville became part of the greater Paris area and the sheer diversity in cuisine was astounding. I spent quite a bit of time her getting acquainted with some great food culture. I really enjoyed the Bahn Mi at Dong Huang (whilst other bloggers have suggested stale bread or skimping on filling I didn't find this) and I thought it was a great example of the Vietnamese Sandwich. There was a queue of about 7 people to get in but I think it was definitely worth it. Really cheap and filling. I may have enjoyed it more than L'as du Falafel.


I had a lot of fun in Paris and I'm sorry I didn't take pictures of half the stuff I saw and ate but I was too busy feeding myself. Most things I tried were delicious and the food culture of Paris is influential for any aspiring chef/gourmand. For tasting an exceptional millefeuille gives me reference for what I want to aim for and allows me to further understand how to try and emulate some of my food heroes. Hopefully one day I'll produce food this good. We live and learn.

Fish and No Chips

What's more quintessentially English than Fish and Chips? Bulldogs and Benny Hill? The Queen and The Queen's English? Roast beef? Our Gallic neighbours seem to think the latter is the most descriptively apt, as we are endearingly known as le rosbifs. But, you know what? I think English cuisine doesn't get the credit it deserves and although the origins of some contemporary dishes (including fish and chips) aren't historically English, they've become culturally so. And that's what makes England and especially the metropolitan area of London so great for food: multiculturalism. To influence and be influenced. Sure it's not as rosy as this humble food blog can account for but too much is made of the negative.

Fish and chips has it's origins in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine and was brought over in the late 19th Century to Britain. Britain found a home in its hearts and on its land for this simple dish and today (for me at least) there is nothing that says home more than fish and chips. This is my tribute: a Lebanese inspired ode to fish and chips. Oh wait, before I forget I've excluded the chips from this recipe as I'll be doing a special on them in the future. Look out for that! Also, I'm sorry I haven't updated properly for a while (I've been ill). There's some exciting stuff coming your way, so stay tuned!

White fleshed fish (sustainable cod or haddock or pollock)*
1 bottle Lebanese beer (I used Almaza)
plain flour
the zest of half a lime
cumin seeds

*You could use Red Mullet for a more Beiruti twist but it's expensive in the UK and may be too strong a taste for some.

I didn't put any measurements because it depends on how much you're making. You want a relatively thick batter (scotch pancake thickness). Deep fry one piece of fish at a time at 180C until browned. To prepare the fish: flour the fillets and shake off excess; dip in batter and place in hot oil. Drain on kitchen towel, squirt with lime and eat with tartare sauce.


I've been thinking about my blog a lot recently. I had a sudden sense of urgency in the last few days after realising that I'd been neglecting the classics of Lebanese cuisine. Whilst my aim is to be a bit more creative there is a use to having solid tried-and-tested recipes populating this blog. Tabbouleh is one of those things that is so simple that it allows for wide and varied interpretation. It might not be any stretch of the imagination to presume every family in Lebanon has their own tweaked version and I bet every person thinks their mum's version is the best! I'm going to avoid modesty and go all and out and suggest my mum's version is up there.

3-4 small bunches of parsley
2 beef tomatoes
8 fresh mint leaves
2 spring onions
2 tablespoons fine bulgur wheat
2 medium lemons
2-3 tablespoons good quality olive oil
salt and pepper

Finely chop parsley and spring onions. Dice the beef tomatos and add to the parsley and onions. Rip the mint into small pieces, add the bulgur wheat, the juice of the two lemons, the seasoning and the olive oil. Mix and let sit for at least an hour. Serve as part of a mezze or with lamb cutlets.

Olive Fig Grape: More About Me

I'm sorry I have to disappoint by not publishing a recipe-related post today but I think this article is long overdue. The 'about' section on my blog page doesn't reveal much so I thought it was about time you got to know a little more about the motivation for this blog and a bit more about me! I asked a friend to figure out some good questions and I've answered them below. Use the comments section if you want to know more!

Why did you choose the name Olive Fig Grape?
The name simply refers to three foods with agricultural origins in Lebanon. They are quintessential Lebanese ingredients and some of my favourite foods. I wanted this blog to be about Lebanese cuisine without being atypical of how Lebanese cuisine is perceived in the West. I wanted to give a nod to something quintessentially Lebanese that would also allow me a blank canvas to expand into the territory of New Lebanese cuisine...whatever that might be. I value tradition but the authenticity of ingredients and techniques is also important.

You say that, but a lot of your recipes don't seem very Lebanese...
That's fair. I like to think that Lebanese cuisine encompasses the majority of the things I cook and write about, but I have left myself room to broaden my culinary repertoire. Sometimes I'll even be showcasing a whole set on a whole different cuisine (like I did with the Pizza Special). A lot of my food is inspired by growing up in London, being obsessed with Italian food as a teenager and my passion for Japanese, French and Turkish cuisine.

Olives, figs, grapes....choose one and only one.
Automatically it's down to either olives or figs. However much I love olives I think I'll have to go with figs. They have a season and elicit so many memories of childhood.

So what possessed you to start a food blog?
I wanted to measure my own ability in the kitchen by testing myself. By publishing posts I have to make sure I cook something a bit different each week and make it look beautiful. Also this has been in the works for quite a while but I'd never had the ability to see the idea through. I wrote this down on my 2009 to-do list and made myself stick to it. That makes it sound forced but I truly enjoy writing this blog.

What's your death row meal?
Awesome pizza and awesome gelato (hazlenut or pistachio) the bucket. Maybe some chips. Some Kibbeh. Steak. Otoro. Food. Give me food!

Favourite TV Chef?
Bourdain but not for the cooking. Blumenthal for the obsessiveness.

Favourite Cookbook?
As in my profile: I've used the Silver Spoon the most and I'm drawn to it time and time again. I also like Blumenthal's In Search of Perfection.

What one ingredient couldn't you live without?
Onions or garlic. Lemon if you believe the Lebanese culinary stereotype.

What is your current culinary obsession?
Mexican food. Definitely. I also love the New Spanish/Basque food thing. What's better than eating Pintxos with a Cerveza 100yards away from the beach?

Are we running out of questions?
I think so. Maybe it's time for you lovely people to ask anything you want and I'll try to answer them below. It was quite weird interviewing myself but there you have it!

Chocolate Brownie Cake with a Clementine Crème Fraîche

My vitriolic criticism of all things related to the superfood trend may have been a little short-sighted. I mean, shouldn't we celebrate a trend that allows us to eat antioxidant-rich and utterly delicious foods such as avocados and (dark) chocolate? Maybe I'm a hypocrite but beyond that I am a glutton. A recent study by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm (published in the Journal of Internal Medicine) has reported that consuming chocolate cuts the death rate in heart attack survivors. Previous research had shown that antioxidant levels in dark chocolate was conducive to lowering blood pressure and aiding gastrointestinal health. Chocolate isn't just delicious but it's also good for us. The Mayans and the Aztecs had it right some centuries before chocolate was brought to Europe by the Spanish. Chocolate is an aphrodisiac, a drug, an addiction and everything that is good in life. This is a celebration of that.

Chocolate Brownie Cake
100g butter
150g caster sugar
50g brown sugar
130g good quality dark chocolate (I used 76%)
1 tbsp golden syrup
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g plain flour
1/2 a tsp baking powder
2 tbsp cocoa powder

Clementine Crème Fraîche
1 x 300ml pot of crème fraîche
2 clementines
4 tbsp icing sugar

To line the cake tin
1 tbsp of butter
1 tbsp cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease the cake tin and line with cocoa powder. Shake off the excess. In a pan heat the chocolate, sugar, butter and golden syrup on a low heat until fully incorporated and as smooth as possible. Whisk the two eggs until frothy and doubled in volume. Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder into a bowl. Add the vanilla extract. Take the chocolate mixture off the heat and place in a cold bowl. Whisk the eggs into the mixture vigorously before adding the flour (along with the other ingredients). Make sure everything is incorporated and then pour into the cake tin. Cook in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes or until a toothpick yields a slightly wet crumb (for a soft and chewy centre). Take out of the oven and cool on a wire rack. You can reheat and serve it warm with ice cream but I prefer whisking up a nice clementine crème fraîche. Zest the two clementines into the pot of crème fraîche and add the icing sugar. Whisk until incorporated and put in the fridge for five minutes. Cut the brownie cake into segments and spoon on the crème fraîche. Mmm.

Apple and Blueberry Muffins

Nigella (Lawson; we're on first name terms, don't you know?) says that making your own muffins can be really easy and even quite comforting. Clearly she's never been in my kitchen. I'm not as messy as I once was but things do get pretty chaotic at times. I guess it's a calm and controlled chaos and that's okay because an hour later I'll be sitting on the sofa surfing the internet with a coffee and a muffin. However much fun Nigella is to watch (for a 22-year old man, ahem) I'm not a fan of her muffin recipe (sorry!) and I think I've found one better. These muffins are an edited version of the Blueberry Crumble muffins from the Ottolenghi cookbook. You should definitely try it!

270g plain flour
2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
170g caster sugar
70g melted butter (unsalted)
190ml milk
zest of half an orange
1 Granny Smith apple (unpeeled and diced)
90g of blueberries
a crumble mixture (flour, ground almonds, brown sugar and butter)

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt and set to the side. Whisk the eggs, sugar and melted butter in a separate bowl and slowly work in the milk. Add the zest and the fruit to the egg mixture. Tip in the flour and mix as few times as possible (until it's all incorporated but still quite lumpy). Preheat the oven to 170C. Spoon the batter into muffin cases (that are held with a muffin tin) and nearly to the top. This should make 8 muffins. Scatter the crumble on top generously and bake for 30 minutes or until golden and increased in size. Cool on a wire rack and then boil some water for your coffee. Yum.

Beetroot and Goats' Cheese Risotto

When I first started learning how to cook one of the dishes I'd frequently revisit (and exhaust) was the classic Milanese dish of risotto. It soon became my calling card; I knew how to cook a decent risotto. But by the twentieth time of cooking a risotto I suddenly had an epiphany...I'd become a one-dish wonder.  That realisation forced me to change tact and to save the risotto for special occasions. I had to learn how to cook something else. Over the years I revisited the risotto several times but the more I cooked it more adventurous I became. 

This specific recipe isn't the most adventurous of my attempts but it has an immediate visual impact and a wonderful sweet, earthy taste from the beetroot. The fresh goats' cheese turns this from a good risotto into a very good one (if I say so myself). When I brought this out for my Mum to try she was taken aback by the colour but she had something on her mind. She first stared at the risotto and then inspected the dish before exclaiming that there was something quite devilish about the colour and to a superstitious woman like her it was quite alarming. She did try it and I'm glad to say she loved it (and there were no ill effects nor any sign of an antichrist). 

1 cup Egyptian short grain rice (or Carnaroli)
2-2 1/2 cups of chicken stock
1 stalk celery
1 large onion
2 small cloves of garlic
1 dessert spoon olive oil
a splash of a dry white wine (optional)
3 medium sized beetroots - grated
2 tablespoons of parmesan
1 tablespoon of good quality butter
1 block fresh soft goats cheese (I used a variety from the Poitou-Charentes region)
salt and pepper (careful on the salt, there's stock and parmesan in this)

Sweat the diced onion and celery in the olive oil until soft and translucent. Add the garlic for no longer than half a minute. Add the rice and make sure that every grain is coated in oil and fry for a minute. Add the wine if you're using it or proceed ahead if you're not. Add the beetroot and stir in and then ladle on the first spoonful of stock. Try to stir this as few times as possible. You only want to stir to stop it from sticking. Add a ladleful of stock at a time until the rice has increased in size and is tender to the bite. You want to make sure not to dry out the rice too much so it's best to add a little more stock after your rice is cooked to your liking. Add the grated parmesan and butter and stir. Cover and leave to rest for one minute. Cut the goats' cheese into chunks whilst you wait. Spoon on the risotto and layer with some goats cheese and a splash of olive oil. Then it's time to eat!