Strawberry Risotto and Arancini

Anyone who has been following this blog for some time is aware of my admiration of Italian food and the synonymous belief that a dish is encapsulated by the quality of the individual ingredients. Unfortunately, living in London means that quality of ingredients wavers between two extremes. We can get really good apples, mushrooms and often strawberries (2009's harvest was particularly good) but we also get depressingly bad flavourless and mushy April tomatoes. The key here is that we do not decide when to eat certain fruit and vegetables; seasonality is key. But this does not mean that fruit in season always tastes good (it is more likely but by no means a certainty) and we need to use ingenuity and a little creativity in that instance. Sour strawberries can be remedied with a good amount of sugar (or sweet cream) but re-imagining their potential use allows the versatility of the fruit to shine through.  This strawberry risotto is by no means a new idea but I've taken the crux of the original recipe and edited ever so slightly. Make more risotto than you need so you'll be left with enough risotto to make some strawberry risotto arancini!

Strawberry Risotto
1 cup Egyptian short grain rice (or Carnaroli)
2-2 1/2 cups of chicken stock
1 stalk celery
1 large onion
1/2 a leek
1 dessert spoon olive oil
a splash of cyder vinegar
a handful of strawberries (however much you want!)
1 sprig of fresh thyme
2 tablespoons of parmesan
1 tablespoon of good quality butter
salt and pepper (careful on the salt, there's stock and parmesan in this)

Strawberry Risotto Arancini
however much risotto is left
a good white cheese (mozzarella works but provola is best)
1 egg
4-5 teaspoons of flour
4-5 teaspoons of panko

Strawberry Risotto
Sweat the diced onion, celery and leek in the olive oil until soft and translucent. Add the rice and make sure that every grain is coated in oil and fry for a minute. Add the cyder vinegar until cooked out. Add the chopped strawberries and the sprig of thyme 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 ladle-ful 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. Then it's time to eat!
Strawberry Risotto Arancini
Once the risotto has cooled down completely you can start to form the rice into balls. Prod a hole in the middle of the ball and stuff with diced cheese before encasing it once more. You can stuff the arancini with anything you like. Dip the ball into the flour, the egg and then into the panko. I did this twice to add a good crunch to the exterior. Preheat the oil to 170 C and deep fry until golden brown. Hopefully the cheese you've chosen has melted! You can add ragu on the side or eat them as they are.  

Salted Butterscotch Granola Bars

Recently I've been brainstorming ideas of things I would make to sell if I started up a food business. This is something I've been considering for quite some time as I find my feet in the working world. One of the experimental successes were these bars so I thought I'd share some photos with you lovely people.

I'm not posting a comprehensive recipe for the simple fact that this is open to interpretation! I put in a range of delicious things in these bars.

The important thing is to use oats, salted butterscotch and something crunchy in the bars. These were premium bars (Scotch oats, French butter, fleur de sel, etc) and cost 35p each to make for ten 50g bars.

Let me know if you try these!

Green Almonds and Labneh

They say that Italian food is the presentation of the unadulterated work of mother nature whereas French food is the work of the chef transforming ingredients through technique. I think Lebanese food occupies a space on the continuum closer to the Italian gastronomic philosophy than the French equivalent. Although many Lebanese align culturally with the French ideal, it is truer to find similarities within cuisines who share a similar climate, crop and everyday culinary ethos. But there are a multitude of pertinent characterising traits that differentiate the essence of Lebanese and Italian cuisine but one thing is omnipresent - the love of food in its pure form. That is to say that each ingredient is consistent with it's taste throughout the process of 'cooking' requiring very little coaxing out. Ideally, the simpler the better - few processes and few additional ingredients.

With that notion I delved into an assembly of some basic but homely Lebanese springtime favourites. Green almonds are seasonal treat (early April until the beginning of June) that are much underused in Europe but much loved by the Lebanese. Labneh is something I've discussed before but this version is slightly different. There is no real recipe here - proceed to make the labneh as indicated in the link above but make sure the straining period is even longer. You want to be able to form balls out of the labneh with dry hands. Once the balls are formed you should leave them in a humid place for a few hours so they dry out even more before immersing them in olive oil. Alternatively, to make shankleesh you should let the formed balls dry out even longer before rolling them in za'atar. The longer you leave to dry the stronger the taste. You can eat the labneh balls straight away but it's best to leave them to mature for a week.  All I added to the final dish was a sprinkle of fleur de sel and some extra virgin olive oil. This is my taste of early spring.

Malfouf (Cabbage Rolls)

Any fan of Lebanese cuisine will be familiar with the word mihshy (Levantine Arabic for 'stuffed') as it appears in an extensive array of vegetable centric dishes. The Lebanese know no bounds when it comes to stuffing things - you give us a vegetable and we'll stuff it, we'll roll it into fingers and we'll have a ball doing so. The art of putting something inside of something else isn't lost on us, my friend. Mihshy's are comfortable and homely and you'll hardly ever see them on restaurant menus (aside from stuffed vine leaves!) which is such a shame. One of Lebanon's greatest exports is its cuisine and many people have come to fall in love with it but not many obsessive eaters know about the other face of Lebanese food. So it came to my surprise when upon meeting someone for the first time they expressed their absolute love of all things Lebanese cuisine and in particular Malfouf Mihshy. According to him Lebanese immigrants to Yucatan, Mexico didn't just inspire tacos al pastor but also passed on some home-cooked classics. Along with your tripe soup you can eat delicate cabbage rolls all prepared lovingly. His description made me crave a taste of home so I just had to go back and cook this up.

1 large green cabbage (you can use several varieties depending on desired texture, taste and colour)
160g minced lamb
100g short-grain rice
a pinch of Lebanese seven spice
1 tsp sweet paprika
4-6 cloves of garlic
1 tsp dried mint
1 beef tomato
100ml of lemon juice
300ml water 
salt and pepper to taste

Trim cabbage head and core. Cut leaves into triangles of your desired size. Blanch the leaves in boiling water until tender. Mix the rice, lamb and Lebanese seven spice together. Place a teaspoon of the rice mixture at the bottom of each cabbage triangle, fold in the sides and roll. Place each completed roll in a large pan. Once completed, add the water, lemon juice, tomato, paprika and seasoning. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Uncover and add the mint and crushed garlic cloves and cook for a further 10 minutes. Serve with thick Greek style yoghurt and a sprinkle of dried mint.

A Banh Mi Photoblog Special

You guys are probably wondering why I've been blogging considerably less than last year and the simple answer is that I've been stuck in a foodie rut. I've been cooking (and probably cooking better than ever before) but a great deal of it is not blog worthy. My inner critic forces me to only want to upload the best of the best and so most of my meals will go unaccounted for even though I have solid recipes to back them up. Is there a market for recipe only (no photo) blogs? I'm genuinely interested in this question. Joel Robuchon's latest cookbook has no pictures yet I find it to be the most consistent cookbook on my shelf in terms of results. But on the other side of the spectrum, food blogs exist to inspire and most people look exclusively at the pictures (you have to say fair enough, not everything needs explaining). Whilst I continue to think of ways to reinvent this blog (ever so slightly) I will keep updating you guys with a range of posts to inspire. Hopefully you find inspiration in my wordless photoblog (photos courtesy of Ibzo) below.


Olive Oil Cake

There's a magic potion that we keep in our house. A potion with uses in many arenas from the bathroom to the kitchen (and some would say the bedroom; but I wouldn't listen to those guys). It can nourish, add complexity and add flavour without too much trouble. It can revitalise and it can heal and it tastes great! Of course this elixir is non-other than the much-valued and much-utilised olive oil. A commodity that has been used for thousands of years in the Levant, it is older than Lebanon itself. The best way I could describe the value of olive oil to Lebanese people is that it holds the same place in our hearts that butter does to the French. With the added caveat that olive oil is the broody, more complex older brother to butter - it adds something completely different to dishes and's good for you. I love olive oil in all sorts of recipes but something that has been on my mind lately has been its use in desserts - on ice cream, in biscuits and in cakes. This recipe is ridiculously simple and the olive oil taste subtle. It is a great introduction to the use of olive oil in sweets but complex enough for those who love a good olive oil cake. The olive oil 'buttercream' is rich and decadent and elevates this dessert but you should use it sparingly! Anyway, here is the recipe...

125ml great quality extra-virgin olive oil
300g icing sugar
300g self-raising extra-fine flour
Zest and juice of 2 clementines (or 1 orange) and 1 lemon
3 medium free-range eggs
100ml milk

Olive 'Buttercream'
3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons of icing sugar

Preheat your oven to 180C. Grease and line a large cake tin. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the olive oil and beat rapidly. Add the zest and juice of the citrus fruits. Add the milk and whisk again. Sift the flour into the mixture in three parts, folding in after ever third of flour. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Pour into cake tin and cook for 45 minutes until browned and then turn down the heat to 160C and cook for a further 10 minutes or until a knife inserted into the centre yields a 'dry' crumb. Cool in the tin and then transfer to a wire rack. To make the olive 'buttercream' mix the icing sugar into the olive oil and it should form a thick pasta akin to buttercream. The flavour is intense so you only need one 'quenelle' of the stuff per slice in my estimations. Slice the cake and serve with the 'buttercream'.

Rice Pudding

January is waving goodbye. Christmas and New Years Day are a distant memory. Diets and to-dos are dissolving. Winter is still here. There is an upside to this all - it's still cold enough to overindulge and rationalise that the excess is necessary. Sometimes you just need that comfort from something. We each have our own little secrets. Mine is this rice pudding. I guess it's no longer a secret. Creamy, rich and totally comforting. This is one of those desserts that's simple and decadent. You can serve this with whatever topping you'd like. I opted for caramel but I also really like this with fresh berries. For someone who claims to not have a sweet tooth I seem to be blogging exclusively about desserts. I guess the blog reflects how our diets change over time.

125g short-grain rice (I used arborio)
100g caster sugar
1 litre full-fat milk
1 vanilla pod
150-200ml double or whipping cream
3-4 tablespoons icing sugar
dulce de leche

Pour the milk and sugar into a saucepan and heat up. Add the split and scraped vanilla pod/beans to the milk and continue to heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the rice and simmer for up to 30 minutes or until the rice has expanded and completely cooked through. Take off the heat and let it cool down completely. Take out the vanilla pod. Whisk the double cream with the icing sugar. Fold the cream into the cooled rice. Spoon into bowls and add as much dulce de leche you would like to each serving. You could add bananas if you want but it's not necessary.


The Lebanese way of living dictates that food plays a central part in everyday life, social occasions and revelry. Celebrations are especially grand affairs where families, friends and neighbours come together to not only salute the happening of a certain event but to also indulge by eating lovingly prepared food. Something in the Lebanese psyche equates food and love and nowhere is that better shown than during a celebratory event, be it a wedding or otherwise.

One of the most elusive but enticing celebratory dishes is something known as meghli, a spiced rice-based dessert made to commemorate the birth of a new child. It is one of the things I most look forward to during family gatherings and on occasion have made it as a dessert on a regular week-night. Some things are special and as such are reserved for befitting occasions but I believe we can elevate meghli into becoming a quintessential Lebanese dessert. Flavoured with caraway, anise and cinnamon and topped with a multitude of optional extras, meghli is a real show stopper.

200g rice flour
2.5l of water
200g of sugar
20g caraway seeds (ground)
10g aniseed (ground)
10g cinnamon (ground)

optional extras: dessicated coconut, blanched almonds, pine nuts, pistachios and sultanas.

Pour two litres of water in an adequate saucepan, reserving 500ml in a glass jug. Add the sugar to the pan and heat up to boiling point (making sure the sugar has dissolved). Mix the remaining ingredients into the reserved water making sure to mix through thoroughly. Add the mixture to the sauce pan and once again bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and let the pan simmer, whisking as it cooks. This will keep bubbling for 30-45mins until the rice flour has thickened the meghli considerably. It sounds like hard work and I guess it is but it'll be so worth it. The cooked mixture will yield twelve small bowls/pots which you should fill as soon as you turn the heat off. Cover the tops with cling film to avoid the meghli forming a skin. You can eat it warm but generally it's eaten colder. Sprinkle with any of the optional extras and tuck in! Addictive, isn't it?

Happy New Year!

Hey guys, just wanted to wish everyone a happy new year and say a big thank you to everyone who read this blog. 2010 is going to be amazing so I hope you keep checking back to see how I get on in my adventures. Follow me on twitter if you want additional recipes or tips! Thanks!