Tag Archives: Middle Eastern Food

WATERMELON, LABNEH and DUKKAH salad

Sometimes the simplest things can be fabulous especially when revisited. Compliments time after time after time and great for summer! This is what I have presented as a starter – labneh, dukkah and watermelon with a sprinkling of fresh mint and a dressing made mainly with pomegranate molasses.

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It has been a while since I have made dukkah or Labneh (labna, lebnah, labne, labni,). Both are simple to make and are very versatile. I like having things on standby and both keep well in the fridge in a sealed glass container.

Dukkah is a dry spicy mix of sesame seeds, nuts (can be hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pine nuts) and spices – mainly cumin and coriander – but variations also include small quantities of black pepper, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Apart from dipping good quality bread into extra virgin olive oil and then into dukkah, I may use it as a topping for cooked vegetables and salads or a crumb coating for meats, fish, cheese or vegetables.

I use a heavy frypan to toast everything. I used a combination of pistachio, walnuts and pine nuts in mine. If you use pine nuts they will need very little toasting – they burn quickly.  I also added pepitas; this seemed appropriate because of the watermelon.

¾ cup sesame seeds
½ cup coriander seeds
1-2 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp salt
1 cup of nuts
some white and black pepper corns
a pinch of or ½ teaspoon cinnamon, cloves and/or nutmeg
Place nuts in a frying pan and over medium-high heat toast them until they begin to colour. Remove from pan and set aside.
Toast coriander seeds and sesame seeds the same way as the nuts and when they are nearly golden add all of the spices, salt and pepper corns.
Let cool. Blend together. On this occasion I blended the nuts separately as I wanted them to be chopped in larger pieces.

Figs, labna & olives 3 _best

Labna is strained yoghurt and can be used in both in savoury and sweet dishes. It is popular in the Middle East and I mostly use Labneh as I do feta, for example to stuff figs or in dips.

Labneh

500 ml full-fat Greek-style yoghurt

Leave the yoghurt to drain about 8 hours or longer. I usually place mine to drain in the fridge.
Line a colander with one layer of muslin and place the colander on top of a bowl so that the whey of the yoghurt can drain off naturally.
Place the drained yoghurt in a bowl.
Coat hands with extra virgin olive oil and shape Labneh into egg shaped balls. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and store in the fridge until ready to use. If you intend to store the Labneh balls for more than a day cover with extra virgin olive oil.
When it is time to serve it, drain it and top with fresh herbs or dukkah.

Dressing for Watermelon, combine together:

3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 lemon: juiced + zest
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and a few drops of sesame oil and of flower or orange water
1 fresh chilli, cut finely (optional)

 

To assemble

As you can see from the photo I assembled the balls of Labneh first on a plate coated with extra virgin olive oil.
I surrounded the watermelon pieces around the Labneh and sprinkled everything with some dukkah, mint leaves and the dressing.

TURKISH EGGS and UOVA AL SALMONE

 

Turkish eggs

As a child I always enjoyed eating what my mother called uova al salmone – and no, she did not add smoked salmon, they were really scrambled eggs in a tomato salsa, made in summer with fresh tomatoes, and the same salsa that was used to dress a summer pasta.

The colour of salmon is the result of scrambling eggs in salsa and uova strapazzate al pomodoro may have been a more appropriate name for this dish, but I, like my mother have always called it by this name (see second recipe).

What I really want to write about is what I call Turkish eggs (probably out of ignorance) – and not been Turkish I will not say that they are authentic and try to give them a name in Turkish. This is how I like to make them.

To make uova al salmone, add diced, peeled tomatoes, salt and pepper and a few fresh basil leaves to a pan with some extra virgin olive oil and simmer for about 10 minutes.

In a bowl, beat eggs then pour into the pan with the tomatoes and stir constantly. When they are creamy and cooked add a few leaves of fresh basil and serve.

What I really want to write about is what I have always called Turkish eggs – and not been Turkish I will not say that they are authentic and try to give them a name in Turkish but this is how I like to make them. And they are not just Turkish: they could be classed as Middle Eastern and I have eaten them in Tunis as well.

Tunis eggs

There are different versions of this Middle Eastern dish and many of them poach the eggs in yoghurt.

TURKISH EGGS

For 4 people, I use 8 eggs. Sometimes I have also added peppers (one or two thinly sliced – either the conventional ones, any colour or the long peppers slender ones (my mother always referred to these as frying peppers). If adding peppers, add them at the same time as the onion. Some also add Turkish sausage (called different names in different countries so I am not even going to try to give it its’ name as I could be off beam).

Although you can scramble the eggs, I like to poach them and I also like to add either parsley or coriander, cumin and/or caraway seeds.

On this occasion we had them as a lunch dish and I accompanied them with harissa, char grilled peppers and yoghurt on the side (take no prisoners!)

Ingredients:

8 eggs
8 medium/large tomatoes, peeled and chopped into small chunks
1-2 white onions or 3 spring onions sliced
½ cup of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
flavourings: herbs and spices

 

Processes:
Warm the olive oil in fry pan or pan with deep sides, then lightly fry the onions (and peppers) without browning.
After about 2-3 minutes add the chopped tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper( spices and/or herbs) and cook for 7-8 minutes until soft.
Gently make room for each egg (pockets) using a spoon and slide each egg onto its place in the pan. Cover and without disturbing the contents poach the eggs (over a low heat) until done to your liking (runny for me, never hard!)
Serve in the pan. I like fresh bread with mine, especially to eat the yolk.

 

UOVA AL SALMONE

To make uova al salmone, add diced, peeled tomatoes, salt and pepper and a few fresh basil leaves to a pan with some extra virgin olive oil and simmer for about 10 minutes. (Suggested ratio: 6 large tomatoes, 6 eggs)
In a bowl, beat eggs then pour into the pan with the tomatoes and stir constantly. When they are creamy and cooked add a few leaves of fresh basil and serve.

MARINATED OLIVES, OLIVE SALADS, MORROCAN FLAVOURS

My first serious Moroccan cookbook was A Taste of Morocco by Robert Carrier. It was published in 1987. I already had Claudia Roden’s Middle Eastern Food and Arto der Haroutunian’s North African Cookery.

I lived in Adelaide then and with three friends once a month we celebrated different ethnic cuisines by cooking in our own homes and then sharing it at each other’s places. Each of us prepared food for 1 course – all of us were excellent cooks, had busy lives and loved to socialize. We spent less time, less planning, less money (we all liked to drink good wine) and we deepened our friendship and repertoire of cooking styles, ingredients and recipes of particular cuisines. The special privilege of the host was that they could invite 2-3 extra people of their choice.

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We had this system in place well before 1987 but for the first Moroccan meal I was responsible for the appetisers and entrées (as we called those courses then!!). And part of the nibbles I bought were a variety of dressed olives.
I have said before that I never follow a recipe from A-Z and nor did I do that on this occasion, but I played around with the ingredients suggested in Robert Carrier’s recipes and I still play around with these ingredients still when I marinate olives.

In my fridge at present: 3 types of olives and preserved lemons

In this post I will provide a list of the ingredients I may use when making Moroccan olive salads. I use:

Different types/ colours/ sized of olives in brine, i.e. I may use my own olives that I have pickled in brine or bought small olives, large ones, green ones, black ones, cracked olives etc.

As the mood takes me I will use some of the following ingredients to dress and marinate the olives: harissa (North African spice paste) thyme sprigs, lemon slices, preserved lemons, fresh coriander, fresh flat leaved parsley, fresh red or green hot peppers, dried oregano, fennel seeds, cumin, fresh lemon, bitter oranges (Saville), chilli flakes.

Always, always extra virgin olive oil and I keep the jars of marinaded olives in the fridge and allow them to marinate at least 24 hours before we eat them. You are likely to find marinated olives in the fridge anytime you visit me – they store well and keep for ages.

For more olive recipes in this blog see:

ULIVI CUNZATE, INSALATA DI OLIVE (Dressed pickled olives/ Olive salad)

CHEAT FOOD: Marinaded white anchovies AND Olive Schiacciate made with commercially prepared olives

OLIVE SCACCIATE

And one of my most popular posts by far: HOW TO PICKLE OLIVES

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ARABS IN SICILY, some sweets – petrafennula

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 Mary Taylor Simeti talking with Helen Greenwood

I was in Sydney where I attended some sessions of the Sydney International Food Festival. The World Chef Showcase on Saturday focused strongly on the cuisine of the Middle East and Mediterranean –this was the program that interested me the most.

The Festival list of Australian and overseas guests was very impressive and included: Musa Dagdeviren (Istanbul), Yotam Ottolenghi (London), Mary Taylor Simeti (Sicily, food history), Joe Barza (Lebanon) and Kamal Mouzawak (founder of Beirut’s Souk el Tayeb – a weekly market farmers’ produce and Lebanese food), Anissa Helou (London), Ozden Ozsabuncuoglu (Turkish food authority) and Mehmet Gurs (Istanbul).

Those of you who like Middle Eastern food and live in Melbourne will almost certainly know the names Ismail Tosun (Gigibaba) and Greg and Lucy Malouf (cookbook collaborators and Mo Mo Restaurant), also Abla Amad (Abla’s Restaurant). Sydney readers may recognise Somer Sivrioglu (Efendy Restaurant in Balmain).

Abla Amad was accompanied by Yotam Ottolenghi who was relatively unknown in Australia  at the time and i was one of the first to hear him at Abla’s session.

There is an obvious and powerful connection between Middle Eastern and Sicilian cuisine – the Arabs ruled Sicily for two centuries (in medieval times they were sometimes called “Saracens” or “Moors”). The Arabs contributed to the development of Sicilian culture, agriculture and architecture and had a profound influence on the cuisine of Sicily.

The food that was prepared and discussed by the participating Festival guests featured many of the distinctive ingredients of Middle Eastern food – the rich spices (especially saffron and cinnamon), rice and grains, nuts and seeds (especially pine nuts, almonds, pistachio, sesame), sugar, and the typical fruits (citrus, figs, pomegranate) and vegetables and flowers (orange, jasmine, rose flower waters) of the Mediterranean.

The ‘Arab’ ingredients and flavours are not unique to Sicily. They are present in other countries of the Mediterranean, for example the cuisine of Spain and France.

A post on my blog is not the venue to discuss this topic at length. However I have already written about some recipes of sweets that could be attributed to the co-Arab and Sicilian association (for they cannot be attributed just to the Arabs).

Cubbaita

They are:
Cubbaita (my relatives call it giuggiulena), gello di mellone, nucateli, riso nero (also called riso amauticato).

Here is a similar recipe to cubbaita (giuggiulena) and it is called petrafennula, (also called petramennula depending on the Sicilian locality).

All my Sicilian relatives and friends keep a selection of these small homemade sweets at home just in case someone visits unannounced.

PETRAFENNULA – PIETRA DI MIELE (Rock made of honey).

INGREDIENTS
honey 1kg,
almonds, 500g blanched and roughly chopped into large pieces
candied orange peel, 400 g chopped finely,
cinnamon, ½ teaspoon (optional).

PROCESSES
Place the honey in a saucepan.
Add the peel.
Allow the mixture to simmer gently and stir from time to time until it begins to solidify.
Take the mixture off the stove and work quickly
Add the almonds and the cinnamon and stir gently to incorporate.
Pour the mixture on to baking paper placed on a cold surface – such as a marble slab or a baking tray (traditionally this is done without paper on an oiled marble slab).
Break it into pieces when it is cold. When my mother made this, she sometimes used to drop dollops of the mixture (about a tablespoon in size) on to a cold surface to form small odd shapes – more like pebbles than sharp rocks. This seemed easier than shaping it into one large slab, which then needs to be broken into smaller pieces.

I have a friend in Adelaide who has the most wonderful garden and beehives. She used her honey to make giuggiulena and the petrafennula and both resulted into slightly softer versions of candy. We discussed this and think that it must be due to the varying levels of moisture in different types of honey and from the various locations. I have used a variety of honey including leatherwood (definitely not Sicilian) and other organic honey from a variety of Australian locations and have achieved the required results.

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