Take a dip into Septem­ber

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

It’s Septem­ber, but I’m pretty sure there are still a few pic­nic days left. My new flat is tiny and we of­ten de­camp to the park next door to eat, so pretty much ev­ery meal has be­come a kind of pic­nic of late.

For me, the ideal light lunch or pic­nic must in­clude meze, full of strong Mid­dle Eastern flavours. Tab­bouleh is a favourite of mine and a stan­dard on the meze ta­ble. Be­low is a pretty clas­sic ver­sion, but do feel free to ex­per­i­ment; I al­ways do, adding raw chopped green beans or cauliflower to pep it up. It’s a per­fect pic­nic salad too as it ben­e­fits from be­ing made in ad­vance, un­like a stan­dard green salad that can come out of its con­tainer look­ing a lit­tle worse for wear.

Moroc­can egg and potato sand­wiches might sound a lit­tle ec­cen­tric, but they are de­li­cious. One of my favourite street foods, they also hold up well over time so they’ll still be in tip-top con­di­tion if you make them a few hours in ad­vance.

I al­ways in­clude an aubergine dip, oc­ca­sion­ally adding crushed wal­nuts, chilli or herbs; this one, baba ghanoush, is the sim­plest and the best. It’s im­por­tant to cook the aubergine un­til it’s re­ally black; there’s al­most noth­ing worse than un­der­cooked aubergine – it doesn’t even ap­proach the heights of won­der­ful, soft, lux­u­ri­ous baba ghanoush if the aubergine is lumpy. I tend to pick up a bit of that Mid­dle Eastern bread that looks like fo­cac­cia in my lo­cal Mid­dle Eastern shop and take a sam­ple of this glo­ri­ous paste when­ever I can.

A pic­nic be­comes a feast if you’ve made a cake, and my sim­ple cake has an ex­otic twist to it that makes it a per­fect end to this Mid­dle Eastern ex­pe­ri­ence.

Serves four as a dip 3 large aubergines 1 gar­lic clove 2 heaped tbsp of tahini paste Juice of 2-3 lemons ½ tsp cumin seeds, lightly toasted and crushed ½ bunch of pars­ley, leaves picked and roughly chopped, plus ex­tra to gar­nish A good pinch of sweet pa­prika 3 tbsp ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil, plus ex­tra to driz­zle A small pinch of cayenne, to gar­nish

Turn your elec­tric or gas hob onto high, or heat up a grid­dle pan or bar­be­cue. Stab the aubergine a cou­ple of times with a fork, then place them di­rectly over the heat. Roast them for 10 min­utes, turn­ing them fre­quently, un­til the out­side is uni­formly charred. Wrap them tightly in a cou­ple of lay­ers of tin­foil and re­turn them to the di­rect heat (or place in a hot oven) for 20-30 min­utes (de­pend­ing on size of aubergine and heat source) un­til you can feel that the aubergine is very soft and col­lapsed.

Very care­fully re­move the aubergine from the hot foil, place on a board and scrape out the pulp; place in a bowl to cool.

Crush the gar­lic clove with a lit­tle salt, then place in a food pro­ces­sor or blender along with the aubergine pulp, tahini, lemon juice, cumin, pars­ley, pa­prika and olive oil. Sea­son well with salt and pep­per, then blend to a purée. Taste and ad­just the salt and lemon if you think it needs it. Trans­fer to a bowl or pic­nic con­tainer, sprin­kle over the cayenne, a few pars­ley leaves and a good driz­zle of oil. To get the best flavour out of herbs slice them, as op­posed to chop­ping them. Just roll them into a tight cigar and use your sharpest knife — don’t be tempted to chuck them into the food pro­ces­sor as it bruises them.

Serves four to six 100g/3½oz medium bul­gar wheat, rinsed un­der cold wa­ter, then soaked for 20 min­utes in warm wa­ter 2 large toma­toes 1 large bunch of pars­ley, washed, ½ the stalks finely chopped, leaves finely sliced 1 small bunch of mint, washed, leaves picked and finely sliced 1 small cu­cum­ber or ½ a large cu­cum­ber, finely chopped ¼ red onion, finely chopped Seeds from ½ pome­gran­ate ½ tbsp pome­gran­ate mo­lasses Juice of 1-2 lemons, to taste 2 tbsp olive oil

Check that the bul­gar grains are soft enough to eat — if not, re­turn them to warm wa­ter for an­other 10 min­utes. Drain the bul­gar and place in a clean tea towel to ring out any ex­cess wa­ter. Trans­fer to a bowl.

Finely chop the toma­toes and add the flesh and juices to the bul­gar (this helps to soften the bul­gar and im­parts flavour). Sea­son well with salt and pep­per and stir well.

Add the re­main­ing in­gre­di­ents and com­bine well. Taste, and ad­just the sea­son­ing if nec­es­sary. This is a very sim­ple but de­li­cious salad. You can find purslane in Greek, Cypriot and Mid­dle Eastern shops but it would work well with lots of dif­fer­ent herbs

Serves four to six 1 bunch of purslane ¼ gar­lic clove 250g/9oz Greek yo­gurt Cayenne, to gar­nish Olive oil, to gar­nish

Gen­tly nip the ten­der top por­tions of the purslane, then pick the leaves from the rest of the tough stem. Wash thor­oughly.

In a pes­tle and mor­tar, crush the gar­lic with a pinch of salt un­til you have a thick paste, then stir it through the yo­gurt. Add a dash of wa­ter to loosen the yo­gurt a lit­tle and add a lit­tle more salt if needed.

Place the purslane leaves in a shal­low bowl or pic­nic con­tainer and pour over the yo­gurt. Sprin­kle over a lit­tle cayenne and driz­zle over a lit­tle oil be­fore serv­ing.

Makes four 400g/14oz floury pota­toes 4 medium eggs 2 hand­fuls of green olives, de-stoned and roughly chopped A small hand­ful of co­rian­der leaves 4 large pitta bread/flat­bread 1 tsp cumin seeds, bashed with 1 tsp sea salt Ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil

Boil the pota­toes in salted wa­ter un­til soft, adding the eggs to the pan for the last six min­utes (ide­ally, you want them soft boiled, not runny). Peel the pota­toes and eggs, then roughly chop to­gether and trans­fer to a bowl. Stir in the olives and tear in the co­rian­der leaves.

Heat the pitta breads in a warm oven and split open. Spoon in the egg mix­ture, sprin­kle with the cumin and salt, and driz­zle gen­er­ously with olive oil. Fold up the sides of the pitta and serve.

Serves eight to 10 20 fresh green car­damom pods 125g/4½oz but­ter

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