Every week, only in LIFE
I ’m always intrigued by the fact that so many cultures eat the same things for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In Sri Lanka and India, I devour curries and salty, savoury food first thing in the morning; in Spain, it’s the jamon, Manchego cheese and tortilla omelettes that I go for; and in the Middle East, I’m always to be found at the mezze section of the breakfast buffet.
Mezze or meze, mazzeh or mazze, depending on where in the world you are, is basically a selection of small dishes served to accompany drinks, or as a course in itself.
I adore to eat this way, as, being generally quite indecisive as a person, I often find it much more pleasurable to eat a variety of dishes, rather than committing to just one!
I love the selection of dishes here — these are all recipes that are very happy being served at room temperature, meaning that you, the cook, gets to sit and enjoy the meal for the same amount of time as your guests, and you’re not jumping up and down from the table.
The falafel are delicious little chickpea cakes. While being nicely addictive, they are super healthy too. The tabbouleh comes alive when you add the heaps of chopped fresh herbs — this is not a time to scrimp on the parsley and mint.
The pitta bread recipe is the one that we teach at the cookery school, and it never fails to give lovely light and fluffy bread pockets; just perfect for holding all these delicious flavours.
The roasted aubergine and garlic puree with pomegranates is a little bit like a baba ganoush, which, incidentally, is also fabulous with cumin, chopped parsley, mint, or coriander. As for the lamb recipe — this is one of the fastest I know, and something very like a dish I ate at a Lebanese restaurant in the Middle East many years ago. It’s excellent served as part of a mezze plate, or with couscous for a main course. Served in the pitta, it would be great for a packed lunch with some tabbouleh and hummus on the side.
Makes about 15-20.
You will need: 200g (7oz) dried chickpeas, soaked in plenty of cold water overnight, or for at least 8 hours 1 onion, roughly chopped 2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley 4 cloves of garlic, chopped 1 teaspoon salt 1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground cumin (see Tip 1, right) ½ red or green chilli, deseeded and chopped 4 tablespoons flour 1 teaspoon baking powder
To cook, you will need:
Approximately 4 tablespoons olive oil
To serve, you will need: A few tablespoons of light tahini paste (sesame seed paste) mixed with a little water Drain the chickpeas from their soaking water and place them in a food processor with the roughly chopped onion, the chopped fresh coriander, the chopped fresh parsley, the chopped garlic, the salt, the freshly ground cumin, and the chopped red or green chilli, whichever you’re using. Whizz everything up until the mixture is not completely fine but still ever-soslightly coarse. Mix together the flour and the baking powder and add them into the chickpea, herbs, garlic and chilli mixture. Just press ‘pulse’ to combine, adding a bit more flour if the mixture is not coming together properly.
Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and freshly ground black pepper if necessary. Using slightly damp hands, shape the falafel into balls roughly the size of walnuts in their shells; or slightly bigger, in patty shapes.
Put the falafel in the fridge to firm up a little for about half an hour, as this will make them easier to cook — otherwise they can be slightly fragile.
When you’re ready to cook the falafel, heat a large frying pan over a medium heat, add in some of the olive oil, allow it to get hot, then tip in a few falafel — you might have to cook them in batches if your pan isn’t large enough.
Cook them for a few minutes on either side until they are golden all over and hot in the centre.
Serve them warm with the thinned-out light tahini paste and your other mezze dishes.
You will need: 110g (4oz) bulgur wheat 75ml (3fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil Juice of 1-2 lemons 50g (2oz) chopped fresh parsley 25g (1oz) chopped fresh mint 6 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced 4 ripe tomatoes, cut into ½ cm (less than ¼ in) dice ¼ cucumber, finely chopped into ½ cm (less than ¼ in) dice Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper A pinch of sugar Soak the bulgur wheat in cold water for about 30 minutes until it is just tender, then drain it and squeeze it well to remove any excess water. Place the drained bulgur wheat in a bowl and stir in the extra-virgin olive oil and the juice of one lemon, reserving the remaining lemon juice for later — you may or may not need it.
Next, stir in the chopped fresh parsley, the chopped fresh mint, the finely sliced spring onions, the diced tomatoes, and the diced cucumber. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and the pinch of sugar. If you think it needs more lemon juice, add in a squeeze.
Serve the tabbouleh within a couple of hours for it to be at its best.
ARNAUD’S PITTA BREAD
You will need: 25g (1oz) fresh yeast (see Tip 2, above right, on using dried yeast) 310ml (11fl oz) lukewarm water 450g (1lb) strong white flour (also known as baker’s flour and bread flour) 1 teaspoon salt A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil for oiling the bowl and the dough Crumble the fresh yeast into 110ml (4fl oz) of the lukewarm water. Stir, and let it sit for five minutes until the yeast is dissolved. Sift the strong white flour and the salt into a bowl, add the yeast and water mixture and the remaining 200ml (7fl oz) of lukewarm water. Mix well until it all comes together. The dough should not be too dry. Knead the dough until it is very smooth and elastic; this will take about 10 minutes.
Add a small dusting of extra flour while you’re kneading if the dough is very sticky. Transfer the kneaded dough into an oiled bowl and oil the whole surface of the dough with a little extra-virgin olive oil. Cover the bowl and leave the dough to rise in a warm place for 1-1 ½ hours, or until it has more than doubled in volume.
Tip the risen dough out of the bowl and knead the dough again until it is smooth,