RACHEL ALLEN

Ev­ery week, only in LIFE

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - CONTENT -

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.

FALAFEL

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.

TABBOULEH

Serves 4-6.

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

Makes 8-10.

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,

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