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Do-Re-Mi-So-Fa-ttoush!

After the hale and hearty (but somewhat heavy) dishes of central Europe it’s been good to eat lighter and ostensibly more healthy food back home. Good weather, joint birthdays and football fever (sigh) all created the excuse for a barbecue this weekend. There are certain dishes I tend to fall back on for barbecue fare: for me East Mediterranean / Middle Eastern flavours are so redolent of summer, with their cooling, fresh flavours. In the last year I’ve raided the Leon cookbook for inspiration (their sweet potato falafels and sesame chicken wings have become firm favourites) but deeper in the pantry of culinary influences is another inspirational character, Claudia Roden.

There was always something very exotic and other-worldly about her recipes in the cookbook on our parent’s kitchen shelf: unfamiliar ingredients sat cheek by jowl against old favourites. Later I learned about more about her extensive writings around the Med, but it was the Middle Eastern recipes which captured my imagination the most. Her recipe for fattoush, from her book ‘Tamarind and Saffron‘, can be found on the Waitrose website, and is the template I tend to use when making this stunning salad.

The first time I had fattoush was revelatory: clean, sharp, distinct and delicious flavours jostling for attention. I think it was probably in the Cedar Tree, a Lebanese restaurant in the Northern Quarter in Manchester, and I was intrigued by the banality of the description as a ‘bread salad’. Sounds rather dull, I thought, but my assumption was duly blown out of the water on the first mouthful. The citrus-y notes of the lemon and sumac dressing enhance the cooling qualities of the leaves, cucumber and mint, and the toasted bread provides texture and crispness. Can you tell I like this dish 🙂 ?

Making fattoush isn’t challenging, but it is reasonably time-consuming. I tend to associate it with standing in a sun-drenched kitchen, radio on in the background as I get engrossed in comforting routine of washing, slicing and dicing the ingredients. Wonderfully relaxing. A note though, it really is worth tracking down some real sumac, to give this salad the necessary ‘zing’. You should be able to get it in most shops in cities which cater for Middle Eastern/Persian/Arabic customers, or buy online. I’m lucky enough to be able to buy from the inimitable Alex Med in Todmorden Market, whose imported and home-prepared mixes are quite wonderful. His sumac is Syrian, and perfectly piquant.

Stir it up…

Green wet garlic, red meat and blue cheese…

Sirloin with shallot and wet garlic, finished with Blacksticks Blue

As part of Miss South’s trip north at the end of March I wanted to ensure we could enjoy what is rapidly becoming a prerequisite for our family gatherings: excellent beef steak. As usual the wonderful Stansfield’s of Tod market was able to supply the required cuts, in this case two glorious Yorkshire sirloins. Once I’d bought these I picked up a brace of oh-so-fresh wet garlic bulbs from Alex Med – the first of the year – and decided that this, alongside a few rogue shallots which were crying out to be used, could provide the basis of a very pleasant main course. With a starter of Woodcock and a dessert of Buckfast sorbet this was shaping up to a helluva meal… Read more

Morcilla and chocolate rabbit with a fluffy mash tail

Conejo En Salsa De Chocolate Con Morcilla

This is a recipe which perfectly chimes with the Easter theme for me –  a chocolate rabbit –  although I actually cooked this in November last year. I found the recipe online when I was trying to pair up rabbit and morcilla (Spanish black pudding) after I found I was in possession of both elements. I believe it originally featured in “The Art of South American Cooking,” by Felipe Rojas-Lombardi, and was republished by Jayne Benet writing in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1992. It’s absolutely fantastic! Read more