Monday 14 March 2011

Lamenting Lost Lebanese

What I miss most about living in Shepherds Bush, where I was for so many years, is the fantastic North African Shops and Restaurants in the Uxbridge Road.  I used to spend so much time lurking around in Damas Gate and then the even bigger and grander Al-Abbas, which opened a few years ago.  There was a fantastic Halal Butcher just round the corner called Naama, which sold beautiful little lamb chops at a fraction of the price of the supermarkets.  He also had stunning kebabs and little spicy sausages with pinenuts, all made fresh everyday.  We had a lovely little shop called Nut Case, which as the name implies, just specialised in a fantastic array of nuts, and coffee as well. There were countless shops selling beautiful Baklava (Lebanese sweets) - lovely light layers of pastry, bursting with nuts and dripping with honey. I have to say that I actually find them a bit too sweet for my taste, so I have given you a fantastic recipe by Nigel Slater, from his wonderful book "The Kitchen Diaries", for Lemon and Rosewater-frosted Pistachio and Orange cake instead.  Just as delicious but much less teeth-meltingly sweet.  

I loved picking up hot freshly made Falafel at Mr Falafel in Shepherds Bush Market and eating them as a hot snack with the kids.  My favourite Syrian restaurant was there, Abu-Zaad, where we often ate, but more often, I would just pop in and pick up some delicious Demascan starters for a picnic in the park.  Then the kids and I would head off to Ravenscourt Park for the day, armed with tubs of Hummus, Moutabal, Tabbouleh, Fattoush Salad, some Labneh and lots of freshly baked pitta bread.  Also fantastic freshly made juices.  Melon was always our favourite on a hot summer’s day! 

So when I was up visiting my brother and his family at the week-end, who lives in Marylebone, I made sure that I had time to nip down to the Edgware Road, affectionately known as "Little Beirut".  Most of the road now seems to be owned by Maroush restaurants.  I think they had eight outlets alone, in various different formats, at last count.  They are all well worth a visit but it was Green Valley I was heading for.  This is a remarkable shop, stuffed full of wonderful produce, from their fruit and vegetables to their fantastic deli counter selling a beautiful variety of kebabs and really delicious looking rice and vegetable dishes.  Then there are the sweets.  What a display!  And aisles after aisle of pulses and spices, pickles and olives.  I stocked up on Spices - Cumin, Ras-el Hanout and Sumac and then chickpeas, Tahini, Pistachios and Rosewater, huge bunches of parsley and coriander at half the price and twice the size of the supermarket, aubergines, cucumbers, lemons and tomatoes, all of which you will need for the following recipes.  They are all quite classical recipes but they are all favourites and sometimes that is just what you need. 

2 cups dried chick peas
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 cloves of garlic crushed
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1 small onion chopped
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chilli powder (optional)
1/2 cup fresh coriander chopped

Soak the chick peas in water and bicarbonate of soda overnight or for 24 hours. Rinse and drain.  Put all the ingredients in a food processor, and blend till you get a thick paste.  Remove and keep in the fridge for 1 hour before use.  If the mixture is too dry it will not stick together but on the other hand if it is too wet it will break up when frying.  If too dry add a little water.  If too wet, squeeze some out. Divide and shape the mixture into small balls, the size of a walnut. Flatten with your hand, then deep fry in medium, hot oil until golden brown.  Serve warm  in pitta bread, with lots of  salad and Tarator, (Tahini let down with lemon Juice and water).   I like a dollop of hummus and a little chilli sauce with mine as well.

2 cups of cooked, drained chickpeas
½ cup liquid from cooking or water
 Juice of one lemon (or more depending on taste)
2 tsp cumin
½ tsp chilli powder (optional)
½ cup Tahini
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1-2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor. Blend for 3-5 minutes on low until thoroughly mixed and smooth. Place in serving bowl, and create a shallow well in the centre of the hummus. Add a small amount (1-2 tablespoons) of olive oil in the well. Garnish with Sumac and whole cooked chick peas (optional).  Serve immediately with fresh, warm pita bread, or cover and refrigerate.


2 large aubergines
1 small clove of garlic
1-2 tablespoons Tahini
Sea salt

Cook the Aubergines either  in a hot oven or directly over the flame of a gas hob or on a barbecue.  It  is very important that the aubergines are thoroughly blackened all over as this is where the imperative, fantastic smoky taste of this dish comes from.  They must also be soft to the touch all over but do not overcook to the extent that all there is left is skin and no flesh. When it is well cooked through and the skin is blackened, leave to cool until you are able to handle them.  If using a gas barbecue, turn it off and leave the aubergines to cool with the lid closed, in the smoke. Remove the stalk and peal of the skin.  If they are perfectly cooked this is very easy. leave to drain in a colander.  Add to a food processor with the Tahini and garlic, and blend to a smooth and light puree. Add salt and lemon juice to taste. Serve in a bowl with little olive oil on top and a sprinkle of sumac or smoked paprika.

Fattoush Salad

A great way of using up old pitta bread, this is a delicious salad.  The pitta must be golden brown and very crunchy and the salad should be juicy.  Do not mix too far in advance as the pitta will go soggy.  Mint is a lovely thing, very fresh and aromatic but too much is not nice, like a mouthful of toothpaste.  Again, a little raw garlic or onion is tasty but remember, they are raw!  Do not use too much or you will end up with something un-palatable.

2 pieces of pitta bread, torn into 1 inch pieces plus a little olive oil
2 tomatoes, diced
1 cucumber, halved lengthways, seeds removed with a spoon, quartered lengthways and chopped
Handful of parsley, roughly chopped
Small handful of Mint, chopped
1/2 red onion, very finely sliced
1 half head of romaine lettuce or 1 whole Baby Gem lettuce, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lemon juiced
3/4 cup good olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp Sumac

Toss the pitta bread with some extra virgin olive oil, spread out on a baking sheet  and toast in a medium oven until golden and crisp.  Be careful not to burn.  Allow to cool. In a large bowl, make a dressing by combining the garlic, Sumac, olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper.  Mix well.  Add your onion and allow to marinate for a few minutes until the onion softens. Next add your lettuce, bread, cucumber, tomatoes, mint and parsley and mix well. 


This is a version from Mr Ottolenghi. I  strongly endorse this recipe in that he states that the salad should be 80% herbs with only a little Bulgar and that the herbs must be chopped by hand with a sharp knife.  I do however, question his choice of not cooking the Bulgar.  Although it is important that it should still have a chewy consistency, personally I boil mine in salted water for 5 minutes before refreshing and draining well.

“There's a right way and a wrong way to make this brilliant Middle Eastern salad, says Yotam Ottolenghi.     Here's the right way…  "

Serves four, generously.

90g fine Bulgar wheat
4 medium tomatoes, ripe but still firm (600g)
2 medium shallots (60g)
4 large bunches fresh Flat-leaf parsley (160g)
2 bunches Fresh mint (30g)
1 tsp ground allspice
3-4 tbsp lemon juice
120ml top-quality olive oil
Salt and black pepper

Put the Bulgar in a fine sieve and put under the cold tap until the water runs clear and most of the starch has been removed. Transfer to a bowl.  Cut the tomatoes into 0.5cm dice (a small serrated knife is the best tool for this job) and add to the bowl, along with any juices. Chop the shallots as fine as you can and add to the bowl.  Take a few stalks of parsley and pack them together tightly. Use a large, very sharp knife to trim off the end of the stalks, then chop the remaining stems and leaves as finely as possible and no wider than 1mm. (If you can't achieve that first go, go over the chopped parsley again, this time with the heel of the blade.)  Add the parsley to the bowl. Pick the mint leaves, pack a few together tightly, chop as finely as the parsley and add to the bowl. Finally stir in the allspice, lemon juice to taste, olive oil, salt and pepper. Taste, adjust the seasoning and serve at room temperature.

Labneh  (Strained Yogurt)

3 cups plain yogurt (Organic if possible)
1 teaspoon salt
In a medium bowl, combine yogurt and salt. Place mixture in the middle of a large cheesecloth, muslin or J-cloth.   Bring the sides  together, making a pouch. Tie the "pouch" with string or twist tie. Hang in a cool place or the refrigerator for 12-24 hours with a bowl underneath to catch the whey.

Lemon and Rosewater-Frosted Pistachio and Orange cake

250g butter at room temperature
250g golden caster sugar
3 eggs
100g shelled pistachio nuts, finely ground
100g ground almonds
zest and juice of a large orange
seeds from 6 cardamom pods, ground to a powder
1 tablespoon rosewater
60g plain flour

for the icing:
juice of a lemon
1 teaspoon rosewater
100g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 160c and line the bottom of a non-stick 22cm tin with greaseproof paper, having lightly greased the tin (if you use a loose-bottom tin place a tray on the bottom of the oven in case the mixture leaks, as happened to a friend of mine).

Cream the butter and caster sugar together until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating the mixture well between each addition. Place the mixture in a large bowl and fold in the ground pistachios, ground almonds, orange zest and cardamom. Mix in the orange juice and rosewater then fold in the flour.
Put the mixture into your cake tin and bake for 50-60 minutes, covering the top lightly with foil after 40 minutes. When the cake is ready a skewer, stuck into the centre, will come out clean without any wet cake mixture on it. Leave the cake in its tin to cool.
When the cake is cool, mix the lemon juice and rosewater together. Sieve the icing sugar into the bowl and mix together, adding more lemon juice/ icing sugar as necessary – you want quite a thick texture. Cover the cake with icing and decorate – crystallised rose petals, coloured sugar or chopped pistachios would all look lovely. If eating as a pudding, serve with Greek yoghurt or Mascarpone.


  1. I'm about to make the falaafel. Although I've run out of white chickpeas so I'm going to try and make them with the small black chickpeas...I'll let you know how it goes.

  2. I wonder about the kidney beans I have got (as we are doing the rainbow, maybe rainbow falafel?) love green peas too!


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