Vegetarian Daoud Basha (Lebanese meat-less balls)

After posting the original traditional recipe last week, I attempted a vegetarian version using lentils instead of meat, with results that exceeded my expectations. Here, then, is a meatless version of this old favourite, and a very tasty way to eat more lentils. If you like it more saucy, in step 7 replace the tomato paste with 2C passata, with 1C boiling water (or stock).

I added flour because I wasn’t sure the lentils would hold together while frying, and didn’t want to take the risk, but it may not be necessary to add flour at all (let me know if you try it!)

Mamie’s Pomelo Salad

When I was still living in Beirut, I regularly had lunch with my grandmother in her neighbourhood Thai restaurant. We never failed to order the pomelo salad for starters, a great favourite. Eventually the restaurant relocated and, for some reason, dropped the salad from their menu. My grandmother was still thinking longingly of it several years on, so I recreated it as far as I could remember, using ingredients easy to find locally. We were all delighted with it!

Skinning the pomelo is the laborious part, but the return is well-worth it. Any that is left over will keep a few days while getting even tastier as it marinates further. Make sure to return to room temperature before eating, to fully enjoy the flavours.

Note: Pomelos are far better known in Lebanon than they are in the UK, but they are readily available in London (look in street stalls, not supermarkets).

Itch (Armenian Bulgur Salad)

This is amazing as a warm salad, but is just as good at room temperature. The amounts of liquid and of bulgur need to be balanced (so there’s enough liquid to soak the bulgur but not so much the salad will swim), so if you change one, be sure to tweak the other. Adjust the heat to taste, and for an extra burst of flavour, try stirring in the finely chopped rind of a preserved lemon!

This recipe is modified from the book Mezze, by Barbara Abdeni Massaad.

Crème de Pissenlit (French dandelion soup)

A French dandelion-based soup, spiced up with mustard. Coconut milk can be used to keep it dairy-free/vegan (in this case sauté the veg in olive oil rather than butter), but to avoid making it too heavy I would suggest using just 1C coconut milk and replacing the rest with water or more stock.

Daoud Basha (Lebanese Meatballs)

This was a serious childhood favourite before I went off meat, and is included in my Lebanese Homecooking book (in my shop). If you like it more saucy, in step 6 replace the tomato paste with 2C passata, with 1C boiling water (or stock).

For an equally delicious vegetarian/vegan version, see this recipe.

Khobbeizeh bi Zeit (Sautéed Mallow)

Mallow (malva sylvestris), known in the Levant as khobbeizeh (“little piece of bread”, possibly due to the round shape of its leaves or its nutritional value) is out in force right now. Here’s a simple recipe for a mezzeh or breakfast, or as a side. Yum.

Nässelsoppa (Swedish Nettle Soup)

A traditional springtime recipe in Sweden, this soup makes use of the abundant young nettles shooting out at that time of the year. Nettle tops can be frozen for use later, though — and so can the soup itself. (At the time of publishing this post, nettles in the UK are flowering and seeding and it’s too late to harvest nettle tops, but it’s still possible to find some fresh shoots around the older ones).

To make it dairy-free, use 1T olive oil instead of the butter, and omit the crème fraîche. Leave out the egg as well for a vegan version.

Shamameet bi Laban (Poached eggs in yogurt)

I knew nothing about this dish till I discovered it on the Food Heritage Foundation site. I had to try it and it was quite a revelation! It is a rural dish from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and other neighbouring countries, and solid fare – I imagine it would have come as a rewarding meal after a long day of physical labour. It’s very simple to make, the only trick being to break the eggs so close to the yogurt that they keep their shape as much as possible.

How can you cook yogurt without it curdling? It’s the cornstarch that does it*. You can mix it into the yogurt beforehand, or when adding the yogurt in the pan: either way, start stirring immediately and don’t stop (or hardly) till it starts boiling. Then turn down the temperature to a low simmer and you don’t have to stir constantly any more – or at all, in this case (but that’s unusual.) There are many dishes in Lebanese home cooking that involve cooked yogurt (laban, as we call it) and it’s such a delicious and filling comfort food.

*I have used, at a pinch, gluten-free flour, which usually contains cornstarch, rice flour and other starches that all do the job.

Tabbouleh (Lebanese parsley salad)

A classic recipe from my book, Lebanese Home Cooking. Tabbouleh is the Lebanese national salad, immensely loved, and included as a matter of course in even the most basic mezzeh. Don’t get me started on the indignities inflicted upon it abroad…

Some time ago I spotted, on the small pack of parsley sold at a local chain store that will go unnamed, the following pearl of wisdom: “Sprinkle it on your tabbouleh.” What. Tabbouleh is a parsley salad. What are you putting in it, if the parsley is just for sprinkling on top?!

Second point of astonishment: Cooking bulgur, as if it were rice. You don’t cook bulgur. It’s pre-cooked. You soak it, that’s all!

Stick to the amounts specified in the recipe below and you’ll get a good result, but let me highlight some important points.

  • The parsley must be very finely chopped. That’s what makes it palatable in such a large quantity. You’ll be amazed at how much the bunches shrink down once chopped. A food processor can help, but be careful not to overdo it, the point is not to end up with something the consistency of pesto. The tomatoes are also diced small, but not in a food processor.
  • There is relatively little bulgur relative to the parsley. This is not a bulgur salad.
  • The amount of dressing is generous so that all of this dense-textured salad receives an adequate amount. Between the lemon, the juice of the tomatoes, and the oil, the bottom of the bowl will be soaking and that’s as it should be. Some people (*cough*) might even say they look forward to soaking bread in all the leftover dressing.
  • Using a fork instead of lettuce leaves is fine. Changing the ingredients and still calling it tabbouleh isn’t!

Walnut-Poppy Seed Pasta

A quick and different pasta dish, that could easily be a little more dressed up (I would also use the lemon’s juice, for instance, and probably toss in a few olives). Spaghetti and other similar pasta work equally well is you don’t have linguine at hand. Use olive oil instead of butter in step 2 to keep it vegan.

Irish Potato Bread

This makes for a very satisfying, versatile breakfast. It doesn’t take that long to boil potatoes so it’s reasonably quick, but steps 1-2 can just as well be done the previous evening (cover and leave on the counter overnight, there’s no need to refrigerate). Use 2T olive oil instead of butter in step 2 to make it vegan/dairy-free.

If you prefer sweet breakfasts, garnish instead with berries, apple slices, honey, maple syrup, cream, cinnamon, grated chocolate…

Khubz Arabi

This is different from the inimitable “rabtet khubz” (bag of bread) from the bakery, but identical to the hot, puffed bread that is brought to the table straight from the oven at a restaurant.

A language note: “khubz” is just the Arabic word for “bread”, any kind of bread. It doesn’t mean this specific type unless you specify “khubz arabi”. “Khubz franji” is French bread, for instance. “Khubz marquq” is the traditional, super thin Lebanese mountain bread. And so on. Some people drop the general word in conversation (sometimes innocently, often pedantically) as if it were a technical term—don’t.

Man’oushe bi-Jebneh (Cheese flatbread)

Mana’eesh (plural of man’oushe) are Lebanese street food at its best and come in a number of classic varieties you can order from tiny bakeries at every street corner. This one is a lighter version of the cheese type, which is normally made with fatty akkawi cheese (not easily found abroad anyway but mozzarella is close enough, though much less salty). I often fall back on this super easy recipe when I need to make food for a lot of people, or to take food with me, and it is always really well received. You can make a highly transportable version by spreading 4 circles thinly, spreading cheese on half and closing the other half over, calzone style (pinch the edges to seal). Then you can hike, climb and tumble all you like and the topping will stay put.
This recipe works particularly well with the Basic Pizza Dough, although you could use whatever dough you prefer, with or without yeast.

 

Lemon-Leek Pizza

This pizza takes some work, but it’s so worth it—a crowd pleaser every time. Its various steps don’t need to be made in one go: the leeks can be prepared 1-2 days ahead and refrigerated, and so can the cheese mix (so can the flavored oil, but that only takes 5 minutes so there’s little point).
It can be made with any dough; the Basic Dough makes for a thicker crust that is more filling (I’d still spread it somewhat thinly), but it can equally be made with a thin crust, lighter and quicker to make. Either way, half-baking it before adding the toppings ensures it bakes fully. Also, it’s far easier to eat this if you make smaller pizzas, as done here, rather than one large.
The feta makes it very savoury; if you prefer a milder taste, use ricotta instead.

Basic Pizza Dough

This is my go-to pizza/flatbread dough recipe when I want a thick soft crust and I have time to let it rise. Sometimes I only leave it for 1/2 hour and it’s still just fine: I’ll prepare it first, put it somewhere warm while I prepare the other ingredients, and then get on with it. If it affected the result, I never noticed!
As shown below, you can freeze the dough when it’s ready, for future use. This is useful if you made more than you need, but it needs to thaw overnight, so it’s not really a time-saver. On the other hand, if you use baking powder instead of yeast, you have a thin-crust dough that’s ready to use immediately. In this case, make sure to spread it thinly.

Courgette-Feta Fritters

These are quite nice and quick to prepare. Any fresh herbs could be substituted for the mint, and the spices can be equally tailored. I haven’t tried a baked version yet, but I imagine it would work nicely and be a bit lighter.

Hawthorn Leather

Fruit leathers are a brilliant and simple way of preserving fruit, especially when it’s in excess or overripe and would otherwise go to waste. The basic principle is to purée the fruit (which can be combined to taste), spread it out and dry until no longer sticky. The “leather” can then be cut into strips or rolled up, will keep for a very long time, and is a handy healthy snack to keep on hand (no sugar needs to be added).

In this recipe, foraged blackberries are used to add flavour to the nourishing-but-plain-tasting haws, but the juice of other fruit (and a little sugar if really needed) can be added instead. Add a little water before step 2 if the pulp is too stiff. (Start with more information about foraging for haws.)

Poppy

Stumbling across a patch of poppies, a firework of red over a green or golden field, is the joy of my summer hikes. There is little danger of mistaking them for anything else. A few recipes:

Foraging

I fell in love with foraging when I moved to the edge of the city, with fields and woods within a few minutes’ walk. Nature walks and learning the names of birds and plants had already changed my relationship to the living world around me; foraging introduced a whole new degree of intimacy, eating of the wilderness to make it part of the substance of my body. I started to experience seasonality directly (things grow when they grow), with the attendant acceptance and relinquishing of control, and also to acquire our ancestors’ instinct for where and when to find plants. There is also the wonder of the landscape changing constantly, of flavours not available in shops, and the relationship to place.

While I’m hoping these foraging notes of mine will encourage others to venture into the woods, this is not an invitation to see all of nature as a free buffet we are entitled to. Please be sure to start with the ethics and practical advice below.

Foraging Ethics

Robin Wall Kimmerer, a biologist of Potawatomi heritage, offers precious guidance for respectful foraging in The “Honorable Harvest”: Lessons From an Indigenous Tradition of Giving Thanks (also a TED talk):

The canon of indigenous principles that govern the exchange of life for life is known as the Honorable Harvest. They are “rules” of sorts that govern our taking, so that the world is as rich for the seventh generation as it is for us.

The Honorable Harvest, a practice both ancient and urgent, applies to every exchange between people and the Earth. Its protocol is not written down, but if it were, it would look something like this:

  • Ask permission of the ones whose lives you seek. Abide by the answer.
  • Never take the first. Never take the last.
  • Harvest in a way that minimizes harm. 
  • Take only what you need and leave some for others.
  • Use everything that you take. 
  • Take only that which is given to you. 
  • Share it, as the Earth has shared with you. 
  • Be grateful. 
  • Reciprocate the gift.
  • Sustain the ones who sustain you, and the Earth will last forever.

Practical Advice

To the above points, I would add:

  • Err on the side of caution. Only pick plants you can identify with certainty, and let someone experienced teach you how to recognize the trickier ones. This is especially important for mushrooms! It is wise to learn about poisonous plants in your area in addition to edible ones.
  • Avoid collecting from the sides of busy roads, industrial areas, near farms that spray pesticides, and other contaminated areas. Small amounts from such places may not be harmful, but the effect of heavy metals and chemicals can be cumulative and show over time.
  • Refrain from collecting roots in the wild. Many are edible, of course, but when you collect the roots, you kill the plant, and the wilderness can’t afford this anymore. We have to be content with the renewable parts of a plant.
  • What you need to go foraging depends on what you aim to collect. If you’re starting out and just picking what turns up at this stage, keep some paper bags on you (useful for most things) and maybe one small tupperware (for instance for poppy seeds or juicy berries). As you gain experience, you’ll know what you like and how to be prepared. A pair of snips and garden gloves are helpful for certain things..

Full List of Recipes

I started drawing recipes a few years ago to make them easier to follow, both for my own sake and to spread the love of cooking around, and they have proliferated beyond control. I focus mostly on simple recipes requiring little to no exotic ingredients or kitchen gadgets, with the occasional jazzy number. A notable exception are traditional recipes, which tend to be slow and labour-intensive; all the more reason to make them more accessible through a pictorial treatment. (A good number have been gathered in recipe books, available in my shop.)

Here is the full list of my recipes posted to date, and you can also use the tags in the margin to look for specific requirements. Nearly all the recipes are vegetarian, so there is no tag for that. Sahtein!

Main courses:

Pasta
Pizza & Flatbreads
Curry
Fish 
Other

Sides and Salads:

Warm
Cold
Rice
Foraged

Stews and Soups

Foraged

Breakfast

Bread:

Savoury
Sweet 

Desserts:

Cakes
Cookies & Bite-sized
Other
Foraged

Drinks:

Foraged:

Pantry Basics & Preserves:

Foraged:

 

Ingredients for DIY Cleaners

These are the basic ingredients in my cleaning cupboard: these are all I need to make all the cleaning recipes on this blog (sometimes with addition of kitchen ingredients). In addition to being non-toxic, they’re all easy to source with minimal or no plastic, which is equally important to me.

Bicarbonate/Baking soda (any grade)

You could almost use nothing but baking soda for all cleaning purposes, it’s so versatile. I order “Dri Pak Ltd Bicarbonate Of Soda” on eBay or Amazon, which comes in 500g cardboard boxes. (In the US, the omnipresent Arm&Hammer is also packed in card.)

White vinegar

A natural disinfectant and descaler, its smell disappears as it dries so don’t let that put you off. I used to buy distilled vinegar in glass bottles (and still for some uses, like descaling the kettle), but I now use my home-fermented kombucha vinegar for most of my cleaning. Live vinegar is less strong but smells better and spreads beneficial bacteria around, making it much harder for harmful bacteria to thrive.

Liquid soap

There is nothing easier than liquefying a soap bar, so although this is an all-important ingredient, I never buy it, thereby avoiding both the plastic bottles and the inflated cost. Instead, I pick up soap bars whenever I come across one, especially the basic unscented ones: savon de Marseille, savon d’Alep, castile bar soap, which are wrapped only in paper, if even that. I also pick up scented bars but I reserve these to make handwash. I keep them all in my wardrobe (where they deter moths) until needed, and they go an incredibly long way: A 120g bar will make 1 liter liquid soap (4 cups)!

To make liquid soap: Bring water to the boil in the amount of 250-500ml (1-2C)* for each 30g (1oz) of soap. Grate the soap and mix it into the boiling water till dissolved. Let cool 12 to 24 hours: it will thicken. Give it a vigorous mix to fully incorporate before storing or using it. You can always add some water if it needs thinning (if you do, tiny soap “beads” may form, but they’re only soap that’s not fully dissolved).

*Depending on how thoroughly your soap bar has been dried. In my experience, savon de Marseille and Dr Bronner’s Castile Bar Soap are driest and require the most water; handmade soaps are moistest and require less water; traditional soaps like baladi, Aleppo are in-between. When tryign a new bar, it’s a good idea to start with only 30g soap and 1C water and see what happens (and note down your results!)

Essential Oils

Any essential oil that’s safe to breathe can be used in cleaning, and I like to add lavender to my laundry soap. But here are three cleaning staples, used for their properties rather than their scent:

  • Lemon: Disinfects and cuts through grease. It can be replaced with the fresh, strained juice of a lemon, but this reduces the product’s shelf life.
  • Rosemary: Kills mold and mildew.
  • Clove: The most powerful germicide/antimicrobial oil. Other good but less powerful germicides: tea tree, cinnamon, bay and thyme. These also extend the shelf life of the product containing them, by preventing mold.

Cheap vodka

Alcohol is a great sterilizer, and cheap vodka is easy to find. Mixed with water in equal portions, it does a great job of cleaning surfaces and appliances.

That’s it! Combined together in different ways depending on need, they leave my home feeling fresh without being as life-stripped as the surface of the moon.

Here are two more ingredients that I don’t use myself, but can be useful to know:

Citric Acid: This substance which is available as a white powder is found naturally in lemon and other citrus, so it’s actually edible. It’s also cheap and comes in cardboard (look for the brands Dri-Pak Ltd or Clean & Natural). Like vinegar, it counters water hardness, but it also creates foam (making it a major ingredient in bath bombs, for instance). Like lemon essential oil, it is antibacterial, antiseptic and efficiently cuts through grime. It makes a brilliant kettle descaler, but it can apparently take the enamel off toilet bowls, so check before using on other surfaces. Also note that while safe in general, it can aggravate pre-existing respiratory problems.

Hydrogen peroxide: I’m not too keen on this, but for those who feel the need for something more sterilizing than vinegar, this is a better alternative to the highly poisonous chlorine bleach. Available in pharmacies in small glass bottles, it can be transferred to a spray bottle to maximize its usefulness.

Mighli (Caraway cream)

This is more than a dessert: in Lebanon it is traditionally prepared to celebrate a birth and also for Christmas (because baby Jesus). Ground caraway and even aniseed are not regular fare in Western supermarkets but you’ll find it in spice shops, Middle-Eastern shops, and if all else fails, try eBay, or just grind the whole seeds, which seem to be more common.
I’ll admit that this is not my favourite, but I love making it for friends who just had a happy event, and it is meant to be good for the mother after giving birth, with all these energy-packing nuts.