Summer is back and I’ve been collecting poppy seeds wherever I encounter dry pods on my walks. They are such a joy! To celebrate their return, here are easy biscuits to make and share.
Sfouf is a plural (meaning “rows”, referring to how they’re cut), just like “brownies”, and as much a classic of Lebanese homebaking as brownies are in the US (as far as I know). Although again, the attraction of western things is such that sfouf have been somewhat left by the wayside while brownies and co. are widely available in coffeeshops and restaurants. Ah well.
Sfouf have a dense texture, are not too sweet (at least with this recipe), and have a startling orange colour due to the turmeric, which also gives them a particular taste hard to describe. To make them more nutty, you can pour half the batter into the pan, sprinkle nuts liberally, then pour the second half before creating the grid.
Below is the original recipe, followed by a vegan version!
The first time I made this cake, it didn’t look like much and I was a bit self-conscious bringing it to a party. But not a crumb was left, and six months later I was still hearing about “THAT cake”! At the time I used a blood oranges as that’s what I had on hand. Lemon could be substituted as well.
Prepare the glaze (steps 5-6) towards the end of the baking, so that both are warm when it is poured over.
This slightly odd pastry is very mild and pleasant. It’s great for tea- or coffee-time, and you can sprinkle more sugar or even jam or chocolate on top if you have a sweet tooth. The double cream + milk can be substituted with 3/4C half-and-half (total, not each), and you could also just use 3/4 milk and leave out the cream altogether.
This is a simple and very quick recipe to make surprisingly good bread. The texture is compact so it’s good for slicing and spreading (and toasting), making it handy for a homemade breakfast. The sugar in step 1 is to feed the yeast, it can be substituted with a teaspoon of honey, or if necessary left out altogether.
If you like Indian food, you probably love naan bread, and I never thought it was this easy to make at home. The best thing about this recipe is how beautifully it freezes: I like to make a big batch on a day when I have time, seal them in a tub and freeze them. Then when I need a quick bite, especially for breakfast, I’ll preheat the oven, put one naan in it straight from the freezer, and it takes only 5 minutes for it to be as warm and fluffy as it it had just been baked. Then I can top it with whatever I have on hand: a fried egg, avocado, zaatar…
If you’re having them as a side, you can optionally fancy up the baking bread in step 7 by brushing it with olive oil, butter, or garlic-infused oil, and sprinkling with nigella or sesame seeds.
Use coconut milk to keep it dairy-free.
A traditional breakfast from Mecca, now perhaps falling out of memory. I found it in Natural Remedies of Arabia by Robert Lebling and Donna Pepperdine, but the local name was sadly not indicated. The sugar can be left out, but it plays out very nicely against the salt.
Originally, it is served with khubz burr, a thin brown bread with nigella seeds, but it’s unlikely to be available anywhere so just use any bread you like, unleavened or otherwise.
I know someone who mixes all the ingredients in a big batch stored in the fridge, so that all she has to do is scoop a daily portion and heat it up. This makes it even quicker, and also means the chickpeas can marinate for a while.
This is not one of my quickest recipes, but past the cocktail of spices, it’s simpler to make than it looks! It’s very filling so keep the portions small if you intend it as a side. It may be best eaten the day it’s made – I find it cloying when reheated, as the squash and rice absorb most of the liquid in time (but it’s still edible, of course).
I often make this to finish up French bread that’s going stale, as I only have to buy some cheese, the rest of the ingredients being at hand in my pantry at all times. Comté is the original cheese used, but can be substituted with emmental, gruyère, cheddar or anything similar! This soup freezes well – as a matter of fact you can freeze the prepared ramekins. What I do is consume one freshly made and keep the other three in the fridge, for the next three days, so I only have to heat them in the oven.
In this recipe, the carrots and peppers provide the sweet part and the tomato and lime the sour. By tweaking quantities you can adjust the taste exactly to your liking. You can make a large quantity, divide it up in individual servings and freeze them – this way you thaw just what you need.
If you like your soups very smooth, an immersion blender is really handy, and much more space-saving and economical than a full-size blender (easier to wash, too). If like me you prefer a chunky texture, chop everything to your desired size to begin with, and/or use a potato masher to pulp the soup roughly.
This hearty Lebanese stew brings me right back to my childhood. It is filling and can suffice as a main dish unto itself. You can also add a sliced carrot in step 3 for a touch of sweetness to balance the lemon, and/or reduce the amount of lemon.
My mom always makes a big pot and freezes most of it, so it freezes well!
There’s no better and simpler way to cook a bunch of vegetables, and it’s highly flexible – adapt quantities to what you have on hand, throw in sliced carrots, or diced roots… It’ll never be exactly the same twice, especially if you change the spices. When you first put the chopped vegetables in, it’ll look like an enormous mound of them, but as they cook (and low temperature is essential) they release their juices and settle down into a stew. This is also why no water is added at any point. There’s plenty in the ingredients already!
This is a vegetarian and simplified version of Tom Kha Khai, a signature chicken coconut soup from North Thailand that I loved so much I ate almost nothing else during my stays there.
About the more exotic ingredients: Galangal is normally used instead of the ginger shown here, but they are close enough to be substituted, as the former can be hard to find. If you can’t easily get lemongrass (which should be fresh) and kaffir lime leaves, replace them with, respectively, the zest from 1 lemon and from 2 limes. It won’t be quite the authentic recipe, but it’ll be enjoyable enough!
Serve with rice to make it a main dish, or serve as a soup before the main.
I use yogurt instead of mayonnaise for this classic salad. It works very well with the flavours and is much lighter on the stomach as a result! It’s best served chilled, but if your ingredients were in the fridge and are already chilled, you can start eating right away.
Tip: Tossing the apples with the lemon as soon as they’re diced stops them from browning!
An essential part of our mezze, this is a step up from plain labneh, which is eaten exactly the same way, only devoid of garlic and mint. My preferred way of eating it is for breakfast, with pieces of oven-grilled Arabic bread, their crispy texture balancing out the softness of the labneh. Here in London I can’t find satisfactory bread, so I bake these homemade crackers instead that I can customize them to my heart’s content…
You can use these homemade crackers anyway you like, of course– the labneh is a wink at my fellow Levantines. Labneh is strained yogurt (moreso than Greek yogurt) which we have with bread, drizzled with olive oil, for breakfast or in a mezze.
These can make great party food as you really can customize the flavours in myriad creative ways. For instance, using grated cheese as a topping will result in cheese crackers. Why not also try finely chopped sundried tomato, or rubbing the dough with crushed garlic, etc — the important thing is to lightly top the dough, and not cover it (we’re not making a pizza), so the crackers still bake to a crisp.
Careful, if you underbake them, they will be soft. Still good, but not “cracking”.
I get very annoyed when certain world dishes are referred to as “dips”—something to snack on at a party— or worse, “condiments”, when they are proper and highly nutritional food that belong in a meal. Such is the case with guacamole, the salad of the Aztecs (yes). I spread it on hearty bread for breakfast or even a light lunch. It is famously good with tortilla chips, but you can also use homemade crackers—or have it the way Lebanese have tabbouleh, by using pieces of lettuce to scoop it out instead of the bread.
Guacamole is highly adaptable to taste (you can reduce the lemon, hold the onions if you don’t like them, add chopped tomatoes if you like, etc), but this is the recipe that hooked me. When I say “serves 2”, I mean as a generous side.
Whenever we go to a Lebanese restaurant, where orders are for shared platters for the whole table, the first two items on the list are inevitably a platter each of our two national salads: tabbouleh and fattoush. After many years of doing awful things to tabbouleh, the West has now turned its attention to fattoush and is steadily working on ruining its good name. (All I’m saying is, if you’re going to stick cold falafel in a salad and pour tahini over it, don’t call it “fattoush” or “Lebanese”. We don’t pour porridge over fish and chips and call it “British cuisine”.)
Anyway! This is what a proper fattoush looks like. There are variations even at home, of course, and you can leave out what you don’t have at hand, but it’s not fattoush without the fried bread and the dressing with garlic and sumac. Speaking of which, the bread should be added at the last minute so it doesn’t get soggy.
This recipe is one of my favourite party tricks, always a hit. You can actually skip the peppers — this rice is so amazingly delicious and easy to make (toss everything into the pot and cook), I make it by itself all the time, even if I have no mint and parsley around. Or if you like to experiment, you can stuff other veg (courgettes, portobello mushrooms…)
Lebanese seven-spices are vaguely known in the West as bharât (which just means “spices”), but that word is also applied to other spice mixes in the Middle-east and they’re far from the same. The mix indicated is the standard one I get from Lebanon. It won’t hurt your recipe to use another mix, but it’ll taste different!
This warm salad can be as “hot” as you like it, by adjusting the chilli. Need more green? Add a cup of tinned or frozen peas in step 5 (just make sure they get heated through if frozen). While this is normally made with vegetable oil or ghee, I use olive oil (as ever) because the difference in flavour is so great. Either way, sticking to oil keeps this dish dairy-free.
Garam masala is a spice mix that is quite mainstream now in the UK, but if it’s hard to find where you are, you can make it yourself by mixing together:
- 1t ground cardamom
- 2.5t ground coriander
- 2t ground cumin
- 1t ground black pepper
- 1/2t ground cloves
- 1/2t ground cinnamon
- 1/2t ground nutmeg
(Makes approximately 1/4C)
Every time I have potatoes in the house, I end up making this. Garlic+lemon+chilli = heaven on a plate! It’s also a great way to use leftover baked potatoes. Some notes:
- You can fry the diced potatoes instead of baking them.
- Hot pepper paste is perfect for this, but you can get quite close to it by using dried chilli flakes (or even cayenne powder) and tomato paste, which may be easier to find.
- Feel very free with the quantities! Have as much garlic, lemon and chilli as you like. For myself, I use more of all of them than I indicated here. And don’t worry if you don’t have cilantro/coriander leaves at hand, either, I do without it most of the time.
This is a great side alongside fish, or anything else you fancy. I make it almost every time I have oranges in the house. In step 1 don’t let the potatoes cook fully, as they will absorb much liquid in the rest of the steps and that will complete their cooking. I like to leave them on the fire a few more minutes (supervised) after all the liquid is absorbed, as the glaze starts to crisp. Sage goes particularly well with this!
As a general rule with herbs: if they’re fresh, add them towards the very end, as cooking them too much destroys them. But if you only have dried herbs on hand, add them in the beginning instead, when you’re frying the garlic. This way the longer cooking is able to extract the flavor from the dry leaves.