Christmas in Provence is famous for its thirteen desserts, symbolizing Christ and the twelve Apostles. The exact items tend to vary from place to place or even family to family, but they typically include nuts, dried and fresh fruits, calissons (marzipan-like candy), quince paste, black and white nougat, and the crown of them all, the sweet bread known as pompe à huile.
This is a very rich dessert that involves no added sugar at all. Other fruits can be used, for instance raspberries go equally well with dark chocolate. The heavy cream can actually be replaced with coconut cream, which whips equally well, if you like the additional coconut taste. You can also replace the butter with coconut oil to really minimize the dairy/animal fat (you’ll only be left with what the chocolate contains). Either way, pour into small cups as you won’t need a big portion to feel satisfied.
Another classic Lebanese dessert that I’m sure is also known to other cultures under other names. It’s understated, which is really nice, not too sweet, and you can always play around with the flavour, for instance replacing the orange blossom water with vanilla extract, or lemon extract, amaretto and so on. I have not tried it with non-dairy milk but I think it would work, as the rice powder is the thickener. It won’t thicken a lot in step 3, but after a night in the fridge it will be thick enough to eat with a spoon.
One of the promises I made regarding this blog is there would NOT be paragraphs of Proustian moments (or dozens of photos) before you can get to the recipe. Instead I give you the root of all Proustian moments — the madeleine itself! Such a lovely little cake, not overly sweet, and very, well, French. It does dry out after the first day, and that makes a big difference, so I only make them for gatherings. Madeleine are usually made in specialized baking tins to give them their scallop shape, but mini cupcake tins work just as well, or use regular-size cupcake tins and underfill them.
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…