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.

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!

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.

Kadoo Pish Gaza (Iranian courgette spread)

A breakfast from Iran, this can equally well be a side dish, a dip, or take its place in a mezzeh. Or, half-bake thinly spread pizza dough, spread this on, and pop back into the oven till baking is done.
If you want to use fresh tomatoes instead of canned, you’ll need to start with 200g (8 oz).

Squash & Coconut Soup

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).

Nasi Kuning (Indonesian yellow rice)

This recipe from Indonesia is one of many twists on the humble side of rice. Be warned the coconut milk makes it very much more filling. This is usually prepared with white rice. I haven’t tried it with brown so I don’t know if the flavour comes through the same way.

Waldorf Salad

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!

Labneh bil-toom (Strained yogurt with garlic)

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…

Guacamole

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.

Fattoush

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.

Loubieh bi-Zeit (Green beans in oil)

An example of Lebanese home food. Traditionally a fasting dish (typically, all dishes “in oil”and served cold are, while their meaty counterparts are served hot), we made it at home all year long. Chilli-flavoured oil (or other) can be substituted in step 6 to spice things up.

Rizz bi-Shaariyeh (Lebanese vermicelli rice)

If you’re bored with plain white rice, try this tasty and much more filling Lebanese variant that only takes 2 more minutes to make. I believe it’s also a Greek dish known as “ryzi me fithe”. Note that the rice is no longer gluten-free once you add the vermicelli to it.

Stuffed Peppers

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!

Indian Potato Salad

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)

Batata Harra (Lebanese spicy potatoes)

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.

Orange-Glazed Potatoes

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.

Artichokes in Lemon

The instructions below assume you’re using canned artichoke hearts. If fresh, merge steps 3 and 4 and simmer till they’re fork-soft.
This is a flexible recipe: If you don’t want to use wine, just replace it with another 1/2 cup of stock; cilantro can be replaced with other fresh herbs such as thyme, oregano, sage, tarragon etc. Don’t like lemon? (gasp!) You could leave it out altogether or replace it with another flavouring ingredient, such as a handful of olives or a chopped tomato, or other, but there you’ll have to see how it turns out as I haven’t tried it!

Cocoa-Glazed Mushrooms

This is one of my own original recipes. Don’t be put off by the odd combination of ingredients: this doesn’t taste sweet, or even chocolatey, but brings out the deep earthiness of the mushrooms (simple white mushrooms, or chestnut, work just fine). Just don’t go over the quantities indicated (particularly with the vinegar), to keep the flavours in balance.

Instead of rice, you could serve this with sourdough toast if you like.