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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
This is both incredibly quick and quite fancy (and delicious, if you love sushi). Great when you’re entertaining but only have a little time to put together that special dinner. Despite the name, this is very much a main dish, albeit a cold one. Try pairing it with an actual salad, maybe with noodles, in a similar vein of Japanese flavours.
Make sure to use only the freshest fish for this: ask your fishmonger for sushi-grade salmon as that will be safe to eat raw.
There are many variants on this spicy fish recipe back home. You can increase the chilli to make it fiery, or leave it out altogether; there’s plenty of other flavour for the recipe to hold without it. In the northern city of Tripoli, I’ve also enjoyed samke harra on the go, as street food, wrapped in bread!
This classic recipe actually contains two in one. Steps 2 and 3 are for making a pomarola sauce, an all-purpose tomato sauce. It is great for freezing in portions, to be taken out and used either as is (and you can spice it up with some oregano and/or thyme), or to finish making the arrabbiata (steps 4 to 6). You could also prepare the whole thing and then freeze it, but I find that 4-5 are quite quick and worth making fresh. If frozen, thaw and heat through before adding the dry basil and black pepper.
Leave out the parmesan to keep it dairy-free!
This is one of my go-to recipes when I have no time, as I always have what I need to make it. Except pine nuts, which I’m happy to do without, and fresh basil, but adding dry basil in step 2 works well in that case. I also like to sauté dried chilli flakes along with the garlic. Bottom line, this is really easy to customize, and comes together in minutes.
I source fish from my local responsible provider, and alongside smoked salmon proper, they offer the latter’s trimmings at a much lower price, which is good for not wasting food, and good for my wallet. From time to time I order a pack and freeze it, to bring out when I fancy this recipe. It is dairy-free if you leave out the optional cream. The pasta water in step 3 can be replaced with white cooking wine for added flavour.
With the rise of veganism and lactose intolerance, nut milks are getting popular (also, they’re delicious in their own right). But they cannot be found package-free, and involve mass-scale agriculture and production, so they are quite damaging to the environment. Happily, they are the easiest thing to make at home from bulk-bought organic nuts – all you need is a blender. This same method also works for making your own coconut milk rather than buying it tinned! I make cashew milk for my morning tea regularly, in small quantities adapted to my personal consumption: other than the overnight soak, it genuinely takes only a few minutes.
This hearty pasta dish can be a good way of using up leftover chorizo (and you could leave out the mushrooms if you don’t have any on hand). If you also have a bell pepper you don’t know what to do with (I know I often do), cut it into bite sizes and add them in step 2.
Leave out the cheese to keep it dairy-free.
This pasta recipe is fresh and creamy, very filling thanks to the avocado, and very adaptable: I make it without parmesan if I don’t have any at hand (leaving out the cheese makes it dairy-free), and use whatever fresh herbs I may have instead of basil. Feel free to use only half a lemon’s juice if you’re not big on lemons. It’s also an extra fast recipe, as by the time the penne are cooked, the other ingredients are ready for them.
A very quick and very satisfying pasta dish. I use the cherry tomatoes whole: this way they cook without releasing their juices, and you get that burst of flavour in your mouth instead. Penne or other short pasta are well-suited for this, but any pasta you have at hand is fine.
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.
My very first signature dish, at the age of 8, was something we called “risotto” but was in fact, looking back, a rather embarrassing affair of mixing tomato paste and canned frankfurters, mushrooms, peas into cooked rice. When I got back into cooking as an adult, it never occured to me to attempt it again, just like it would never occur to me to eat pasta with ketchup again (ugh!)On a recent visit to my brother and sister-in-law, I offered to cook for them. Was there anything particular they would like? To my amazement, his answer was, “There’s that risotto you used to make…”This recipe, then, is a grown-up version of that childhood favourite.
A few notes:
I made this recipe both with risotto (arborio) rice, which is the “proper” way, and with basmati rice. To my taste, the difference was not worth making a fuss about, and it tastes just as good. Therefore, if you don’t fancy standing over the stove stirring for 20 minutes, then use regular rice and in step 6 just pour all the stock in there, cover and let absorb.
The wine gives a real depth to the taste, but if you object to it, replace with more vegetable stock.
Omit the optional chorizo to make this dish vegetarian. Omit the parmesan to make it dairy-free and vegan.