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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

Blueberry Chocolate Mousse

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.

Sfouf (Lebanese turmeric cake)

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!

Sweet Galette

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.

Quick Loaf

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.

Banana Eggs

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.

Hommos Balila (Warm chickpea salad)

A savoury Lebanese breakfast that can also be served as a side dish. It’s incredibly quick to make and is nicely filling. All of the seasoning can be adjusted to taste. I have this almost every morning, and what I do is use a whole tin of chickpeas (carefully rinsed), mashing them just a little so they’ll absorb the flavours better. I also add cayenne pepper to the mix (I put it on everything, to be honest), and eat it with a spoon, without bread.
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.

Sweet & Sour Soup

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.

Tom Kha Hed (Thai coconut soup with mushrooms)

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.

Rosemary Chickpea Soup

This soup freezes well, and can be customized: you could make thyme stock instead of rosemary, for instance, or even use vegetable or other broth. If you don’t have an immersion blender, no problem: use a potato masher to blend it roughly, or just leave it chunky.

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.

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.

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.

Salmon Sashimi Salad

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.

Garlic-Lemon Spaghetti

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.

Smoked Salmon Spaghetti

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.

Avocado Pasta

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.

Penne Express

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.

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.