Mighli (Caraway cream)

This is more than a dessert: in Lebanon it is traditionally prepared to celebrate a birth and also for Christmas (because baby Jesus). Ground caraway and even aniseed are not regular fare in Western supermarkets but you’ll find it in spice shops, Middle-Eastern shops, and if all else fails, try eBay, or just grind the whole seeds, which seem to be more common.
I’ll admit that this is not my favourite, but I love making it for friends who just had a happy event, and it is meant to be good for the mother after giving birth, with all these energy-packing nuts.

Simsimiyeh (Sesame candy)

This can be a bit tricky to get right. Too hot and it’ll be hard, not hot enough and it won’t caramelize. If you’re familiar with candymaking, the idea here is to reach a “firm-ball” stage (118-121ºC/245-250ºF on a thermometer).

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!

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).

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.

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).

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.

Aadas bi-Hamod (Lentils & lemon stew)

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!

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.

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.

Crackers

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”.

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.

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!

Nut Milks

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.

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.

Roasted Veg Risotto

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.