Young leaves can be cimply rinsed and eaten raw (think salad or smoothie.)
Older, more bitter leaves are more palatable after blanching: add to boiling water for 2 min, then drain. Repeat if necessary. Such a treatment will take away some of the nutrients, but you can save the stock, which also promotes digestion.
To preserve a large harvest for off-season enjoyment, blanch and freeze.
Here are two recipes in one: a Lebanese recipe for stuffed courgettes, plus a recipe to use up all the courgette pulp you are left with. To make it vegetarian, I substitute chopped mushrooms for ground meat, to great effect. The koussa are usually served warm, and a dollop of yogurt goes wonderfully with them. They also freeze well!
The first thing to do is de-stem them. If using soon, store the leaves in the fridge 3-4 days, and rinse with cold water before using. To save them for later, you have a few options:
Rinse and spread out to dry, then store in glass jars (they may still sting)
Rinse and process in a blender, then freeze in food containers. (Blending removes the sting, and is the method to use to consume nettles raw, for instance in a pesto or smoothie.)
Another option, whether you’re going to use them immediately or freeze them, is to blanch them before anything else. This removes the sting and you can then de-stem more easily:
Drop your harvest into a pot of boiling water for 2 minutes, till limp. The water can be salted (in this case save it to use as stock), or not (in this case you can directly drink it as tea).
Drain the leaves thoroughly, squeezing out excess liquid, over a bowl.
Remove stems and chop the leaves roughly.
Use right away or freeze in food containers.
Seeds: The seeds can be eaten fresh; that’s when they have the strongest stimulating effect, so avoid before bedtime (conversely, they are a great snack while on the trail). To preserve them, they can be frozen or pickled, but in my opinion the most practical way of preserving a large stock of seeds is to dry them:
Spread out the clusters and they will dry out in a few days.
Separate the seeds from the stems by rubbing them between the hands, or through a coarse-mesh sieve.
Store in a glass jar.
Take up to 1tsp a day mixed in with your morning yogurt, porridge or other breakfast (this makes them more palatable than taking a spoonful directly, at least to me!)
A few recipes:
Nettles can be used in place of spinach in any cooked dish that calls for the latter. Add the leaves to soups and stews for added nutrition.
Ripe fruit packed with nettle leaves keeps fresh longer as mould formation is stifled.
The leaves have a high nitrogen content: add them to your compost heap to boost the bacteria that break down the material.
For the same reason, they make an excellent fertiliser: Fill a bucket with nettles (the whole plant can be used) and cover with water. Leave out for a week or so. The resulting dark (and stinking) liquid is rich in nitrogen: dilute 1 part to 10 parts water to use as plant feed.
I don’t know why anyone would buy a scrub, when there are so very many different ones to be made with simple kitchen ingredients. I’m working on a list of basic ingredients and their properties, but for now a note on the carrier oil often mentioned below: there are several suitable oils that can be used for this, so it’s up to personal preference and skin type. The simplest may be olive oil, rich in antioxidants, which is absorbed well and may already be in your pantry. Sweet almond oil is another nourishing and versatile one that won’t leave an oil film on the skin.
While coconut oil is used a lot for the consistency it creates, it’s not indispensable: it can be replaced with half the amount of carrier oil. The scrub will have a less pretty appearance, but be just as effective.
After posting the original traditional recipe last week, I attempted a vegetarian version using lentils instead of meat, with results that exceeded my expectations. Here, then, is a meatless version of this old favourite, and a very tasty way to eat more lentils. If you like it more saucy, in step 7 replace the tomato paste with 2C passata, with 1C boiling water (or stock).
I added flour because I wasn’t sure the lentils would hold together while frying, and didn’t want to take the risk, but it may not be necessary to add flour at all (let me know if you try it!)
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).
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.
A French dandelion-based soup, spiced up with mustard. Coconut milk can be used to keep it dairy-free/vegan (in this case sauté the veg in olive oil rather than butter), but to avoid making it too heavy I would suggest using just 1C coconut milk and replacing the rest with water or more stock.
This was a serious childhood favourite before I went off meat, and is included in my Lebanese Homecooking book (in my shop). If you like it more saucy, in step 6 replace the tomato paste with 2C passata, with 1C boiling water (or stock).
For an equally delicious vegetarian/vegan version, see this recipe.
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.
A traditional springtime recipe in Sweden, this soup makes use of the abundant young nettles shooting out at that time of the year. Nettle tops can be frozen for use later, though — and so can the soup itself. (At the time of publishing this post, nettles in the UK are flowering and seeding and it’s too late to harvest nettle tops, but it’s still possible to find some fresh shoots around the older ones).
To make it dairy-free, use 1T olive oil instead of the butter, and omit the crème fraîche. Leave out the egg as well for a vegan version.
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.
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!
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.
This makes for a very satisfying, versatile breakfast. It doesn’t take that long to boil potatoes so it’s reasonably quick, but steps 1-2 can just as well be done the previous evening (cover and leave on the counter overnight, there’s no need to refrigerate). Use 2T olive oil instead of butter in step 2 to make it vegan/dairy-free.
If you prefer sweet breakfasts, garnish instead with berries, apple slices, honey, maple syrup, cream, cinnamon, grated chocolate…
Amazing fresh out of the oven, but if you make too many for immediate consumption, they can be allowed to cool and then frozen. To reheat, pop them in the pre-heated oven straight from the freezer for a few minutes till heated through.
This is different from the inimitable “rabtet khubz” (bag of bread) from the bakery, but identical to the hot, puffed bread that is brought to the table straight from the oven at a restaurant.
A language note: “khubz” is just the Arabic word for “bread”, any kind of bread. It doesn’t mean this specific type unless you specify “khubz arabi”. “Khubz franji” is French bread, for instance. “Khubz marquq” is the traditional, super thin Lebanese mountain bread. And so on. Some people drop the general word in conversation (sometimes innocently, often pedantically) as if it were a technical term—don’t.
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.
This pizza takes some work, but it’s so worth it—a crowd pleaser every time. Its various steps don’t need to be made in one go: the leeks can be prepared 1-2 days ahead and refrigerated, and so can the cheese mix (so can the flavored oil, but that only takes 5 minutes so there’s little point).
It can be made with any dough; the Basic Dough makes for a thicker crust that is more filling (I’d still spread it somewhat thinly), but it can equally be made with a thin crust, lighter and quicker to make. Either way, half-baking it before adding the toppings ensures it bakes fully. Also, it’s far easier to eat this if you make smaller pizzas, as done here, rather than one large.
The feta makes it very savoury; if you prefer a milder taste, use ricotta instead.
This is my go-to pizza/flatbread dough recipe when I want a thick soft crust and I have time to let it rise. Sometimes I only leave it for 1/2 hour and it’s still just fine: I’ll prepare it first, put it somewhere warm while I prepare the other ingredients, and then get on with it. If it affected the result, I never noticed!
As shown below, you can freeze the dough when it’s ready, for future use. This is useful if you made more than you need, but it needs to thaw overnight, so it’s not really a time-saver. On the other hand, if you use baking powder instead of yeast, you have a thin-crust dough that’s ready to use immediately. In this case, make sure to spread it thinly.
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.
Fruit leathers are a brilliant and simple way of preserving fruit, especially when it’s in excess or overripe and would otherwise go to waste. The basic principle is to purée the fruit (which can be combined to taste), spread it out and dry until no longer sticky. The “leather” can then be cut into strips or rolled up, will keep for a very long time, and is a handy healthy snack to keep on hand (no sugar needs to be added).
In this recipe, foraged blackberries are used to add flavour to the nourishing-but-plain-tasting haws, but the juice of other fruit (and a little sugar if really needed) can be added instead. Add a little water before step 2 if the pulp is too stiff. (Start with more information about foraging for haws.)