Koussa Ablama (Stuffed courgettes)

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!

(You’ll find this recipe in my book Lebanese Homecooking.)

Vegetarian Daoud Basha (Lebanese meat-less balls)

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!)

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.

Daoud Basha (Lebanese Meatballs)

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.

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.

Nässelsoppa (Swedish Nettle Soup)

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.

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!

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.

Irish Potato Bread

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…

Khubz Arabi

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.

Basic Pizza Dough

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.

Hawthorn Leather

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.)

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.

Melomakarona

Also known as finikia, these cookies are closely related to Lebanese maakaroun, though the latter are far less elaborate.  They are an essential part of a Greek Christmas, but leftovers will comfortably last for a few weeks after, thanks to being soaked in syrup! Do not refrigerate, as that makes them harden.

Turrón de Navidad

This “Christmas nougat” dates back to the turun of Moorish Spain. This variety is made with only three ingredients, and as it contains only honey and no sugar, the result is not too hard. You can add some extra flavour in step 6 such as orange blossom water or cinnamon.

Pompe à Huile

Christmas in Provence is famous for its thirteen desserts, symbolizing Christ and the twelve Apostles. The exact items tend to vary from place to place or even family to family, but they typically include nuts, dried and fresh fruits, calissons (marzipan-like candy), quince paste, black and white nougat, and the crown of them all, the sweet bread known as pompe à huile.

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.

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!

Vegetable Stew

There’s no better and simpler way to cook a bunch of vegetables, and it’s highly flexible – adapt quantities to what you have on hand, throw in sliced carrots, or diced roots… It’ll never be exactly the same twice, especially if you change the spices. When you first put the chopped vegetables in, it’ll look like an enormous mound of them, but as they cook (and low temperature is essential) they release their juices and settle down into a stew. This is also why no water is added at any point. There’s plenty in the ingredients already!

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.