Sunday lunch is not something our family really subscribes to, at least not in the traditional sense. I can’t actually remember the last time we sat down for a classical, British ‘roast’ and I have to admit I really don’t miss it. I’m not a big carnivore for a start so the new trends of cooking making vegetable ‘king’ and meat a sideline are much more up my street. Hence when confronted with 15 for lunch on a cold sunday in January I decided to head east for my inspiration in the hope that I could tick the obligatory meat box for the hungry boys yet also keep the girlies happy with accompanying dishes that were altogether lighter, prettier and tastier. I can’t really vouch if the food created really had a natural home, flavors from Morocco, Israel, Lebanon and Turkey took precedence but there were others as well. A stunning Ottolenghi inspired aubergine salad won the beauty contest, a mezze medley derived largely from my superb new cook book ‘Honey & Co’ had the taste buds zinging, there was the obligatory bulghar wheat salad and then some punchy butternut squash roasted with chilli and fennel seed. It was a welcome change and devoured by all, a distant cry from roast lamb swimming in gravy with tatties and 2 veg!
I am extremely fond of ‘Middle Eastern’ food and have quite a lot to thank that kitchen wizard, Ottolenghi for. That said, the stoic, fabulous Diana Henry was probably the lady who initially introduced me to some of the more subtle flavors and complex combinations in her gorgeous book ‘Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons’. My book shelves are now weighed down with more recent publications, ‘, ‘Istanbul’, ‘Persiana’ and my most leafed through, ‘Honey & Co’. Talk about feeling the love. This is my favorite cookbook from 2014. Bought, and I’m rather embarrassed to admit this, for someone else, yet for some reason it never quite made it to its intended destination and thankfully I am now the proud, and extremely lucky owner of it. I have been slowly flicking through it, picking out recipes and savouring every morsel. Last week I was spoilt rotten and taken out for lunch – an extremely rare treat – to their modest establishment on Warren St. It was fabulous. It’s not smart or grand but it is warm and welcoming, the staff are heaven and the food DIVINE. If you like middle eastern food you have to go to ‘Honey & Co’ – or failing that at least buy their book.
Back to that Sunday lunch. Now if I’m totally honest I have tried this once before and it was pretty popular. Second tine round I did a bit of tweaking here and there, added to the menu and came up with the following. It does sound a bit messy and yes, I guess it does require a bit of forward planning but such a refreshing change I can’t tell you.
Sunday Lunch from the Middle East
Mezze with Lavoush
Labaneh – strained cheese made by mixing yogurt and lemon juice, oil and salt (Honey & Co recipe)
Hummus with sumac and zatar sprinkled on top (Honey & Co recipe)
Saffron yogurt – left over from the aubergine salad (Ottolenghi)
Muhamra (Honey & Co recipe)
Tahini yogurt ( natural yogurt, tahini, garlic and honey)
Lavoush – flat bread (Honey & Co)
Rose red Harrissa marinated leg of lamb
Bulghar salad with roasted almonds, parsley and lemon
Butternut squash roasted with chilli and fennel with tahini yogurt
Roasted aubergine with pomegranate, basil and parsley with saffron yogurt (Ottolenghi)
My favorite bit was the mezze. I can’t resist a dollop of hummus, tahini and the totally addictive muhamra. Served alongside the ‘Lavoush’ I was as happy as a sandboy, in my kind of foodie paradise. Now ‘Lavoush’ is very much a newcomer to our kitchen and something I have only made since the acquisition of said ‘Honey & Co’ cook book. I am told the bread is a staple in the Middle East and has even crept on to menus as far away as London – extraordinary! Frankly I can see why it has a worldwide appeal, unbelievably moreish and so easy to make it works with everything and anything, mezze is the obvious but it would be lovely with a starter as long as you get the topping right. Given we had bought into the whole ‘Middle Eastern’ lunch ‘shebang’ we embraced the toppings for said bread. On went the zatar, sumac, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sea salt, fennel seeds – not all at once but all kinds of combinations. Once cooked we broke it into uneven shards and served in the most rustic of fashions. This is certainly something we will make again and again. Firstly because it is so easy, chances are you have the ingredients in your larder now (flour, butter, sugar, salt and water) and secondly because it is so damn good.
180g strong bread flour
14g soft butter
a pinch of sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg for brushing
Toppings of your choice. Sumac, Zatar, fennel seeds, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, nigella seeds, salt etc etc.
Mix the flour, butter, sugar salt together and start to add the water until there is a heavy, dry dough. It will just come together, it will not be springy or soft. Wrap in cling and place in fridge for at least an hour.
Heat your oven to 190 or 170. Remove the dough and start rolling. If you have a pasta machine pop it through on the skinniest of settings. You want really thinly rolled dough – wafer thin! Place the dough on lined baking sheets, brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with your chosen topping. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes until the bread turns golden. Once cool break into uneven shards. It will store well in an air tight container.
This will make 4 large pieces – good for 4-6 people to eat with dips.