Updated: Feb 16
Here are two small stories about cooking for friends. One in Paris, one in London. Shamefully both parties failed to present a taste of place. A Middle Eastern meal in London and an Italian meal in Paris, what will the millennials do next?
Elliot’s Wet and Windy Middle Eastern Meal
Storm Ciara hung over the flat, grumbling and knocking things over like a disgruntled teenager. The cherry tree sitting just outside the house whipped and thrashed, its outermost branches scratching the window moodily. There was a hypnotic whirling of wind and a metallic echo of clattering signs. London, as it does with any ‘extreme weather’, lost its marbles. It was very English storm, signal failures, cancelled trains, inverted umbrellas, bins upended and streets populated by humans with their heads down, teeth clenched and hats being mourned as they flew down the street and out of sight.
“It is Baltic out there”
“Blew the croissant clean out of my hand”
“Hail. It’s bloody hailing.”
“The world has gone mad”
“A drowned rat”
“Come in I said, I’ll give you shelter from the storm”
“I can’t feel my hands, I can’t feel my face”
I felt a strange satisfaction in the wild returning to the city. The façade of order and modernism, the walkways, buildings, bridges, buses, trains and cars, made in the name of function and efficiency, rendered incompetent by an invisible menace. Nature had sent in its forces, twisting and howling around each corner, reasserting itself for a day over the urban sprawl. Humans at the mercy of the gods will inevitably retreat back to their homes, to their friendships and to the comfort of food. All we can do is sit whilst the wind dives, and wait for the storm to pass.
If that day was made for anything, it was food. Any activities outside of a warm home were swiftly cancelled, even the thought of venturing out into the washing machine world were dismissed by cancelled buses and chaotic trains. Luckily, friends were coming over for lunch, unfortunately, more friends than seats in the house. The door was rhythmically opened to battered and bruised friends, drenched by the horizontal rain, hair and raindrops sliding down their faces. I had spent the proceeding night cooking up a storm to match Ciara. If I had learnt anything from cooking Christmas dinners for the flat it was to get as much done the night before as possible. The times I have tried to deliver dishes to the table in synchronisation, all equally hot and perfectly presented have only led to frustration, perspiration and ultimate defeat.
I felt as though the gloom outside needed to be countered by some life inside. The food of the Middle East is vital in colour and taste, so it was out with the Sunday Roast and in with the Za’taar. Plates, bowls and trays were piled generously with food, roasted vegetables, pastries, baked harissa-halloumi, herby-couscous, potatoes roasted in spices, a spiced tomato sauce and Persian rice. Mountains of food were forged, legs unfurled and the raucous wind became muffled by inconsequential conversations of friends.
Baked Honey, Harissa Halloumi
Really simple and delicious way of elevating an already tasty chunk of cheese.
Ingredients: 1 black of halloumi, 2 tablespoons of harissa, 2 tablespoons of honey, juice of a whole lime, a few sprigs thyme, pepper.
1) Mix together the harissa, honey, lime and thyme in a bowl.
2) Take a square of kitchen foil and place a equally sized square of baking paper on top. Pop your halloumi into the ‘wrapping paper’ and pour over the marinade.
3) Wrap the halloumi in the foil and baking paper, as if you’re wrapping a present.
4) Place on a baking tray and cook at 200C for half-an-hour.
5) Slice into chunks and eat. Perfect with some bread or alongside a salad.
Za’taar Roast Potatoes
Sometimes the roasties need just a little bit of a middle eastern kick. Thank you once again to Ottolenghi for introducing za’taar into my life, a perfect mix of cumin, sesame seeds, dried oregano and sumac.
Ingredients: Mauris Piper Potatoes, Za’taar, Rosemary, Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar, Salt and Pepper.
1) Chop as many potatoes as you want to eat into small chunks, evenly sized.
2) Add into a roasting tray, line with baking paper if you have any to hand and turn the oven up to 190C.
3) Hit the potatoes with a healthy dose of olive oil and a good splash of balsamic vinegar.
4) Chop the fresh rosemary and throw over the top of the potatoes. Then add a good amount of the za’taar and season well.
5) Roast in the oven for around 45-50 minutes.
Spiced Tomato and Aubergine Sauce
This is a real game-changer, served with rice, pasta or even just as a sauce. The tamarind adds a delicious sweetness to the charred Aubergine. This recipe is inspired by one from Sabrina Ghayour’s fantastic book ‘Bazaar’.
Ingredients: Rapeseed Oil, 1 Large Onion, 4 Garlic Cloves, 1 Teaspoon of Ground Cinnamon, 3 Tablespoons Tamarind Paste, 1 Tablespoon of Harissa, 2 x 400g Tins of Plum Tomatoes, 4 Tablespoons of Honey, 4 Aubergines, Fresh Rosemary.
1) Fry onions and garlic cloves in rapeseed oil for 15 minutes. Season well. Add the cinnamon after 10 minutes.
2) When the onions are almost brown, stir in the tamarind, tomatoes, chopped rosemary and honey. Season well. Fill up one of the cans of tomatoes with tap water and add to the pot. Simmer for an hour.
3) Cut the Aubergines lengthways in half and then into quarters. Put onto a baking tray and roast until browned and cooked through.
4) When the tomato sauce has reduced and seasoned to your taste add the aubergines.
Herby Couscous with pomegranate and feta.
Fluffy couscous, sharp sweetness from the pomegranate and bursts of saltiness from the feta. Yum.
Ingredients: One and a Half Cups of Couscous, 2 and a Half Cups of Boiling Vegetable Stock, Handful of Parsley, Mint and Basil, Pomegranate Seeds, Feta, Lemon, Olive Oil.
1) Add the couscous to a large bowl and then add the boiling water or stock. Cover the bowl with clingfilm, in order to steam and reawaken the couscous.
2) After 10 minutes fluff up the couscous and season to taste.
3) Chop the herbs finely and add to the couscous.
4) Top with a generous handful of pomegranate seeds and a hearty crumbling of salty feta.
5) Simply serve with a good splosh of olive oil and the juice of a whole lemon.
Go to your local patisserie and pick the most delicious tarte they have.