Category Archives: Middle Eastern

Autumn reflections – with a comforting hummus dish

I think the Autumnal time of year is a great opportunity to cosy up with friends and family and share food which is a little bit more comforting than we might do in Spring or Summer – foods like mackerel, chicken casserole, spinach, kale, beetroot, pumpkin and other root vegetables (oven-roasted).

Don’t get me wrong; I love the Autumn for what it is, especially the vibrant orange colours of the leaves on  the trees against the dusk skies – see below – and the briskness, crispness and freshness that we experience most mornings in the UK. Autumn skies

I recently posted a blog on how to make homemade falafel and I posted another blog on making your own dips for entertaining a crowd.

The purpose of this blog is to delve, once more, into Middle Eastern cuisine, with a recipe for creamy hummus – something I’ve always found to be a good accompaniment to vegetable or meat dishes.

Homemade courgette (zucchini) hummus with spices

Grilled courgette (zucchini)

Grilled courgette (zucchini)

I was fumbling around in the vegetable box receently thinking what might make a decent hummus recipe. Courgette’s (Zucchini) are one of my favourite vegetables and are pretty versatile – so I settled with that.

Grilled, fried or roasted, the courgette is blitzed in a food processor with chickpeas (garbanzo beans), aduki beans, fresh garlic, tahini (sesame paste), lemon juice, herbs, spices and extra-virgin olive oil.

It can be eaten hot or cold.

You can use it as a dip for pitta bread, spread it on a wrap or pair it with roasted vegetables and any meat dish.

Hummus complete

Hummus

It’s gluten-free, low-carb and vegan friendly. Nutritionally, it also has a decent amount of protein and fibre.

Ingredients

Chickpeas (garnazo beans), aduki beans and tahini

Chickpeas (garnazo beans), aduki beans and tahini

  • 1 courgette (Zucchini) – grilled, fried or roasted
  • 400g can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
  • 400g can aduki beans, drained
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 4 tbsp tahini (sesame paste)
  • ½ tsp salt, more to taste
  • ½ tsp cracked pepper

    Ingredients for hummus (clockwise from top - chickpeas and aduki beans, courgette, spices, lemon, garlic and coriander leaf)

    Ingredients for hummus (clockwise from top – chickpeas and aduki beans, courgette, spices, lemon, garlic and coriander leaf)

  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 4 tbsp coriander or more fresh herbs
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

 Directions

  • Cut courgette into ½ inch thick strips, brush with a little olive oil and grill on medium heat until charred and tender.
  • (Alternately courgette may be roasted in the oven until tender. If you have very large zucchini with thick skin, you can half it lengthwise, roast in the oven and then scoop out the flesh, leaving the skin out, if necessary)
  • Place the grilled courgette along with the rest of the ingredients (except the oil, coriander herb and 2 tbsp of the chickpeas and aduki beans) in a food processor, and puree until relatively smooth.
  • Serve it in a bowl, making a little circular “well” using a spoon, and drizzle a little olive oil in the well.
  • Garnish with the 2 tbsp chickpeas and aduki beans and mix in the coriander herb.
  • Serve either warm or chilled.
Blitz hummus

Blitz hummus

Blitzed with coriander

Hummus blitzed with coriander

 

How to make homemade (baked) falafel

Falafels are a handy “store cupboard” meal for an easy weekday lunch or dinner. You can make a large batch and demolish them whenever takes your fancy – which, for me, would be for every meal.

Falafel Salad

The falafel patties will keep for several days in the fridge. Having said that, they do start to crumble and dry out the longer you leave them. If this happens just drizzle some extra oil over the patties before baking.

The recipe below is for a colourful salad – but you can easily turn the patties into mini burgers and stuff them into pitta bread with sliced tomato, rocket and fried red onion. Just a suggestion.

Serves 4

Ingredients

For the falafelHomemade Falafel

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 x 400g can chickpeas
  • 1 x 400g can mixed beans (kidney, borlotti and black eyed beans)
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp mixed herbs
  • 1 lemon, zest grated
  • 2 tbsp chopped coriander (herb)
  • Salt and pepper,
  • 1 tbsp chickpea flour OR 1 egg (for binding the ingredients together)

For the salad

  • 2 tbsp red cabbage mayonnaise
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced
  • 2 x red and yellow pepper, sliced
  • a handful of rocket
  • 1 tomato, sliced thinkly
  • 1/2 small cucumber, chopped
  • 1 tspb jalepeno peppers

Directions

  • Heat a tablespoon of oil in a small pan. Fry the onion over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and fry for a further two minutes and remove from the heat.
  • Drain and rinse the chickpeas and mixed beans and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the sautéed onion and garlic and crush together with a potato masher until the mixture is broken down.
  • Add the cumin, mixed herbs and lemon zest and mix well. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Add the flour / egg and mix together.
  • Preheat the oven to 200C. Divide the mixture into 16 walnut-sized balls and place on a non-stick baking tray.
  • Rest in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.
  • Remove the falafel from the fridge, drizzle with the remaining oil and bake for 25 minutes, or until crisp and golden-brown. Turn occasionally to ensure even cooking.
  • For the salad, arrange the ingredients on a plate with sliced (cooked) falafel placed on top.

That’s a wrap!

Recently there have been a spate of recipes in foodie magazines encourageing us to ‘put this together at work’, by taking lunch ingredients with us to the office; thus perpetuating the myth that “nobody has any time” anymore to prepare lunch at home.

Chicken, chilli and hummus wrap with tomato and watercress (wrapped)

Chicken, chilli and humous wrap with tomato and watercress

This, of course, turns out to be bogus. We do have time, we do have the choice of preparing our own lunches well in advance – many of us just choose not to. How about the evening before? Surely we can pull ourselves away from the latest TV drama to russell up a healthy wrap, sandwich or salad for the next day.

For me, ‘wraps’ provide a useful modern convenience food which can be put together in little time at all. They are great vessels for stuffing with hot food, cold meats, fish, salads and a variety of vegetables.

There is also a great market in the UK for healthy ‘fast food’ options and companies selling wraps seem to be filling this with aplomb.

Not only can you be creative with the fillings but dressings and sauces are useful too; lashings of extra-virgin olive oil, mayo, mustard, tahini or a simple squeeze of half a lemon should moisten the wrap on the inside. For extra crunch, just add some chopped red and yellow peppers, sliced cabbage, carrot, onion or baby gem lettuce.

Here are some great recipe ideas –

Falafel pitta wrap with red onion, red cabbage, yoghurt, herbs and tomatoes

Middle Eastern inspired recipe with plenty of flavour and textures running through it.

Falaffel wrap at Borough Market

Sweet potato wrap with goats cheese, pumpkin seeds and parsley

This is one of my own creations. It’s quite starchy but the taste really hits the mark.

Sweet potato quesadilla with goats cheese (1)

Chicken, chilli and humous wrap with tomato and watercress

Another eclectic home-made creation which packs a decent amount of flavour.

Chicken, chilli and hummus wrap with tomato and watercress (3)  Chicken, chilli and hummus wrap with tomato and watercress (2)

Nuts about Almonds!

Always good for a munch when you’re feeling peckish – almonds are without doubt one of my favourite store cupboard ingredients.

Almonds

Oven roasted almonds

Although this delicate, mellow and creamy nut might not seem as exciting lined up against it’s more flavourful cousins; namely the walnut, pecan or brazil varieties, almonds do have their strong points; like providing the foundation for all great baking recipes, exotically flavoured tagines, pilafs and stews.

Not only that, almonds are also extremely nutritious:

  • They are rich in vitamin E which promotes healthy skin, bones and acts as an intoxicant which protects cell membranes.
  • Compared to other nuts they also contain the second highest amount of magnesium, after Brazil nuts, which is necessary for healthy teeth, muscle, nerve function and great for energy distribution throughout the body.
  • They are also high in protein and monounsaturated fats.

Almond varieties:

Almonds aerial view

Oven roasted almonds aerial view

  • Whole almonds

My favourite almonds are the skin-on whole variety (brown in colour) although blanched almonds (white in colour, skin-off) are also available.

I whole find almonds eaten straight from the packet a little bland; it usually helps to toss them in a little olive oil, salt and cayenne pepper before blasting them in a hot oven for 10 – 15 minutes. Not only does this bring out their flavour but it also gives them a crunchier texture.

  • Ground (powdered) almonds

Great for home baking (think lemon, almond and poppy seed cake) – lending a chewy consistency to cakes and excellent for a healthy flour substitute for making pancakes.

  • Flaked almonds

These are readily used as a garnish on savoury dishes like Moroccan tagines, pilafs and Indian curries. On the sweet end of the spectrum you’ll find toasted and flaked almonds adorning all manner of cakes and sweet pastries – like Bakewell tarts, nutty florentine biscuits, pralines, creamy trifles and (my favourite) sweet almond croissants filled with marzipan paste.

On that note, feel free to browse my recipe for Macaroons from a previous blog.

Recipe ideas:

If I’m not eating almonds straight from the packet or munching them straight from the oven I’ll often use a food processor to prepare smoothies, milkshakes and thick sauces.

  • For a great smoothie recipe – blitz a handful of almonds with 150g blanched kale, 1 banana and 2-3 dates, along with a good splash of almond milk or water. This can be chilled in the refrigerator or served at room temperature.
  • For a bright, fiery sauce you can’t go wrong with Romesco – from the Catalonia region in Spain. Romesco is made with almonds, roasted red peppers, garlic, tomatoes and a thick slice of country bread for texture, making it an excellent accompaniment for meat, fish and as a dressing for roasted vegetables. Just take 100g of whole roasted almonds, 4 garlic cloves, 2 diced tomatoes, 3 roasted red peppers (blackened on an open flame or roasted for 20 minutes in a fierce oven) and 1 red chilli. Add this to a food processor with 100ml olive oil, 2 tbsp sherry vinegar, 1 tbsp smoked paprika and salt and pepper to taste. Puree until smooth.

I’ve focused two recipes below: the first has all the flavours and textures from the Middle East; with the second offering up a healthy non-dairy alternative to milk.

Almond, apricot, pomegranate, quinoa and bulgur Pilaf

Pilaf is a long-standing favourite of mine which usually contains rice, spices and various other grains. I’ve gone with quinoa and bulgar as the two main ingredients which give the dish a fantastically nutty texture.

Almond, apricot, quinoa and bulgar pilaf

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 100g each of uncooked quinoa and bulgar wheat
  • 1 can chickpeas/garbanzos
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • salt and pepper to taste
Almond, apricot, quinoa and bulgur pilaf ingredients

Ingredients (clockwise from left): quinoa, bulgur wheat, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, chilli flakes and (middle) 1 whole cinnamon stick

To garnish

  • 100g mixed almonds
  • 75g apricots, chopped
  • 75g pomegranates
  • a handful of coriander

Directions

  • Heat 2 tbsp oil in a pan, then fry the onions, coriander seeds and cumin seeds until soft and golden. Add the garlic and chillies and fry for 2 minutes, then add the quinoa, bulgur, stock and cinammon. Season, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes until the stock is absorbed or until the you have fluffy grains. Transfer to a bowl.
  • Garnish with the remaining ingredients and serve.

Homemade almond milk

A fresh and tasty vegan alternative to cow’s milk. You will need a blender.

Almond milk recipe

Ingredients

  • 200g whole almonds
  • 570ml/1 pint water
  • 6-7 good quality pitted dates (Medjool variety are good) OR 3-4 tbsp maple syrup

Directions

  • In a container, soak the almonds in just enough water to cover.
  • Cover with a towel and let it sit in a cool place for about 8 – 12 hours.
  • Pour off the water from the almonds and rinse well.
  • Place the rinsed almonds into a blender, add the water with the dates or maple syrup, blending for a few minutes on high speed until well mixed.
  • Strain the almond milk through a very fine sieve or a bag strainer and serve. You will be left with some almond meal residue in the sieve or bag strainer (you can use this for macaroons, cookies, almond but butter or other baking recipes).

Alternative flavour suggestions

Add these extra ingredients at the blending stage

  • Chocolate almond milk: add 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Cinnamon milk: add 1 tsp cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg
  • Vanilla almond milk: add 1 tsp vanilla extract or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod