Middle Eastern Cuisine
Put the spice back into your kitchen (and your life!) with Bethany Kehdy
Bethany Kehdy’s first cookbook is due out next year and following in the footsteps of Yottam Ottolenghi she specialises in cooking fresh, modern Middle Eastern food, with her own twist on using ancient ingredients and traditional techniques.
Here she reveals her cooking pet hates, her love of sea salt and her all time favourite dish.
When did you discover your passion for food and cooking?
I grew up surrounded by people who really appreciate good food. From early on I was taught to respect food and to realise how lucky I am to be able to sit down and enjoy a meal. I have fond memories of my father setting up a farm on the ancestral land after the family had moved to the mountains during the civil war. I guess that's where the connection began.
What is your all-time favourite dish to cook?
First to come to mind now is kishk soup, which is made from burghul fermented with yogurt and ground to a fine powder (kishk). It's reconstituted into hearty soup and doesn't take long to make (the soup!). It's perfect soul-soothing, wholesome food in a jiffy, although an acquired taste, I'll admit.
What one ingredient should we use more of?
Sea salt. Don't be afraid to season your food. Garlic and onions, I always let them do their thing together before creating a dish, they're passe-partout aromatics.
How do you think people's attitudes to cooking differ?
The amount of time at your disposal to do a grocery shop and cook can really dictate the kind of food you do or don't cook and in turn how and what you eat. And I definitely think where you live can affect your attitude towards food but only to a certain extent; I know women who don't cook in Lebanon they get the day's meal delivered from their mother or mother in law. Some because they have a busy working life and others because they don't enjoy cooking. Say they lived in the UK they'd need to make more of an effort to eat good food or adopt the ready-cooked option. I know more girls in my Western social circle who enjoy cooking more than I do from my Middle Eastern social circle and you'd think it would be the other way around, right?
What do you cook to cheer people up?
Beer butt chicken (there's a laugh factor alone) with garlic sauce (toum), fries and salad (tabouleh or fatoush). Simple, comforting, healthy and to the point - everyone loves it. What is your pet hate when it comes to cooking? Bland, unseasoned and dry food
Is there anything you would absolutely refuse to eat?
I'm not so sure I would eat horse penis. It's a delicacy in China at Guo Li Zhuang where you can eat horse, dog, goat' penis amongst others. My sister spent time in China which is how I learned about it although she's not tried it. I don't know, I'm still thinking about it.
Cardamom and rosewater honey-glazed scallops with chickpea fritters
I’m infatuated with all things chickpea and these lovely and crisp chickpea fritters are top of the line for me. Split chickpeas can be purchased from Middle Eastern grocers (otherwise you can use split peas) and I think they add crucial texture. The gentle bite from the chili pairs well with the floral sweetness of the tender scallops. Mostly, I love how simple this dish is to put together, who would have thought!
Makes 12 small fritters (2 per person)
- 150g/5 1/2 oz chickpea flour
- 60g/2 1/4 oz split chickpeas, soaked overnight
- 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1/4 tsp chili flakes
- 3 tbsp finely chopped parsley
- Sunflower oil, for frying
- 90ml/3 fl oz/ 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp honey
- 125ml/4 fl oz/1/2 cup verjuice or cider vinegar
- 2 cardamom pod, smashed
- 1/4 tsp rosewater
- 12 scallops
1. Drain the split chickpeas well. In a mixing bowl, combine the chickpea flour, with the split chickpeas, onions, garlic, chili flakes and chopped parsley, pour in more or less (depending on flour quality) 170ml/5 1/2 fl oz/ 2/3 cup mixing well till a smooth and slightly fluid batter develops. Mix well and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and set aside in the fridge overnight.
2. In a mixing bowl combine honey with verjuice or cider vinegar, if using, cardamom, and rosewater. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Mix well, cover and set aside overnight at room temperature.
On the day:
1. Bring the fritter batter back to room temperature. Just before serving place a frying pan on high heat, add oil and heat through then spoon out two separate fritters, flattening a bit with a spoon and fry till golden and crispy. Repeat till all batter is used and you have 2 fritters per person or a total of 12.
2. Meanwhile, add a frying pan to medium heat, and add 2 tbsp of oil, and then sear the scallops on each side for 1-2 minutes till golden. Be sure not to overcook or they will toughen.
3. Remove the scallops, reduce heat to low and then pour in the honey-verjuice mixture to deglaze the pan. Remove from heat and toss the scallops into the glaze.
4. To serve, transfer 2 chickpea fritters to an individual serving plate, top each fritter with a scallop and then pour over a little of the glaze. Garnish with parsley.
Ma’amoul- Shortbread cookies filled with aromatic nuts
Ma’amoul are small semolina shortbread pastries filled with pistachios, walnuts and dates which are created using three beautiful wooden molds, each engraved with a design used as a standard to help determine or differentiate between the different fillings. The molds can be found at most Middle Eastern grocers. The large oval shape is reserved for pistachio filling, the circular one for almonds and the smallest circle mold, for dates. If you are unable to find the molds, you can use a fork to create design of choice that will help differentiate the cookies from each other depending on filling. Mahlab is a spice derived from the cherry stones of the St. Lucia tree whereby it is grounded to a powder. The flavour is a combination of bitter almond and cherry. Date cookies are not traditionally dusted with icing sugar.
- 140g/ 5 oz semolina
- 35g potato starch
- 35g sugar
- 1/4 tsp mahlab
- 75g butter, melted
- 1 tbsp orange blossom water
- 35g pistachios
- 15g sugar
- 1/4 tsp orange blossom water
- 35g walnut
- 15g sugar
- 1/4 tsp orange blossom water
Date and walnut filling
- 40g dates, pitted
- 1 tsp melted butter
- 10g walnuts
- pinch of nutmeg
1. In a mixing bowl, combine the semolina, potato starch, sugar, mahlab, and butter together and mix well. Add the orange blossom water and begin kneading and working it into a soft, pliable dough for about 3-4 minutes. Cover with cling film and let it rest in the fridge for 2 hours. Meanwhile, prepare the fillings. Begin by adding the pistachios to a small food processor along with the sugar and orange blossom water. Whizz for 1 minute to a rough paste. Repeat with all fillings.
2. Remove dough from the fridge, and let sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes before kneading it one more time for a couple of minutes. Divide the dough into three even quantities and roll out each third into a long thin rod-like from. Pinch off small lumps off the dough (about 1in/2.5 cm pieces) and using the palm of your hands, flatten the dough making sure it is quite thin but not too thin that it will tear. Dust ma’amoul mold cavities well semolina and then invert and tap gently to remove excess flour. Flatten the dough gently into the molds cavity and add the filling associated with the design of the mold’s cavity. Bring the edges together and seal well, flattening it out to create a leveled base for the cookie to sit, pinching off any excess dough. Gently release by tapping the mold on the table or counter to remove the ma’amoul cookie. Makes about 25 cookies.
3. Your ma’amoul cookie should be clearly stamped with the design. Dust a baking tray with semolina or farina and bake in a preheated oven 400F/200C/6G until the sides are slightly pinkish in color. It will vary depending on oven. from 10-15 minutes and about 8-10 minutes for the smaller date cookies. Leave aside to cool then sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve. Note: there are also two different ways to make these cookies. I like to add the filling using the mold because I find it yields more consistent results. However, you could just flatten the dough in the palm of your hand while making a hole in the paste then stuff it with the filling, seal the edges, roll it into a ball then finally press it into the molds to stamp. If you don’t have the molds, you could just use a fork to create design of choice that will differentiate the cookies from each other depending on filling.
There are two salads that have become synonymous with the Middle East. Tabouleh and fattoush. While I think tabouleh will always win me over, fattoush is my go to when I want to use up soon-to expire vegetables and stale bread (it is in fact a bread salad). The idea then is that it’s to make use of what’s in season and available. Here is one of the many versions I’ve made over time.
- 150g Arabic bread, cut into small triangles
- 5 tbsp olive oil
- 1.5 lemons, juiced, plus extra wedges to serve
- 200g mixed leaves
- 2 tomato, cut into thin wedges
- 2 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 100g radishes, thinly sliced
- 100g cucumber, thinly sliced
- 2 tbsp finely chopped dill
- A small handful of flat or curly leaf parsley
- 4 tsp sumac
- 75g pomegranate arils
- 115g feta, crumbled
- 1 ripe avocado, halved, seeded and thinly sliced
- 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
1. Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C/4G. Trim Arabic bread into triangles, arrange on a baking sheet, toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sea salt, to taste. Grill in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until they are crisp and lightly golden, shaking the baking sheet halfway through cooking time to get them cooked on all sides. Remove from heat and set aside.
2. Prepare the dressing in a mixing bowl by combining lemon juice and remaining olive oil. Adjust sourness by adding less or more lemon juice, remember the sumac will add tang to the salad as well, so it’s best to air on the side of caution first and adjust the zing of the salad once it has all been dressed. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Set aside.
3. To a large serving bowl, add the mixed leaves, tomatoes, red onions, radishes, cucumbers, dill, parsley and drizzle over the dressing. Toss well, then sprinkle over the sumac, pomegranate arils, feta, avocado and toasted Arabic bread and gently toss once. Taste and adjust seasoning. Divide amongst individual serving bowls with lemon wedges and extra virgin olive oil, to serve.To find out more about Bethany go to www.bethanykehdy.com
Daily tip from the lady archive
"DEEPLY-ROOTED is the idea that men are indifferent to dress, while the ladies, God bless them, think of nothing else"The Lady, With Prejudice, 8th January, 1942