The Levantine Table - What a Great Spread!

The Levantine Table – What a Great Spread!

The Levantine Table – What a Great Spread! – Ghillie Basan is a ‘tour de force’ when it comes to writing cookery books.  Her ability to take the reader right into the heart of a country or region’s cuisine is quite outstanding, as is her talent and prowess in producing a veritable library of fabulous culinary tomes.        The other thing I really enjoy about her books is that her recipes are rarely complicated, and very few have a long ingredients list.  Her latest book – The Levantine Table (published last week by Ryland Peters & Small, hardback, £25) is a collection of recipes inspired by the vibrant and diverse culture of the Levant – the region of the Middle East stretching the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean. It’s right on trend, too, as supermarket chains such as Waitrose embrace the region’s wonderful flavours with their own Levantine ranges and, thankfully, many of the new restaurant openings are offering Turkish or Middle Eastern fare.  And of course, in Twickenham, we have the wonderful Mediterranean Supermarket which is one of my favourite haunts.

In The Levantine Table you’ll find small plates to relish (relish being the original meaning of the Persian word maza from which the term mezze derives) including popular dips, salads, and small bites – hummus, baba ganoush, tabbouleh and falafel – as well as less familiar recipes. Freshly grilled fish and seafood served with yoghourt dips flavoured with spicy harissa paste, or a simple coupling of mint and cucumber, are just the start of an ocean odyssey of tastes. For carnivores, chicken dishes are enhanced by all manner of spicy marinades, such as paprika and lemon-infused taouk; or how about grilled skewers of beef with a tahini-based tarator sauce; or one of the greats of Levantine feasting, slow-roasted lamb shoulder steeped in spices and served with a pomegranate, yoghourt and pistachio sauce? You’ll want to return to these delicious dishes time and again.

The Levantine Table - What a Great Spread!

Writer, broadcaster, and food anthropologist, Ghillie Basan has worked in different parts of the world as an English teacher, ski instructor, cookery writer, restaurant critic and journalist. With a degree in Social Anthropology and a Cordon Bleu Diploma, her interest in different culinary cultures has culminated in many books, some of which were nominated for the Glenfiddich, Guild of Food Writers, and the Cordon Bleu World Food Media Awards. Her cookbooks have also appeared regularly in the ‘Best of the Best’ and ‘Top 50’ lists, and she was described by Clarissa Dickson-Wright as one of the ‘finest writers on Middle Eastern food’.

I’m absolutely loving this latest book and thought you’d like to try a few recipes from it to whet your appetite.  They will make a delicious mezze if served together.   I don’t know about you, but with the gorgeous summer weather they are forecasting, I can’t think of a better selection of dishes to enjoy with friends and family in the sunshine!

Roasted Red Pepper & Walnut Dip (Serves 4–6)

Roasted Red Pepper & Walnut Dip (Serves 4–6)

Called ‘muhammara’ in Arabic and Turkish, I first ate this during my childhood in East Africa as you find versions of it wherever Levant traders sailed.”

3 red peppers

2 fresh red chillies

4–6 garlic cloves

150 ml olive oil

150 g walnuts, shelled

3 heaped tablespoons of white breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon

2 teaspoons runny honey

1–2 teaspoons ground cumin

a small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

sea salt

Preheat the oven to 200°C(400°F) Gas 6.

Put the peppers, chillies and garlic in an oven dish, drizzle with half the olive oil and roast in the preheated oven for about 1 hour.

Turn the peppers and chillies from time to time until the skins are slightly burnt and buckled.

Remove the chillies and garlic when they are ready but leave the peppers for the full hour or longer. Put the walnuts on a baking sheet and place them in the oven for the last 10 minutes of the cooking time, so that they are lightly toasted.

Peel the skins off the peppers, chillies and garlic and remove any seeds. Roughly chop the flesh and place it in a food processor with walnuts, breadcrumbs, molasses, lemon juice, honey, and cumin.

Pour in the roasting oil and whizz to a purée. Drizzle in the rest of the oil whilst whizzing, add most of the parsley and season well with salt.

Tip the mixture into a serving bowl, swirl a little pomegranate molasses over the top and sprinkle with the rest of the parsley.

Serve with strips of toasted flatbread.

Feta, Grilled Pepper & Chilli Dip with Honey (Serves 4)

“This dip reflects the great tradition of marrying salty feta with honey, found in a number of dishes throughout the Levant region.”

1 red, orange, or yellow pepper

200 g feta

2–3 tablespoons olive oil

freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon finely chopped dried chilli flakes

a small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

a small bunch of fresh mint, finely chopped

1–2 tablespoons runny honey

toasted flatbread, to serve

Place the pepper directly over a gas flame, under the grill or over a charcoal grill, turning from time to time, until it is charred all over. Carefully pop the pepper into a clean resealable plastic bag to sweat for 5 minutes, then hold it under running cold water and peel off the skin. Squeeze out the excess water, cut off the stalk and remove the seeds.

Using a pestle and mortar, or a food processor, pound the pepper to a pulp with the feta. Add the oil, lemon juice and dried chilli flakes. Gently beat in most of the parsley and mint and spoon the mixture into a serving bowl.

Heat the honey in a small pot and drizzle it over the dip. Garnish with the rest of the parsley and mint and serve with toasted flatbread.

Orange salad with Dates

Orange Salad with dates, chillies & preserved lemon (serves 4–6)

“This attractive, refreshing salad can be served as an accompaniment to spicy meat or poultry dishes, and it also makes a delicious addition to any mezze spread. There are different versions of this salad throughout the Levant region. Some include slices of fresh lemon or lime, while others add onions and black olives instead of dates and preserved lemon, but all are sweet, juicy and slightly salty.”

 4 ripe, sweet oranges

175 g moist dried dates, stoned

1 fresh red chilli, seeded and finely sliced

the peel of 1 preserved lemon, finely sliced

2–3 tablespoons orange blossom water

a small bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Peel the oranges, removing as much of the pith as possible. Place the oranges on a plate to catch the juice and finely slice them into circles, removing any pips. Tip the orange slices into a bowl with the juice or arrange them in a shallow dish.

Finely slice the dates, lengthways, and scatter them over the oranges. Scatter the sliced chilli and preserved lemon over the top and splash the orange blossom water over the salad. Leave the flavours to mingle for at least 10 minutes, garnish with the coriander and toss very gently just before serving.

The Seasoned Gastronome

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