I often get asked the question "...so what do you cook if you don't eat meat or chicken?" Back in Australia no-one would raise an eyebrow but living in the Middle East I'm a little surprised at the question. Simply because there are so many vegetarian dishes in the Middle East. Falafel, hummous, moutabbel aka babaganoush, vine leaf rolls, fattoush, mujadarah, tabbouleh, ful medames, surely this rings a bell. And these are only a few, picked because I know the names! Whatever the name I love the food and it's chief among my goals to learn how to cook these dishes to perfection. Only because I fear when we leave the UAE I will not have a chance to savour these moments again. I've clocked up many hours in the kitchen much to my husband's chagrin.
And last week a little help came my way in the form of "Jerusalem" written by Ottolenghi and his partner Tamimi. This is the latest cook book from Ottolenghi and if you love his creations as much as I do then this will guarantee you star status in the kitchen. The man is a legend. In the book Yotam and Sami take you back to their respective neighbourhoods bringing alive many of the treasured meals of their youth. What I like is that these are the recipes that you won't find at your local instead they are most probably lovingly prepared at home.
Cookbooks aside I wanted to share with you this tasty fattoush recipe that my good friend Fatin prepares, it's delicious, and I've eaten many a fattoush. The great thing about this ubiquitous bread salad is that you can vary the quantity of ingredients. I usually restrain myself with just one piece of bread but go wild with radishes and pomegranate seeds. Some versions add green peppers to this sweet and sour concoction. Be creative, it's a salad after all!
1 bunch of rocket (or preferred greens)
handful of baqla (aka purslane, use watercress as an alternative)
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley
1 small bunch mint
3 fat spring onions
1/2 lebanese cucumber
9 small heirloom cherry tomatoes (or 1 large tomato)
1 medium pomegranate
7 small radishes
1 small wholewheat Arabic bread (or pita bread)
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil plus extra to coat the bread
3 tbsp pomegranate molasses (with no added sugar)
1 heaped tsp of sumac
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit). Split the Arabic bread in half, brush one side with some olive oil and sprinkle with a little sumac. Bake on a tray for approximately 20 minutes or until the bread is nice and crunchy.
Wash, dry and trim all vegetables and herbs. Roughly chop the rocket and add to a large salad bowl. Pick the baqla leaves off the stems, add to the rocket. Coarsely chop up parsley and mint leaves, add to bowl. Thinly slice the spring onions, cucumber and radishes, include with other ingredients. Slice the tomatoes in half and add to salad. Cut the pomegranate and remove the seeds from the white pith, mix in with the rest.
Whisk the olive oil and molasses in a separate bowl, add salt and pepper to taste. Taste and adjust for a sweeter dressing. Just before serving add the dressing to the salad and mix thoroughly. Then add the rest of the sumac evenly over the salad.
Roughly break up the bread into edible bites and add as a salad topping. The bread does not fare well if the salad sits for too long, it's best consumed immediately.