January 2009

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This cake is easy to make, is very light and has no eggs, the combination of flour and semolina gives it a crumbly taste. The traditional way consists of using olive oil and water which makes ideal for vegans, vegetarians and non-vegetarians. However, you can also substitute water for milk, and it works very well. Another tradition is that we usually grease the baking tray with tahini paste.


The advantage of this cake is that it keeps well and it is ideal for outdoor eating like picnics because it is not messy or sticky.  


Makes about 12 to 15 medium/ 20 squares.




·         125 ml / 4 fl oz warm water or milk

·         200 g / 7 oz caster sugar (preferably golden caster sugar)

·         200 g / 7 oz plain flour

·         100 g /  4 oz fine semolina

·         1 tbsp turmeric

·         ½ tsp ground anis

·         ½ tsp baking powder

·         65 ml / 2½ fl oz extra virgin olive oil

·         25g / 1 oz pine nuts or blanched almonds

·         1 tbsp tahini paste to grease the baking tray


You also need a non-stick baking tray measuring about 15cm x 24cm, 5cm deep (6 inch x 9½ inch, 2 inch deep). Grease using only the tahini paste.




  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 °C /  350 °F
  2. Put the sugar in a jug and pour over the warm milk or water, stir with the spoon until the sugar is diluted. Keep it on one side.
  3. You can do the mixing by hand or simply use an electric mixer or food processor, either way, follow the same order. Mix all the dry ingredients, then add the oil gradually, making sure that it is all incorporated. Now, add the sweetened milk or water and mix well together, use an electric mixer if you have one, it is much quicker and less arduous. The mixture should be paste-like with a wonderful yellow colour.
  4. Pour the mixture into the baking tray, smooth the surface with the spoon then scatter the nuts on top and gently push them down with a fork so that they stick to the surface of the mixture.
  5. Bake for about 30 minutes or until when you insert a wooden skewer    it comes out dry. Remove the cake from the oven, let it cool in the baking tray, then cut into squares or diamonds shapes. Stack on the serving plate and put it in the middle of the table, so people can help themselves while sipping their coffee or tea. Otherwise, once it is completely cold, put it in airtight container and leave in a cool place. It keeps well for up to 5 days, if it lasts!

There are different varieties of endive but the one we use in this recipe (as shown in the photo) has a rosette of curly leaves dark green at the tips but lighter nearer the stem. Native to both China and the Mediterranean, it was grown on board English navy ships during the 16th century to prevent scurvy: http://thefoody.com/basic/vegce.html

It has multiple nutritional values (you could read about it on the websites I included at the end of the recipe) and is a delight for vegans, vegetarians and non-vegetarians. I haven’t seen this type of endive in Western supermarkets; however, it is available in Lebanese, Greek and Turkish grocers during the winter season.


Traditionally, it is cooked with olive oil and onions, but I also included garlic because it adds a lovely flavour. Some people boil it beforehand; I prefer to let it wilt while absorbing the flavours of the onion-garlic mixture.


Serves 2-3




  • 500g/1lb 2oz endive
  • 4 medium onions: one finely chopped and 3 onions thinly sliced
  • 4 medium cloves of garlic peeled and crushed
  • 3tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice and 1 lemon cut into wedges to serve
  • Seasoning: salt & freshly milled black pepper


Utensils. You need a medium sized pan and a medium frying pan




1.      Cut and discard the very bottom ends of endive which may still have soil on them, then wash until you get rid of the grit. Drain the endive then dry on a tea towel. Now, take bunches of the endive and cut across the stem in 3 cm / 1¼ inch strips.

2.      Heat up the vegetable oil in the frying pan and throw in the sliced onions, fry stirring occasionally until they become crispy brown but not burnt. Drain on a double layer of kitchen paper. Keep aside.

3.      While the onion is cooking, you could make a start with the endive. Heat up the olive oil in the pan and stir in the finely chopped onions, let them cook for about 3 minutes then add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the endive in batches to the mixture, stirring each around with a wooden spoon so that they absorb the other flavours. Season then cover and let the whole mixture cook for about 15-20 minutes, at that stage the endive should be tender.

4.      This dish is usually served at room temperature but it is also nice eaten hot. Just before serving drizzle with the lemon juice and scatter the crispy onions on top, place some lemon wedges around the dish.  Eat with Arabic or Pitta bread




Serves: 4-6


Heart warming, this soup is rich and suitable for cold winters. It can be made with balls of kafta or simple meatballs. For the kafta-balls, you need ½ quantity of the kafta mixture (see recipe illustrated in Main Course section).




For meatballs (as a quick alternative to making kafta)


  • 275 g / 10 oz minced lamb / beef 
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil


For soup


  • 1 kg / 2lb 4oz ripe tomatoes or similar amount of tinned Italian chopped tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1.6 litres / 2¾  pints of beef stock
  • 20 g / ¾oz vermicelli broken into small pieces approximately 3 cm / 1¼ inch in length
  • 25 g / 1oz fresh parsley finely chopped


Seasoning: salt, freshly milled black pepper and allspice




  1. Season the minced meat with salt and freshly milled black pepper and ¼ tsp allspice, mix with onions and blitz the mixture. Shape the mixture or kafta into small balls, the size of marbles. Heat up the oil in a large frying pan and sauté the balls until lightly browned. Drain excess fat on a kitchen paper. Keep on the side.
  2. In a heat proof bowl pour boiling water over tomatoes and leave for 1 minute, then discard the water and let them cool down a bit before peeling off the skin. Chop them. Alternatively, use tinned chopped tomatoes.
  3. Heat up the oil in the saucepan soup and sauté the onion until soft, add chopped tomatoes and give it a good stir.
  4. Add beef stock to the tomatoes and onions mixture, season, give it a good stir and check the consistency of the soup. If it is too thick, thin down with water. Bring to the boil then let it simmer for about 30 minutes after which you add the kafta-balls or meatballs followed by vermicelli. Cook for another 10 minutes or until the vermicelli is cooked. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
  5. Serve bubbling hot with generous amount of freshly chopped parsley sprinkled on top. 

An unusual combination of Swiss Chard stalks with tahini sauce to produce a light tasty starter, suitable for vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters. The secret of preparing this dish lies in not overcooking the stalks, this is where you have to be careful. Contrary to what you might think, there is no wastage because the Swiss Chard leaves could be used for making soup (Swiss Chard Soup is included in Soups), or as filling in the savoury pastries (Swiss Chard Turnovers).


Serves 2-3




  • 600 g / 1lb 2¼oz Swiss Chard thoroughly washed. Cut off the stalks, keeping the leaves for soup, wash thoroughly. This makes about 140 g / 4¾oz of stalks suitable for the salad.
  • 100 ml / 3½ fl oz of tahini sauce (see recipe in Sauces).
  • 1 tbsp of chopped fresh parsley for garnish.
  • 1 tbsp pine nuts and a little olive oil to fry them (optional).
  • Seasoning: Salt and freshly milled black pepper.




  1. Prepare the tahini sauce as described in Sauces.
  2. Fill a small pan with enough water to cover the stalks, add some salt and bring to boil, meanwhile cut up the Swiss Chard stalks to 2 – 3cm / 1 – 1¼ inch pieces and if the stalks are tough, pull off the stringy fibrous material and discard. Drop them in the boiling water, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 – 7minutes, checking the texture with a fork. The idea is to get them cooked while holding their shape without becoming mushy. Drain them and if necessary put them on a kitchen paper to absorb the extra moisture because we want them to absorb the flavour of the tahini sauce. Let them cool slightly.
  3. Transfer to a serving dish, add the sauce and mix gently but thoroughly, season and taste, adjust if necessary. Scatter the chopped parsley all over and serve with Arabic bread.
  4. If using pine nuts, just before serving, heat up 1 tsp of olive oil in a small frying pan throw in the pine nuts, sauté until golden brown, then sprinkle the pine nuts all over the dish and serve at once.

Chicken Shawarma is another popular dish that can be prepared at home and taste good, the main thing is to use the right spices, and Khoubis Arabic bread (the one you can actually wrap). Shawarma spices are ready prepared and available at all Lebanese grocers, otherwise, you can prepare them yourself.


Serves 4 people




  • 1 kg / 2¼ lbs chicken thighs, preferably skinless & boneless.
  • Arabic bread, medium sized, allow 1 bread per person which gives 2 wraps.
  • Pickled cucumbers, allow 1 or 2 per person. Some people prefer pickled sweet peppers, that is why some restaurants often serve it on the side.
  • Toumeh which should be prepared in advance (see below).  

For the marinade:


  • 5 cloves of garlic peeled and smashed to a paste.
  • 150 ml / 5fl oz   lemon juice or malt vinegar.
  • 2 tbsp olive oil.
  • 1 tbsp shawarma spices, (or mix together in the ratio 2 parts allspice, 1 part black pepper and ½ part of cinnamon).
  • You also need a Pyrex or a glass dish to marinate the chicken.



1.     Wash and pat dry the chicken thighs, then put them in a Pyrex or glass dish.

2.     Whisk together all the ingredients for the marinade and pour over the chicken thighs, making sure that every single thigh is well coated. Cover the dish and leave it in the fridge for at least 4 hours, even better overnight.

3.     When you are ready to serve, pre-heat the oven to 180 ºC / 350 ºF.  Pop the chicken in its marinade, covered into the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, checking it once. After that, take the lid or cover off and bake for another 5-10 minutes, by which time the marinade liquid should have dried up but the thighs should still be moist.

4.     While the chicken is cooking, slice the pickled cucumbers into long strips and put them in a dish so people can help themselves if they like.

5.     When the chicken reaches its last stage, you could warm up the bread and pass it around, so each person can open it up, making it ready for the filling. Note that Arabic bread does not take long to warm and can quickly get hard if overheated.

6.     Slice each thigh into chunky pieces (debone if necessary) and fill the warmed bread, top it with Toumeh (garlic sauce), finishing off with the pickled cucumber slices (this is optional, for some people do not like it), roll it up and eat it straight. Use a paper napkin round the bread to catch any excess juices. 


The oven temperature we use is usually for a conventional oven. If you have a fan one, you need to reduce the temperature by about 20ºC.

Suitable for vegetarians and vegans, this soup is easy to make, yet it is deliciously flavoured with simple ingredients, it is also light which makes it an ideal starter. Another thing is that you could make the soup with the whole Swiss chard or, if you like experimenting, use the leaves only for the soup and reserve the stalks for a delicious starter called Dloo bi tahini  (SwissChard Stalks With Tahini Sauce).This recipe is included in the Starters section.

Swiss chard is rich in multiple nutrients and more importantly is suitable for a healthy diet. I included, at the bottom of this recipe, references to 2 websites that will tell you more about it.


Swiss Chard

Swiss Chard

Serves: 4-6




  • 550 g / 1lb¼ oz Swiss chard washed thoroughly. Drain excess water cut off and discard the dirty bottom ends of the stalks, then chop into strips across about 2 cm /  ¾ inch.
  • 150 g / 5oz green lentils rinsed
  • 1 medium onion finely sliced
  • 1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and crushed
  • 100 ml / 3½ fl oz olive oil
  • 1.75 litres/ 3 pints water 
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice or more to taste
  • Seasoning: salt and freshly milled black pepper
  • Spring onions one onion per person (optional)
  • Extra virgin olive oil (optional)


You also need one medium sized and one large sized deep pan. 




  1. Place lentils in the medium-sized saucepan, cover with water about 800ml / 27 fl oz and a good pinch of salt. Bring to boil and simmer for 20 minutes only, half the cooking time required, then drain them reserving the cooking liquid for the soup.
  2. Meanwhile, heat up half of the olive oil and fry the onions for 3-4 minutes then add half of the crushed garlic and fry for further 1mn. Add Swiss chard into batches coating them with the garlic-onions mixture.
  3. Now add the drained lentils, give the whole thing a good stir, season then add the reserved liquid from the lentils and the remaining water.
  4. Bring to boil and let it simmer for roughly 20 minutes. 5 minutes before the finishing time, stir the lemon juice into the remaining garlic and oil, mix thoroughly and add the mixture to the soup. Taste again and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
  5. Serve bubbling hot, and if you like top off with finely chopped spring onions. Some people like a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.


You can make it richer. Take 20 g / ¾ oz of plain flour, season and mix with enough water to make a small quantity of dough. Roll out to a thin layer about 2mm/ 1/10 inch and cut it into squares about 2 cm/ ¾  inch or any shape you like and drop them into the Swiss chard mixture as soon as it starts boiling. If you opt for this, increase the amount of water by 300ml/ ½ pint.


Swiss Chard Soup

Swiss Chard Soup








In Lebanon, atar or sugar syrup is a frequently used component in most sweets and pastries, the good thing about it is that you can alter the quantity according to your own taste. The basic rule for making atar or sugar syrup is whatever quantity of sugar you want, use less than half of the same amount of water.  However, if you want to make it thicker, you can reduce the amount of water and vice versa, if you want it thinner, you increase the amount of water. Also, another thing to remember is that the more you boil it, the more it thickens. Another good news is that atar or sugar syrup can be prepared well ahead of time, and stored in a cool place for a couple of weeks. Here is the recipe for atar or sugar syrup that is most likely to be used.


Makes 200ml / 7 fl oz




  • 200gms / 7oz granulated sugar
  • water 75ml / 2¾ fl oz
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp orange blossom water
  • 1 tbsp rose water



  • Using a medium heat setting, mix the first three ingredients together and bring them to the boil stirring occasionally. Let the mixture simmer for about 3 – 4 minutes, until it reaches a stage where the syrup coats the back of a spoon. Just before you switch off, stir in rose and orange blossom water.


  • Leave it to cool before using.   

The Lebanese custom after finishing a meal is to serve a selection of the seasonal fruits. Sweet pastries, such as baklawa or heavy dessert are served in smallish quantities with Turkish coffee or minted tea. Desserts in Lebanon are also associated with special occasions, Kellaj for instance is eaten during the holy month of Ramadan, whereas mamoul (nut pastries) rass bil-tamer (date pastries) are consumed during the festivities of Easter, meghli (spiced fragrant rice pudding) used to be served to celebrate the birth of a baby boy but nowadays, it can be either.

It sounds like muhallabiyeh which is partly true, except we use in this recipe sugar syrup instead of sugar. It is light and the taste of rose and orange blossom water gives it that bit of extra freshness which feels agreeable after the main course. Serves: 4 – 6




  • 1 quantity of atar sugar syrup (see recipe)


For ashtaliyyeh:


  • 1 litre / 1¾  pints milk
  • 75 grms / 3oz cornflour
  • 1 tbsp of each rose water & orange blossom water
  • 75 grms / 3oz  pistachio nuts coarsely ground




  • Dilute the cornflour with some of the milk before stirring it into the saucepan containing the remaining milk.


  • Using a medium to high heat setting, bring everything to the boil stirring constantly until the mixture has thickened. Reduce the heat to its lowest and let it simmer for 3 – 4 minutes while continuing stirring.


  • Just before the finishing time add the rose and orange blossom water. Give it a final stir and switch off the heat.


  • Pour into individual bowls and let it cool then transfer to the fridge and chill for a couple of hours.


  • When you are ready to serve, drizzle sugar syrup on top of each bowl, just enough to sweeten the taste then sprinkle a generous quantity of pistachio nuts. Pass round the sugar syrup so people can add more if they want.




  • You can substitute pistachio nuts for blanched almonds or pine nuts. If you are allergic to nuts then you can omit them completely.


  • In summertime, my mother used to crush iced cubes really finely and sprinkle these on top. What would happen is that as you tuck the spoon in, the ice will mix with the ashtaliyyeh and syrup thus giving a melting cooling taste which is quite refreshing. In this instance, you can omit the nuts.

Suitable for vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters, tabbouleh works well as a starter, a healthy snack and as an accompaniment to barbecued chicken.  


Lebanese tabbouleh is mainly made with parsley and tomatoes. Another authentic ingredient is the fine bulgar wheat or burghul and not couscous as it is generally sold in supermarkets. The amount of burghul can vary according to taste and in the past, as far as I remember, the less you put of it for the guests, the more appropriate it was considered. Another important thing is, do please avoid using a food processor because the real taste lies in the way you treat and chop the ingredients.


One more tip, tabbouleh is best served fresh. If you do have to prepare in advance, I suggest chopping the ingredients and piling them on top of each other then stop at stage 5. Mix the remaining ingredients just before serving. Please, do not leave the prepared dish in the fridge for hours because it will go mushy and the freshly mixed taste that is unique to it will be lost.


Serves 4




  • 1 bunch of preferably flat leaf parsley weighing about 150grms / 5oz
  • Few sprigs of mint enough to make 1tbsp about 20 grams / ¾ oz
  • 3 spring onions or 1 small onion, preferably red.
  • 2-3 tbsp fine grain bulgar wheat or burghul preferably brown 
  • 350grms / 12 oz vine-ripened  tomatoes or any tasty tomatoes.
  • 4 tbsps lemon juice or to taste
  • 3-4 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly milled black pepper
  • To serve: Crisp lettuce or white cabbage washed and chilled (optional)




  1. Remove and discard the thick parsley stalks, keeping the fine ones that have the leaves attached and wash thoroughly with cold water in a colander until you get rid of the grit. Drain the excess water then dry thoroughly on a clean tea towel. Once dried, chop finely (relatively fine not extremely fine) and put in a large mixing bowl. 
  2. Repeat the same process with the mint leaves (using only the leaves), then add them to the parsley.
  3. Finely chop the onion and add it to the parsley-mint mixture.
  4. Rinse the bulgar wheat in a sieve under cold water, drain then squeeze the bulgar wheat with your hands to get rid of the excess water and add it to the mixture, season with salt and freshly milled black pepper.
  5. Finely chop the tomatoes and add on top of the bulgar wheat, the idea is that the juices from the tomatoes will moisten and flavour the bulgar wheat. If you are not ready to serve, cover the mixture and leave it in the fridge, ideally not for too long.
  6. Using 2 large spoons mix everything while adding at the same time the lemon juice. Taste to check seasoning, adjust if necessary, then finally add the olive oil.
  7. Serve at once with the lettuce or cabbage on the side. In Lebanon, During the Summer people serve young vine leaves as their lemony taste nicely complements tabbouleh.  


Drink. Arak, the Lebanese national drink goes nicely with tabbouleh so does chilled Lebanese beer or medium sweet white wine.

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