March 2009

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Traditionally, individual walnut or pistachio pastries are eaten when celebrating Easter. In the past, it used to be an opportunity for women to get together and make these delightful round-shaped pastries, it took hours but they enjoyed that occasional experience. I vividly remember the moulded chicks specially made by the grown ups for us who were then the children. To simplify matters, I am opting for baking the pastry as one piece in a tray and then slicing it. This is called Ma’moul Madd meaning a one piece pastry where the filling is sandwiched between two layers of pastry. Ma’moul Madd can be eaten at any time of the year and is not necessarily associated with Easter. The only difference is that Ma’moul Madd is served with Natef which is similar to marshmallow whip. Given that it is difficult to find the main ingredient for Natef: Bois de Panama, I substituted icing sugar which complements it nicely.

Traditionally also, the Ma’moul pastry is made with clarified butter (samneh) which I think gives it a crispier texture than butter.

There are different recipes for making Ma’moul. Some mix fine semolina with flour to help bind the dough. Others prefer combining coarse semolina with fine semolina, while the third category sticks to using only fine semolina because it gives a crispy crumbly texture that melts in the mouth, for that reason, I opted for the latter.


Makes about 18 squares






  • 400 g / 14 oz fine semolina
  • 175 g / 6 oz clarified butter softened or unsalted butter softened. For a better result, I normally use half of each
  • ½ tsp ground mahlab (see glossary), if not available use ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼  tsp easy blend yeast
  • 1½ tbsp of each orange blossom and rose water, preferably lukewarm
  • 1 tbsp lukewarm water to sprinkle, or just enough to bind the dough




  • 200 g / 7 oz walnuts or pistachio nuts
  • 75 g / 3 oz caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp of each orange blossom water and rose water


To decorate

  • 1 tbsp of icing sugar


You also need a baking tray measuring 15 x 24 x 4 cms (6 x 9½ x 1½ inches)




  1. Tip semolina, mahlab (or nutmeg) and yeast into a bowl and mix well. Next, add the very softened butter or clarified butter (or mixture of both) and mix with your hands until semolina is fully incorporated into the fat. To start off, knead with your hands, you may find that you need to sprinkle a little water to soften the pastry, adding at the same time the orange blossom and rose water. Kneading is important when making this pastry because the mixture should become malleable so it can be shaped. That is why I rely on my hands as well as the electric mixer to do the kneading, usually in 2 batches.  Cover with cling film and let it rest for several hours or preferably overnight.
  2. Knead again using your hands as well as the electric mixer until you obtain a soft smooth pliable pastry.
  3. Prepare the filling. Using the food processor or a small freezer bag well sealed, crush the nuts (rolling pin if by hand) until fine but not powdery. Transfer to a mixing bowl and mix in the remaining filling ingredients.
  4. Preheat the oven to 200 ºC / 400 ºF.
  5. Lightly grease the baking tray. Divide the dough in two. Take the first half and put it in the middle of the tray, then using you knuckles, spread it across evenly, adjusting where necessary until you have a uniform bottom layer that covers the tray. Now spread over the filling, pressing slightly with the back of a spoon. Spreading the top layer is slightly trickier because of the filling. The best way is to divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, take one piece at a time and flatten it between your palms to an even thickness, then lay it on top of the filling starting with one corner. Repeat the same process with the next one and lay it next to the first one so it overlaps with the first one and covers the opposite corner. Do likewise with the 2 remaining pieces, smooth down with your palm to ensure a uniform even layer. Cut into the desired sizes and pop it into the oven.
  6. Bake for 15-20minutes until cooked, it should be lightly golden brown.
  7. Cool in the tray and serve dusted with icing sugar or whipped marshmallow.


Note. Walnuts pastries store for up to a week in an airtight container, but you do not need in this case to dust them with icing sugar.

Like Ma’moul, Date Pastries called Rass bi Tammer are associated with Easter and other festivities. They are also made into individual ones (they tend to be more rounded in shape than the walnut Ma’moul) which is delightful but time consuming. This is why I tend to bake one large piece and slice it into individual squares. Again, the instructions given for Ma’moul apply for the Date Pastries except of course for the filling.


Makes 18 large squares, or more if you go for smaller pieces.




  • 1 quantity of Ma’moul dough mixture (see recipe)


For the filling


  • 350 g / 12 oz stoned dates or date paste (available in some supermarkets)
  • 25 g / 1 oz  butter


You also need a baking tray measuring 15 x 24 x 4 cms (6 x 9½ x 1½ inches)




  1. Prepare the dough as for Ma’moul and proceed in the same way.
  2. When you are ready to assemble prepare the filling. Melt the butter over a low heat then add the dates, mix thoroughly until you obtain a soft uniform paste that you could easily spread. Let it cool slightly.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 200 ºC / 400 ºF.
  4. Divide the semolina mixture into two equal parts and proceed as described in the Ma’moul recipe, spreading between the two layers the date filling. Press down gently the top and cut into the desired sizes. Bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden brown. Cool in the baking tray before serving. Otherwise store it in an airtight container: keeps for a week to 10 days stored in a cool place.


Facts about Dates


Did you know that, apart from being mentioned in many ancient texts and are now considered a healthy high energy dried fruit they are delicious fresh (when in season) stuffed with a little cream cheese.   Here are a few links if you want to know more:’s_(

An unusual rice pudding because it contains no milk or any other animal products which makes it suitable for vegans. Simple, yet the combination of spices gives it an aromatic taste. The secret as my mother always emphasised is in stirring the pudding. In fact, Meghli in Arabic means thoroughly boiled, which implies that the pudding requires steady boiling and simmering. You have to be patient because you must keep a close eye on it while it is cooking. The good thing is that you could prepare it a day ahead because it can be served either at room temperature or chilled. As for the topping, you could vary this to suit your taste. 


Serves 8




For pudding:


  • 2 litres / 3½ pints of water
  • 150 g / 5 oz ground rice
  • 1 tbsp ground caraway seeds
  • 1 tbsp ground anise seeds
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground fennel
  • 275 g / 10 oz caster sugar


For topping:


  • 100 g / 3½ oz dried shredded coconut
  • A selection of mixed nuts: you need about 75 g / 3 oz of each walnuts, pine nuts and blanched almonds
  • rose petals for decoration (optional)


You also need a large saucepan, preferably non-stick.  




  1. Pour the water into saucepan and tip in the ground rice. Using medium to high heat, bring the mixture to boil stirring constantly. Reduce slightly the heat and add all the spices, continue stirring for about 20 minutes or until you feel that rice and water are thoroughly combined and there are no lumps.
  2. Next, add the sugar and continue stirring. This is the stage where the mixture begins to thicken up, so you can loosen pause your stirring occasionally while watching vigilantly.  It should take about 25 minutes for the pudding to reach the right thickness. You know it is ready when a thick layer coats the back of the spoon.
  3. Once ready, take off the heat. Give the pudding a good stir and ladle it into individual dessert bowls or a large one.
  4. Cool then decorate with shredded coconut, a little red petal jam in the middle and the nuts scattered all over.
  5. NB. If you are allergic to nuts and you would like to try it, have a go without them. It still tastes nice.

This is a relatively fast appetising dish that can be eaten hot, warm or cold and can be used as starter, light lunch or a side dish for it complements meat dishes. Any fresh green beans that are in season will do. I also tried it with fresh Runner Beans and it was delicious. A word of advice, avoid tinned tomatoes because they can spoil the taste, nothing can complement fresh tender beans better than fresh ripe tomatoes.


Serves 4




  • 500 g/ 1lb 2oz green beans any kind available in season
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion finely chopped
  • 1 head of garlic: cloves peeled and chopped into chunky pieces
  • 450 g/ 1lb of ripe tomatoes skinned and chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree or less depending on how juicy the tomatoes are
  • Seasoning: salt and freshly milled black pepper




  1. Top, tail, string the beans then cut them into smallish pieces about 5cm / 2 inches, wash them in fresh water and keep aside.
  2. Heat up the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat, then add the chopped onion and sauté for a couple of minutes, stir in the chopped garlic and cook for another minute.
  3. Add the prepared beans and stir them into the mixture, season with salt and generous freshly milled black pepper, cook for 2 minutes stirring occasionally.
  4. Next, stir in the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, cover and bring to the boil stirring once or twice then let it simmer for 15-20 minutes, by which time, the beans should be cooked and tomatoes have melted into a nice thick sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
  5. Serve in individual dishes, drizzle more extra virgin olive oil on top and eat with warm bread.

The combination of fish with tahini sauce makes this dish simply delicious. It is ideal for family and works well as a party dish, but it has to be served hot. You can prepare fish and sauce in advance, keep them separate and do the mixing just before serving. It also freezes well.


Serves  2 – 3 as a main course or 5 – 6 as a starter.




  • 2 pieces of haddock or cod or any meaty white fish (skin on) weighing roughly 300 g / 11 oz washed and pat dried on a kitchen paper
  • 3 large onions thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil and a little more to brush the fish
  • 2tbsp lemon juice

 For tahini sauce / tarator


  • 2 fat cloves of garlic peeled and crushed to a paste
  • 85 ml /3fl oz  lemon juice
  • 165 ml / 5 ½ fl oz tahini paste
  • 150 – 200 ml /5 – 7fl oz water

For seasoning 


  • Salt and freshly milled black pepper
  • Cayenne pepper or Paprika
  • A handful of chopped fresh parsley for garnish
  • Warm Arabic or Pitta bread to serve

 You also need one medium-sized baking tray and a large frying pan




Preparing tahini sauce


Add about 1 tbsp lemon juice to the crushed garlic and mix. Now, tip the tahini paste into the garlic mixture and gradually stir in alternating between water and the remainder of lemon juice. You’ll have a lumpy paste to start, but don’t worry keep stirring with the spoon until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined and the sauce has reached a creamy consistency, not too thick (similar to a single cream, see the Sauces Section). Taste and adjust if necessary.


Preparing onion – fish mixture.


  1. Pre-heat the oven 200 ºC / 400 ºF
  2. Switch the hob to a medium setting. Heat up the oil and start frying the onions stirring from time to time, making sure that they are not sticking nor burning. Reduce the setting if necessary. We are looking for very softened onions, deep golden colour but not caramelised. It should take about 30 – 35 minutes.  
  3. Meanwhile prepare the fish. Brush generously with oil, drizzle lemon juice, then season with salt and freshly milled black pepper, wrap loosely in an oiled foil and bake in the oven for 10 minutes or more depending on how meaty the fish. Uncover the fish and bake for another 5 minutes then take it out. When it is easy to handle, flake the fish, if necessary remove bones. Keep it on the side.
  4. Once the onions are cooked, add the flaked fish with ½ tsp of cayenne pepper or paprika (if you prefer a milder taste). Mix gently with the onions, the idea is to avoid mincing the fish, and cook for another 3 minutes.
  5. Add the tahini sauce and stir gently. It should take 2-3 minutes for the mixture to bubble and it is then ready.
  6. Transfer to a warm large bowl or to individual ones. Sprinkle cayenne pepper or paprika and add the chopped parsley as garnish. Serve immediately with warm bread. 

I prefer to use fresh Lebanese green thyme, it has long leaves, bigger than the lemon thyme that is commonly known in England. However, Lebanese thyme is only found in Lebanese stores during spring and summer. This is why I tried it with lemon thyme and it worked. Thyme salad makes an ideal appetiser, regardless of your eating habits, and guess what! It is very easy to make.


Serves 4




  • 1 bunch weighing 25 g / 1oz of lemon thyme, leaves picked washed and dried on a kitchen paper
  • 1 or 2 spring onions finely chopped
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Seasoning: salt to taste
  • ½ tsp sumac (optional)




1        Put thyme leaves and the chopped onions in a small salad bowl. Whisk lemon juice and olive oil, then toss into the thyme mixture. Season, taste and adjust if necessary.

2        Serve with Arabic bread or if you want to add a twist, thinly slice some Ciabatta bread, smear each piece with 1 generous tsp of the salad and enjoy with a well chilled drink.