Starters

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Some cooks blanch the florets for a couple of minutes before frying them, I don’t, because I think that blanching gives the cauliflower a mushy texture. The heat should be on a medium setting to allow the florets to cook thoroughly. You can serve it as a starter or as a light lunch, preferably hot or warm, at room temperature, whichever you choose, eat it within the day when it is at its best.

 

Serves 4.

 

Ingredients

 

  • 1 kg/ 2 lb cauliflower, discard the tough stalks then cut into smallish florets
  •  Enough vegetable oil to generously cover the bottom of the frying pan
  • Taratoor/ tahini sauce (See recipe in Sauces)

 

Method

 

  1. Using a medium setting, heat up the oil in a frying pan.
  2. Fry the cauliflower florets, turning them from time to time until they turn deep golden brownish colour, you know they are cooked when you can easily prick them with a fork. Drain on a kitchen paper to get rid of the excess oil.

Serve with hot bread and tahini sauce. If you don’t like using sauce, sprinkle freshly milled salt and black pepper on the cooked cauliflower and eat it with bread and spring onions.  

You can adjust the spiciness to your liking. It is colourful, easy to make and you can prepare it ahead of time. Above all, it makes a delicious accompaniment to any meal, vegetarian, vegan or meat and can simply be eaten on its own or as a starter. I normally go for small salad potatoes because there are faster to prepare, no need to peel them and when it comes to dicing: just cut them in half.

 

Serves 4

 

Ingredients

 

  • 550g / 1¼ lb potatoes scrubbed but skins left on.
  • 1 chilli or 2 if you like it hotter, finely chopped
  • 25g/ 1oz of fresh coriander, tough stalks discarded, the rest washed, pat dried and chopped.

 

For the dressing

  • 4 fat cloves of garlic peeled
  • 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon  juice

 

  • Seasoning: salt & freshly milled black pepper

 

Method

 

  1. If using small salad potatoes, get the best flavour by steaming them. To do that, pour boiling water into a saucepan fitted with a steamer, tip the potatoes into the steamer with one or two sprigs of mint. Cover, and using a medium setting let them steam for 25 minutes or until cooked. You can test them by inserting a skewer in the centre which should feel soft. Discard the mint, then transfer potatoes into a suitable sized-bowl and cover with a clean cloth so it absorbs excess steam, and helps the potatoes to keep a nice texture without getting mushy. This should take roughly 4 minutes, then cut them into halves.
  2. If using big potatoes, rinse them under the tap, then put in a saucepan and cover with water, add 1tsp of salt and bring to boil. Reduce the heat to a medium setting, cover and let them simmer, for nearly 25 minutes or until when inserting a skewer, they feel tender. Drain the potatoes and let them cool down before peeling off the skin. Cut them into bite sized chunky pieces.
  3. You can prepare the dressing while the potatoes are cooking. Sprinkle some salt onto the peeled garlic and smash into a smooth paste. Add 3 tbsp olive oil, season with freshly milled black pepper and mix thoroughly.
  4. When you are ready to serve, heat up the remaining olive oil in a suitable sized saucepan and throw in the chopped chillies, stir fry for 30 seconds then add the prepared potatoes, followed by the garlic-olive oil mixture. Toss the potatoes around so they absorb the flavour of the ingredients and are re-heated. Stir in the chopped coriander, give the whole thing a good stir, add lemon juice and toss briefly. Take it off the heat, taste and adjust if necessary.

Transfer to a salad bowl and serve at once. However, it is also delicious served at room temperature or even cold.

Mhammarah, literally means reddened, in this context, it refers to mixing hot red chillies with walnuts. Pomegranate syrup is added to sooth down the fiery effect of the chillies. Suitable for vegans and everybody else, this recipe is very basic and works well as an appetiser (mezza) before barbecues, while hanging around and sipping chilled drinks like beer or white wine. The other good thing about this dip is that you can prepare it well ahead of time, which in fact helps the flavours to develop.

Traditionally walnuts are the main ingredients, but you can vary by substituting a quarter of the quantity with pine nuts.

Serves 4

Ingredients.

  • 100 g / 4oz walnuts.
  • 1 or 2 red hot chillies (depending how hot you prefer it) finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • Lemon juice to taste
  • Salt to taste

Method

  1. Grind the walnuts to a paste or until relatively fine (if you like a bit of crunchiness), then tip into the serving bowl.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well with the spoon. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Keep it in the fridge if you are not eating immediately.
  3. Serve with Lebanese bread, fresh crusty bread also goes well too.

It looks like cream cheese but in fact is strained yoghurt, the better quality the yoghurt, the better taste you get. Although Labneh is one of the traditional Lebanese breakfast dishes, it is becoming more and more popular as part of the mezza. When I took my visiting Irish friends to a Lebanese restaurant they liked it so much that they asked for the recipe which gave me the idea to include it in this section. It is very easy to make and not time consuming at all, though you need to prepare it the night before.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients.

  • 500g/ 1lb 2oz tub of good quality yoghurt (usually called Greek Yoghurt)
  • About 1tsp salt
  • 2 large fat cloves of garlic.
  • Leaves of 1 small sprig of mint. Alternatively ½ tsp of dried mint
  • 1 fat black olive for garnish
  • Extra virgin olive oil to drizzle.

You also need a cotton bag (such as a white pillowcase) in order to drain the mixture overnight

Method.

  1. Mix yoghurt with salt then tip it into the bag. Tie the bag and hang over a bowl or on the tap over the sink, so all the excess liquid is drained which usually takes about 12 hours. You should end up with the consistency of cream cheese.
  2. Transfer the strained yoghurt into a bowl scrapping off all the sticky bits. It should be smooth and spreadable, like a clotted cream. If you think it is too stiff add a little water, taste and adjust if necessary. Keep in the fridge
  3. When you are ready to serve, peel and smash the garlic to a paste then mix with the labneh adding the dried mint if you prefer. Transfer to a serving dish. Decorate with the black olive in the middle, if using the fresh mint chop it up and sprinkle over, finish off with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
  4. Serve with Lebanese bread, try it also toasted.

The squid is cooked in its ink together with bay leaves, orange peel, lemon and lime which gives it a subtle flavour of the sea. It is then served in its inky juice mixture as a cold salad, garnished with parsley, suitable for a spring evening with a glass of chilled arak or white wine. You need a big squid about 550g / 1¼ lb or over, when you buy it, ask the fishmonger to reserve the sac of ink. You can also buy the ink separately in sachets, some fishmongers stock it.

 

Loligo vulgaris is the most commonly known edible squid, it is native to the Mediterranean and the Eastern Atlantic including the British Isles. However, I noticed that some squids have less ink than others. Therefore, if you want the deep black colour, make sure you have extra ink.

 

If you want to know more about squids, here are two suggested websites:

 

http://science-herbal.blogspot.com/2009/03/benefits-for-squid.html

 

http://animals.howstuffworks.com/marine-life/squid3.htm

 

Serves 4

 

Ingredients

 

·         1 kg / 2¼ lb squid cleaned keeping the sac of ink intact.

·         Enough water to cover the squid

·         3 bay leaves

·         1 orange peel, 1 large lemon quartered, 1 whole lime quartered

·         Salt and freshly milled black pepper

·         Extra virgin olive oil

·         3 cloves of garlic peeled (optional)

·         2 tbsps lemon juice or to taste

·         A generous handful of fresh parsley chopped       

 

Method

 

1.      Start cleaning the squid if it hasn’t been done already. Put the squid on a solid area like large cutting board. While holding the body firmly with one hand, carefully remove the head (you will see the eyes) and tentacles with the other hand pulling along with it the guts containing the mucus. The ink sac is attached to the guts. It is very small and you will see the dark ink through the whitish membrane. It is very fragile, cut it off very carefully, but make sure there is something like a saucer underneath (to the catch the juice in case it breaks).  Next, cut off the tentacles from the head, just below the eyes. Throw away the head and other innards. There is inside the ring of tentacles what looks like a hard cartilage umbilicus, if you squeeze the tentacles, this umbilicus-like ring will pop out, pull it off and discard. Now, back to the main body, pull out what feels like a plastic quill in the inside, discard. Next, tear off the fins from both sides of the body and the outer brownish skin should all peel off, discard. Clean and wash the body and tentacles thoroughly with water, to remove any other membrane or guts, and to get rid of any sand or grit.   

2.      Transfer the cleaned squid and tentacles to the pan, pour enough tap water to cover. Prick the ink bag over the pan and stir in 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil. Give it a good stir, then throw in the bay leaves, orange peel, lemon and lime slices.

3.      Using a high to medium setting, bring the mixture to the boil. Season then cover and let it simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until just tender. Overcooking makes them chewy.

4.      Meanwhile prepare the dressing. Crush (if using) the garlic to a paste, transfer to a deep serving salad bowl and whisk in lemon juice. Remove the squid and tentacles from the inky juice and cut into thick slices, toss into the dressing.

5.      Discard the orange peel, bay leaves, lemon and lime slices. Strain the remaining juice and add it to the squid mixture. Taste, and if necessary, top up with more lemon juice. If you are not eating immediately, cover and keep it in the fridge.

6.      Just before serving, drizzle about 1 tbsp of extra virgin oil and add in the parsley. Serve with Lebanese bread on the side. Crusty bread also goes well.

Healthy and easy to prepare, the combination of spinach, kibbeh and coriander give this soup a delicious warming taste. In this recipe, the kibbeh mixture does not need any filling, simply shape it into little patties then fry before dropping them into the simmering soup.

 

When we were children, we loved these little kibbeh patties on their own, so we used to dip them in yoghurt and eat them, very yummy! 

 

Serves: 4-6

 

Ingredients.

 

  • ½ quantity of the kibbeh mixture (See recipe for kibbeh)
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • About 1.2 l / 2 pints beef or vegetable stock
  • 1 medium onion finely sliced
  • 5 cloves of garlic peeled and crushed
  • 20g / ¾ oz rice (optional, if you want to make the soup more substantial)
  • 500 gm / 1lb 2 oz spinach washed and chopped
  • 30 gm / 1? oz fresh coriander (rough stalks cut off) washed, and chopped
  • Seasoning: Salt and freshly milled black pepper

 

Procedure.

 

  1. Prepare the kibbeh then mould into little patties. Heat up 3tbsp oil and fry them until lightly browned, alternatively deep fry, remove and drain the excess fat on a kitchen paper.
  2. Next, heat up 1 tbsp of vegetable oil in a large saucepan. Add onions and sauté until soft then stir in the garlic and cook for further 1 minute.
  3. Add the beef or vegetable stock to the onions-garlic mixture, bring to boil, (If using rice stir it in and let it simmer for 10 minutes) then add the kibbeh patties followed by spinach. Give the soup a good stir, season and simmer for 10-15 minutes until everything is cooked. A few minutes before the finishing time, add the chopped coriander.
  4. Serve hot. 

Falafel is eaten throughout the Middle East usually wrapped in bread as a sandwich. It makes an ideal meal for vegetarians and vegans, it can also be served as a starter. The main ingredients are dried broad beans and chickpeas, the rest can be varied to suit your taste, for instance, if you don’t like coriander, you could substitute it with parsley or if you like your Falafel spicier you could add chillies. One more thing, it is important that the ingredients are dried thoroughly, otherwise the mixture will be too wet and mushy. In the end, we will be looking for a tasty mixture that binds firmly when you shape it. 

 

A great advantage is that once cooked, it freezes well. Once defrosted, it and can be reheated in a hot oven or microwave. 

 

Makes about 20

 

Ingredients

 

  • 200g/ 7oz skinless dried split broad beans soaked overnight in water with ½ tsp of bicarbonate of soda
  • 75g/ 3oz chickpeas, preferably split chickpeas, soaked overnight in water with ¼  tsp of bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 medium sized leek washed, drained from excess water trimmed and chopped
  • 5 fat cloves of garlic peeled and smashed to a paste
  • 1 sweet red pepper washed and chopped
  • about 5 spring onions washed and finely chopped
  • 50g / 2oz coriander, rough stalks discarded, washed dried and chopped.
  • 1 or 2 chillies (optional)
  • 1 slice of bread (optional)
  • About 4 tbsp sesame seeds (optional)
  • Bicarbonate of soda

 

Seasoning

  • Salt & freshly milled black pepper
  • 2 rounded tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp allspice

 

To serve

  • Lebanese bread, allow 1 bread per person 
  • Mixture of sliced radishes, chopped parsley, tomatoes, lettuce, and pickled turnips
  • Tahini sauce or Taratoor (See recipe in Sauces)

 

Method

 

  1. Soak broad beans and chickpeas separately in water, adding bicarbonate soda to each, leave them for several hours, ideally overnight.

 

  1. When you are ready to cook, rinse the broad beans, drain then and spread them on a tea towel to dry. Next, rinse the chickpeas, for the split ones, add fresh water and using your fingers rub the skins off and discard, rinse again the skinless chickpeas, drain and dry thoroughly. If you have whole ones, rinse and drain them then take whatever you can fit on a large chopping board, cover with a tea towel then bash them gently with a rolling pin. You will see that the skins come off, discard the skins, pick up the skinless ones and keep them to one side, it does not matter if they are broken because we need to grind them later. Repeat the process with the rest of the chickpeas, then rinse drain and dry.

 

  1. Now, put broad beans, chick peas, along with the rest of the ingredients adding 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda in a food processor. Process until you reach a mixture that binds together firmly. If it is too moist, shred the bread, add it to the mixture and process again. Taste and adjust taste if necessary, then cover and leave it to rest for an hour.

 

  1. Take a piece of the mixture the size of a golf ball, shape it into a patty about 4-5 cm/ 1½ -2 inches diameter and place it on a plate, continue likewise with the rest until the mixture is finished. Let the patties rest for 20 minutes.

 

  1. Heat the oil to about 190°C/ 375°F, dust each patty in the sesame seeds (this is optional) before dropping it into the hot oil, do likewise with the rest. Deep fry for about 3 minutes turning them once or twice until they reach a deep golden brown colour. Drain on a kitchen paper and keep warm until you finish deep frying.

 

  1. To serve: Open up the bread, leaving the other half attached, put the patties creating one row in the middle, top it with the salad of your choice then drizzle with the tahini sauce, flip the other half of the bread to cover, roll it up, wrap the bottom side with greaseproof or kitchen paper (to catch the excess juice) and eat. Alternatively, serve the falafel on a plate with a little salad, bread and sauce on the side.  

You might think that there isn’t much meat in chicken wings, this is why we use them for mezza: they are eaten as appetisers rather than as a main course. However, if you prefer the chicken meatier, you can use drumsticks, they work equally well, but in that instance, they must be part-baked first in order to achieve thorough cooking. You can finish them under the grill or over the barbecue. This gives them that golden crispiness which makes them so appetising.

 

 

Serves 4.

 

Ingredients

 

  • 12-14 chicken wings or drumsticks.

 

For the marinade

 

  • 1 head of garlic
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

 

Seasoning

 

  • Salt & freshly milled black pepper
  • 1 tbsp sumac (optional)

 

You also need a good size roasting tin if you prefer drumsticks

 

Method

 

  1. Rinse the chicken pieces under cold water and dry by patting them with kitchen paper.
  2. Transfer chicken pieces into a non-metallic dish and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Prepare the marinade: peel the garlic cloves, add 1 tsp salt and smash to a paste. Add lemon juice and olive oil, season with pepper, (if you like to enhance the lemony taste, sprinkle 1 tsp of sumac to the marinade) and mix thoroughly.
  4. Tip the marinade all over the chicken pieces and make sure that every piece is well coated. Cover and leave in the fridge for several hours or overnight
  5. When you are ready to cook, if using chicken wings, pre-heat the barbecue. Cook for 15-20 minutes turning the chicken wings until browned, crispy from the outside and cooked from the inside. To test it, cut through with a knife and if the meat is still pink, it requires longer cooking
  6. If using drumsticks. Pre-heat oven to 200°C/ 400°F and transfer the chicken drumsticks with their marinade into a baking dish. Cover with the lid or aluminium foil and pop into the oven, let it bake for nearly 45 minutes, turning them once. Next, remove the lid or aluminium foil and cook for further 10 minutes after which the chicken drumsticks should be browned and crispy. Alternatively finish them under the grill or on the barbecue.
  7. Serve hot with Toumeh (Garlic Sauce – see The Sauces Section), or some people prefer it with Hoummous B’Tahineh (Chickpea dip).

When it comes to aubergines or eggplants, Lebanese cuisine does not restrict itself to the famous Baba Ghannouge or Moutabbal, we do several dishes ranging from salads to main courses, with or without meat. This one is a healthy salad starter for the summer. The addition of fresh tomatoes, spring onions and fresh mint to the grilled aubergines, makes this dish colourful and tasty. You can prepare the aubergines ahead of time and keep in the fridge until you are ready to eat.

There are different varieties of aubergines that come in different sizes, shapes and colours like purple (most commonly available in the Western supermarkets), green, or white, there are even orange varieties. You can read more on the subject and look at photos of the different varieties by visiting:

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eggplant

http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?dbid=22&tname=foodspice

 

For this salad, you need large plump aubergines (purple) because they are meatier and grill better. As for the herbs, go for fresh ones if you can, they give a better taste and you can vary: fresh parsley or basil for example make a good alternative to the mint I use for this recipe.

 

Serves 3-4

 

Ingredients

 

  • 2 large aubergines or eggplants  about 1½ kg / 3¼ lb
  • 300 g / 11 oz tomatoes washed
  • 3 spring onions trimmed and washed, alternatively use one medium red onion
  • Leaves of 3 sprigs of fresh mint, rinsed and patted dry on kitchen paper
  • The seeds of half of a sour pomegranate or 1 tsp paprika.  

 

Dressing

 

  • 2 or 3 fat cloves of garlic peeled.
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & freshly milled black pepper

 

You also need a large shallow baking tray, lined with aluminium foil to catch the juices later, and prevent them from sticking directly onto the baking tray.

 

Method

 

  1. Pre-heat the grill to a medium to high setting.
  2. Wash the aubergines as they are (you do not need to remove the stems) and pat dry the skin with kitchen paper. Laying the aubergines on the baking tray, make four evenly spaced longitudinal cuts to stop them from bursting during cooking.
  3. Grill the aubergines for 40 minutes turning them every 10 minutes to cook all sides thoroughly. You should end up with a black charred skin with soft inside and some of their juices coming out. Let it cool down slightly so it is easy to handle.
  4. Split each aubergine in half lengthways, remove the soft flesh and lay it in the salad dish. If you have too much excess juice, use a kitchen paper to absorb it because it can affect the taste. You can stop at this stage, if you are not eating immediately, cover the salad dish with cling film and pop it in the fridge.
  5. When you are ready to serve, smash the garlic until smooth, then mix in all the dressing ingredients, season and adjust taste.
  6. Chop finely tomatoes and spring onions, roughly shred the mint leaves, then scatter the whole lot over the prepared aubergines. Do likewise with the pomegranate seeds  
  7. Drizzle the dressing all over the aubergine mixture and serve at once with warmed Lebanese bread.

Traditionally, this dish is cooked with white short grain rice, but I put a twist on it and used wild rice. The nutty flavour of the wild rice simmering with the lentils makes a delicious combination. Either way, it’s a winner because it is versatile, you could have it as a starter, light lunch, or as a healthy vegan main course accompanied with bread salad (fattoush), you could also add it to the repertoire of your mezza dishes.

 Wilde rice takes longer to cook than white rice, about 40 minutes, that is why I cook it with the lentils. If you choose to use white rice, then add it 15 minutes before the finishing cooking time of the lentils.

 

Serves 4

 

Ingredients.

 

  • 150 g / 5 oz green lentils.
  • 125 g / 4¾ oz  wild rice or 75 g / 3 oz white rice.
  • 750 ml / 1¼ pints water.
  • 100 ml / 3½ fl oz extra virgin olive oil.
  • 4 medium onions thinly sliced.
  • Seasoning: Salt & freshly milled black pepper + ½ tsp allspice.

 

 

Method.

 

  •  
    1. Tip lentils & wild rice into a medium-large sized pan. Cover with water and add a pinch of salt. Using a high heat, bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and let it simmer for 40 minutes or a little over, checking occasionally to check if it needs toping up with hot water.
    2. Meanwhile, heat up the oil in a large frying pan and add the onions. Fry stirring from time to time, until the onions reach a dark brown colour but not burnt. Remove half of the onions with a slotted spoon, and spread them on a kitchen paper, so they lose the excess fat and become crispy.
    3. At that stage the lentils-rice mixture should be cooked. The grains should feel tender and the water is absorbed, it should be moist but not dry, season. Stir in the remaining onions with their oil, cook for 1 minute. Switch off the heat, remove the lid and cover with a tea towel, let it stand for 5 – 7minutes, before dishing out.
    4. Sprinkle the crispy onions on top and serve with bread salad, cabbage salad, or pickled turnips. My favourite is my mother’s sauce: Lemon & Garlic Sauce, see recipe below. 

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