Whilst I was immediately taken by many of the recipes, one major problem with the book revealed itself very early on:
The typography and page layout may look modern and attractive but made the book very hard to read. With the exception of the recipe title and ingredients, the introduction and method are printed in pale grey on white paper. Combined with the small text size, this really had me struggling. I've not had this problem with any other recipe book, so it's not a case of deteriorating eyesight.
Flicking through the book on the sofa, I tried to lift the book closer to my eyes, but it's large size and weight made that impractical.
I can only suggest reading this one at the table, and making use of a sturdy book stand when in the kitchen. Or perhaps investing in a pair of magnifying reading glasses!
Reading problems aside, what about the book?
Whereas their previous books (Arabesque, Moorish, Saha, Turquoise and Saraban) are as much about sharing their journeys and creating, in words and pictures, a vivid mental image of the regions, peoples and traditions they experienced, this latest title is much more focused on food.
What you'll find here is a compendium of over 300 Middle Eastern recipes, many of which have appeared in the Maloufs' other books. There are also plenty of new recipes for fans who already have a Malouf library. I particularly like the larder section at the back which is a veritable encyclopaedia of recipes for spice blends and spice pastes, dressings, pickles, relishes, jams and preserves.
As is the Malouf style, the recipes in the book are not slavishly authentic but adapted to suit the modern global market which allows many of us to incorporate ingredients from all around the world into our cooking. So a recipe for a zucchini omelette includes provolone cheese, and a confit date ice cream uses Kahlua. As Greg explains in his introduction:
"My food would not be about reinventing classics – and nor, really, would it be about tradition. Instead, I was bursting with ideas for a new kind of Middle Eastern food: subjective and personal interpretations, yes, but dishes that would absolutely capture the essence of the Middle East, but express it in a fresher, more inventive – and even, perhaps, a more Western – manner."
We chose to make two recipes: lamb kifta tagine with eggs and my favourite, kukiye sabzi (a soft herb omelette), which we'd made once before, as the recipe is also in Saraban, . By the way, the spectacular Persian Baked Yoghurt Rice with Chicken (Tahcheen-e morgh) that we so enjoyed previously is also included in this book.
Lamb Kifta Tagine With Eggs
This dish can best be described as lamb meatballs in a tomato-based sauce, with eggs baked on top.
500 grams lamb, finely minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil for frying
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 x 400 grams tinned tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup coriander leaves, finely chopped
6 free-range eggs
(optional) baby radish leaves and sage flowers to garnish
Note: We halved all amounts, above.
Note: We used regular salt instead of sea salt (since it was being used in a cooked dish).
Note: We used vegetable cooking oil instead of olive oil (for the same reason).
Note: We used chopped tinned tomatoes and included all the juices.
- To make meatballs, thoroughly mix all the ingredients, except for the oil, and with wet hands, form into walnut-sized balls. Heat the oil and brown the meatballs all over. Drain well on paper towel.
- For the sauce, heat the oil in a heavy-based casserole dish and lightly sauté the onions and garlic until they are translucent. Add the tomatoes, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, salt and pepper to taste and stir well. Then add the water, stir again and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer the sauce, uncovered, for about thirty minutes, or until it has reduced to a very thick gravy.
- Add the meatballs to the sauce and continue cooking for a further 8 minutes. Stir in the parsley and coriander. Carefully break the eggs into the sauce, cover the pan with a lid and cook until the eggs are just set, which will take about 5 minutes.
- Serve at once, straight from the pot.
- Malouf suggests liberally garnishing with radish leaves and flowers, and serving with plenty of Arabic flatbread to mop up the runny egg yolks. Alternatively, he proposes accompanying the tagine with a dish of plain buttered couscous and a dollop of thick natural yoghurt.
- He also adds a note that those who enjoy a more piquant dish may add one finely chopped bullet chilli whilst sautéing the onion and garlic.
We really enjoyed the dish, though found it a lot like a North Indian tomato-based curry in flavour. Reducing the volume of coriander leaves would probably alleviate this.
(Kuku-ye Sabzi) Soft Herb Omelette
2 tablespoons barberries, stems removed
1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 cup chopped coriander leaves
1/2 cup chopped dill sprigs
1/2 cup snipped chives
50 ml olive oil
6-free range eggs
(optional) 2 tablespoons saffron liquid (a few strands of saffron soaked in a couple of tablespoons of boiling water)
1 tablespoon self-raising flour
(optional) 1/3 cup fenugreek leaves or 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds, lightly crushed
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Note: we omitted the barberries, saffron liquid and fenugreek.
Note: We halved all amounts, above.
The first time we made this, we used a small frying pan, which was better suited to the halved amounts. The second time, we used a much larger pan, which resulted in a flatter finished omelette with raised sides, reminiscent of a Yorkshire pudding. Both tasted great and had a good texture, but the one made in the smaller pan was more in line with what the dish should look like.
- Preheat the oven to 180 C. Soak the barberries in cold water for 2 minutes, then drain and dry. Toss the herbs together and use paper towel or a clean tea towel to pat out as much moisture as you can.
- Pour the oil into a non-stick oven-proof frying pan and heat in the oven for 5-10 minutes.
- Whisk the eggs and saffron liquid, if using, until frothy. Whisk in the flour, fenugreek, salt and pepper, followed by the herbs and barberries.
- Pour the egg mixture into the hot oil. Cover the pan with a lid or foil and bake in the oven for 15 minutes, or until nearly set. Remove the cover and cook for a further 15 minutes to brown the surface.
- Cut into wedges and serve hot from the pan. Alternatively, drain on paper towel and cut into wedges when cold. Cold omelette is particularly good as a sandwich filling.
This dish became a favourite of mine at the now closed Aqua restaurant in North Finchley, so it's great to have a simple, delicious recipe to make it at home.
With thanks to Hardie Grant for the review copy.
Published by Hardie Grant, New Middle Eastern Food by Greg & Lucy Malouf is currently available from Amazon for £19.84 (RRP £30).