Cooking Class: The perfect Babaghanoush

It is a known fact that the majority of cooks were difficult eaters as children.*** Here is a list of things that caused me distress along the way:

Meat that touched the vegetables on the plate
Meat that looked like meat (wasn’t minced up)
Fish which had a head on it
Fish which did not have a head on it but I knew it once had a head
Honey (still can’t eat it alone)
Vegetables that were cooked beyond a certain point
Figs. Fresh Ones. (I realise now I missed out on decades of God’s Own Food)

Frankly I don’t know why my mum didn’t swap me for some unfortunate Aussie classmate, one of many who ate pretty much the same boiled or fried plate of blandness every night of the week. I came good but she had to play the long game. I won’t tell you when I took up with Babaghanoush but it was late in life, long after I’d said yes to many other things. On that note it’s time for food. There is really only one way to get the aubergines ready and that is to whack them on the gas hob. If you don’t have a gas hob, you need a barbecue. If you don’t have that, then I suggest you get yourself and your aubergines over to a friend’s house. Electricity is a wonderful invention however it does not do the business here. You need that smoky flavour or you do not have a product.

Put them on the hob and stand calmly at the stove, turning them. I would love to give you a time but it varies with the aubergine. Try ten minutes for an average sized one. The skin will blister and start to burst (no, it won’t explode, don’t worry) and it will go soft. Make sure the fat bottom of the vegetable is cooked: you might have to hold it from the top and twirl it a bit.


So you have your aubergine and you need to let them rest for a couple of minutes during which time the skin will shrivel. While you are waiting you can artfully arrange some toasted almonds and a bunch of herbs nearby. Just for fun.



Peel your aubergine. It should almost do this for you. Take out as much as you can. You might have to use a spoon to get it out of the fat bottom bit.


Put it into a bowl. It should look like this.


Mash it with a potato masher. Do not be tempted to use a food processor: the whole thing will turn to mush. What you want is texture. Squash two medium garlic cloves for each aubergine, add the juice of a large lemon and a healthy amount of salt. As with all Middle Eastern food you cannot hold back on the salt and hope it will taste good. It won’t. Now the tahini.lena_061

Don’t overdo this. It’s just a flavouring in the same way the lemon is. It’s not an equal ingredient. So try about 1 large Tablespoon per aubergine. Mix it all in and adjust to taste. Try not to refrigerate (same as Hummus) if you are planning to serve that day or you will destroy it. This food is best at room temperature.


And look. Here is the finished plate. Some paprika on top is fine and adds some extra bite. But for a special occasion I like a little pomegranate with mint. Just before serving you can drizzle olive oil rather liberally into it. Yum.


***Scientifically correct but do you really want me to waste space proving it



I was pondering the question recently of whether salad should still be listed under ‘salad’ on menus or whether it should in fact be just food. A lot of salads are really food in disguise; their leaves merely a token base on which to put mayonnaise-soaked chicken, nuts, croutons, noodles, grains and various other ingredients. However, in marketing perception is all and if the heading ‘Salads’ were taken off menus and the salad things were instead put under ‘Main Meals’, then their would be fewer sales of salads, ertsaz or real. Certainly the women (for it is mainly women) who feel they are destined to eat nothing but salad, would not order a salad by any other name.



This train of thought leads us kind of haphazardly to Fattoush, that Lebanese classic salad which involves the intrusion of a carbohydrate in the form of bread. Fattoush is still a salad though, the bread simply adds texture, a crisp and also carries sumac nicely too. Now as this is technically a peasant salad you should go into your garden and pick those radiant tomatoes and shiny cucumbers which of course you don’t have. Start with those Lebanese staples: tomato and cucumber, mint and spring onion. I love radish and right now they’re gorgeous, so they’ll go in plus some fennel. And then a lettuce. No need to get too exotic but a Romaine is nice or a Cos if you want to push the boat out. Then toasted bread. You can get all Barefoot Contessa about this and cut everything into neat triangles and brush it with olive oil  before putting it in the oven and smiling at your pretty toasties. Or you can decide life is too short and open up the pita so it’s single rather than double, drizzle olive oil on it, sprinkle with sumac and then throw it in the oven. When it’s toasted just break it up.

I dress my Fattoush as my mother did, with olive oil and lemon. No vinegar here please. Lots of salt and lots of sumac. It makes it. And it’s good for your fingers. Really.


Chicken Dukkah Bites


Chicken is not my favourite protein. As a child I always felt it was the interloper, that turned up and just made things less interesting. No matter how it was cooked – and I now realise my mother’s chicken and rice and lovely garlicky, lemony skewers were at the most delicious end of the chicken spectrum – I couldn’t get excited about it. I used to separate the chicken from everything else on the plate so the vegetables wouldn’t get tainted. I even got annoyed because my little brother absolutely loved chicken. “Why do you like it?” I demanded in that big sister, bossy way (Because I was, just a little bit bossy).

Cooking private dinner parties here in London means that I meet people who regard chicken as something you choose to eat, not just something to eat when red meat is having a day off.  I’ve cooked some of the classic Lebanese dishes, but I’m doing someone’s birthday soon and wanted to do something which embodied the current street food vibe. Here’s my take on Chicken Dukkah Bites which I first read on Taste of Beirut. The key to this is to spice the Dukkah with things you love and make it as interesting as you want. And make sure the chicken is well spiced. Don’t shy away.

The recipe. Easy.

  • I used 500 grams of minced chicken, half a large squeezed lemon, a good teaspoon of salt and a mixture of Lebanese seven spice, white pepper, paprika, turmeric and sumac to flavour it.
  • For the Dukkah I roasted a cup of sesame seeds and a cup of crushed walnuts. To that I added coriander seeds, cumin seeds – about a tablespoon of each plus a tablespoon of caraway powder. Yes powder. This is the secret ingredient. Salt and pepper of course. Don’t skimp.
  • Mould the chicken into sausage shapes. You can do it on skewers or just free style. Dip in flour, eggs and Dukkah. Refrigerate for a bit.
  • I shallow fried them in Rapeseed oil. I love its golden colour and it just makes more sense for frying than olive oil as it won’t smoke. I reckon about six minutes to cook. Medium heat.
  • To serve I just whizzed some lemon juice into some Lebanese yoghurt, Labneh, and added a little salad.

The result was more interesting than even I thought it would be. I think you’ll like them and the kids won’t know they’re eating chicken:)

I made my own Dukkah. It’s easy and you can use what you wish. You just need a main nut and then some different seeds and flavourings. I used walnuts, toasted sesame seeds (I toasted them) cumin seed, caraway (really interesting addition) and coriander seed.

I made Labneh, thinned out with lemon juice to go with it. Everyone loved them. Enjoy.