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The basil plant on the patio survived not only an entire summer in my less then green thumbed care but also hurricane Irene’s recent attempt to take New York City by storm so I figured something should be made as an homage to the little basil plant that stood.

My only foray into the world of Ottolenghi has been via one of their cookbooks. In September I intend to make a pilgrimage there along with maybe a return to Moro.  Ottolenghi recipes for baked goods are delicious. A little challenging which is fun plus there is always a little thoughtful twist on run of the mill desserts that is inspiring.

Using their ‘tea cake’ recipe which is for 6 peach/raspberry  ‘bundt’ cakes, I made a batch of peach-basil muffins. Peach and basil is a pretty divine combination no matter how you do it.  Ice pops, cakes, a salad or a rice dish…..

Tip: Skins of fruit and veg are not the worst thing in the world – often they contain the best nutrition. However should you wish to be rid of them simply plunge the peaches in hot water for a minute then immediately into cold for 3o seconds and the skins will be easy to rub/peel off.

The following recipe makes 6 bundt cakes or about 12 normal size muffins.

Recipe adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook.



  • 180gr butter (plus melted butter for greasing if necessary)
  • 260gr flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 160gr caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 170ml soured cream
  • 2 peaches diced
  • good handful of fresh basil leaves torn into small pieces


Preheat the oven to 350 f.

Depending on what tins you’re using butter a muffin tray and leave in the fridge.

Put the flour, baking powder and soda and salt in a bowl and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Then beat the eggs with the vanilla and add the eggs to the butter mixture one at a time.  Fold in the flour mixture one third at a time until well incorporated making a smooth batter. Add the peaches last.  Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin tray keeping it just below the surface.  Bake for about 30 minutes until a knife emerges clean and dry from their centers.

The sour cream factor can mean they have less of a shelf life so eat them quickly!

Last year, while discussing an upcoming trip to Lebanon with a Paris friend, I waxed lyrical about Lebanese food and how I had discovered a great website and cookbook author Anissa Helou. It transpired that he knew Mme. Helou, having met her at a food symposium and they had kept in touch. He put me in contact with her and she very kindly sent me a list of her favourite Beirut food destinations.  Thrilled, we embarked on our trip clutching a printout of her recommendations. I had her book Modern Mezze and now I have been to Lebanon a couple of times it has really come to life for me.  It’s a concise repetoire of classic mezze detailing how to go about making the dishes that make up standard middle eastern fare giving a litle background and explanation for each one.

Falafel are the go-to middle eastern food as far as most western palates are concerned yet I’m guessing most of us assume they’re all made from fried chickpeas and a little tahini and that’s that. I was surprised to learn that Eygptian falafel are the original and they are made only with fava beans while Syrian and Lebanese ones contain chickpeas as well.

I opted to bake these so that they would be easier to digest for an 11 month old. Frying them is undoubtedly better – crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

PS: Garbanzo or chickpea? Wikipedia discusses….

Note: Ideally use dried beans and soak them overnight in cold water with 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda. However, canned beans will do, just drain them well.

Recipe taken from Anissa Helou’s Modern Mezze


  • 100gr chickpeas
  • 200gr broad beans/fava beans
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 50gr coriander sprigs
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely ground pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (if using dried beans)
  • sea salt


Drain the beans and rinse them well. Put them in a food processor, add the rest of the ingredients and process until they form a fine paste. Transfer to a large bowl, season and allow to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes or so.

Pinch off enough mixture to form small balls and do so until you have 20-25.

If frying heat vegetale oil to about 5 cm depth and when bubbling hot drop the balls in for 3-4 minutes until golden brown and crispy. If baking place on a baking tray in a preheated oven (375 degrees F) and bake for about 20 – 25 minutes.

Mop off the excess fat and serve hot or cold with a tahini dip.

In 1972, after coming to power via a coup the year before, Idi Amin decided to expel Asians  from Uganda and repossess their property.  Those lucky enough to have the right to get the necessary papers to go to England, after having come to Uganda under British imperial rule, ended up facing life as exotic strangers in a new country that perhaps did not live up to expectation. Already the fact that there was a sizable population of people of Indian heritage and origin living in Uganda hints at the potential complexities of the culinary history of the region.

We have entered the era of  the  foodoir – the  combination of memoirs and recipes, a term I only just spotted in the latest review of food books by The New York Times, is fast becoming a literary staple of sorts and there are any amount of them out there often the result of a successful blog or a wonderfully international childhood. They’re more often then not a good read as well as a source of quirky recipes and a little food history.

The Settler’s Cookbook was written by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. Born in Uganda in the fifties, the author refers many times in the book to her memories of the country as lush, green and “openly sensuous” bringing back to me my own memories of a brief visit to southern Uganda a few years ago for a weekend on a lake in a small eco-lodge where we were served “Irish potatoes” and roast chicken and the people were as open as the endless colourful flowers around us.  It reminds me too, why it is important to always be ready to go to the ends of the earth if only for the weekend. It’s always worth it, it feels like a lifetime and what you learn in that weekend will remain with you.

This book is much more then a foodoir; it’s a great snapshot of a woman’s life, her perceptions, her life as a Wahindi growing up in the sixties and seventies in Uganda, obliged to go and live in the UK in the seventies and the realities of being a young Asian in Thatcherite England. Interspersed with stories of her family, a candid account of her marriage, its breakdown and her career are her family recipes – often written in such a way as to make it clear as to what kind of mood one may be in when one would tackle a particular dish. the ingredients range from the curious to the exotic to the ordinary.  Each one seems to be the result of an incident be it international or familial and the anecdotes surrounding them are often inextricably linked to the food eaten at the time.

Many recipes reveal the influence of the British over their colonies and the resulting dishes that often led to a Victoria sponge enlivened with saffron and lime juice or the promise of a Cadbury’s chocolate bar after school. The insipid nature of British cooking fascinated many of those  who came into contact with it in Uganda and so these personalized recipes themselves reveal a lot about the imbalances of relationships between the nation that was still seen as imperial and superior, the Asian merchant class and the Ugandans themselves.

What I’m most curious about is getting my hands on a copy of St. Andrew’s Church Woman’s Guild. The Kenya Settlers’ Cookery Book and Household Guide (Nairobi, 1928). Mentioned in The Settler’s Cookbook as being of use during their home economics classes at school where the girls  learned how to cook British food that to them tasted like “milky newspaper”, there apparently was an intriguing back page of “useful Swahili phrases” such as how to say “You have stolen the sugar” and ” You are free every day from 2 to 4…” which is wonderfully revealing and I’m off now to search for more colonial cookbooks….

Itching to make some kind of pizza, comforting bread or just a floury mess in the kitchen I decided to attack the flat bread recipe in one of my favourite armchair travel cookbooks. This book is a homage to the Lebanese cooking that is integral to the heritage of Greg Malouf, one of the authors. Well over three hundred pages of mezze, meats and sweets. Recipes but much more. A simply written account of a journey back home but also an exploration of Lebanese culture and cuisine as well as those of Syria. There is a real sense of a humbling personal experience and genuine love of the food of the region whether it’s because it evokes childhood dishes served up by aunts or grandmothers at home in Australia or his palpable awe at the prospect of visiting the homeland. But more then that, the recipes are authentic, easy to follow yet challenging, a joy to cook, aromatic, comforting and elegant and a reminder of all the other ingredients out there and ways of making food there are. I judge cookbooks often more by how entertaining they are to read then how useful they are in the kitchen. These recipes are given in a cultural context, with detailed descriptions of each region, different local producers and methods so the reader can take the time to understand where a dish came from, the regional influences and nuances that led to the appearance of a certain recipe on a given page and if nothing else it will transport you to a sunny street in Damascus or a busy Beirut street cafe in a matter of pages.

IMG_0963- Manoushi bread dough – recipe taken from Saha – A chef’s journey through Lebanon and Syria by Greg and Lucy Malouf, published in 2005.

This kind of cooking is the real slow food movement, short cuts not recommended. We’re often talking ingredients not found lying around the kitchen and methods that require a bit of elbow grease. But no matter. Part of the fun is seeking out those ingredients and seeing if you can knead and slice and smell your way into producing something like Aleppo style lamb with a cherry sauce or roasted quail in flat bread with a pistachio sauce. Even just a good home made hummus or moutabel.

I enjoy making bread, kneading far more then is necessary but enjoying the therapeutic process required to make that smooth soft seamless ball of dough from the chaos and mess that is flour, water and yeast.

This bread is essentially a basic pizza dough and is a basic snack food of Lebanon and Syria served either simply with a scattering of sumac ansd  zaatar or used as the base for a hearty sandwich. Sumac is a rusty reddish coloured berry that is dried and ground to make a spicy flavouring for soups, sauces or meat. It is also an ingredient of zaatar which is another condiment made with a mixture of thyme, salt and toasted  sesame seeds, a salty topping for the traditional Lebanese galettes or Manouch’e….use it instead of salt to brighten things up.
When the dough is ready divide it up into about twelve small pieces. Or as many as you’ll need. The dough you don’t use you can freeze or refrigerate.

Here is their recipe, keep the dough in the fridge overnight if you’re not ready to use it. Cover it well in plastic when putting in the fridge so it doesn’t absorb any strange flavours or yeasts. Once ready to use, tear off pieces of dough to make mini pizzas in a matter of minutes if you so feel like it…or maybe make one big ‘pizza’….as you wish.

355 grams plain flour
1 teaspoon dried yeast
a half teaspoon salt
a quarter teaspoon of sugar
6 or 7 fluid oz. of warm water
1 tablespoon of olive oil

Mix the flour, yeast and salt. Add the olive oil. Dilute the sugar in the water. Add the water slowly and pull the mixture together until it forms a sticky dough. Don’t worry if it’s a mess and stringy and difficult. Just tip it out onto a floured board and start kneading. Push and fold adding flour or a little water depending on how sticky the dough is.
When you have a smooth tacky but not sticky ball of dough, smooth a little oil around it, cover it and put it in a warm place to rise for a couple of hours.
Then, when ready to use, have your oven pre-heated and roll out and press a small piece of dough with the idea of making a mini pizza, throw it around until it’s thin and stretchy but not too thin.
Spread it with a little olive oil, salt, sumac and zaatar or whatever you wish and bake for about 8 minutes preferably using a pizza stone.

Raw, unshelled and a bit too expensive for my liking the pistachio is something I have loved in food since spending time in Sicily. Pistachios form the basis, the topping and the backbone of many dishes in Sicily both sweet and savoury serving to remind how, in many ways, Sicily is really a place apart, particularly in a culinary sense, and often leaves the Italian mainland in the dust when it comes to eating. The pistachio element is just scratching the surface. Having been part of the Byzantine empire, Sicily has a legacy that encompasses most of the Mediterranean heritage and then some not to mention Arab merchant influence, the Greeks and the Phoenicians all of which remains evident in the architecture and the language as well as the cuisine. Pistachios in ice cream, pistachios in spaghetti dishes, pistachios with aubergine, pistachio pesto…..
…and then I went to Syria. A major producer of pistachio nuts and a major consumer of them too primarily in sweet sticky desserts such as halwa and baklava and as a topping for their almost chewy creamy ice cream. Rumour has it this has something to do with cornstarch..anyone familiar with Bakdash in the Souk El-Hamidiyeh in Damscus confirm? Or perhaps the answer lies here?

This trip was good.

Indeed, it was wonderful. Here I would just like to spend a minute doing the job the so-called Ministry for Tourism in Syria has evidently been having a difficult time doing.As in, promoting a great holiday destination: this is a wonderful country with wonderful people and great, great food. So, GO! All of you. In droves. Bring your family. And your appetite.

But I digress, back to the pistachios….

Pistachio sauce.

This recipe comes from the first Moro cookbook, The Moro Cookbook. A book evoking flavours and ingredients from other eras and lifetimes, where liver finds it’s way back onto our plates and you genuinely feel like you’ve learned something after reading it. The authors were inspired by and fell in love with Spain and the Muslim Mediterranean and what they call the ‘saffron-cinnamon link’ which brings us back to the beginning of the post because, in many ways, Sicily and Spain were the main points of communication between east and west for centuries…

This sauce is fast, fresh and is excellent with grilled chicken, lamb or fish.


150gr shelled unsalted pistachios
grated zest and juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon of orange blossom water
1 garlic clove crushed with a little salt
1 small bunch fresh parsley
some fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon water
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and black pepper


In a mortar and pestle, roughly crush the nuts. (Or chop them by hand) Transfer to a bowl and add the remaining ingredients checking for seasoning as you go.

(Recipe taken from The Moro Cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark, Ebury Press, 2001)DSC_1051


She’s got fabulous teeth. She can do wonderful things with just a can-opener and a few peas. In fact she just may be the McGyver of celebrity chefs. She’s not afraid to lash into dairy products, whip up the cream and politely leave any nods to vegetarianism at the oven door.

Yes, I speak of Nigella. Nigella Lawson. More precisely I speak of her book Feast (2004) and how it is a most fabulous cookbook. My grandmother gave me this book for Christmas a few years ago and it’s a book I often take to bed with me. To read.I would take it on the metro but it’s a little heavy. More then a cookbook, this is a a journey, an inspiration and revels in a genuine delight in what it means to cook, eat and celebrate with those closest to you. What is brought home is just that, the idea of home, celebration, warmth with a splash of decadence and a dollop of what is clearly her own personal experience and history.

Everyone is catered for, kids, lovers, mothers, the faithful, those in mourning… Holidays are celebrated purely for their culinary raisons d’être and even when preparing a feast for a funeral, the food finds a way of comforting you from the pages.

From Hanukkah to passover to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Halloween and breakfast turkey leftovers and Easter banquets, this book is a lesson in what it means to provide sustenance and to bring people together around a table. This all may seem very lofty but seriously, the chocolate cake hall of fame will have you drooling.

This is her hokey pokey….made with maple syrup because there just wasn’t any golden syrup to be found. Works just as well but Lyle’s Golden Syrup is pretty amazing too. This stuff will rot your teeth so just serve it to your guests with their coffee and allow them to admire it and politely refuse it.


4 tablespoons maple syrup
1 and a half teaspoons bicarb of soda
100 gr sugar

(Makes about 125 gr, not very much)


Before doing anything lay out a sheet of parchment paper

Before placing over the heat, mix the sugar and the syrup together. Then heat. Do not mix while on the heat.
The mixture will form a goo and then bubble upwards. At this point (after about three minutes) take it off the heat and whisk in the bicarb of soda.

Immediately pour out this golden mess over a sheet of parchment paper.

Let it set then splinter into pieces.