I have recently developed a love for Middle Eastern food. It began when I opened Diana Henry’s Crazy Water Pickled Lemons, and led me down a trail to my most recent purchase: Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. It is hard not to be drawn into Bristol’s exotic and extensive food scene, there are temptations on every corner, so perhaps it was my first visit to Souk Kitchen that ignited my obsession. The culinary cross-overs between cultures in the Middle East and the Mediterranean tempt a spread of all my favourite dishes. The endless combinations of the fresh and the dry, the sweet and the savoury, the nutty and the tangy are by far the most exciting things in my current life. As soon as I had an excuse to throw a proper feast, the flavours came together upon my low bedside table which we knelt around on cushions in the lounge (we are tableless, not trying to be zen).
I have been practising my flatbreads all week, bake off style, turning our average domestic oven into a furnace and using baking trays brushed with olive oil instead of the walls of a wood-burning stove. The first attempt was dire but highly amusing for my housemates, I managed to blind myself on the fumes billowing out from our grubby oven, and I rolled the breads so thinly that they refused to be slapped onto their fiercely hot trays. It was far from how I envisaged the process through Diana Henry’s effortless description of Aounak’s Persian flat breads. However, the third time lucky and I’m confidently slapping the dough into the oven in front of my guests, brushing them with za’atar infused olive oil as they come out four minutes later, totally hassle free.
This mezze required reading quite a range of recipes, some are adapted and conflated, and some are mine which are still evolving. All are infused with copious amounts of fresh herbs and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, they make anything look professional, right? The burnt aubergine dip is worth trying and can be found in Plenty (remember to pierce the aubergines!!). The chicken thighs, from A Bird in the Hand, are supposed to be speared into kebabs (I couldn’t find skewers) so I fried the pieces in a little of their marinade which actually turned out quite well as they had a thick glazing of honey and pomegranate. The chorizo dish is the odd one out as it is a Spanish tapas recipe, I cooked it in port with potatoes and rosemary because I know how much the girls love it. I make the pistachio falafel’s from A Green Kitchen all the time, however the pistachio content does vary depending upon how committed I am during the shelling phase. Homemade humous always goes down a treat, it is fantastically easy to make in a food processor and is always unique. The average bowl that I make consists of:
one can of chickpeas, the juice of half a lemon, a clove of garlic (sometimes roasted), a couple of glugs of extra virgin olive oil, a teaspoon of za’atar, a teaspoon of ground cumin, a heaped spoon of tahini, a splash of water, a pinch of salt, and a good grinding of black pepper.
A stick blender or smoothie maker will also work but I preach having a food processor, they are really worth the money, I use mine all the time. Our kitchen is very much still in the early stages of development, but don’t be put off trying new things, the strange improvisations keep it interesting and creative!
The other half of my Persian weekend was spent in Kuch, a new restaurant on Whiteladies that accommodated a group of 16 of us for dinner on Saturday. The unique point of the restaurant is the openness of the kitchen. Although it is not uncommon to see chefs cooking at the side of a restaurant, Kuch’s kitchen was a surprise. Situated bang in the middle of the tables, enabling guests to see every effort that goes in to cooking the menu, the chefs are elegantly at work. This proved a very impressive and entertaining concept. The menu is decently sized with a handful of options for each course, usually a reliable indication of good food. It is also fairly well priced, encouraging diners to order a variety of the authentic Persian starters. Exotic spices jump out at you from the menu, setting taste buds tingling.
Upholding tradition, I went halves with Anna on the ordering, optimising our tasting potential. My choice was the Ghalieh Mahi, a Persian fish curry cooked in a delicious and excitingly unfamiliar blend of Middle Eastern spices such as fenugreek, tamarind and cilantro. The lamb koftas were well spiced and well cooked, complimenting the curry. I loved the whole place, from its inviting kitchen to the recycled harissa tin cutlery holders. Ghalieh Mahi is delicious enough to be eaten every week; I have truly got the bug for eating Middle Eastern food and am going to branch out and source these exotic ingredients from ethic veg shops around Bristol as, unfortunately, Sainsbury’s doesn’t provide.