So, what’s your favourite cuisine again?
What about Eastern European? I like to make cold Lithuanian borscht. It’s so refreshing, and I love the colour and the flavour.
Thai? Also good. I think skewered chicken satay might very well be my favourite meal.
And Spanish? The Mallorquin pa amb oli (literally: bread with oil) is a super-easy, super-tasty, super-healthy snack. More on that and on cooking in rural Mallorca in this post.
Norwegian? We eat lots of fish up here in the mountainous north. At least three dinners each week should be fish, we hear all through school. And, frankly, there isn’t much that beats mountain trout with new potatoes and cucumber salad. I’ll have to come back and share a recipe on that soon.
Today though, I’m thinking Middle East. Arabic food. And now, I’ve moved on from like to love. Luckily for me, Arabic food loves me, too. Only place I seem to be able to eat heaps, and not gain unnecessary weight. How’s that for a winning combo? I once spent a summer in Jordan, and came home 5 kg lighter – whilst unknowingly 18 weeks pregnant! (Yeah. I know.) I wonder if the secret is that veg is often the mains, while meat is more of a side thing.
Two years ago, I spent an exciting week in Lebanon. It had been a travel dream of mine for years. One of the (many) things I looked forward to was the food. Lebanon didn’t disappoint. And again, heaps of food, and not a gram gained, but quite a few lost. Apparently, it still works!
Here’s a small selection of Lebanese deliciousness:
- Hummus: Internationally famous. You probably know it well. Mashed chickpeas with tahini and lemon juice. And garlic, if you like. So simple, so easy. The best hummus I’ve ever had was, perhaps strangely, in Cornwall, at a street side cafe in downtown Port Isaac. Must be about 10 years ago. Wonder if that place still exists.
- Fatteh: fresh flat bread topped with yogurt, chickpeas, olive oil, and maybe some chicken. Lebanese leftovers, essentially. And what leftovers!
- Kibbeh: fragrant, spicy stuffed balls (usually with lamb, though I prefer the veggie version); with bulgur wheat, potatoes, pumpkins, and mint leaves.
- Falafel: chickpea fritters. That’s it. Protein and fibre heaven of the meatless kind. If you’re not into deep-fried stuff, pop them in the frying pan instead, or you can even bake them in the oven.
- Tabbouleh: crunchy salad with fresh parsley, bulgur wheat, chopped mint, tomatoes
- Lebanese grilled chicken in its many forms, all so delicious.
- Rainbow trout from the Bekaa Valley; almost as tasty as Norwegian mountain trout.
It’s all so good it’s almost ridiculous. My favourite of all is mutabal (also known as baba ganoush, or, at least, similar enough). It looks like hummus, it’s made similarly to hummus, but tastes nothing like it, even though the basic difference is roasted aubergine (egg plant) instead of chick peas. I think I could eat mutabal every day. And considering I don’t really care that much for aubergine, that’s very odd. But roasting/grilling the aubergines makes all the difference.
I feel the same way about peanut butter. Cold, it is pretty awful: the texture especially, like glue paste, practically indigestible. But mixed with lemon and coconut milk and served hot with satay chicken and rice: divine.
A tip if you want your kids to have something nutritious they won’t eat: try serving it in a different way. Fry that broccoli!
Today, we’re cooking…
… something as simple as chicken and potatoes, Lebanese style. I like simple. And I like chicken. And potatoes. And I’ve experimented with spices and found the mix I like.
Then we’ll need vegetables. Something colourful. So we’ll whip up a fattoush, a peasant salad, using lightly fried pieces of bread and whatever vegetables you happen to have in the fridge and on the counter.
If you’re Lebanese and find my approach a bit, erm… casual, I apologise. Let’s call it Norwegian – Lebanese.
Chicken and potatoes, simple as
Here we go.
The easiest recipe would be to simply use chicken, potatoes, garlic, salt and pepper, olive oil and lemon juice. I prefer a little more flavour to the chicken; probably because I’m super picky and only like chicken breast, which can become a bit dry if you’re not careful. To prevent that, I’ve found a light olive-oil based marinade works wonders. (You might feel differently; if you like drumsticks etc, by all means, do use that.) This is how I do it:
For 2 people:
- Set the oven to 220° C (about 425° F), and cover a large baking tray/dish in aluminium foil (for less washing-up)
- Marinade: mix olive oil and lemon juice. I use an extra-virgin olive oil with basil. Delicious. (Basil just works with everything, I think.) Then whisk in spices. Play around and find your own favourite mix. I like cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, clove, pepper and salt in a 6: 6: 2: 2: 2: 3 ratio. Maldon is my salt of choice, but Himalaya, Kosher, Celtic, (even plain table salt at a pinch), they all work, and will give slightly different flavours and textures.
- Cut two chicken breasts in pieces, bite-sized or whatever you prefer, pop them on the baking tray and brush them well with the marinade. Let it all sit while you work with the potatoes…
- … if you can call it work: it’s simply a matter of cutting them up. I like to use small round baby potatoes, cut them in two, place them on the same baking tray, and brush a bit of the marinade on them as well. (Alternatively, you can drip just olive oil on them instead, and sprinkle salt and pepper on.)
- Cover dish with aluminium foil, pop in the oven and leave in for 20 minutes.
- Remove top foil, up the heat to 240° C (465° F), turn everything over, and leave in the oven until everything looks beautifully golden (about 20 more minutes.)
While all this is happening in your oven, let’s mix together that fattoush. See what veg you have in the fridge. Today, I have heart lettuce (called Cos in England or Romaine in the US – it’s the small kind that often come in packs of two), cucumbers and spring onion. I have cherry tomatoes on the counter top, and I have mint and parsley growing in flower boxes on the balcony. Perfect.
- First, tear a pita bread or two in pieces and fry them in olive oil until they are lightly browned (about two minutes), then put them on a plate with paper towels to soak up excess oil.
- Cut up the vegetables and herbs and toss in a bowl.
- Dressing: half and half olive oil and lemon juice, a teaspoon of white vinegar, a pinch each of salt, pepper and celery salt, (and a pinch of garlic powder if you like). Mix it all together.
- Mix the vegetables/herbs with the fried bread and dressing. Toss everything together, preferably using your hands. Throw some extra mint on top.
That’s it! Bon Appétit!