Last Saturday, Yotam Ottolenghi published a recipe for tabbuleh in his Guardian column, the new vegetarian, saying there is a right way and a wrong way to make tabbuleh, which is true. For far too long tabbuleh has been made the wrong way both in Europe and in America. But as much as I like Yotam’s food, his version of tabbuleh still has too much burghul in it. Of course, there are variations. Some families use more burghul than others, but a typical Lebanese tabbuleh (one of the very few national dishes we have) has very little burghul indeed, normally 5% of the amount of tomatoes and less than 10% the amount of parsley. Here is what a typical tabbuleh from the Lebanese mountains looks like. This one was made by my mother when we were shooting the pictures for my Lebanese cookbook, fifteen years ago now which explains why the picture looks a little dated.
But more interesting, at least for me, is white tabbuleh. I first came across the recipe for it when I was researching my Lebanese cookbook. I found it in a book on Lebanese cooking by Ibrahim Mouzannar, who happened to be related to a friend of mine. I was intrigued although not enough to want to find out more, not until a couple of years ago that is, when I wrote Modern Mezze and decided to include Mouzannar’s recipe for white tabbuleh. By then, he had died and no one was able to tell me where his white tabbuleh came from: if it was a regional variation, a seasonal one, or his own creation. I asked his daughter and his brother but neither could help. And to think that I could have easily met him and asked him myself. In any case, it is a great salad and it is called white because the parsley is replaced with cabbage. Otherwise, the remaining ingredients are the same, although the ratios are different.
And the method is fairly similar. The cabbage is thinly shredded, the mint and onion finely chopped and the tomatoes diced except that I prefer to use quartered cherry tomatoes because they look prettier with the cabbage.
The spices are different though. Whereas regular tabbuleh is seasoned with cinnamon and allspice, the white version is seasoned with paprika only. I didn’t like the idea of paprika and decided to use Aleppo pepper instead, which gives the salad a nice kick. The lemon juice and olive oil are the same and here is the final result, a scrumptious and supremely healthy salad that is almost as good a day later.
I am still trying to find out more about this white tabbuleh. So, please write to me or leave a comment if you know anything about it. Until then, here are the recipes for both ‘green’ and white tabbuleh. Each recipe serves 4 to 6, depending on the appetite.
White TabbulÃ© (Tabbuleh Baidah)
100 g fine burghul
1 pointed organic white cabbage, weighing about 500 g, outer damaged leaves discarded, shredded very fine
100 g spring onions, trimmed, thinly sliced
200 g fresh mint, leaves only, chopped medium fine
400 g firm ripe cherry tomatoes, quartered
juice of 1 lemon, or to taste
100 ml extra virgin olive oil
Â½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1. Rinse the burghul under cold water. Drain and set aside to let it fluff up — stir the burghul with a fork every now and then to separate the grains.
2. Put the cabbage, onion, mint and tomatoes in a large bowl. Add the burghul, lemon juice and oil. Season with the Aleppo pepper and salt to taste. Mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve immediately.
Â© Anissa Helou — from Modern Mezze
30 g fine burghul
600 g firm ripe tomatoes, diced into small cubes
50 g spring onions, trimmed and very thinly sliced
400 g flat-leaf parsley, most of the stalk discarded, very finely chopped
70 g mint, leaves only, very finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice (or Lebanese seven-spice mixture)
1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
salt to taste
juice of 1 lemon, or to taste
150 ml extra virgin olive oil
4 gem lettuce, washed and quartered
1. Rinse the burghul in several changes of cold water. Drain well and put in a bowl. Stir it with a fork every now and then to help fluff it up.
2. Put the diced tomatoes in a bowl and set aside while you prepare the onion and herbs. A word of warning: do not chop the herbs with a mezzaluna. This will only bruise them. Instead, use a razor sharp knife and gather as much as you can handle in a bunch and slice them very thin to end up with nice, crisp thin strips.
3. Drain the tomatoes of their juice and put in a large bowl. Add the spring onion and herbs. Sprinkle the burghul all over. Season with the cinnamon, allspice and pepper. Add salt to taste. Add the lemon juice and olive oil and mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve immediately with the quartered gem lettuce.
Â© Anissa Helou — from Modern Mezze or Lebanese Cuisine
Even though I spent three years writing a book on savoury baking, baking bread is not something I do on a regular basis. And baking sourdough bread is definitely not something I am comfortable with, not until recently that is. I tried to make my own sourdough but it didn’t really work. The dough just wouldn’t rise without adding a little yeast to it. Then, I went to Sao paulo and had Luiz Camargo’s (my lovely friend who edits Paladar) sourdough loaf which was simply perfect. I asked what his secret was and he offered to give me some of his mother. I was thrilled, although I doubted I would be able to achieve good results, given my sad past history. But his sourdough turned out to be brilliant, as were his instructions both to feed it and to make the bread. I have to admit that my first loaf was not so great but that was because I rushed it. The second one worked, as did the ones that followed — just now, i am worried about the mother but hopefully it’ll just be a hiccup. In any case, my loaves came out as good as Luiz’s and although the bread is different from that at St John’s Bread & Wine, which is my favourite sourdough in London, it is equally good. Here is how I do it.
Following Luiz’s recommendation, I refresh 100 g sourdough with 5 tbsps wholewheat flour (sometimes I do half wholewheat and half plain) and 150 ml water, which I mix well. Then I use 150 g sourdough for 500 g flour, together with 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt. I add enough water to make a softish dough and I knead the dough for 2-3 minutes. Then I roll the dough into a ball, invert the bowl over it and let it sit for 15 minutes. This is equivalent to the autolyse of professional bakers where they mix the flour with water and let it sit for 45 minutes to an hour to let it hydrate before they add the leavening. I have adapted this method because it does away with long kneading as you can see from the photos above. Once the 15 minutes are up, I knead the dough for 2-3 more minutes and let it sit again, covered for 15 minutes before kneading it for the last time. As you can see, the dough becomes very smooth and silky without me having to kill myself kneading forever.
Then, I place the dough in a lightly floured bowl and let it rise for 7 hours. You can leave it overnight. I did that once, for 10 hours, and the bread came out just as good.
Once the dough has proofed, I gently take it out of the bowl and shape it into a batard (oval) or a miche (round). I then cover it with a wet although not dripping kitchen towel and let it rise for an hour. Half an hour before the dough is ready, I preheat the oven to 200Âº C. Then, I uncover the dough and let it sit for 5 minutes, to allow the surface to dry. Then with a lame (baker’s razor), I make a slash all along the middle of the loaf — you need to hold the lame at a slight angle and don’t cut too deep into the dough. Then, just before I am ready to place the loaf in the oven, I put a baking dish full of water on the bottom of the oven to create steam. I quickly place the loaf in the oven and bake it for an hour. The slash opens up beautifully and the bread is crisp and golden brown. I let the hot loaf cool completely on a wire rack before serving to allow the flavour of the bread and the texture of the crumb to go on developing.
If you are reading this, thank you Luiz for the brilliant sourdough. I just hope I will be able to keep it going.
I very rarely cook pasta for myself because I am permanently on a diet. Still, I can’t resist making myself a bowl whenever I have bottarga in my fridge. And recently, I got some in Istanbul, but then I forgot it in my mother’s refrigerator in Lebanon — I went to visit her before returning to London. Luckily, I went back to Beirut a month later and this time, I made sure to recuperate my bottarga. Because it was waxed, it was still fine. So, today I decided to hell with the diet and I made myself a big bowl of pasta con bottarga. I had no spaghetti, so, made do with penne which is not ideal. Still good though. Very simple and very quick. All I did was peel the bottarga and slice it. The slices should really be thinner but I thought the penne needed thicker slices.
Then I boiled the pasta (adding plenty of salt to the water so that I didn’t need to salt it afterward) until al dente (I always do one minute less than the packet says), tossed it with a generous amount of olive oil (back on the diet tomorrow), added the bottarga, tossed a little more and enjoyed. A perfect, fast lunch.
Just finished my last class of the season, on mezze, and even though Morocco doesn’t have a tradition of mezze as such, there is a whole range of Moroccan salads (salades variées) that fit perfectly into a mezze spread. Here is one of them, made by mixing grilled peppers, preserved lemons and a little parsley with a chunky tomato sauce. A perfect snack or mezze dish for a warm summer day. That is, if we get warm summer days. Am still waiting and it’s nearly August,
Start by making the tomato sauce: drain two cans of cherry tomatoes and put in a wide sauté pan. Add 3 tbsps extra virgin olive oil and 1/2 tsp red chili flakes and place over medium high heat. Let bubble until most of the excess liquid has evaporated.
While the sauce is cooking, grill the peppers. This should take more or less the same time if you place them very close to the heat making sure you don’t burn them beyond the skin. Once done, peel the peppers. Then take out the seeds and cut into long strips.
Add the peppers to the sauce. Chop a few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley and add to the sauce. Then take 4 tiny preserved lemons (known as doqq lemons), remove the pith and cut the peel into strips. Add to the sauce.
Mix well, and let bubble for a few minutes to get rid of any excess liquid. Season with salt to taste.
Take off the heat. Cover with a clean kitchen cloth and let cool. Then transfer to a serving dish and serve. You can, if you want, sprinkle a little chopped parsley all over to lift the salad.
Here is the full recipe:
Moroccan Grilled Pepper Salad
4 yellow bell peppers
3 x 400 g cans cherry tomatoes, drained
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic crushed
scant 1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1 teaspoon paprika
1 preserved lemon, peel only, cut into strips
50 g flat-leaf parsley most of the bottom stalks discarded, finely chopped
1. Grill the peppers for 25-30 minutes, turning them over to expose all sides, until the skin is charred and blistered and the flesh soft. Let cool a little, then peel the peppers and discard the seeds and core. Cut into medium thin strips.
2. Combine the olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, chillies and paprika in a large frying pan. Add salt to taste and cook over a medium-high heat for 15-20 minute, stirring occasionally, until all excess liquid has evaporated and the sauce is thick, fresh and chunky.
3. Add the peppers, preserved lemon and parsley to the tomato sauce. Cook, stirring occasionally, for a further 5-10 minutes, until the sauce is very concentrated. Serve at room temperature.