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3
Aug

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.

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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.

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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 200º 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.

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this is the 7-hour rise loaf

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and this is the 10-hour rise loaf

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and what the crumb looks like

If you are reading this, thank you Luiz for the brilliant sourdough. I just hope I will be able to keep it going.


30
Jul

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.

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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.


28
Jul

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.

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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.

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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.

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Mix well, and let bubble for a few minutes to get rid of any excess liquid. Season with salt to taste.

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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
Serves 4-6
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
sea salt
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.
©anissa helou


15
Jul

I was asking my friend Aylin Tan what she thought of my menu for the Turkish lunch I am organising for the Oxford Symposium when she very kindly offered to bring pismaniye from Turkey for dessert. I knew that pismaniye was like the Arab Ghazl el-Banat but I thought I would check if I could find a video online showing how it’s made. I must say, I didn’t expect to find so many on You Tube and elsewhere. I like these two even though I don’t understand a word of what they are saying, and part 1, which I did not post, seems to be an introduction with each one of them talking to the camera, I assume explaining all about pismaniye while part 2 (which i can’t find online any longer) is, if i remember correctly, all about boiling the sugar.

next one.

The interesting thing is that in several of the clips, pismaniye seems to be made at home whereas in Syria and Lebanon, it is very much the reserve of specialist sweet-makers, and from the clips I have seen on dragon beard candy, it looks like street food in Asia.

In any case, according to my friends Majed Krayem and Bassam Mawaldi, owners of Pistache d’Alep where I shot the two clips linked here (Bassam is the one not in whites cooling and stretching the sugar; the second clip shows them incorporating the flour into the sugar), the Lebanese make it by machine whereas in Syria and in Turkey, the candy is always made by hand. There is a noticeable difference between the Turkish and the Syrian. In Turkey they don’t stretch the sugar until it is white; or perhaps they cook the sugar longer until it is a deep caramel colour while in Syria, the sugar is completely white by the time it is ready to be stretched with the flour.

And as an intimate aside, this same sugar is what women use in the Middle East to remove the hair on their legs. Not very appetising but my sisters and I loved to eat some before my mother or aunt started using it on us. It is still what most women use for depilation and the lovely Lebanese film Caramel (Sukkar Banat) must be a play on both, the sugar and the candy. If you haven’t seen it, do go.

Even more interesting: the same candy exists in Hong Kong and Korea as you can see from this clip except that Asians use rice flour and fill the candy with peanuts instead of pistachios. I haven’t tasted the Asian version yet but it looks pretty similar. even though their method is different in that only one person works on stretching the sugar with the flour, and as a result, they work with much smaller amounts.