Relish of Indian pickle with tomato (Anba wa tamata))

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OK, here’s another recipe from Delights From The Garden Of Eden, the Iraqi cookbook by Nawal Nasrallah – and a simpler recipe you’ll never find.

Seems obvious, too, now that I’ve tried it.

I wonder if Indians use pickles in this way?

We use commercial Indian pickles at home sparingly on our Indian cooking. But this relish takes such products to a whole new level of usefulness.

Gosh, I reckon it’d go great in sandwiches, along with curries and rice and all sorts of things.

I reckon, too, it’ll keep in the fridge but I suspect fresh is best with this.

Nawal’s recipe uses mango pickle but I used what we had – a tangy lime and ginger pickle.

I had it slathered on bread as a snack while I was cooking something else.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup store-bought Indian pickle of your choice

1/2 cup chopped ripe tomatoes.

METHOD

1. Mix both ingredients together gent;y.

2. Eat.

Makhlama bil poteita (Iraqi omelette with potatoes and herbs)

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Yes, here’s another one from Delights From The Garden Of Eden by Nawal Nasrallah, although I’m guessing my version only approximated what the author was intending.

That’s because I made some changes.

Used five eggs instead of the full half dozen.

Had no dill or mint, so went gangbusters with the parsley.

Used two diced spuds instead of the slightly greater quantities of two cups of diced spuds.

And used most of a large green chilli.

So maybe my pan was too wide for the lesser amount of total ingredients.

Only about half of it lifted from the pan in the form of a coherent omelette; but that was OK, too.

It was a messy, delicious jumble – I ate it with pita bread, which I used like or injera, or the pita when eating scrambled eggs at Al-Alamy.

And the leftovers were cool eaten the same way cold the next day at work, and would be good in sandwiches, too.

INGREDIENTS

2 spuds

2 tablespoons oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 medium tomato, chopped

3/4 cup parsley, chopped

5 eggs

METHOD

1. Pre-heat oven to about 220C.

2. Chop spuds into small dice, place on a foil-lined tray, spray with oil and place in hot oven. Should take about 15-20 minutes to cook. Turn potato bits over halfway through cooking.

3. While they’re getting nice and brown, fry onion over medium heat with turmeric and curry powder.

4. After about seven minutes, add the potato, tomato, parsley, pepper and salt. Mix well and cook for a few minutes more.

5. Flatten vegetable mix with wooden spoon then create spaces four the eggs.

6. Lower heat to medium low.

7. Break eggs into the holes made for them. Fry gently until cooked as is, or run a knife through the eggs to disperse the yolks through the vegetables.

8. Serve with sides, condiments and accessories as you desire.

 

Zalatat shuwander (beet salad)

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This lovely salad is another recipe from my latest toy, the marvellous Iraqi cookbook-and-more, Delights from the Garden of Eden, by Nawal Nasrallah.

But really, it could just as easily come from any of my Italian cookbooks.

The simplicity of the seasonings lets the earthy flavour of the beets be the hero.

Nawal lists yogurt or sour cream as a garnish, but I reckon if you want to use either of them it’d be better done at table – that way leftovers will retain their dark colouring and not become a compromised pink!

INGREDIENTS

3 mediums beets

extra virgin olive oil

juice of one lemon

salt

pepper

parsley

METHOD

1. Pre-heat over to 225C.

2. Wash beets but don’t trim.

3. Wrap beets well in foil and put in oven for an hour.

4. Let cool.

5. Peel beets by hand or using a peeler or knife. If you’re a little fussy about getting your hands dyed, use rubber gloves.

6. Dice beets into small cubes.

7. Toss with remaining ingredients.

8. Refrigerate for at least half an hour before eating.

Shorbat adas

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Based on numerous comments on previous posts, I know there are pulse fans among the regular visitors to Consider The Sauce.

And among those, there are those who have their favourite uses for red lentils – be they dals or soups.

Well listen up – I hope you all try this killer recipe.

It may not supplant your favourite recipe(s), but it’ll impress everyone for sure.

Like everything I’m cooking at the moment, this recipe – slightly customised – comes from Nawal Nasrallah’s awesome Irqai cookbook, Delights From The Garden Of Eden.

She calls this lentil brew “the mother of all soups”, and it’s the bestest, tastiest lentil soup recipe I’ve ever cooked.

Funny thing – I used to be a bit sniffy about using curry powder. Too many lingering memories from childhood (sausages and sultanas), I suppose.

These days, I’m much more relaxed about using good-quality curry powders sourced from any of the many Indian grocers in our world.

In this case, the small amount of powder used means the soup does not taste of curry – or curry powder.

Rather, in combination with the other seasonings, it imparts a deep, rich and rather mysterious earthiness.

The addition of flour after frying the onions is the direct opposite of what I’m used to when cooking New Orleans or cajun dishes, in which a usually very dark roux is made and the vegetables then added.

No matter – the effect is similar, although that step could be omitted entirely as not a lot of flour is used.

INGREDIENTS

2 cups red lentils

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 noodle nests or equivalent amount of broken-up pasta

2 tablespoon olive oil

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1 heaping teaspoon plain or wholemeal flour

1/4 cup lemon juice

chopped parsley

METHOD

1. Wash lentils and place in pot with 10 cups of water. Bring to boil and cook until done – about 30-45 minutes. Don’t worry, it’s pretty much impossible to overcook them – you’ll just end up with a different texture, that’s all.

2. When lentils are close to fully cooked, heat oil to low-medium and fry onions until a deep golden brown. This should take about 10-15 minutes. Stir frequently.

3. As onions are cooking, add to the lentils the pepper, salt, tomato paste, turmeric and curry powder. Keep on a very low heat and stir gently until the paste and seasonings are well integrated.

4. Also crunch/crumble noodle nests into the soup – doing this feels really cool!

5. Cook soup for about another 15 minutes or until noodles are soft.

6. About five minutes before noodles are soft, add flour to onions and continue to cook over a low-medium heat, stirring often. Cook for about five minutes or until flour is the same golden colour as the onions.

7. Slop a couple of ladles of soup mixture into onion pan, swirl around to loosen all the flour and return pan contents to soup.

8. Cook for another five minutes, stirring occasionally.

9. Add lemon juice, mix in.

10. Place soup in bowls, garnish with parsley.

11. Inhale.

Al Sharouk Woodfired Oven

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Al Sharouk Woodfired Oven, 544-546 Mahoneys Rd, Campbellfield. Phone: 9359 5773

On a previous, mid-week visit to Al Sharouk with Bennie and Nat, we’d been greeted by a well-stuffed Middle East-style grocery but little by way of eat-in food – or, at least, none that tempted us sufficiently to linger.

Second time around, and flying solo, my desires are a little different.

Lunch, a meal, for sure – but I’m also seeking some specialised Middle East ingredients.

This is so I can roll up my sleeves and get cooking some of the marvellous recipes in Delights From The Garden Of Eden by Nawal Nasrallah, an epic Iraqi cookbook I received in the mail a few days earlier.

This tome – packed with recipes for mostly home-style Iraqi food, countless anecdotes and much food history going back several thousand years – has been secured on the no-doubt righteous recommendation by Annia Ciezadlo in her cool book Day Of Honey.

I feel sure Delights From The Garden Of Eden will be the cause of many, many future years of pleasurable reading and cooking.

But I feel nonplussed as I step through the door of Al Sharouk and discover … that it is now all restaurant and no grocery.

Oh well – I take an upbeat, half-full approach and thoroughly enjoy my lunch and talking with Al Sharouk proprietor Martin.

He’s an Iraqi Christian who moved to Australia more than three decades ago, although his Campbellfield eat shop has been open for just nine months.

It’s no surprise, then, he knows all about the ingredients I seek – baharat, a spice mix that is a sort-of Iraqi equivalent of garam masala; and noomi basrah, which are dried limes.

Martin reckons I should have little trouble securing them from the likes of Al-alamy in Coburg or International Foods in Altona.

As he’s expressed an interest in having a quick look at my new book, I scarper back to my car as he’s knocking my lunch together.

There’s a range of salads and dips on display. Pies and pizzas from the mighty wood-fired oven are available, too.

But I quickly zero in on the two stews available – one a pale number with lamb shanks, the other more of a tomato-based effort with lamb on the bone and chickpeas.

I go for the latter, which turns out to be a variation on Iraqi stews called tashreeb. These are traditionally served on a base of flat bread.

But I’m plenty happy to have mine with Martin’s rice, which he calls an Iraqi biryani.

It’s beaut and studded with peanuts, peas, currants and – most appropriately – the dried limes called noomi basrah, which impart of sublime tartness. Think of something along the lines of a mild Indian lime pickle.

This is very homely food much to my liking – the rice riches work well with the tashreeb chickpeas, and I even get a silky, tender whole onion.

But that’s not all – my single piece of lamb is superbly, predictably tender and toothsome.

Martin has two kinds of chooks getting the heat treatment from his spit pit – the first lot are whole stuffed birds referred to in Delights From The Garden Of Eden as Pregnant Chicken; the second are butterflied birds in lemon and garlic.

I buy a half animal of the latter to take home, but wish I’d gone with a whole of the former – they look so plump and sexy, and are likely a fine bargain at $12.

Other than that, I forget to check prices – suffice to say Al Sharouk is a genuine cheap eats haven, as my lamb rice lunch, a can of soft drink and half a chook to go come to $22.

It’s been cool meet Martin and enjoy some of the kind of food I soon hope to be cooking my own self.

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Book review: Day of Honey

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Day of Honey by Annia Ciezadlo (Simon and Schuster)

A review copy of this book was handed my way by a mate at my previous place of employment.

He figured it would tick almost all my boxes.

And why wouldn’t he?

It’s about food, it’s about writing, it’s about – more precisely – Middle Eastern food.

And it’s about international and current affairs, and the turbulence and conflicts and joy that accompany them, something I find endlessly fascinating, although I have rarely let that interest intrude on Consider The Sauce.

Truth is that while I stay on top of such things, they often leave me feeling down.

So why did Day of Honey sit around the house unloved and gathering dust for several months?

Why did I pick it up, read a few pages then discard it several times?

Why did it take only the most desperate boredom with every other available reading resource at hand before this book got its hooks into me?

A couple of reasons at least, I think …

One was the simple fear of confronting the horrors of the Middle East in a too-real account.

Reading about the Middle East’s trial and tribulations in news stories in newspaper and magazines or online is one thing.

There’s a certain dryness there that insulates us from the realities, brutal or otherwise.

Reading on-the-ground accounts of happenings in Baghdad and Beirut written by a gifted and eloquent writer is quite another.

I wasn’t at all sure I was up for it.

Another reason, one that was completely irrational given the nature of the subject, was that I feared the book would have a foodie-light veneer, making it a sort of Under The Beirut Sky.

About that, I turned out to be very wrong.

Once I started reading in earnest, this turned into a joyous page-turner.

I knew the author had me when she writes:

“The Mesopotamians baked a lot of their bread in a tinuru, a cylindrical clay oven with an open top and diabolically hot radiant heat inside. They rolled the dough into little round pats and left them for the gluten to relax. Then they flattened them into pancakes and slapped them onto the oven’s scorching inside walls, where they bubbled into chewy flatbreads.”

Hey, that sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Ciezadlo continues:

“Thousands of years later, Iraqis still make bread exactly this way at neighborhood bakeries … The Akkadian tinuru lives on as the Arabic tanoor, the Iranian tanura and the South Asian tandoor. Next time you order chicken tandoori at an Indian restaurant, chew on this: you are speaking a word that human mouths have been pronouncing, in one form or another, for at least four thousand years.”

Day of Honey follows the journey of Ciezadlo and her Lebanese husband Mohamad as they ply their journalistic/media trade in Baghdad and Beirut in the early-to-late 2000s.

If I skip going into any detail about the exact locations and conflicts they are involved in, it is simply because in many ways they are the background detail of the book’s major themes.

For this is a book, primarily, about people. Or more exactly, about people and how they deal with war.

And as Ciezadlo reveals, they do this largely through food.

There is a good deal of violence in the book, particularly towards the end.

But the author covers it in quite a dispassionate way, and always in the context of the people she loves, friends and family.

She simply lays out the absurdly sectarian nature of so much of life and politics and conflict in the Middle East without ever losing track of her focus.

That leaves her – and us – to revel in the food, its rituals and fabulous cast of characters who are by turns droll, hilarious, romantic, inspirational and more.

Particularly beguiling is her ongoing portrait of her mother-in-law, Umm Hassane. I’m tempted to describe her incredible and maddening wiles as “adorable” or some such, but then I don’t have to put up with her!

Through Day of Honey, I have had some of my beliefs about the Middle East buttressed.

But in many ways, I have had others shaken.

Mainly to the extent that what we read and hear about the region in the media is appallingly superficial or little more than window dressing and spin of various kinds.

Mostly, though, the book has emphasised for me how fortunate I am to be living in a part of the world where I am so free to participate in and enjoy food, food rituals and traditions, and the people who keep them alive.

And in one vivid account of a meal, Ciezadlo makes me believe more than ever that in the likes of Abbout Falafel House, Al-Alamy and so many more we have a genuine, life-affirming way of being part of what really is the greatest story ever told.

There are very many lovely examples of food anecdotes, recipes, lore and history.

At its end, the book includes more than a dozen recipes of food featured in its pages.

A lot of them seem sufficiently complex to deter me from attempting them.

But happily, the one that most intrigues – a simple Lebanese dish of onions, potatoes and eggs called Batata wa Bayd Mfarakeh – is the subject of a short video on the author’s website.

Unsurprisingly, what she creates there looks not at all like I imagined it would!

Day of Honey is a terrific book and I look forward to reading future posts on the author’s Facebook page for revealing and uplifting insights on Middle Eastern food, culture, people and – yes – politics.

McKebab

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McKebab, 49 Gordon St, Footscray. Phone: 9317 9132

It’s not precisely, literally a hole in the wall, but McKebab has that sort of vibe about it.

This tiny kebab shop is situated next door to a convenience store, with both of them sitting on the ground floor of what is otherwise as a spectacularly ugly building.

Across the street is the pokies pub known as the Powell. Across Ballarat Rd, but still on Gordon St, is a foodie strip – a fish and chip shop, pizza place, Korean noodle hang, a couple of Indian eateries – that seems forever to be waiting for that magic spark.

It seems that often in the west, and no doubt elsewhere, businesses and their operators must make do with situations, locations and premises that are presented to them, that are affordable.

In this case, we suspect that what presents as a simple kebab joint has the capacity and knowledge to present more home-style cooking of the Turkish/Iraqi family that runs it.

We wish them well if that is the case.

Certainly we enjoy our brief visit and the friendly service we receive.

As we take one of the two tiny interior tables, we strike up a conversation with two blokes at the other who turn out to be senior players for the same rugby club for which Bennie plays. Like him, they too have enjoyed success earlier in the day.

It is the home-style dish that draws our eyes and impresses the most.

Well, impresses me the most anyway.

As we’re returning from a friend’s birthday party in Hoppers Crossing, Bennie is already quite full of party pies, sausage rolls, saveloys and chips, and would prefer to be at the burger place up the road anyway.

Later in the week, buddy!

We order “green beans, rice and salad” ($9.90), with the main protagonist turning out to be fasolea.

This is a fantastic, tangy dish of green beans tomato, capsicum, what is described to me as an “Arabic herb”, onion, garlic, salt and pepper.

The beans are, of course, very tender, but I find the whole thing delicious.

The tabouli is a tad too dry and onion-y for us, but the rice is fine.

The house-made turshi – pickled turnip – is fantastic, salty, bitter and crunchy.

We order as well four felafel balls, which are freshly made and good, with an inwardly greenish hue and a smooth, ungranulated texture.

The hummus that accompanies is smooth and mild of flavour and the bread – housemade, too – is like a cross between Lebanese pita and Turkish bread.

No doubt because of their location – students above, boozer across the road – the McKebab folks face heavy demand for your typical kebab options.

But we hope they hang in there with some more home-style fare.