Middle Eastern Salads

Dec 042016




It is sometimes hard to accurately trace the origins of a dish to a specific city, but that is not the case with Muhammara. This spicy red pepper and walnut dip originates from one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world – Aleppo in Syria. Muhammara combines sweet, sour and tangy ingredients to create an addictive multi-layered flavour. Traditionally, Muhammara uses Aleppo chilli peppers to bring a mild smokey spiciness to the dip. However, if Aleppo chilli peppers are not available then using a mixture of red chilli powder and paprika, like I have done, is a good alternative.




(makes 1 cup)



2 red bell peppers (capsicum), roasted and peeled (directions below)

1 plump garlic clove, peeled and cut into 4 large chunks

1/2 cup walnuts, lightly toasted

1/2 cup breadcrumbs, lightly toasted (I toast a medium-sized piece of pitta bread and let it air-dry)

1 tsp ground paprika

1/2 tsp red chilli powder or flakes (or according to taste)

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp coarse sea salt

2 tsp pomegranate molasses

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil



  1. To roast your red bell peppers, preheat your oven to 220°C (fan assisted). Wash and dry your bell peppers and then cut them in half (top to bottom). Remove and discard the seeds, membranes and stalks. Place your bell pepper halves (cut-side down) on a baking tray lined with baking parchment paper. Roast in the middle shelf of your oven for 20-25 minutes. The skin can be allowed to get quite charred without any problems, but do check from time to time to make sure they are not burning. Remove from the oven and immediately put the hot bell pepper halves into a bowl covered with a lid or plate. The steam created in the bowl will help loosen the skin and make it easier to remove from the bell peppers. After 5-10 minutes, remove the lid and peel off the bell pepper skin. Place your peeled bell peppers in a bowl. They are ready to use immediately or refrigerated and used within 5 days.
  2. Lightly toast your walnuts in a dry pan on the stovetop or in the oven.
  3. Lightly toast your breadcrumbs. I find it easiest to do this by simply popping some bread (I use a medium-sized piece of pitta bread) in my toaster for a few minutes and then letting it air-dry. I then run it through my food processor to turn it into crumbs.
  4. To make the Muhammara dip, put all the ingredients into your food processor and process until desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
  5. Refrigerate and eat within 4 days.


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Oct 112016

Beetroot Hummus


A platter of freshly made Beetroot Hummus is always a show-stopper when you serve it to friends and family. The strikingly vibrant shade of pink is thanks to the pigment betacyanin which is the antioxidant responsible for giving beetroots their reddish colour.


Combining roasted beetroot into your favourite hummus recipe not only adds colour but also brings a deliciously subtle earthy sweetness to the dish. It is a great way to add extra nutrients and fibre to an already healthy dip.




(makes 500ml)



1 medium-sized beetroot (150-200g / 5-7oz)

240g cooked chickpeas (tinned or freshly boiled)

1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste)

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (no seeds)

1 plump garlic clove, cut into 6 pieces

1 tsp coarse sea salt

2 Tbsp cold water

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (for drizzling on top of the hummus)

Fresh herbs and toasted nuts, to garnish (optional)



  1. Preheat your oven to 200°C/400°F.
  2. To roast your beetroot, trim the stalks and leaves off your beetroot (if you stalks and leaves are fresh, you can save them for cooking). Wash your beetroot, wrap it in aluminium foil and place in a baking dish. This recipe only calls for 1 medium-sized beetroot, but it is worth making more so you have beetroot available for other recipes as well. Roast in the oven for between 60-90 minutes. Your beetroot is ready when a skewer goes through it easily. When cooked, remove your beetroot from the oven, unwrap and allow to come to room temperature. Once the beetroot is cool enough to handle, trim the top and bottom off and pinch off the skin.
  3. If you prefer not to cook the beetroot yourself, you may be able to find vacuum-packed cooked beetroot at your supermarket. Make sure you do not use pickled beetroot.
  4. Cut your beetroot into 6-8 pieces.
  5. In a food processor, combine the beetroot, chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, peeled garlic clove, sea salt, and cold water.
  6. Process the hummus until it is almost your desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary (you can add more tahini, lemon juice, sea salt or water according to your taste).
  7. Process again until desired consistency.
  8. Eat immediately or refrigerate in a covered bowl for upto 3 days.
  9. To serve, spread the hummus evenly onto a small flat plate. Run your spoon through the hummus in a circle to make a well to pour some good extra virgin olive oil into.
  10. Garnish with fresh herbs and toasted nuts (optional).


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Jul 242016

Saffron Couscous and Chickpea Salad


‘Saffron Couscous and Chickpea Salad’ is a great summertime salad to bring to a picnic. It is packed with flavour, delicious at room temperature, and doesn’t get soggy. By steaming the couscous in saffron-infused stock (chicken or vegetable), all the delicious flavours are imbued directly into the grains so there is no need to make a separate dressing.





(Serves 4)




200g dried coucous

250ml hot stock (vegetable or chicken)

½ tsp loosely packed saffron strands

1 tsp sea salt

2 Tbsp EVOO + 3 Tbsp EVOO

2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

240g drained tinned chickpeas

8 cherry tomatoes or 2 large tomatoes, deseeded and cut into bite-size pieces

6 radishes, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces

1 small or ½ large cucumber, quartered and chopped

2 Tbsp coriander leaves, chopped

2 Tbsp mint leaves, chopped


Optional garnish (pomegranate seeds, chopped nuts, sumac)




  1. Prepare hot stock and add the saffron strands, 1 tsp coarse sea salt and 2 Tbsp EVOO into it. Allow the mixture to infuse for 5 minutes.
  2. Pour the dried couscous into a saucepan (with a lid) and pour the seasoned stock on top. Mix quickly and then cover and let sit for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, uncover and fluff with a fork. Allow to cool. Once the couscous is cool, add 3 Tbsp EVOO and 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar. Toss well.
  3. While the couscous is cooling, drain and rinse the tinned chickpeas.
  4. Prepare all your vegetables by chopping your cucumber, tomatoes and radishes into bite-size pieces and roughly chopping your coriander leaves and mint leaves.
  5. In a large bowl, add the cooled couscous, drained chickpeas, and all the vegetables and herbs. Toss well.
  6. Refrigerate for upto 3 days .
  7. Before serving, scatter pomegranate seeds, chopped nuts and a good sprinkle of sumac over the salad (optional).


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May 202015

Kale Tabbouleh


I really enjoy eating traditional Lebanese Tabbouleh, but making it is a true labour of love! Although Tabbouleh is a very simple salad to make, there is one rather time-consuming step: separating the large quantity of parsley leaves from their stalks.


I am not the only one who finds this a big job. I’ve seen boxes of pre-chopped parsley in my supermarket in Dubai, so there must be others who struggle with the same thing. Of course, the problem with pre-chopped parsley is that it has very little flavour and aroma compared to freshly chopped parsley.


But then something happened which changed the way I make Tabbouleh.


This week I attended the official opening of The Farm House, a shop which sells local organic produce in the UAE. The event was hosted at The Change Initiative in Dubai where Chef Yogesh prepared amazingly fresh, seasonal dishes with a ‘twist’ using mostly local organic produce. One of the many delicious dishes he prepared was Kale Tabbouleh. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was hooked from the first bite. I knew immediately that I wanted to go home and try to replicate this dish. I don’t know exactly what Chef Yogesh’s recipe is, but I think I got pretty close to it with my version of Kale Tabbouleh.


I love the taste of this recipe, and I also love the fact that chopping kale is so much easier than chopping parsley. Unlike delicate parsley leaves which take a long time to separate from their stems, kale leaves come off very easily from their tough stalks.


The main thing to remember when using kale in a salad is the importance of massaging the leaves for a few minutes to break down their cellulose structure (I know it sounds weird, but trust me on this). Raw kale leaves are quite tough and it’s hard to get much flavour from them. Massaging the kale gives you a softer, more flavourful leaf. It also shrinks the leaves to about half their volume which makes them easier to toss with other ingredients. The technique for massaging kale is to tear or cut the kale leaves off their stalks, shred the leaves, place them in a large bowl, and rub and squeeze them between your hands for 3 minutes. By the end of the first minute, the kale will smell like a freshly mowed lawn and by the end of 3 minutes it will be very pliable and soft.


If you are a fan of kale, you will love this salad. If you are not a fan of kale, you will become a kale convert after eating this 😉


Share your thoughts in the comment section below: Do you like experimenting with traditional recipes and updating them, like this Kale Tabbouleh? Or do you think it’s better to leave traditional recipes as they are?


Kale Tabbouleh



(Serves 4 as a side dish; recipe can be doubled to serve more)


Dressing Ingredients:

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 tsp coarse sea salt


Salad Ingredients:

1 cup cooked bulgur (1/4 cup dried bulgur usually becomes 1 cup when cooked)

1/2 cup freshly boiled water

1/2 tsp salt

100g/3.5 oz kale (weight with the stalks removed)

2 scallions/spring onions (white and green parts), thinly sliced

2 Tbsp fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

4 cherry tomatoes or 1 large tomato, seeds removed and cut into small pieces



  1. Prepare the dressing by combining the extra virgin olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice and sea salt in the bottom of the bowl you plan to toss your salad in.
  2. To prepare your bulgur, follow the directions on the packaging. I made mine by combining 1/4 cup dried bulgur, 1/2 cup freshly boiled water (from the kettle) and 1/2 tsp salt into a pot with a lid. Cover and allow to sit for 20-25 minutes. Alternatively, you can boil the bulgur for 10-15 minutes in a pot of boiled water. Drain if necessary and spread on a plate to cool.
  3. To prepare the kale, remove the kale leaves from the tough stalk which runs the full length of the kale leaf. This can be done by pulling the leafy parts off by hand or cutting them off with a knife. Wash the leaves and then dry them thoroughly in a clean tea towel or kitchen cloth. Thinly shred the kale and put it into an empty bowl. Massage the shredded kale leaves with your hands by rubbing and squeezing it for 3 minutes. Set aside.
  4. Finely chop your scallions/spring onions and mint leaves. Set aside.
  5. Deseed your tomatoes and cut into small pieces.
  6. Take the large salad bowl with the dressing in it, and add the kale, cooled bulgur, scallions/spring onions, mint and tomatoes.
  7. Toss all the ingredients well with the dressing.
  8. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
  9. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  10. This salad will stay fresh in your refrigerator for 3 days.


Share your thoughts in the comment section below: Do you like experimenting with traditional recipes and updating them, like this Kale Tabbouleh? Or do you think it’s better to leave traditional recipes as they are?


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Mar 182015


Spinach, Feta and Walnut Salad


My recipe for ‘Spinach, Walnut and Feta Salad with Pomegranate Dressing’ is inspired by one of my family’s favorite casual Persian restaurants. As soon as we sit down, we are welcomed with a plate of feta cheese, mint leaves and walnuts. It’s a lovely combination of varied flavors and textures that whets our appetite for the main course, which is a massive platter Chelo Kebab – buttery saffron rice and tender flattened kebabs grilled on a skewer, which the three of us can easily share.


With ‘Nowruz’ just around the corner (‘Nowruz’ is the Persian New Year which marks the first day of Spring, usually celebrated on or near 21 March), I thought a salad using feta, mint leaves and walnuts would be fitting.


Pomegranate Molasses is used often in Middle Eastern cooking, so I have made a Pomegranate Dressing to go with the salad. If you haven’t tried it before, pomegranate molasses tastes like a liquified cherry lollipop but tangier. If you can’t get your hands on pomegranate molasses, feel free to replace it with a slightly sweet vinegar like balsamic. The molasses will not emulsify with the olive oil (don’t even try). Just shake it up and drizzle it over the salad immediately before serving.


This salad is guaranteed to increase your appetite and is a great first course in the run-up to a large dinner.


Now if I can just get my hands on a good recipe for Persian Chelow Kebab!


Share your thoughts: If you celebrate Nowruz, share some of the food you traditionally eat on the day in the comment section below. (And if you have a good recipe for Chelo Kebab, please share!)


Spinach, Feta and Walnut Salad




(Serves 4-6 as an appetizer)



Dressing Ingredients: (makes 1/2 cup)

2 Tbsp pomegranate molasses (also called pomegranate syrup/concentrate) – alternatively, you can use balsamic vinegar

6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Generous pinch of sea salt



Salad Ingredients:

12 cherry tomatoes, washed and cut in half

100g / 4oz / 6 handfuls / 6 loosely packed cups of fresh baby spinach leaves, washed and roughly chopped

4 Tbsp fresh mint leaves, washed and roughly chopped

100g / 4oz feta cheese, diced or roughly crumbled

4 Tbsp walnuts, roughly chopped




  1. Combine dressing ingredients in a clean empty jam jar with a lid. Close the lid and shake well. Keep at room temperature while you prepare the salad.
  2. Wash and cut the baby spinach leaves, mint leaves and cherry tomatoes. Toss them together in a large bowl.
  3. Chop up the walnuts and feta cheese, and fold them into the salad.
  4. Refrigerate the salad until ready to serve. Drizzle with the pomegranate dressing (a little goes a long way) just before serving.


Share your thoughts: If you celebrate Nowruz, share some of the food you traditionally eat on the day in the comment section below. (And if you have a good recipe for Chelo Kebab, please share!)


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Feb 102015




It has taken me a long time to get around to whipping up my own homemade batch of hummus from scratch.


One reason is because I live in Dubai, which means that I have easy access to good prepared hummus virtually everywhere I go, from supermarkets to take-aways to restaurants. They vary in quality, at best lightly whipped and flavorful and at worst heavy but still tasty. I recognise that this is a poor excuse and just constitutes laziness on my part.


The other reason it has taken me a while to make homemade hummus is because I think I over-researched the recipe. I discovered that what I thought would be a simple and quick recipe is actually a very hotly debated topic with different people having their own strong opinions on the technique which leads to the smoothest and airiest hummus.


All the recipes agreed on one thing – you need to use a food processor to blend the ingredients together for really nicely whipped hummus. But that’s where the agreement ends.


Tinned Chickpeas vs Fresh Chickpeas: The first thing to consider is whether to use tinned chickpeas or freshly boiled. I have made hummus using both and I can say that good quality tinned chickpeas will make good hummus. You certainly shouldn’t feel guilty about using tinned chickpeas if you’re pressed for time or just don’t feel like soaking and boiling up a batch of chickpeas. I was very happy with my tinned chickpea hummus – that is, until I made some hummus using freshly boiled chickpeas. I warn you, once you make hummus with freshly boiled chickpeas there is no turning back. There is a marked difference in taste and texture, the entire dish is raised to a higher standard. I will now never feel too lazy to soak chickpeas the night before because for me the taste difference is worth that extra effort. I follow the advice of some cooks (including my mother) to add some bicarbonate of soda to both the soaking water and also the boiling water to help the chickpeas soften more quickly, and it works a treat!


Peeled Chickpeas vs Unpeeled Chickpeas: Another debate raging in the world of hummus is whether to remove the skin from the chickpeas or not. I have read several blogs which insist that removing the skin of the chickpeas makes for the smoothest hummus, if you don’t mind adding about 10 minutes to your preparation time. Others don’t bother peeling them at all and just throw them into the food processor whole. I tend to fall on the side of the non-peelers, partly due to time and partly due to my feeling that the skin is often full of fiber so I want to keep it.


Which Order To Put The Ingredients In: There are those who insist that you need to put the ingredients into the food processor in a specific order. One recipe I found insists that the secret to perfect hummus is to first blend the lemon and tahini paste until it becomes a light frothy emulsion before adding the other ingredients. My attempt at this technique did not work at all, possibly because the bowl of my food processor is quite big and the blades barely touched the lemon and tahini which stayed puddled at the bottom. I am always looking for time-saving steps, and it’s my opinion that throwing all the ingredients into the food processor is the right way to go. It certainly doesn’t stop my hummus from ending up lightly and airy.


When to Add the Extra Virgin Olive Oil: One ingredient I do leave out of the food processor is extra virgin olive oil. Many recipes blend olive oil directly into the hummus, but one of my favorite chefs, Yotam Ottolenghi, is adamant that the oil should only be drizzled over the top of the hummus after it has been plated. I have tried both ways, and leaving the extra virgin olive oil out of the hummus does result in a lighter and fluffier hummus with a mouthwatering savoriness. Drizzling plenty of good extra virgin olive oil on top of the hummus means that the oil can soak nicely into your dipping bread while you scoop up your hummus.


Other Additions: Some people add other flavors to their hummus like cumin, but I like to keep the flavors very clean and tart. At most, a sprinkling of sumac powder makes it looks pretty. I also try to save a few whole chickpeas to use as garnish and if I happen to have some pomegranate seeds, I throw them on for color.


My 6-year-old daughter is a hummus aficianado (she was brought up on the stuff) and is very particular about the taste and texture. She was the one who made me aware that the hummus with the olive oil blended in was not as light and airy as the one with the olive oil drizzled on top. She is my harshest hummus critic and, of all the variations I tried, this is the recipe which she approved of and the one that I’m sticking with.



Write your comment below: If you make homemade hummus, what are your special tips and tricks? 





(1.5 cups)




(If you double the recipe, then you need to double the quantity of all ingredients EXCEPT the bicarbonate of soda which should remain the same)


240g / 8oz cooked chickpeas

– To make freshly cooked chickpeas, you need 140g dried chickpeas, 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda, and some water (cooking instructions below)

– 1 can of cooked chickpeas in water (400g can / 240g drained weight) (14 oz can / 8 oz drained weight)


1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste)

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (no seeds)

1 plump garlic clove, cut into 6 pieces

1 tsp coarse sea salt

2-4 Tbsp cold water (2 Tbsp is better if your chickpeas are quite soft and mushy; 4 Tbsp is better if your chickpeas are quite firm)

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (for drizzling on top of the hummus)

Some sumac powder to sprinkle on top as a garnish




  1.  If you want to make hummus using freshly cooked chickpeas, you need to soak 140g / 8oz of dried chickpeas in a medium-sized bowl filled with water and 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda for 12-24 hours. Drain the chickpeas after soaking and discard the water. Put your chickpeas in a medium-sized pot and cover with cool water. Add 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda and bring the water to the boil. Simmer uncovered for 40-6o minutes, skimming off the foam as necessary. When the chickpeas are soft and mushy, drain the water. Some people like to retain some cooking water to add to the hummus instead of adding plain water, but I am not one of those people so I just discard all the water.
  2. If you want to make hummus using tinned chickpeas, pop open your tin, drain the chickpeas in a colander, and rinse.
  3. Weigh out 240g / 8oz of cooked chickpeas and pour them into your food processor (Important: Save a few chickpeas to use as a garnish).
  4. Into the food processor, add 1/4 cup tahini, 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (no seeds), 1 plump garlic clove cut into 6 pieces, 1 tsp coarse sea salt, and some cold water (2 Tbsp of water if your chickpeas are soft and mushy (like mine); 4 Tbsp if your chickpeas are quite firm. The water will help make your hummus light and airy, but if you add too much it will get too thin. You can always start with less water and add more if you need to).
  5. Switch on your food processor for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides if necessary. Process for another minute or so, until the hummus is smooth and light.
  6. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary (you can add more tahini, lemon juice or salt but for me these measurements are exactly right).
  7. Spoon the hummus out of the food processor bowl onto a small flat plate. Spread it evenly, and then run your spoon through the hummus in a circle to make a well to pour some good extra virgin olive oil into.
  8. Sprinkle some sumac powder around the edges of the hummus. Garnish with chickpeas and pomegranate seeds (optional).
  9. Eat immediately, or refrigerate for upto 3 days.



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Jan 292015


Spicy Roasted Vegetable and Chickpea Salad



Salads are evolving. The idea of a salad as a diet food of tasteless leaves seasoned with a low-fat tangy dressing to hide the fact that it is just so boring is starting to be replaced by a completely new concept. Now, salads are seen as nutrient-dense meals packed with a variety of colors, flavors and textures. A salad dressing is no longer a cloak to hide the mediocrity of a salad, but an exciting way to experiment with flavors from different cultures. If you feel like Mediterranean flavors, whip up a lemon and olive oil dressing. Want to make it North African? Add some cinnamon and red chilli. Make it Mexican with cumin, lime and jalapenos. The possibilities are endless.


Despite this trend in salads, friends still tell me that although they love salads they just don’t find them filling enough. And I suspect the reason is because they are not eating salads with enough protein in them. You see, the secret to making a really filling salad which won’t leave you hungry after an hour is to include some form of protein. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but it should be there in some capacity.

  • Cheese is an easy and fast one to add – a few shavings of parmesan, some cubes of cheddar or a crumble of salty feta can really take a salad to new heights
  • Beans, tinned or freshly cooked, also work well to make your salad more substantial
  • Good quality animal protein like seafood, chicken or beef works well. Whether you use leftovers or cook it especially for the salad, make sure you go for quality over quantity (you only really need to use 2 steaks or 2 chicken breasts for a chopped salad for 4-6 people so it’s worth buying the best quality you can afford)


My ‘Spicy Roasted Vegetable and Chickpea Salad’ doubles up on protein by including both feta cheese and chickpeas. It’s a delicious and filling salad to eat on its own but it also works well as a side salad for roasted lamb.


What’s your favorite quick-fix protein to add into your salad? Leave your comments below.



Spicy Roasted Vegetable and Chickpea Salad

(Serves 4 as a side dish)



300g / 10 oz aubergine (eggplant), cut into 2-inch pieces

150g / 5 oz red onion, peeled and cut into wedges (2-inches at the widest part of the wedge)

360g / 12 oz bell peppers (capsicums) – any color, deseeded and cut into 2-inch chunks

6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp coriander powder

1/2 tsp red chilli powder or cayenne powder (or more, if you prefer)

1 tsp sea salt

1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

90g / 3 oz feta cheese, crumbled

4 Tbsp mint leaves, roughly chopped

2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice



  1. Preheat your oven to 200C/400F.
  2. Prepare your vegetables for roasting. Cut the aubergines into 2-inch chunks with the skin on. Deseed the bell peppers and cut them into 2-inch chunks. Peel the red onions and cut into wedges (which are 2-inches at the widest part).
  3. In an oven-proof dish, mix 6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 1 tsp cumin powder, 1 tsp coriander powder, 1 tsp sea salt and 1/2 tsp red chilli powder. Toss the aubergines, bell peppers and red onions in the oven-proof dish with the oil and spices until evenly coated.
  4. Place the oven-proof dish with the vegetables into the oven and roast for 45 minutes, stirring halfway through for even cooking.
  5. Remove the vegetables from the oven and allow them to cool to room temperature.
  6. Meanwhile, drain and rinse your tinned chickpeas. Set aside.
  7. Wash some mint leaves and roughly chop so that you have 4 Tbsp. Set aside.
  8. Squeeze 2 Tbsp of lemon juice. Set aside
  9. Crumble the feta cheese. Put it in the fridge until ready to use.
  10. Once the vegetables are at room temperature, add the chickpeas, mint leaves, lemon juice and feta cheese. Fold gently until evenly combined.
  11. Refrigerate until ready to serve for upto 48 hours. Allow to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.



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Jan 192015

Beetroot and Orange Salad with Labneh and Zaatar



I usually buy and cook beetroots before I even have a recipe in mind for them. I get several bunches of beetroots and then cook them all together. They are easy to cook and then can be stored in your refrigerator for 5-7 days, ready to pull out at a moment’s notice for a salad, side dish or stew. If you manage to buy beetroots with their leaves and stalks, cut them off and keep them to use as you would use spinach.


There are several ways to cook beetroots, from steaming or boiling to baking or roasting. I used to bake them wrapped individually in foil, but then I started cooking beetroots so often that I began to feel that I was using way too much foil and there must be a better way. I recently started baking them in a covered cast iron pot (Dutch oven) which saves me from using foil and has the same effect.


The cooking time in my oven has taken anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes and you can’t always tell by the size of the beetroot how long the cooking time will be. Just yesterday, I baked a pot of baby beetroots which took an hour. On a separate occasion, three large beetroots got done in 30 minutes. Because of the unpredictability in cooking time, you need to cook beetroots when you can be flexible with your time. A good time to cook them is when you are baking something else in the oven. Just throw them in next to whatever you are cooking (in a separate pot or dish), and they will happily bake away. I usually bake my beetroots at 200C/400F, however they are quite forgiving and will cook at lower temperatures too although they may take a little longer.


A little word on peeling beetroots. I always cook beetroots with their peel on because it helps to keep the nutrients and juices in the beetroot, plus the skin loosens up and can be easily pinched off like a jacket after the beetroot has been cooked. Peeling a raw beetroot is an unnecessary struggle if you are planning on cooking it anyway. The raw beetroot is slippery in one hand, the potato peeler is a little awkward in the other hand, and then there is the omnipresent threat that the beetroot will dye everything it comes into contact with a bright magenta pink. Trust me, peel afterwards if you plan on cooking your beetroots.


My most recent beetroot recipe was inspired by a new plate I bought on sale which I just fell in love with. I wanted to serve something on the dish which would compliment it’s turquoise blue color, and purple and orange provided just the right contrast. To give it a Middle Eastern feel, I added dollops of labneh (a Middle Eastern drained yogurt) and topped it off with a sprinkle of Zaatar (an aromatic spice blend of dried thyme, dried sumac, sesame seeds and salt).





(Serves 4 as a side dish)



A few handfuls of mixed salad leaves (if your beets come with fresh leaves attached, you can use them for the salad leaves), washed and dried

2 medium-sized fresh beetroot (pre-cooked and vacuum-packed is fine, just do not use pickled beetroot from a jar)

1 large Navel orange

1 small red onion or 2 spring onions (scallions)

100g / 3.5 oz (about 4 Tbsp) Labneh (alternatively you can use Greek yogurt or cream cheese)

A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp of Zaatar (a Middle Eastern spice mix of dried thyme, dried sumac, sesame seeds and salt)

1 blue plate



  1. If you have bought pre-cooked beetroot, then slice it thinly into circles.
  2. If you have got raw beetroot, you need to cook it (unless you prefer to eat it raw). I would recommend cooking more than just the two beetroots needed for this recipe so that you have beetroots to use for the whole week. To cook your beetroot, preheat the oven to 200C/400F. Take your beetroot and cut off the leaves and roots, making sure not to cut into the actual beetroot. Wash and dry the skin. Either place your beetroots in a cast-iron pot with a lid or wrap each beetroot in aluminium foil and place them in a baking dish. Add about 1 inch of water in the pot or dish. Place it in the oven and bake for 30-90 minutes until the beetroot is cooked through (when you put a skewer into it, it should give easily). Uncover or unwrap the beetroot, allow it to cool slightly, and then pinch off the skin with your fingers. Slice two beetroots thinly into circles.
  3. Take your Navel orange and slice it horizontally with a sharp knife into thin circular discs (with the peel still on). To remove the peel, lay a slice of orange on a chopping board and cut straight around the edges to remove the peel. The orange slice will end up being octagon-shaped.
  4. Wash and dry your mixed salad leaves.
  5. Take your blue plate (or any other color flat serving platter), and spread a single layer of mixed salad leaves on it.
  6. On top of it, place a layer of alternating overlapping beetroot and orange slices. Depending on how many slices of each you have, you may need to put 2-3 beetroot slices for each orange slice you have.
  7. Thinly slice a small red onion or 2 spring onions, and scatter them on top of the salad.
  8. Mix your labneh (or Greek yogurt) with a spoon to loosen it up. Drop small dollops of the labneh on top of the salad. You may not need to use all of the labneh.
  9. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on top of the entire salad.
  10. Sprinkle some Zaatar on top of the salad, paying particular attention to the labneh. You may not need to use all of the Zaatar.
  11. Serve immediately, or refrigerate for upto 12 hours.



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Aug 222014

Bulgar and Herb Salad with Two Cheeses


Last week, I walked by the cheese section of my supermarket in Dubai to pick up my usual weekly suspects: parmesan, cheddar, feta and goat’s cheese. I usually also add a cheese from a rotating list in my head – tomme, appenzeller, or brie. But I felt like I wanted to try something different this time.


I have to admit that I have been quite bad about trying the local cheeses from the Middle East. Sometimes I will pick up a local halloumi or labneh, but that’s the extent of it. I wandered over to the section where the local cheeses were displayed. There were two cheeses there which caught my eye immediately, possibly because they were the first ones visible. One was called ‘Bulgary Cheese’ and the other ‘Chtoora Bulgari Cheese’.


I asked the obvious question to the lady behind the counter, “Are these from Bulgaria?” “No madam, local,” she replied. I didn’t quite believe her, but went with it anyway. I tasted both. The Bulgary Cheese was dripping with brine, very salty and crumbly – very similar to feta (maybe it was feta by a different name). The Chtoora Bulgari Cheese was firm and slightly sweet – a cross between halloumi and the cheese dumplings used in Ras Malai. Instead of choosing just one or the other, I decided to buy 150g (5oz) of each and combine them in a salad. ‘Bulgar Wheat and Herb Salad with Two Cheeses’ is what I came up with.


P.S. Anyone who has any knowledge of local Middle Eastern cheese, please point me in the right direction!




(Serves 4-6 as a side dish)


Dressing Ingredients:

5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

5 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Pinch of salt (to taste)


Salad Ingredients:

120g / 4 oz dried bulgar wheat (it will become 240g / 8 oz cooked bulgar)

600ml / 2.5 cups water (to boil the bulgar)

100g / 4 oz / 6 cups baby spinach or rocket (arugula) leaves, roughly chopped

2 cups of any combination of finely chopped fresh herbs (dill, coriander, parsley, mint – depending on what you have)

3 spring onions, finely sliced (white and green parts)

250g / 9 oz cherry tomatoes, quartered

150g / 5 oz salty Bulgary Cheese (or feta), crumbled

150g / 5 oz firm unsalty Chtoora Bulgari Cheese (or halloumi), diced



  1. Start by cooking your bulgar wheat (follow the instructions on the packaging). Rinse the dried bulgar wheat in 3 changes of water and drain it. Put it into a small saucepan and add 600ml (2.5 cups) cool water. Cover the pan with a lid and turn the heat on high to bring it to the boil. As soon as the water starts boiling, reduce the heat to medium and cook the bulgar for 12-15 minutes until cooked through (it should still have some bite to it). You may need to drain the excess water. Spread the cooked bulgar on a plate to cool while you prepare the other ingredients.
  2. Prepare your dressing by combining 5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 5 Tbsp fresh lemon juice and a pinch of salt in  jar or bowl. Shake/whisk and set aside.
  3. Wash 100g of baby spinach or rocket (arugula). Dry the leaves in a tea towel and roughly chop them up. Set aside.
  4. Take any combination of fresh herbs (dill, coriander, parsley, mint). Wash, dry and finely chop them. Set aside.
  5. Get 3 spring onions and remove the outer leaves. Wash them and finely slice them. Set aside.
  6.  Wash 250g cherry tomatoes and cut them into quarters. Set aside.
  7. Get your two types of cheese. Crumble the one which is like feta and dice the one which is like halloumi. Set aside (refrigerate if not using immediately).
  8. Once your bulgar is room temperature, put it into a large bowl and pour the dressing on top. Toss well.
  9. Add the leaves, herbs and spring onions. Toss until evenly combined.
  10. Add the cherry tomatoes and two cheeses. Carefully fold them in.
  11. Serve immediately or refrigerate and eat within 48 hours.






Follow Me:
Mar 152014

Spring Greens and Fig Couscous Salad



I need to find a wedding gift. Actually, I need to find two.


With weddings, there are two distinct philosophies where wedding gifts are concerned: To gift-list or not to gift-list, that is the question.


I am firmly on the side of putting together a gift list. A big part of the reason is because people will be spending a lot of money anyway and isn’t it better to get things you actually want and need? I managed to get lots of gifts which would have taken me years to afford (plus you can choose the colors you want – volcanic orange-red Creuset for me all the way!). It also makes it easier for the person who is buying the gift. You know the bride and groom will love it because they chose it, plus you don’t have the stress of actually going shopping, carrying the gift home, wrapping it, and then suffering from buyer’s remorse which makes you spend hours Googling the gift you bought.


I know the Non-Gift-Listers find gift-lists tacky because you can see the price of each gift plus it is a little less personal than having someone go out and choose something for you. But I am just haunted by memories of my aunts who got married in the ’80s (when nobody made gift-lists) and received gifts such as a Renaissance-inspired statuette with a clock embedded in its abdomen, useless crystal bowls which were politely put into storage (until someone finally donated them to charity), and picture frame after picture frame after picture frame…


The two weddings I am buying for fall into separate gift-list camps. My cousin is getting married in London this weekend and she didn’t put together a gift list, so I am trying to figure out what to get for her. My sister also got married, but it was last year in August. She had put together an online gift list, but I didn’t manage to buy anything off of it because I got too busy with the preparations and when I finally sat down to buy something after the wedding was over, the list had been closed. Luckily we’re all close enough that a delayed wedding gift is not going to raise any eyebrows, so I’m going to take my time to find a gift which they will love and more importantly use almost every day.


Actually, waiting to buy a wedding gift is not such a bad idea. When you first get married and move into your new home it takes time to figure out how you want to decorate your house, what sorts of things you like using in the kitchen, and what your lifestyle will be like. I have loved cooking since I was young so for me it was a no-brainer that almost everything on my list would be kitchen-related. My sister, who was never a fan of cooking (possibly because my mother or I would always cook so she never had to), has found that after marriage she actually enjoys cooking and finally has a full appreciation of why a Creuset pot is so amazing to cook in and the importance of very good chopping knives. Time will tell if my cousin will start enjoying cooking as much as my sister now does. For now I’m watching and waiting, but I have given myself a deadline that the gift needs to be bought within one year of the wedding date.


With a spring wedding in the air, I decided to make Spring Greens and Fig Couscous Salad. It is packed with nice tender green vegetables like peas, asparagus, mache lettuce and mint. Couscous is probably the easiest grain to make, you simply steam it for a few minutes in seasoned water to plump it up. And then I threw in some pumpkin seeds and dried figs for variety.




(Serves 6 as a side dish)


Dressing Ingredients:

4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

4 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

a pinch of salt


Salad Ingredients:

250g / 9 oz / 1&3/4 cups dried couscous (wholewheat)

Half a stock cube (I use Kallo’s Organic Vegetable stock cubes)

320mL freshly boiled water

1/2 tsp salt

200g fresh peas, if you are lucky enough to get very tender peas then leave them raw otherwise simmer for 3 minutes in salted water until just tender

1 bunch thin asparagus, if it is very tender then leave them raw otherwise simmer them for a minute and a half in salted water

1 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped (finely or roughly chopped, depending on your preference)

1 cup mache leaves/lamb’s lettuce (or any other spring lettuce)

100g / 4 oz / 1 cup / 8 pieces dried figs, chopped into bite-size pieces

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds

2 Tbsp very finely diced red onion (or spring onion)



  1. Couscous: Measure out 250g couscous and pour it into a saucepan which has a tight lid. To prepare your stock, put 1/2 a stock cube and 1/2 tsp salt into a measuring jug. Pour 320mL of freshly boiled water into the measuring jug and stir well until the stock cube has dissolved. Pour the stock onto the couscous in the saucepan, stir and cover with the lid. Steam for 6 minutes. Then uncover the couscous, fluff it with a fork and spread it on a platter to cool.
  2. Peas & Asparagus: Cut the asparagus spears into 2-inch pieces. If you are lucky enough to get very tender peas and asparagus then leave them raw. Otherwise, bring some water to the boil in a saucepan. Add a little salt to the boiling water, and simmer the peas  for 3 minutes until tender and the asparagus for 1-2 minutes until just tender. Drain and set aside to allow to cool.
  3. Mint leaves: Separate the mint leaves from their stalk. You need about a cup of loosely packed mint leaves. Wash and dry the mint, and then chop it finely or roughly (according to preference). Set aside
  4. Lettuce leaves: If you are using mache leaves, separate the leaves from the stems. Discard the stems, and wash and dry the mache leaves. If you are using another type of lettuce leaf, you may not need to remove the stem but you may need to chop the leaves if they are large. Set aside.
  5. Dried figs & Pumpkin seeds: Take 8 dried figs and chop them into bite-size pieces. Measure out half a cup of pumpkin seeds. Set aside.
  6. Red onions: Finely chop a little bit of red onion until you have 2 Tbsp.
  7. Dressing: Once the couscous is cool, add 4 Tbsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice and 4 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil. Toss well. The couscous should not need extra salt because we added it with the stock.
  8. Add the rest of the ingredients to the dressed couscous and toss well (peas, asparagus, mint leaves, lettuce leaves, figs, pumpkin seeds and red onion).
  9. Taste and adjust the seasoning. If you want a more pronounced dressing flavor, you may want to add a little more lemon juice or even a splash of vinegar.
  10. The salad can be served straightaway at room temperature, or can be refrigerated and served within the next 48 hours.




Follow Me:
Nov 282013


Middle Eastern Waldorf Salad



Yesterday in Paris, it was announced that Dubai has won its bid for Expo 2020, beating Sao Paolo (Brazil), Ekaterinburg (Russia) and Izmir (Turkey). Yay, Dubai! There were large-scale celebrations across the UAE, including spectacular fireworks at the Burj Khalifa. Which makes me wonder – to have all those fireworks ready and in place, either Dubai already knew that they had the win in the bag or else they were just extremely optimistic. I wonder what would have happened with all those fireworks if Dubai had not won. Perhaps they would have set them off anyway, in honor of a worthy effort.


I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I have never really paid much attention to World Expos. The Expo which I am most familiar with is the one I learnt about in history class at school – the 1851 Crystal Palace World Fair in Hyde Park, London (I remember it because of a beautiful sketch in my textbook of the large and impressive glasshouse structure it took place in).


However, since Dubai (the city I live in) has been working on the Expo 2020 bid for the past two years, I couldn’t really avoid learning something about it. From the get-go, it has been palpable that they really wanted to win this bid. Everywhere I turned, there were been banners, flags and posters with the words Expo 2020 written on them, until I finally asked myself one day, ‘What is Expo 2020?’


It turns out an Expo is actually a pretty big deal. It’s one of the big three international events, alongside the Olympics and the World Cup. The Expo is more formally known as the World Fair, which is an international exhibition which takes place every 5 years for a period of 6 months. The host city sets up a large venue with pavilions where countries come to exhibit their innovations. Some famous inventions which debuted at the World Fair include:


  • elevator (Dublin, 1853);
  • sewing machine (Paris, 1855);
  • calculating machine (London, 1862);
  • Heinz Ketchup, telephone (Philadelphia, 1876);
  • Eiffel Tower (Paris, 1889);
  • Ferris wheel (Chicago, 1893);
  • motion pictures (Paris, 1900);
  • X-ray (1901, New York);
  • ice-cream cone (St. Louis, 1904);
  • television (New York, 1939);
  • fax machines (New York, 1964);
  • mobile phones, IMAX cinema (Osaka, 1970);
  • touchscreens (1982, Tennessee);


With Dubai’s win, it is the first time ever that a World Fair is being held in the MENASA region (Middle East, North Africa, South Asia). Along with the prestige, comes the expectation of an economic boost for the host city, with a current estimate of over 25 million visitors expected at Expo 2020. Dubai’s theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ encapsulates the vision that interdependencies and partnerships will lead to innovations.


On that note, here’s a little innovation of mine: Middle Eastern Waldorf Salad. Although I like the mix of fruit and vegetables used in a traditional Waldorf Salad, I am not a huge fan of the mayonnaise dressing. So, I decided to play around with the elements of a traditional Waldorf Salad to reinterpret it with a Middle Eastern twist. This version of a Waldorf Salad is made using chickpeas, cucumbers, red grapes, pomegranate seeds, mint leaves and Greek yoghurt. For added crunch, feel free to add a handful of toasted pine nuts.


This may not be an innovation worthy of Expo 2020, but it makes a beautiful, refreshing and unusual salad to eat while we wait for the Expo to come to town!





(Serves 4 as an appetizer)



70g (16 whole) seedless red grapes, halved

130g (1 small or 1/2 large) cucmber, quartered and diced

50g dried or 100g cooked chickpeas

Pomegranate seeds from 1/2 a pomegranate

2 Tbsp mint leaves, chopped

Handful of toasted pine nuts (optional)

75 mL (5 Tbsp) Greek yoghurt

Generous pinch of salt (preferably coarse sea salt)



  1. If you have ready-to-eat chickpeas (tinned, bottled, or pre-cooked), simply rinse and drain them.
  2. If you are using dried chickpeas, soak them in water at room temperature for 8-24 hours. After soaking, drain the chickpeas and discard the water. Boil the chickpeas for 30-45 minutes. Drain and allow to cool.
  3. Mix the Greek yoghurt, mint leaves and salt in a large bowl.
  4. Add all the ingredients except for the pomegranate seeds and combine well with the yoghurt mixture.
  5. Before serving, scatter with pomegranate seeds.
  6. Please note that for best results, this salad should be served immediately or within 8 hours, otherwise it may start to become watery from the cucumbers. Keep in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.


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May 032013

Buckwheat and Rice Salad with Dried Cherries and Hazelnuts



I have bought buckwheat twice before, and both times sadly let it run way past its expiry date without ever trying to cook it. So, when I saw an article in The Guardian newspaper by Yotam Ottolenghi (aka ‘Salad Guru’) in defence of buckwheat, I decided that I had to try it for myself. Apparently, the stuff is highly divisive, like Marmite – you either love it or you hate it. But once a taste for it has been acquired, it can be addictive. Buckwheat, which is gluten free, is huge in Eastern Europe but has not really managed to make it’s presence known further East, West, North or South.



There were a couple of recipes in the article, but the one which drew me was ‘Buckwheat and Rice Salad with Dried Cherries and Hazelnuts’. So, I went out to the supermarket to grab all the necessary ingredients for this salad. Of course, the only package of buckwheat that I could find had all the information written in Russian with no translation in sight. No worries – I think I can just about make out the number 20, so I am taking that as my cue to boil the buckwheat for 20 minutes. Double-check my recipe, and I notice it says roasted buckwheat (kasha) should be boiled for 6-8 minutes. Hmmm. Can’t make out on packaging if this is roasted buckwheat or not. I’ll stick to the package instructions and hope for the best.



Happily, the salad was a big hit with the family and it turns out that we do quite like buckwheat after all.



[TIP: This recipe uses wild rice and basmati rice, and cooks them separately. For the sake of one less pot to clean, I used a pre-packaged rice mix which included wild rice and brown basmati and cooked it in one pot.]





By Yotam Ottolenghi

(Serves 6-8 as a side salad)




130g wild rice (Note: Instead of using 130g wild rice and 150g basmati rice separately, I used 280g of a pre-packaged rice mix which included wild rice and brown basmati)

150g basmati rice (see Note above)

125g roasted buckwheat (kasha)

1 lemon, zest peeled (not grated), and 2 Tbsp juiced

130mL olive oil

1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed/grated

100g dried cour cherries (or dried cranberries)

75g hazelnuts, roasted and lightly crushed

5 spring onions / scallions, thinly sliced

1 tsp salt

30g parsley leaves, roughly chopped

10g basil leaves, torn

10g tarragon leaves, roughly chopped

30g rocket leaves




  1. If you are using a rice mix (like I did), bring a medium pot of water to a boil, add the rice mix, and boil gently for the amount of time specified on the packaging. Drain and spread out on a plate to cool and skip to STEP 4. However, if you are following the original recipe and boiling wild rice and basmati rice separately, see STEP 2 and STEP 3.
  2. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil, add the wild rice and boil gently for 35-40 minutes, until the grains start to pop open and are al dente. Rinse under cold water and leave to drain.
  3. Put the basmati rice in a small saucepan with 300mL cold water, Place on a high heat and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, cover and steam for 10-12 minutes until cooked. Remove from the heat, set aside for five minutes with the lid still on, then fluff up the rice with a fork, spread out on a plate and leave to cool.
  4. In another small pan, bring 220mL water to a boil. Turn the heat to very low, stir in the buckwheat, cover and cook 6-8 minutes. Stir once or twice more, Set aside for a few minutes with the lid on, then spread on a plate and leave to cool.
  5. Meanwhile, put the lemon skin in a small frying pan, add the oil and pace over medium heat. When the skin starts to bubble, remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
  6. Once both rices and the buckwheat are cool, mix them in a large bowl with the garlic, dried cherries (or cranberries), hazelnuts and spring onions (scallions). Discard the lemon from the olive oil, pour the oil over the rice, then stir in 2 Tbsp of lemon juice and 1 tsp of salt.
  7. Just before serving, stir in the herbs [Note: I added the herbs along with the oil and salt, and they have held up very well]. Spoon some rice on a serving dish, top with a little rocket, and repeat so you have a nice layered effect. Serve immediately.



From: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Buckwheat Recipes by Yotam Ottolenghi, The Guardian newspaper (UK)


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