Three delicious Lebanese recipes from the mountains to the sea from food and travel writer John Gregory-Smith's Saffron in the Souks. From classic street food to delicate pastries and little known Druze recipes, Gregory-Smith's book covers the best of Lebanese cuisine.
Orzo and feta stuffed peppers
This recipe is a play on my friend Rima Khodr's signature dish, horr osbaa. The original recipe is a brilliant brown stew made with lentils, garlic and a generous amount of pomegranate molasses. Traditionally this would be carb'ed up with tiny pasta-like dumplings that mellow in the stew, but to give it a more modern feel she uses orzo. I loved the dish and have used all the flavours and ingredients to make my stuffed peppers. They look beautiful and the vibrant green coriander dressing makes everything pop even more.
2 large or 4 small red peppers, halved
4 tablespoons olive oil
300g tin green lentils, drained
2 spring onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
120g cherry tomatoes, halved
½ garlic clove
a handful of roughly chopped coriander leaves and stalks
juice of ½ lemon
15g toasted pine nuts
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6. Put the peppers in a roasting dish and rub 2 tablespoons of the oil all over them. Season with salt and roast for 40–45 minutes until golden and tender. Transfer to a serving dish and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, drop the orzo into a pan of boiling water. Stir well to stop it sticking and cook for 6–8 minutes until tender but still with a little bite. Drain and refresh under cold running water. Drain again and tip into a mixing bowl. Add the lentils, spring onions, pomegranate molasses and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Season with salt and mix well. Stuff the cooked peppers with the mix and spoon the remaining orzo around them. Arrange the cherry tomatoes and feta over the top.
3. Bash the garlic with a little salt into a paste. Add the coriander and bash again into a paste. Add the lemon juice, remaining olive oil and 1 tablespoon of water. Mix into a dressing and drizzle over the stuffed peppers. Scatter over the pine nuts and serve immediately.
Like the classic hummus recipe, malezeye is made with chickpeas, but has more lemon and less tahini. Photo: Supplied
Akra smashed lemon chickpeas
From 6am to 3pm, Akra restaurant in the old souk of Tripoli, Lebanon's second-largest city, celebrates the chickpea, transforming the humble pulse into a series of divine dishes. The restaurant is located in a fabulous old Ottoman building, with seating for up to 350 diners. You can choose from their classic hummus, one with meat, ful – a dish of mashed broad beans – and this one. Like the classic hummus recipe, malezeye is made with chickpeas, but has more lemon and less tahini. It's not blitzed until completely smooth so there is more texture and it feels somewhat lighter to eat. In the restaurant they serve it covered in nuts for extra crunch, with chewy flatbreads and a plate of herbs and pickles on the side.
Serves 6 as part of a meze
300g (dry weight) chickpeas, soaked overnight
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 garlic cloves, peeled
juice of 1½ lemons
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes
50g toasted almonds
50g toasted cashew nuts
1. Drain the chickpeas in a colander and give them a quick rinse. Tip them into a saucepan and cover with a few inches of cold water. Add the bicarbonate of soda and bring to the boil over a high heat. The bicarbonate of soda causes a mad rush of bubbles, so keep an eye on the pan and skim them off. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and cook for 1½–2 hours or until the chickpeas are really soft, adding more boiling water if needed. Drain the chickpeas in a colander placed over a mixing bowl to reserve the cooking liquid.
2. Put 150g of the chickpeas into a large mixing bowl and tip the rest into a food-processor. Add the garlic, tahini, 200ml of the cooking liquid, the lemon juice and a really good pinch of salt. Blend into a lumpy-looking dip. If it seems too thick, add a little more of the cooking liquid and pulse together. Transfer to the bowl with the whole chickpeas and mix well.
3. Melt the butter in a small pan over a medium heat. Add the Aleppo pepper flakes and a pinch of salt. Mix well and remove from the heat. Leave for 30 seconds to infuse.
4. Tip the malezeye into a serving bowl and swirl it around with a spoon to spread out. Drizzle with the melted butter and scatter over the nuts. Serve immediately.
This full-blown seafood stew screams Lebanese coastal cuisine. Photo: Supplied
Fisherman's seafood stew
The classic seafood dish of Lebanon has to be samke harra, spicy fish in a tahini sauce. But it does have a little cousin, made with a tomato and pepper sauce and enriched with a drizzle of lush tahini at the end. The fish for this red samke harra is a whole sea bass. Sometimes I can't help but mash things up, and so delicious is the red sauce that I love packing it with a punchy mix of shellfish and chunks of sea bass, turning it into a full-blown seafood stew that screams Lebanese coastal cuisine: fresh, vibrant and packed with flavour.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced
1 large red pepper, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
½ red chilli, finely chopped
a handful of finely chopped
coriander leaves and stalks, plus extra to garnish
1 teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes
2 large tomatoes, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato puree
juice of 1 lemon
2 farmed sea bass fillets (about 100g each), cut into 5cm strips
300g mussels in their shells, picked and cleaned
4 raw giant king prawns, unshelled
300g squid tubes, cut into 2cm rings
15g toasted pine nuts, to garnish
1. Heat the olive oil in a pan over a medium heat. Chuck in the onion and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 12–15 minutes until golden. Add a splash of water after about 6–8 minutes to help soften the peppers. Add the garlic, chilli and finely chopped coriander and stir-fry for a minute. Add the allspice, Aleppo pepper flakes and a good pinch of salt. Tip in the tomatoes and tomato purée and mix everything together. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 12–14 minutes until thick.
2. Squeeze the lemon into the pan and pour in 50ml of just-boiled water. Mix well. Add the fish and seafood, cover and cook for 6–8 minutes until all the mussels have opened (discard any that have not), the prawns have turned pink and the squid and fish have cooked through. Give the pan a shake every couple of minutes to help cook evenly. Add 30g of the tahini and stir together gently.
3. Tip into a serving dish. Garnish with the pine nuts and coriander leaves and drizzle over the remaining tahini. Serve immediately.
This is an edited extract from Saffron in the Souks by John Gregory-Smith, published by Hachette Australia, hardback RRP $39.99.