Recipe secrets of the Moroccan Soup Bar

Main or side: Haloumi salad.
Main or side: Haloumi salad. Photo: Tatjana Plitt (Principle Design)

What do you mean you haven't eaten at the Moroccan Soup Bar? This all-veg, no-booze, 17-year-old Melbourne institution run by the forthright Hana Assafiri is a "must-do" on any Melbourne eat-list. It gave us the cult of the chickpea bake (you'll have to buy the book - launching Monday October 26 ( -- yehar!) and introduced sweet, warm mint tea and Arabic food to the masses that have plied its welcoming doors. Enjoy this extract. 

Haloumi salad

Cauliflower, chilli and tahini bake.
Cauliflower, chilli and tahini bake. Photo: Tatjana Plitt

This salad is so filling it can stand alone as a main meal with a side of bread, or can be added as a side to any meal that may be lacking a bit of oomph. The cheese is naturally very salty, so requires a lot of lemon and olive oil to balance out the flavours.

200g haloumi cheese, sliced into strips

1 red onion

Date and nut truffles.
Date and nut truffles. Photo: Tatjana Plitt (Principle Design)

3 tomatoes

1 bunch mint

½ bunch parsley

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½ bunch thyme

½ bunch oregano

2 lemons (juice only)

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 Photo: Melbourne Books / Principle Design

2 tbsp pomegranate syrup

¼ cup olive oil

1. Place a heavy based non-stick pan on high heat. Drizzle some olive oil into the pan. Cook the haloumi on one side until golden, about three minutes, turning once.

2. Once cooked, place haloumi on a plate to cool. Dice into small pieces.

3. Dice the onion and tomatoes. Finely chop the herbs.

4. Combine all ingredients with the lemon juice, pomegranate syrup and olive oil.

5. Enjoy with flatbread.

Cauliflower, chilli and tahini bake

1 cup tahini

2 cups warm water

3 lemons (juice only)

1 tbsp red paprika

½ bunch parsley

½ bunch coriander, plus extra to garnish

1 tbsp chilli

3 cloves garlic, mashed

1 head of cauliflower

3 potatoes

vegetable oil

coriander, for garnish

1. Slowly dilute the tahini by adding warm water so that it binds. Add the lemon juice and more water if needed. Add the paprika, parsley, coriander, chilli and garlic. Stir continuously and bring to the boil. When boiled, turn down to a simmer for about 10 minutes.

2. Cut the cauliflower into small florets. Dice the potatoes into two centimetre chunks. Cook in oil over high heat until light golden in colour. Add the cauliflower and potatoes to the tahini. Stir and let boil for five to 10 minutes.

3. Garnish with coriander leaves. Serve with rice.

Date and nut truffles

Moroccan households are often well equipped to provide sweets for the unannounced visitor. It is rarely acceptable for a guest to leave without at the very least being offered a cup of mint tea or coffee with a sweet treat. These truffles are very more-ish, and so easy to make, using ingredients that are readily available in most pantries. The distinct aroma of the toasting nuts will fill the house and bring the guests into the room.

¼ cup almonds

¼ cup pistachios

¼ cup walnuts

¼ cup dates, pitted

¼ cup sultanas

¼ cup rosewater

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground cardamom

½ orange (zest and juice)

1 cup coconut, shredded or desiccated

1. In a heavy based pan, toast the almonds, pistachios and walnuts until golden.

2. Soak the dates and sultanas in the rosewater for a few minutes, until they absorb the aroma. Place them in a blender and blend until they form a paste. Add the nuts and pulse until combined. Ensure the texture remains crunchy by checking the consistency after each pulse.

3. Place in a bowl. Add the cinnamon, cardamom, and orange zest and juice. Mix well with your hands.

4. In a separate pan, dry roast the coconut until golden. Place on a flat plate.

5. Take a small amount of the paste and roll it into a ball in the palm of your hand. Roll it through the toasted coconut until fully coated. Repeat until all the mixture is finished. Be mindful not to lick your fingers, as the taste is so addictive that you won't be able to stop! Serve with mint tea or coffee.

This is an edited extract from Moroccan Soup Bar: Recipes of a spoken menu and a little bit of spice, by Hana Assafiri. Published by Melbourne Books, $44.95 Stockists: Available in bookstores, Moroccan Soup Bar (Fitzroy North) and Deli-cacy (Brunswick East) or see melbournebooks.com.au