I love the flavours of hot lands: pistachio, chickpeas, almond, mint and lamb from the middle east; basil, tomatoes, oregano, beans and anchovies from Italy; spinach, saffron, lemons, coriander and octopus from Spain. To me they smack of summer and of happiness.
The cuisine of cold countries holds less appeal: marinated fish in all its forms, large lumps of potato and cabbage, wurst. This is food to provide ballast against the weather. It’s heavy and warming, but to me holds less charm than the food of hot breezes, desert sands and olive groves.
So in celebration of the summer we aren’t having any more, and as a farewell to some special friends, we had a middle-eastern feast this weekend.
We started with some lovely garlicky green and black olives, courtesy of the Greek lady at the market. She also provided two enormous Fladenbrot: oval-shaped, airy, scattered with herbs and sesame seeds, they are perfect for tearing and dipping.
Then we moved on to Thomas’s speciality: haloumi cheese grilled with chilli oil and chopped chillies, and topped with a squeeze of lemon juice. This amazing cheese becomes squeaky when cooked. If you’re not scared of the sound of polystyrene as you eat, it’s delicious and perfect with chilli and lemon. We dipped pieces of Fladenbrot in the chilli oil afterwards.
Next stop was a warm lamb salad: slow-cooked for five hours, the lamb was soft and tender. My willing kitchen helper pulled it apart with her fingers. We then add loads of mint, finely chopped red onion, salt and lemon juice. This was accompanied by a spicy chickpea hummus (cumin, chilli, tahini and more lemon juice), a dip of aubergine, mint and yogurt, and a salad of peeled red peppers, feta and almonds. More Fladenbrot for dipping and wiping.
With the lamb, we drank a delicious 2003 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, courtesy of James, who brought it when he came to stay. (I’m sure this is the first time his blog has been mentioned in a post about food!)
Then we had to pause. Some silly things ensued.
After the silliness was over – we can blame James – we moved to dessert, which was a fruit salad of fresh Pfalzer peaches, blueberries, green grapes and melon, delicately laced with rosewater. This was accompanied by toffee-coloured meringues, sandwiched together with a buttercream of pistachio and rosewater.
After that, we had to lie on the sofa.
I should add that all my recipes were once again courtesy of that fabulous cook, that queen of the kitchen, that goddess of all things culinary, the one, the only Ms Nigella D.G. Lawson. Oh, and thanks Jamie Oliver for the hummus. Good one, mate.