Dried Fruit Compote – Khoshaf

Dried fruits and nuts give much-needed energy and nutrients when fresh produce isn’t readily available. One example of their significance is found in the traditions of the Middle East at Ramadan, when evening Iftar (breaking of the fast) commences with a date.

At the moment I’m suffering from one of the pregnancy niggles, where you, ahem, simply ‘can’t go.’ Lucky then, that when Murat went to Green Lanes, Harringey last week he returned with kilos of dried fruit and nuts!

Apart from enjoying them in their deliciously sticky state, I decided to make Khoshaf, a perfumed compote of rehydrated fruit and nuts, hailing from various Middle Eastern kitchens.

Use whatever you have at hand.. It’s the type of recipe free to artistic licence (aren’t they all?). Fruit are soaked in a mixture of water and orange flower essence until plump, and nuts rejuvenated to their former milkiness. Most versions call for the use of sugar too, however let’s keep it healthy and appreciate the natural sweetness of the fruit themselves.

Click here for simple and nourishing recipe..

A Massive Thank You…

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On July 1st of this year, Murat and I got hitched. Overcome with sentimentalism and insane with nerves, our worries soon vanished when after an emotional ceremony and church blessing, we danced the night away. Now I say danced, but this word cannot describe what actually went on in the banqueting suite of Grand Palace. I’d say it was more of a frenzy of music (band, DJ, impromptu singer and davul and zurna), ululating, darbuka playing, mendil (hanky) swinging, castanet clopping, sirtaki, kolbasti and belly dancing, laughing, (joyful) crying and lots of hugging.

Family and friends gathered from far and wide to join our celebration; Italians learnt how to dance Halay to the Davul & Zurna, and Turkish/Kurdish relatives learnt how to dance the Pizzica. Murat took to the Darbuka while I belly danced (we have this moment captured on film!) then all of us danced to Arabic tunes, Greek tsifteteli, Gypsy Kings and of course some modern music too.   So carried away in the joyful ruckus, we forgot to do speeches, throw the bouquet and take the guest book around for signing but that suited me fine; I never was a fan of formality.

Continue reading here….

La Rocca…A Sicilian Gem in Winchmore Hill

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It’s a Saturday afternoon and my father and I are heading towards Winchmore Hill, following a tip-off from our long time Italian food suppliers, Salvino. We’re looking for 250 mini Sicilian Cassata to form part of my wedding cake. I’ve been to all the regular central London Italian bakeries, contacted wholesalers, considered making them myself but the thought of constructing 250 sticky cakes the night before my wedding leads me to pre wedding despair. La Rocca is my last hope.

We drive through Green Lanes, pass Wood Green and after another  ten minutes or so reach Winchmore Hill broadway. I see La Rocca’s glass front and a stream of people heading in and leaving with content smiles. We enter, are instantly greeted by the busy owner, Salvatore, his  Sicilian charm prevalent and beaming from behind a well stacked counter. My senses feast; there’s a large ice cream counter with authentic and loved flavours, and importantly for  me, less known Italian flavours such as Hazelnut, Honeydew Melon and Tiramisu. Wafts of good strong espresso and tomato sauce induce a need to feast. And fest we did!

Read about the best sfogliatelle, cannoli, and arancini outside of Italy here…!!

Borek / Burek / Byrek / Pite / Rustico – Mediterranean Pies

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Warm, crispy and satisfying, filled pies are the ultimate in comfort food. Wherever you go in the Med you’ll find different versions. From Turkish Borek, Balkan Burek / Byrek / Pite and Mantija, Boureki of Greece to the Rustico of Southern Italy – fillings and shapes vary to form indulgent meaty feats, cheesy delights, simple vegetable snacks or sweet treats.  The possibilities are endless and the end result always satisfying.

It’s one of those foods which is loved; a staple from warm-hearted family kitchens or consumed from kiosks and simple eateries with mopeds whizzing by. I’ve always struggled to find the authentic stuff, reminiscent of the Med in London until I stumbled upon Akdeniz Gida Pazari on Station Road, Wood Green. For £1 a pop you can buy different types of Borek fresh out of the oven, made by the hands of two smiling Bulgarian women behind an abundantly stacked counter. Safe in the knowledge I have a place to go for a quick Borek fix, I usually prefer to make my own.

In the Balkans I  watched as women made dough from scratch, tirelessly kneading and rolling with the thinnest of rolling pins. They’d work the pastry to unbelievable elasticity, picking up the delicate sheets and stretching with careful plucks.    The pies were finished with neatly pinched pleats.  Needless to say my first attempt at this was disastrous.  To make pastry by hand is indeed a labour of love. I prefer to buy ‘Yufka’ pastry which is widely available in Mediterranean supermarkets.

Here are my Borek recipes;
Sevkiye’s Borek – Oven baked layered yufka pastry with various fillings (Meat, Cheese, Herby Courgette)

Village Style Borek – basic filo dough layered with white (feta) cheese

Pan Borek – quick borek made in pan with yufka pastry.

Mantija – Meaty Balkan parcels

Una Faccia, Una Razza!

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It’s a saying which shaped the foundations of NazarBlue and a philosophy in which I have always believed; One face, one race.

Wherever I am in the Med I’m overcome with the same emotions: a sense of nostalgia invoked by musical laments, a sense of exhilaration from pulsating cities, and insatiable hunger spurred on by tempting street food. The air is thick and perfumed with pine resin, the crickets rasp in arid shrubbery and socialising is almost always centered around good food and wine. A plate of fried Calamari on the seafront is a must, cats with huge begging eyes lurk under taverna tables and swipe at falling scraps. Siesta time ceases with the whirrs of moped engines. People converse on lantern lit terraces with waving hands and raised voices. It doesn’t matter whether I’m in Italy, Greece or Istanbul, the scenes are always the same.

‘One Face, One Race’ is a saying which acknowledges the similarities between Italians and Greeks. In fact, I believe it can be said for any of the Mediterranean’s people who have been both unified and separated by slithers of sea. With the shifting of borders as empires advanced then retreated, cultures intermingled and languages, music and food were shared.

Some may patriotically claim Baklava, Turkish Coffee, and Falafel to be theirs, but in disregarding language barriers we can see a common knowledge and mutual love.                                   Ouzo, Raki, Arak and Sambuca may go by different names but essentially it is a liquor made with anise, consumed in the same way. Shakshuka to the North Africans is as Uova in Purgatorito to the Italians. Meze, Mezzeh, Tapas and Antipasti are a way of life, essientoal to the sociable ways of eating. Pizza as we know it hails from Napoli, yet what influenced this iconic food? Well, how about Greek Pitta bread or Turkish Pide – flat breads with various toppings. Then there is Manoush from the Eastern Med. Could the most famous dish from the chaotic port city have its origins further East?

Even the most frugal of dishes add a sense of pattern to the Med’s colourful mosaic. Farinata di Ceci, wet dough made from seasoned chickpea flour and baked with plenty of olive oil, is particular to Liguria. However Karantita from Algeria and Calentita from Gibraltar are both of uncanny similarity.

It’s rainbow season in London: The blustery winds are relentless and storms seem to roll pass often, appeased once in a while by brilliant bursts of sun. Last Saturday as I took shelter in my flat I sorted through my DVD collection and decided to watch Mediterraneo, a hilarious Italian film about a group of soldiers who are sent to a Greek Island during WWII. They find themselves stranded when after becoming intoxicated with Opium supplied by a Turkish fisherman, they come too, discovering their arms and transport have been stolen. The Italians soon forget their duties and ease into Island life, accidentally missing the fact the war ended some three years before.

‘Una Faccia, Una Pancia!’ one soldier says mocking the hefty appetite that Greeks and Italians share. One face, one belly! It’s not only appearance which unifies the Mediterraneans, it’s their mutual love of food too.

Here’s a more in-depth explanation of Una Faccia, Una Razza, written by my lovely sister.

A Breakfast Ritual – Turkish / Balkan Style

During a blistering Balkan summer, mornings greeted me with a delightful breakfast spread. Coffee, sizzling beef sausage, fried eggs and buttery peppers perfumed the air and awoke me from my heat induced slumber before I could even open my eyes.  Empty water drums clanged excitedly waiting in turn to be filled by a temperamental tap. Strays barked from dusty dirt roads in the near distance and the family Cockerell ended his doolde-doo on a bizarre flat note as if the heat had exhausted him too. As a guest I didn’t want to out stay my welcome as I was used to pulling my weight but my offer of a helping hand was politely refused. Eating in the open air under the shade of vines, we picked from a spread which took up the entire length of the table. Red and white checks poked out from small gaps between sun dappled plates.  The elderly bumbled to and from the table as they pleased and kids unable to sit for long were soon distracted by the rural landscape’s hidey holes.

In Crete, the ritual of breakfast continued. Even bigger, more elaborate spreads became us complete with a backdrop of sparkling sea. Then in Istanbul as we sat at the table bleary eyed from perhaps a touch too much Raki the night before, the early afternoon call to prayer floated on the air reminding us we’d risen later than intended.  After the food was cleared away Murat’s sister prepared syrupy coffee, serving not only as a digestif but as a talking point as she read our fortunes from the empty cups.

The breakfast ritual is one worth keeping as long as it’s practiced in good company. Here’s how I intend to keep it going in not so sunny London..

Read on…

From the Heart of the Balkans: The Pelagonia Range

Read on…

Perhaps a Bold Statement But… The Best Falafel in Town!

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Admittedly I almost always steered clear of Falafel in restaurants – in my experience falafel meant tasteless, dry mouthfuls which rolled around the palate, resisting with all its might at being swallowed. It wasn’t that I was eating in the wrong places, it was simply that the falafel on offer didn’t fill me with joy. Then one day a colleague of mine, Mohammed, placed a foil package on my desk. On opening this steaming parcel, I discovered a falafel which changed my world. Mohammed’s vibrantly green homemade falafel were juicy and aromatised with garlic and herbs. They weren’t made with ground chick peas either, but a mixture of chick peas and dried fava beans. These falafel told the story of a man who emigrated from Cairo in his twenties. Now pushing 50, Mohammed never abandoned the food his mother taught him how to cook before he left. I guess his falafel were made with love.

Since that moment of falafel revelation most attempts to find such mouth wateringly moist falafel have failed. Until I came across a jewel in the midst of Central London, tucked away in the cobbled courtyard otherwise knows as Goodge Place Market.

To claim to have found the BEST falafel in a city so richly diverse is a bold statement but one I feel I can confidently make. Hoxton Beach has reaffirmed my love of falafel with its freshly fried offerings. Every mouthful of the wrap delights with crispy yet moist falafel, tahina sauce and homemade pickles. It is now 11:14 am and as I write this article I am salivating in anticipation of the wrap I will eat for my lunch today.

Goodge Street is heaving with eateries which supply the hungry office workers of Fitzrovia – yet why pay for an over priced burrito or faddy salad when there is nutty deliciousness on offer.  Hoxton Beach’s wraps are not pre made and heated in microwaves like a certain trendy Middle Eastern restaurant nearby. The men who work at Hoxton Beach are the real deal, themselves Middle Eastern and perhaps have the best understanding of how falafel wraps are meant to be. They churn out freshly fried balls of deliciousness and dress them just how we want them to be. No tahina? No problem. Extra pickles? Sure! There is always a polite good morning / good-bye / thank you and smile too. They are welcoming and hospitable even for the few moments it takes to prepare your wrap. Patrick Matthews, founder of the Hoxton Beach company, fell in love with Middle Eastern cuisine after studying Arabic in Damascus. (I on the other hand fell in love with Damascus after eating at Abu Zaad!) With a particular love of falafel, Patrick wanted to popularise them upon his return to Blighty. Good job Patrick and thank you Hassan, (the company chef) for your tasty recipe which has reignited my love affair with humble falafel.

Falafel is one of those foods to which many people lay their claim. From Israel, to Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and beyond, falafel crosses cultures and perhaps unites people beyond borders. ‘It’s only Falafel, there’s no need to be so dramatic!‘ I hear you say. Well, I’m putting so much importance on this street food because food is life, food is what we cherish when there is nothing else. Its something we all have in common despite our differences so when one dish stretches itself over a large geographical area notorious for upheaval why not celebrate something which unites the area rather than divides?

Check out Hoxton Beach stalls in Goodge Place Market, Whitecross Street and Exmouth Market or click here for stockists and try to recreate your own wraps.

This Summer We Will Mostly Be Eating… Sciurilli and Friarielle!

One thing I have always wanted to do was grow my own produce, especially the kind I know are only available in chaotic backstreet markets of the Med. It angered me when friends who grew courgettes threw the flowers away – my protests were met with confusion. ‘Why would you throw them away? It’s the best part of the plant!’ . Then I realised they’d probably never eaten them deep fried or wilted in tagliolini.

So with thanks to Seeds of Italy I will get to grow courgette flowers myself by means of a plant which produces only the flower and not the fruit; flowers known in Italy as fiore di zucca, or sciurilli in Napoletano. And thanks to Friends of Puglia and one of my oldest friends, Sarah (affectionately named Pepper), I have also acquired seeds of friarielli (peppery greens otherwise known as cime di rapa or turnip tops), Italian flat leaf parsley, wild fennel and peperoni verdi Napoletani.

Yesterday on returning home I pulled back the curtain and found that nature has breathed life into my tiny little seeds. To eat juicy deep-fried courgette flowers I wont be limited to the bancarelle of Pignasecca, Napoli, anymore. At the rate they’ve sprung up, I wont have to wait long at all to eat sciurilli because they’ll be growing from pots on my very own patio.

Here’s to new life and looking forward to a tasty summer table spread.

From Istanbul with Love – Kahve Dunyasi in London

Trendy Turkish coffee house, Kahve Dunyasi, has landed in Piccadilly Circus.

Step into a dreamy world of coffee and chocolate . But this time Willy Wonka is cool, and Turkish.

Read about it here…