Southern Italy and North Africa, not so distant cousins.
I adore dishes which bear testament to shared histories and the exchange of tradition, the type which are so strikingly alike that they surpass borders between two seemingly different lands. With the Arab conquests of Sicily and Calabria, the presence of the Spanish with their Moorish influence until the 18th century and the natural proximity of land, its no wonder we can find huge similarities in food, language and architecture between the regions. The occasion pastries of Southern Italy and North Africa demonstrate just this with the common use of of floral essences, spice, ground almonds, pistachios and honey. In Italy at Christmas we see deep fried honeyed dough steeped in honey (like fragrant Neapoletan Struffoli and Puglian Cartellate), and around Ramadan we find Moroccan Chebakia in abundance; rose shaped, spiced pastries also deep fried and steeped in honey. The trick is to use a light honey, such as Rowse Light & Mild, so the flavour of the spices aren’t overcome.
My recipe is a take on the afore mentioned dishes, on the methods and depth of flavour shared by both regions who it seems are not so far apart. These spiced honey and sesame curls are best accompanied by a strong, unsweetened Turkish style tea; since we’re already in the Mediterranean flavour mood, why not!
Today I visited one of my favourite bakeries in Shepherds Bush, Maison Sousse (read about it here), a necessary pilgrimage in the name of late pregnancy cravings for mountains of freshly fried chebakia (in the pic above), North African spiced honey & sesame cookies more commonly seen around Ramadan.
Breaking fast (Iftar) in some parts of the southern Mediterranean sometimes sees lavish table spreads and lengthy meals that commence with dates, Harira soup and chebakia.
My best wishes to those fasting on the hottest, longest days of the year in the ultimate test of faith and endurance. Ramadan Kareem to all of those to celebrate!
Burrata is a thing of beauty. It is delicately flavoured yet rich and luxurious, often eaten with nothing more than the faintest drizzle of olive oil. Pictured above, this delight was flown in from Italy and delivered straight to my door thanks to NifeisLife, an online Italian grocery store with a passion for fresh, authentic ingredients.
I served the queen of cheeses with crisp flat bread and a homemade rocket and walnut pesto, just a bit mind you as I didn’t want to over power its subtle flavour. My rocket pesto is a wonderful tool for cutting the richness of dairy, adding a fiery kick to steak or potatoes, an interesting addition to otherwise boring sandwiches and it will also give you a serious nutritional boost.
The rocket widely available in the UK tends to be smaller and more bitter tasting than its large leaved Mediterranean cousins, unless that is, you’re lucky enough to find it bunched up in street markets or Turkish/Middle Eastern food stores. Paired with walnuts, lemon and a touch of parmesan, the recipe takes about 2 minutes to make!
This savoury recipe is a great idea for picnics, breakfasts, lunch boxes, tea times and snacks. I always adored this ‘cake’ in the breakfast rituals and afternoon tea times of my Turkish friends and neighbours, when accompanied by strong, clear tea I’d gladly indulge in seconds and thirds.
You can make your own take on it easily, adding to or replacing any of the flavoursome ingredients. Why not try adding spring onions, chopped sun dried tomatoes or fresh dill?
I knew I would adore Zayane as soon as I caught wind of it. With Moroccan fusion food, warm hospitality, authentic music and right on my West London doorstep, the venue became a personal favourite as soon as I stepped foot inside. I’ve previously shared the draw of Golborne Road with its diasporic values and English eccentricity, recently opened Zayane seems like a perfect fit.
Zayane, so called after Tamazight speaking nomadic tribes of the Atlas Mountains, was born from a clear vision; refined Moroccan cuisine in a relaxed, unpretentious setting. Casablanca born owner Meryem has created not only a beautiful venue but an amazing atmosphere; her grandmother’s traditional Berber style dress hangs proudly on display and zellige inspired bronze lanterns add a warm glow to the white washed walls. The air is delicately scented with cinnamon and the seating is sociable and intimate with wooden carved partitions and flashes of burnished orange and turquoise. A Gnawa musician sings without a sense of urgency on weeknights, welcoming diners with the type of raw edged infectiously happy voice unique to southern Morocco and a DJ drops beats on the weekends.
With former Thackeray’s Michelin starred chef Chris Bower at the helm, the menus are well thought out and offer alluring dishes for all tastes. Chris masterfully creates a unique Moroccan–British fusion, using British seasonal ingredients and a genuine knowledge of authentic Moroccan spices used with a delicate hand. There are elements of highly refined cuisine here yet elements of utmost authenticity too. Think cured sea bass with a preserved lemon sauce or milk fed lamb mechoui with aubergine caponata. Think also of traditional wholemeal flatbreads which are sold on every street corner in Morocco…
Read on.. Full review & pics here!
Happy Easter e Buona Pasqua to everyone! I hope your day is full of family & gorgeous food. I’m looking forward to my mother’s Pastiera, a fragrant Neapolitan Easter pie made with ricotta and wheat which symbolises new life, rebirth and abundance.
On a festive note, I wanted to share my date & walnut mini eggs recipe with you. A healthy alternative to chocolate eggs, these vegan friendly treats are easy to make and contain no refined sugar. This Easter I gave them as presents to my wellness seeking loved ones.
Happy eating to each and every one of you.
My own delicious take on a classic Turkish style salad Kisir – this white cauliflower version is nuttier, crunchier and dare I say it slightly more exciting due to a whisper of Moroccan flavours. It requires barely any cooking and guarantees a refreshing vitamin hit. Ready in just 15 minutes, this super simple recipe jumps slightly on the fashionable ‘raw’ food bandwagon and is vegan friendly.
Its satisfying and tasty enough to be served alone and makes a great accompaniment to lamb or fish.
Lately through pure exhaustion and bad habit I’ve been overdosing on sugary convenience foods with a total disregard for nutrition and well being. I could blame the endless winter of the British Isles, the damp shiver-inducing winds and lack of sun light. It makes you want to scoff a whole packet of biscuits in an instant washed down with a strong milky coffee.
When I fell sick I knew something had to change. Its now been three weeks of relentless coughing and grogginess. This is my doing, through bad dietary choices. Enough is enough, I’m turning a new leaf! No more snacking straight out of the cupboard or late night treats to satisfy an insatiable sweet tooth. That is unless I’d be contributing to my wellness.
My delicious chocolate date butter marks the start of a new way of eating for me, its somewhat life changing. As if I’ve had an epiphany, I am neither wanting or ‘needing’ the bad stuff I once binged on, and that’s a bold statement coming from a sugar addict.
Not actually a butter at all, more a spread, this simple recipe promises to satisfy your sweet tooth while also being highly nutritious – it’s healthy!! With just 4 ingredients you’ll find yourself saying “no” to sweet alternatives packed with refined sugar. First cultivated in ancient Mesopotamia, dates have been revered in the Middle East and North Africa for centuries not only for their sticky sweetness but for their many health benefits, from aiding weight loss, promoting digestive and respiratory health to relieving anaemia and having anti inflammatory properties. This gooey gloriousness will definitely be making more appearances on my table.
Happy International Women’s Day! I’m thinking of the brave women fighting Isis on the front line, the women whose work is never done, the ones who never sleep or get a day off, to those fighting oppression and lack of equality, the women who struggle to be heard, those who are silenced, the mothers, the sisters, the daughters, the wives, the ones who make sacrifices every day, the ones who got a say in life and the ones the ones who didn’t.
Photograph by Veronique de Viguerie, September 6, 2014: A Kurdish combatant breast feeds her child. For me its one of the most memorable and striking images from the fight against daesh which had circulated on social media, highlighting the resilience of women and their innate ability to be both nurturer and warrior.
I used to dabble in jewellery making. I used to paint too, large sweeping landscapes on huge pieces of hardboard. Inevitably as real life got in the way, action packed days and countless sleepless nights ebb away into a blur of creative inactivity. Long gone are the productive outbursts I so relished in and the sense of accomplishment that goes with making something meaningful and, if only to myself, beautiful. After years of longing for my creative side to reemerge I finally have the opportunity. So back to jewellery making it is.
As I begin investing what little spare time there is in fiddling with lava, semi precious stones and evil eye beads I realise theres a tiny smile etched on my face. This is what I’ve missed; stolen moments of self indulgence away from technology and that real world which has kept me so occupied. As my mind wanders I tread the realms of fire and sea, reflections of the very elements I’m working with. In reconnecting with myself its as if reacquainting with an absent friend.
Hello dear friend, welcome back.