What is it about food from the Middle East that has us coming back for more? Sabrina Ghayour’s first cook book ‘Persiana’ is a wonderful offering of traditional Middle Eastern dishes, using easy-to-find ingredients, simplified recipes, with a great mix of both vegetable and meat dishes. Eblex and Simply Beef and Lamb put together a fabulous evening at Frederick’s in Islington with a bespoke menu created by Sabrina.
Lamb is a mediterranean staple and in Middle Eastern cuisine it’s a core ingredient. In fact, the lamb shoulder brings tons of flavour to dishes, through its high fact content and slow cooking method, but there are plenty of cuts perfect for this kind of cooking.
But lamb isn’t everyone’s favourite. Take my Mum as an example. Ask her if she’s a lover of lamb and watch her face screw up, she may even tell you why she contorts her features at the mere suggestion of a slice. I know. It’s her Mum’s fault. When she bought lamb, it wasn’t cooked well, rarely seasoned and there wasn’t a ‘World Food’ aisle in the local Co-Op back in the sixties to give the cheap cuts a little help. She cooked meat as only she knew how, well done. A sorry-looking piece of meat, dehydrated then rehydrated with the help of lashings of gravy. Hardly any surprise why my mum has an abject fear of the stuff. To be fair to my Nan, baking was her forte and she’d clearly mastered the science even if she did have a temperamental gas oven.
I’m going to attempt to get Mum to try lamb again and wipe the nasty childhood memories of this wonderful meat. She’s not let lamb pass her lips for decades. But back to the post in hand.
We begin the evening with a quick run-through of the various cuts of meat from Hugh Judd, Quality Standard expert who gives us all a great insight into what we should be asking our butcher for and what we can do with the cuts. The Quality Standard Mark has come to be a symbol of reassurance to meat eaters as it’s really the only scheme which provides an indication of where the meat has actually started life. After several meat scares over the last few years it’s become imperative when I buy meat from my local butcher that I know where my meat has come from so it’s a no-go for me if he or she doesn’t hold the Quality Standard Mark.
Using some of the unusual cuts we began with a series of starters or meze. First up, slow cooked shredded lamb breast with honey and rose harissa served on pineapple chunks
Spiced lamb kidney Boreks, dates, apricots, pine nuts and herbs. Boreks are a variety of things, dependent on which country you are eating them, from savoury to sweet, the dish always involves pastry of some kind, filled, baked or fried.
Turmeric braised lamb fore shanks served with lettuce wraps – which were fabulous. Cooked dry, these fell away from their bone and worked well with the crunch of the Iceberg lettuce.
The best thing about this kind of food is how it brings a table of complete strangers together. The need to pass on bowls of meat, dressings or wraps means you have to speak to your neighbour and it’s not long before a conversation is struck up and you’re passing your contact details on before you say goodbye.
Persian spiced lamb necks were given the slow and low treatment and came about when Sabrina fancied a kebab late at night. She cooked the necks with Sumac (a spice used in Middle Eastern cuisine to add a lemon taste to salads or meat) and served it with mint yogurt or Cacik, red onions, rocket and pomegranate molasses and seeds.
The yogurt is an absolute staple when ordering grilled meat in any Turkish restaurant, beautified here with red rose petals and nuts.
There was also a thick peanut sauce which, if the molasses isn’t enough, gives a huge kick of texture and sweetness.
Another recipe using the lamb neck , this time a stew and cooked with apricots, Kalamata olives, preserved lemons almond and parsley.
A feast of accompaniments included
Persian yogurt, cucumber, dried mint and golden raisins
Aubergine chermoula – a fiery North African spice paste that is ideal for smearing on your favourite vegetables for roasting and a particular favourite of Yotam Ottolenghi.
Persian ‘jewelled’ sweetened basmati rice with slivers of pistachio, almonds, barberries and sour orange. This Persian favourite is often served with carrot but the sour orange is a delicious twist. It’s usually served at wedding feasts and as it’s such a beautiful looking dish, you can see why.
Fennel, radish and Braeburn apple salad with dill and lemon dressing.
Mesclun leaves (a salad leaf which is picked when it’s small and tender) with oranges, dried figs, pomegranate seeds and a pomegranate molasses dressing.
Even if Sabrina had made the best Sheer Berenj (rice pudding) I couldn’t have even tried it, there was Baklava and a selection of Turkish Delight with coffee.
The wines served included Pouilly Fume 2012, Les Griottes Pascal Jolivet, France and Nero D’Avola 2011, Sicily, Italy, they looked and smelled delicious but for me a drop didn’t pass my lips as I’m observing a dry January.
Fredericks Club Room was the perfect venue to host this supper club and with Head Chef, Adam Hilliard at the pass following Sabrina’s recipes to the letter. Hopefully they’ll have me back for a blog review.