Dinner with friends

I recently bought this book, The Lebanese Kitchen by Salma Hage. I'd been browsing through it at Waterstones a while back and one recipe caught my eye immediately. The photo in the book was just beautiful. Vibrant, red pomegranate seeds and coriander sat on top of chicken breasts in a pool of pomegranate sauce. I didn't buy the book then, but knew I wanted to cook that recipe. So I looked it up online and to my joy, the Daily Mail had posted it as an accompaniment to the book review.

I cooked it once. I cooked it twice. Then I cooked it a few more times. For myself. For others. And I fell in love with it. The sauce is heavenly and I found myself craving for everything pomegranate. By the second time that I made that dish, I'd ordered and gotten the cookbook and spent ages just looking at the food photography, all the amazing textures, colours and incredible looking food. All I wanted to do was just to cook from the book.

And so I had the chance when A came up from Falmouth to stay at mine for a day, before flying back to Czech for New Year's. We wanted to cook, so I thought I'd invite a friend of mine and her mum, seeing as they invited me to join their Christmas dinner. And here's what we ate:

Zucchini and dill fritters with dill yoghurt dip
Pumpkin hummus with toasted pita bread

Chicken with pomegranate
Saffron rice
Monk's salad / eggplant salad / el-raheb

Apple dumplings with vanilla ice cream

Well, only two of the things we cooked came from the cookbook, the rest from a bunch of different websites and the saffron rice I kind of made up myself.

Recipe from SBS food
Ingredients for zucchini fritters (serves 5-7):
600g zucchini
sea salt
1 small onion, grated
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
100g feta, crumbled
¼ cup finely chopped dill
2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 eggs, well beaten
½ cup plain flour
2 tbsp rice flour
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil

Grate the zucchini coarsely and put into a colander. Sprinkle lightly with salt and toss, then leave for 20 minutes to drain. Rinse the zucchini briefly, then squeeze it to extract as much liquid as you can and pat dry with kitchen paper.

Mix the zucchini with the onion, garlic, feta, herbs and eggs in a large bowl. Sift on the flours, then season with pepper and stir to combine.

Heat a little oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat until sizzling. Drop small tablespoons of batter into the hot oil and flatten gently. Cook for 2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and serve piping hot.

Recipe adapted from The Lebanese Recipes Kitchen
Ingredients for dill yoghurt dip:
Dill yoghurt dressing
200g carton Greek-style yoghurt
2 tbsp finely chopped dill
1 garlic clove, crushed

To make the dill yoghurt dressing, combine the yoghurt, dill and garlic in a small bowl. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Recipe adapted from The Lebanese Kitchen cookbook
Ingredients for pumpkin hummus (serves 8):
500g pumpkin, peeled, seeded, diced
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
400g (before draining) can of chickpeas, drained, with ¼ cup of the juices reserved
4 garlic cloves, peeled
4 tbsp tahini
juice of 2 lemons
2 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp chopped coriander

Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas mark 6. Put the pumpkin into a roasting pan, drizzle with a little oil and roast for half an hour or until tender. Remove from oven and let it cool completely. Drain the chickpeas, reserving ¼ cup of the can juices, and rinse. Put the chickpeas into a food processor, add the garlic cloves, tahini and pumpkin and process for a few minutes.

Add the reserved can juices, followed by half the amount of lemon juice and the sea salt and process until smooth. Taste and add more lemon juice, if you like. Scrape the hummus into a serving dish, drizzle generously with olive oil, sprinkle with coriander and serve.

Recipe adapted from Taste of Beirut
Ingredients for eggplant salad (serves 3-4):
2 large eggplants, roasted over a flame or in the oven till skin is blackened, then peeled and drained and diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 medium onion, diced or several spring onions, chopped
several tablespoons of chopped parsley
½ cucumber, diced (optional)
½ green pepper, diced (optional)

One or more tablespoons of pomegranate molasses mixed with double the volume of olive oil; add a clove or two of garlic, mashed with a dash of salt.

Wrap the eggplant with 3 layers of foil and roast it over the your gas hob, turning it every 5 minutes to get it even. After roasting, cut it in half, remove the flesh from the skin and drain it to get rid of the juices. Dice the eggplant once drained. Put aside some of the chopped tomatoes and parsley to layer on top of the salad. Mix the eggplant with the rest of the ingredients and assemble the salad.

Recipe from The Lebanese Kitchen cookbook
Ingredients for chicken with pomegranate (serves 4):
4 chicken breasts
1 tbsp olive oil
2 spring onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, grated
100 ml pomegranate juice
1 tablespoon clear honey
2.5cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
½ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp grated nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves
3 tbsp lemon juice
5 thyme sprigs
salt and pepper
pomegranate seeds and chopped fresh coriander, to garnish

Preheat the oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Brush the chicken with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Heat a skillet or frying pan, add the chicken, skin side down, and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes until golden brown, then turn and cook for another 2 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the pan and put into an ovenproof dish. Put all the remaining ingredients, except the pomegranate seeds and chopped coriander into a food processor and process until thoroughly combined. Pour the sauce over the chicken and cook in the oven for 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and chopped coriander and serve.

Ingredients for saffron rice (serves 3-4):
2 cups basmati rice
2½ cups chicken/vegetable stock
pinch of saffron threads
½ tsp turmeric
1 cinnamon stick

Just cook how you'd normally cook rice, but with stock instead of water and the extra ingredients.

Seeing as she now bakes for a living, I told A she was in charge of dessert. Put on the spot, she couldn't make up her mind on what to make, so I suggested these apple dumplings, which I hadn't eaten in more than 2 years.

Recipe adapted from stacy newgent's at design*sponge
Ingredients for apple dumplings (serves 6):
3-4 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving
almonds, crushed
300g flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
85g butter + extra for the filling
180ml milk

Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Work in butter and add milk- then mix until dry ingredients are well moistened. Turn out onto a floured counter and knead until smooth. Roll dough out to 1/4” (a little more than ½ cm) thick and cut into 6 squares, or smaller squares to make more.

Put a few apple pieces onto each square along with a dash of sugar and a pat of butter. Fold the corners inward to make a square, making the corners overlap in the center. Put into a baking dish.

300g white sugar
80g brown sugar
2 tbsp flour
½ tsp salt
350ml boiling water
85g butter
1 tsp vanilla

Stir sugars, salt and flour together in a pan.  Stir in boiling water, add butter, vanilla and place over low heat until the sauce begins to thicken a bit. Pour ¾ of the sauce over the dumplings and bake at 205C/185C fan covered for about 30 minutes - then pour the rest of the sauce in and sprinkle with crushed almonds- bake uncovered for another 15 minutes until brown. Serve right away with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

And so that was our big, big dinner. I went slightly over the top with the amount of food, but at least I don't have to cook for the next 3 days.