I went to a party to celebrate (rather than, as is more usual, launch) Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet the other night. It took place in the newest Comptoir Libanais, in South Kensington, a very simple yet striking restaurant, canteen-like and yet full of very non-canteen touches. That woman on my header, for example, smiles massively across all proceedings. Sack after sack of Dari couscous, and tins of Le Phare du Cap Bon harissa line shelves and walls and look, at least to my eyes, rather beautiful and, amongst the food, there are lots of overpriced bags and knick-knacks that you would be better off not buying in South Ken. In fact, having seen the raffia basket prices I’d suggest that a cheap flight to Morocco to buy said bag might leave you with more change… Anyway, enough of this. The party was amazing (got to say hello, can’t really dress it up as ‘meeting’, Yotam Ottolenghi) and there was tons of food, a rarity for a book ‘celebration’. And Lebanese food at that; one of my absolute favourites.
By the end of the night my head and stomach were full of cheese puffs and kibbeh and, determined to dig out some Lebanese recipes, I pulled down my copy of Arabesque by Claudia Roden. It isn’t a book that usually inspires me, which is a bit odd since I love Moroccan, Turkish and Lebanese food. Having said that, when I started browsing the pages, I found lots of ideas. The first was this poussin with sumac. If you’ve ever had a Turkish mezze or baba ghanoush, it’s likely that sumac was in there somewhere. A reddish-brown spice that gives an almost lemony flavour to meat and salads, it is, with its simplicity and sharpness, the perfect antidote to the Christmas juggernaut that is approaching.
Don’t get me wrong; I love Christmas (this year I’ve already made my own mincemeat, shortcrust pastry and mince pies for the first time and bought enough dried fruit to make, if I wanted to, cakes for the whole street). But the thought of all that heavy food, the talk about chocolate (and bad chocolate at that), the endless chatter on every media outlet about ‘how not to overdo it’ starts to get to me very early on and I begin to crave non-European foods and flavours. By the time we’re into January, all I want is noodle soup and laksa. That’s why, although I’ll be there fighting for the last roast potato and slice of Christmas pudding like everybody else, I may be sneaking in quite a few non-dairy, non-European treats over the next few weeks. Here, then is the first: sumac, in the simplest way possible.
Roasted poussins with lemon and sumac (adapted from Arabesque)
Roden grills her poussins but, for the sake of my smoke detector, I chose to roast mine. You can also use bone-in chicken pieces like legs.
For two people/portions you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
sea salt and black pepper
olive oil, 2 tablespoons
poussins, 2, or about 150-200g of bone-in chicken pieces per person
sumac, 1 teaspoon (you can buy it in Turkish shops and online and some, though not all, supermarkets)
some couscous or pitta bread, to serve
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan-assisted/gas 6.
2. If using poussins not chicken pieces, cut them in half along the backbone and lay them out flat (otherwise known as spatchcocking).
3. Juice the lemon half and mix the juice with the olive oil and salt and pepper. Rub this mixture all over the poussins and leave the meat in the fridge or somewhere equally cold (i.e. everywhere right now…) to absorb the flavour.
4. Roast the poussins/chicken in a roasting dish for about 30-40 minutes until thoroughly cooked.
5. Sprinkle with the sumac and serve with some steamed couscous or pitta bread.