Saffron in the Souks: a perfect book for summer

Is it barbecue time? Is it eating outdoors time? I think it might be! And I have just the book to take you through the summer. Saffron in the Souks, by John Gregory-Smith, was given to me a couple of weeks ago and I spent all weekend immersed in its pages. It is a book that beats my ‘five recipes = buy it’ rule three times over. If you love Lebanese food, you will love this.

First, I made the za’atar man’ouche, an easy flatbread, then the ‘rock-star’ roast cauliflower and the Armenian cucumber salad. The next day I made hearty mountain eggs, a sort of yogurt shakshuka, then whole roasted halloumi with a citrus salad.

Right now, as I contemplate a bank holiday, those breads are definitely on the menu, as is the sumac and seven-spice roast chicken, the coriander, garlic and chilli potato wedges, the lamb skewers and the broad bean and coriander pilaf…have I persuaded you of its worth yet? If not, try this recipe: it is easy, it uses mostly storecupboard ingredients (if you can’t find za’atar [though, can I say, it is on sale in most supermarkets, including Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s] then it’s straightforward to make; see here) and it requires very little kit or time. I’m making them for the third time tonight…

PS Yes, nice to be back!

Za’atar man’ouche

Makes about 8
(NB the dough takes a few minutes to make and you have to let it sit for about an hour before cooking it.)

Cupboard (or things you may already have)
plain flour, 400g plus a bit extra for dusting
fine sea salt, 2 teaspoons plus extra for seasoning
sugar, 1 teaspoon (I used granulated)
olive oil, 10 tablespoons (about 150ml)

Shopping list
fast-action yeast, 7g
za’atar, 4 tablespoons
feta, about 80g (but more won’t hurt…;-))
fresh mint, a large handful

How to
1. Make the dough. Put the flour, yeast, salt, sugar, 30ml of olive oil and 250ml of water in the bowl of a food processor or mixer, and process/mix until it forms a smooth ball (I find this takes a couple of minutes).

If you don’t have a mixer, put the flour, yeast, salt, sugar into a large mixing bowl, make a bit of a dip in the middle and add the oil. Stir to bring it together into a dough (a dough scraper, or big flat spatula will help with this), then tip it onto a floured surface and knead until smooth.

2. Oil the bowl you used to mix the dough (if using a mixer, obviously tip the dough out first…), then put the dough back, cover and leave somewhere relatively cool (so not the fridge, but not in direct sunlight either) for an hour or so.

3. Tip the dough onto a floured surface again and divide into eight pieces. Roll each one out into a circle about 20cm across.

4. Mix the remaining olive oil (so 120ml/8 tablespoons) with the za’atar and a pinch of sea salt. Crumble the feta into small pieces and, if large, tear the mint leaves too.

5. Heat a small non-stick frying pan at a highish heat (NB it says medium-high in the recipe but this is one where your judgement is required; I found my first attempts really needed a hot pan to get the required charring underneath and to cook the top).

Add a circle of dough, brush with the oil and za’atar mixture, then cook until the bottom is crisp and blackened in place (think the best sort of pizza base) and the top is cooked. Repeat with all of the dough, sprinkle with feta, mint and a little salt and serve.

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