Tag Archives: meditteranean

Freekeh Chicken Pilaf

Ancient grains, lentils, pulses have all gone through a revival of sorts in the recent years with a large section of the world waking up to its benefits, not only to preserve these ancient ingredients but also sick and tired of what the processed food culture is doing to our health and well-being.

As I mentioned in my post on French Green Lentils, I had been pretty one-dimensional in my knowledge or use of grains, lentils and pulses. India has always had a rich agricultural heritage when it came to this food category but many of our households have not embraced it well in the modern times. And while my mom did try to introduce us to a large variety of these, I was quite the difficult to please kid who loved food but had very strong likes and dislikes.

While I was easy with vegetables and fruits, I always found it hard to embrace different types of grains or lentils. As my food knowledge grew over the years, especially after getting exposed to different cuisines, I realized that it was the taste of the dish that was putting me off a particular ingredient than the taste or texture of the ingredient itself. For eg: I would love a particular type of lentil in a salad but not in a traditional Indian style lentil curry.

Thus began the quest to discover and experiment with different cuisines, recipes etc… that will help me not just to embrace these ingredients again but genuinely enjoy the experience too.

And that’s how a packet of freekeh ended up in my pantry….

Freekeh Chicken Pilaf - thespiceadventuress.com

Freekeh is an ancient grain that is made from green durum wheat. It is highly nutritious and a great source of protein apart from being rich in dietary fiber, B vitamins and minerals like manganese. Freekeh is often referred to as green wheat as the grains are harvested when young and green which makes it higher in nutrients when compared to mature wheat grains.

Freekeh is extremely popular in North African, Meditteranean and Middle Eastern cuisines often used in salads and stews. But these days, freekeh has become more versatile in its use including the use of freekeh flour to make breads, pasta etc…

I decided to keep it simple and use it in a pilaf which makes it an excellent replacement for rice. The idea for a pilaf came about since I had a similar dish in a restaurant before. And a bit of research later, I found an Ottolenghi recipe for a freekeh pilaf which seemed to fit the bill. But of course I had to tweak it to suit my tastebuds and also included chicken to make it a one pot, wholesome dish. Feel free to omit the chicken if you want to keep it vegetarian.

Freekeh Chicken Pilaf - thespiceadventuress.com

Freekeh is available as whole and cracked grains; I have used the cracked variety as I preferred the texture better. These grains are easy to cook and require very less time.

Note – The colour of my pilaf is slightly darker due to the meat stock used; but if you use a chicken or vegetarian stock, then the final colour of the dish will be much lighter.

So let’s get cooking this delicious Freekeh Pilaf, with caramelized onions, garlic, diced chicken and flavoured with paprika, cumin, all spice and cinnamon. Drizzled with a garlicky lemony yoghurt dressing, this is a delicious one pot meal under 30 minutes.

Freekeh Chicken Pilaf

Freekeh Chicken Pilaf - thespiceadventuress.com

Ingredients:

  1. 1 cup cracked freekeh
  2. 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  3. 2 tbsp olive oil
  4. 2 medium brown onion; finely sliced
  5. 2 garlic cloves; finely chopped
  6. 250gms boneless chicken thigh; diced
  7. ¼ tsp cinnamon powder
  8. ½ tsp all spice powder
  9. ½ tsp smoked paprika
  10. 1 tsp crushed cumin
  11. Salt, to season
  12. Freshly milled black pepper; to season
  13. 3 cups stock
  14. A handful of dried barberries
  15. 2 tbsp fresh parsley leaves
  16. 2 tbsp toasted pine nuts
  17. Olive oil; to drizzle while serving

Yoghurt sauce:

  1. 1 cup plain yoghurt
  2. 1 small garlic clove; grated
  3. 1 tsp lemon juice
  4. Salt, to season

Method:

  1. Soak the cracked freekeh for 5 minutes and then wash thoroughly under running cold water. Drain and keep aside.
  2. Soak the dried barberries and toast the pine nuts. Keep aside for serving.
  3. In a large pan, heat butter and olive oil. Add the onions and garlic; sauté till the onions are softened and light brown.
  4. Add the diced chicken pieces and cook on medium heat till almost done.
  5. Then add all the spices and the drained freekeh; mix well to combine.
  6. Add the stock and season with salt and pepper. (If using store bought stock, make sure you taste and add salt as the stock often contains salt).
  7. Bring to boil and then reduce heat to lowest and cook covered for 15 minutes or till all the stock has been absorbed.
  8. Remove from heat and keep covered for another 5 minutes.
  9. To prepare the yoghurt sauce, add the plain yoghurt to a bowl along with grated garlic and lemon juice. Taste and add more lemon juice if necessary and season with salt. Keep aside.
  10. Remove the lid and allow the pilaf to cool for another 3-5 minutes.
  11. To serve, garnish with barberries, parsley, pine nuts. Drizzle the yoghurt sauce on top followed by the olive oil.
  12. Tuck in!

Freekeh Chicken Pilaf

 

 

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The ‘Hummus’ Revolution (with recipes for Beet Hummus & Kashmiri Chilli Hummus)

Hummus, a simple rustic chickpea dip that has somehow bridged geographical, cultural and religious borders. Today it graces our dinner tables in a zillion avatars, from simple to gourmet.

I love hummus, not just for its soul-satisfying taste, but because it is a taste of my childhood. Growing up in the Middle East, there was no way you could avoid this condiment. And it was such an integral part of the food we ate, because hummus was one of the very rare dishes that my dad would eat outside the traditional Kerala cuisine. So it made its appearance constantly sitting unassumingly alongside a platter of kebabs and tikkas.

And when we returned back to India, it was one of the main things that we missed; so much that my mom would request every friend who travels from Dubai to get her a bottle of tahini (which was very difficult to source in India at that time).

Today, we aren’t just talking about hummus as a dip, but as a medium for social and religious cohesiveness…..and it’s through the #spreadhummusnothate campaign spearheaded by Lina J, an award winning food blogger and the creative force behind ‘The Lebanese Plate’.

I have been following Lina’s work on Instagram for quite a while now and I really appreciate the work that she is doing to spread awareness and help address unwanted social and religious stigmas we have as a society. So here are excerpts of an interview with Lina and the significance of the #spreadhummusnothate campaign.

The first question and perhaps the most relevant one to this conversation….Where were you born? Are you an Australian?

I was born & brought up in Sydney.

Why #spreadhummusnothate? Could you tell us what led you to take up this campaign?

This campaign came about after coming across the hashtag #spreadhummusnothate. I felt there was increasing negativity towards people from diverse backgrounds & especially people of Muslim faith. I used the hashtag online but really felt that I needed to take it off line into our everyday lives in order for it to have a lasting effect. This is when I came up with creating opportunities for everyday Australians to sit & converse with everyday Australian Muslims & literally ‘spread hummus’ together.

You are an award winning food blogger but is that the only reason why you chose ‘food’ as the medium to express your opinions?

I don’t even think of myself as ‘award winning’ to be honest!

Working with & around food naturally led me to use it as the basis for this campaign. I think we tend to take for granted the power of food, not just as something to nourish the body, but also as a tool to bring people together.

 Is it a single person initiative or do you have a team working along with you in this campaign?

It is just me really. I have certainly had people help here and there along the way, but mostly just something that I have been pushing on my own.

What is the primary message that you want to spread through this campaign? And how do you go about it?

That all it takes is one conversation (over food) to break down barriers. I hope that people will be able to see that although we have some difference, we actually have a lot more in common. Life isn’t about agreeing with or being exactly like the next person, it’s about understanding & respecting our differences & still be able to converse in a positive way.

 How has the response been so far?

I would say 99% of response to this campaign has been quite positive, which really gives me hope.

I have seen on your Instagram account that you host events in relation to the campaign? How are these done and is it open to the public?

The events have been smaller gatherings up until this stage. I am currently in some collaboration talks with some lovely people who really want to help take this to the next level, where hopefully there will be more opportunities for a wider range of people to attend such events. There’ll be more detail soon about these events on my social media.

What are the different ways in which anyone who interested in this campaign be of help?

A number of people have helped spread the word, which is really important! But a number from my Insta family have assisted in providing goods for the #SpreadHummusNotHate Brunch, cake & desserts, meat & poultry, fresh fruit & veg. Couldn’t thank these people enough for their support.

And on a lighter note, you have become the ‘queen of hummus’ platters with all sorts of flavours including beautiful looking ones like the beet hummus. But which is your favourite?

I do love the Beet hummus, especially topped with a marinated feta, but at the end of the day, the original hummus will always be my favourite!

Do check out her blog and Instagram page (for some amazing photography and mouthwatering food).

Of course, I cannot leave you without sharing any hummus recipes so there are two delicious ones today. First, it’s the super gorgeous beet hummus recipe, one of Lina’s favourites which she has kindly shared with all of us. And second will be my signature hummus recipe with Kashmiri chilli (you will love this!)

So let’s #spreadhummusnothate

Beet Hummus

Beet hummus - thespiceadventuress.com

Photograph courtesy – thelebaneseplate.com

Ingredients:

  1. 1 cup dried chickpeas; soaked overnight
  2. 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (optional)
  3. 250g roasted beetroot
  4. Salt, to season
  5. 3 cloves garlic
  6. ¼ tsp ground cumin
  7. 1 tbsp  tahini paste
  8. 1/3 to 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  9. olive oil for serving
  10. 1 tbsp Persian feta (optional, for serving)

Method:

  1. Beginning the night before, soak the dry chickpeas in a bowl of (approximately) 3 cups water with the teaspoon of bicarb. The chickpeas will need to soak overnight and will double in size.
  2. The following day, rinse chickpeas and place in a pressure cooker (see note) with plenty of fresh water. Lock the lid and turn to the LOW pressure setting. Once it comes to pressure (mine begins to whistle when at full pressure), turn heat to low and cook for a further 20 minutes. Take pressure cooker off heat and allow the pressure to release and cool naturally. This may take a further 30 minutes or more depending on the type of pressure cooker you have.
  3. As the chickpeas are cooking, preheat oven to 200ºC and prepare beetroot for roasting. Cut off greens and scrub beetroot thoroughly. Using a large enough piece of baking paper, wrap beetroot loosely and enclose by folding both ends into the middle and folding up ends to create a bag. Place paper bag with beetroot on an oven tray and into the oven. Roast for approximately one hour, or until beets are soft and cooked through. Remove from oven; allow to cool before peeling skin.
  4. Once pressure is released from the cooker, drain away as much liquid as you can leaving only chickpeas behind. You will find that the chickpeas look mushy, but do not fret…that’s exactly how you want them! I find using the pressure cooker softens and almost melts away the chickpea skin that you don’t need to remove them.
  5. Place the garlic, salt and cumin into a mortar and pestle and crush to create a paste. Set aside with the lemon juice.
  6. Place the chickpeas in a food processor and blend until a smooth puree is formed.  Add the beetroot and continue to whiz until you have a vibrant puree.
  7. Add tahini, garlic, salt and cumin paste and blend some more. While processor is on, add 1/3 cup of lemon juice in a steady stream. Stop to scrape down sides and taste for more lemon juice.
  8. Serve with Persian feta and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

NOTE: If you do not own a pressure cooker, use a large saucepan instead. Add chickpeas to pot with plenty of cold water and a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda. Bring to the boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for at least an hour until chickpeas are very soft.

Kashmiri chilli Hummus

I used dried Kashmiri chillies for this recipe which can be easily found in any Indian/Asian store. These chillies have a beautiful deep red colour but very less heat when compared to other varieties.

Kashmiri chilli hummus - thespiceadventuress.com

Ingredients:

  1. 1 cup dried chickpeas; soaked overnight
  2. 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (optional)
  3. 3-4 Kashmiri chillies (soaked in warm water)
  4. Salt, to season
  5. 2 cloves garlic
  6. 1 tbsp  tahini paste
  7. Juice of 1 lemon
  8. 1 tbsp thick greek style yoghurt
  9. olive oil for serving
  10. Dried chillies (for garnish)
  11. Green olives (for garnish)

Method:

  1. The first step (just as in the beet hummus) is to soak the chickpeas overnight with bicarb. Canned chickpeas can be used if you are really rushed for time but soaking and cooking the chickpeas yourself makes a big difference to the taste.
  2. Next day, rinse the chickpeas well and cook in a pressure cooker or pan till well done and lightly mushy. Season the chickpeas with salt while cooking.
  3. While the chickpeas is cooking, soak the Kashmiri chillies in warm water for at least 15 minutes or more if possible.
  4. Using a blender, grind the chillies, garlic and a pinch of salt to a coarse paste.
  5. To this add the drained chickpeas (reserve a little for garnish), tahini paste, yoghurt and half the lemon juice. Blend till a smooth consistency is achieved (you may need to scrape down the sides in between). Taste and add more salt or lemon juice as required.
  6. Transfer to a bowl and serve with olive oil. Garnish with the cooked chickpeas, sliced olives and crushed dried chillies.
  7. Enjoy

Kashmiri chilli hummus - thespiceadventuress.com

Vanilla Cakes and Lounge, Oakleigh – a Review

I have been to Oakleigh a dozen or more times but it was always en route to Chadstone. And hence I missed the culinary experience known as Eaton Mall.

You have to visit Eaton Mall during the evenings, when the entire precinct comes alive with the bustle of food lovers. Restaurants and cafes line both sides of the street and picking one can be quite a feat. For us, it had to be Vanilla Cakes and Lounge though trust me, there are many more places where you can find amazing food.

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The food at Eaton Mall is primarily Meditteranean/European with Greek cuisine taking the lead. It is also a very good spot to pick up amazing cakes and bakes with Nikos and Vanilla ruling the roost.

Though we had quite a few places in mind, we ended up at Vanilla wanting to experience both the food and pastries here.

There’s always a huge crowd dining here so make sure you arrive with enough time to spare. Vanilla has three seating areas – al fresco dining, the lounge and Vanilla upstairs. Take your pick!

Though we would have preferred to sit outside, lack of space led us to the lounge where we were seated comfortably, albeit at a small table. The menus were bought out and for drinks, we chose a lemon lime bitters, Peroni and a glass of NV Lana Prosecco (King Valley, VIC). The lime bitters was exceptionally good.

Lemon Lime Bitters

Lemon Lime Bitters

Peroni, NV Lana Prosecco (King Valley, VIC)

Peroni, NV Lana Prosecco (King Valley, VIC)

For entrée, we chose Loukaniko, a traditional spicy Greek style sausage. Grilled to perfection and with a hint of spice through the meat, this was really delicious. Totally recommended!

Loukaniko, a traditional spicy Greek style sausage

Loukaniko, a traditional spicy Greek style sausage

For mains, the first dish we chose was from the daily specials. Fish of the day (fried mullet) with a Greek salad. Not recommended for those who do not enjoy bony fish like my hubby. He was expecting fillets and not the whole fish as eating it proved to be quite fiddly. Not much in terms of seasoning also; quite a lackluster dish.

Fish of the day (fried mullet) with a Greek salad

Fish of the day (fried mullet) with a Greek salad

A good souvlaki is the sign of a good Greek restaurant and so that’s what we ordered next. An open lamb souvlaki with tzatzki, chips, salad and pita bread. On the whole, it was a good dish but the lamb could have been more tender. The smoky flavour was spot on but the meat was a bit chewy which sort of made it an average dish.

Open lamb souvlaki with tzatzki, chips, salad and pita bread

Open lamb souvlaki with tzatzki, chips, salad and pita bread

We decided to buy some pastries to take back home instead of getting any there. So bought a few slices of black forest and lemon pannacotta to take back home. Unfortunately no pictures; we got busy gobbling it up that I forgot. But must say, the best black forest I have eaten in a long long time. Both the desserts were spectacular and totally recommended.

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Which made me arrive at the conclusion that Vanilla Cakes and Lounge is more about the cakes, pastries and sweet nibbles than the food. And that’s what you must try while visiting there. It’s a good place to catch up with friends, chat over coffee with amazing cakes and pastries to accompany.

The service was average and with the place so busy, do not expect any personalized attention. The waitress who attended to us just wanted to finish her job as quick as possible. She was not very knowledgeable about the dishes on the menu and when we asked her a bit more information on the Loukaniko, she said she had no idea; didn’t even bother to ask someone else and clarify our doubts.

Rating – 7.5/10 (I am going for a higher rate for the cakes and not for the food)

Vanilla Cakes and Lounge

17-21 Eaton Mall
Oakleigh
Victoria 3166

Timings:

7.00 am to 1.00 am – All days of the week

Phone no: 03 9568 3358

Website: http://vanillalounge.com.au/

Vanilla Cakes and Lounge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Disclaimer – All the food and drinks were paid for by me.

Vons Restaurant and Bar – a Review

Located in Hardware Lane, one of Melbourne CBD’s hotspots, Vons Restaurant and Bar serves a fusion or medley of modern Australian and Meditteranean cuisine.

Shopping in the vicinity, we stepped into the very busy Hardware lane at about 7.00pm in search of a good dinner. There are plenty of little cafes, restaurants and bars along this lane and we snaked our way through hoping some place would catch our attention.

We were suddenly stopped in front of Vons by a middle aged man (presumably, one of the owners?) who promised us the most delicious bowl of pasta. He even offered special kid-sized meals, noticing the kiddos with us. And that’s how we came to eat at Vons!

Vons shares the same ambience that you find in most of the city restaurants located in such busy lanes. There is a hub of activity, conversations, glasses clinking, laughter and merriment. Not the place for a silent, romantic dinner! But I love this bustling energy and Vons appealed to me.

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The seating space inside is decent and there is an al-fresco area which is likely to be crowded always. If you are aiming for the al-fresco space, then a wait might be necessary though you are likely to find an empty table or two inside at most times.

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The first thing that struck me on entering is the beautifully stocked and done up bar. Loved the bottles of preserves lining the shelves along with the wines and alcohol. The hostess was prompt, cheerful and with a smile at all times. Lovely service….

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So far, so good…and with the promise of a good meal ahead, we began browsing the menus.

For drinks, my husband ordered the classic margarita and I ordered Zeppelin Riesling (Eden Valley, SA) which the waitress recommended would go with the seafood main that I had in mind. And true to the promise, the wine paired beautifully with the meal. The margarita was not enjoyed much; he felt that it lacked the classic refreshing flavour and punch of a real margarita.

Margarita (the classic)

Margarita (the classic)

Zeppelin Riesling, Eden Valley, SA

Zeppelin Riesling, Eden Valley, SA

For starters, we chose the Chermoula chicken kebabs. Disappointing…the kebabs were under seasoned and there was no real chermoula flavour. Totally lackluster!

chermoula chicken kebabs

chermoula chicken kebabs

For my son, I ordered a Penne with chorizo and Napoli sauce. The flavours were just average; the pasta was cooked perfectly but the sauce lacked punch. It was just an average Napoli sauce and not the best bowl of pasta I was promised!

Penne chorizo

Penne chorizo

I ordered a pan seared snapper fillet with risotto porcini and creamy orange sauce for mains. The best dish of the day, in comparison to others. The snapper was cooked perfectly, just flaking over the delicious orange sauce. The risotto had a good porcini flavour and was enjoyable but I would have preferred it to be slightly creamier.

Pan seared snapper fillet, risotto porcini and creamy orange sauce

Pan seared snapper fillet, risotto porcini and creamy orange sauce

The next main we ordered was the Osso Bucco; one that we all eagerly awaited. But this one turned out to be the biggest disappointment of the day. The meat was not cooked enough, under seasoned and the sauce that accompanied was so plain and bland. There was absolutely no flavour in the dish, thoroughly dissatisfied.

Osso Bucco

Osso Bucco

The next dish was the risotto porcini with smoked duck. The same risotto served with the snapper and a few pieces of smoked duck on top. While the risotto was enjoyable, the smoked duck lacked seasoning and did nothing to add to the dish.

Risotto porcini and smoked duck

Risotto porcini and smoked duck

The final dish for the evening was the smoky lamb ribs. The ribs were soft, falling off the bone and seasoned well. The sauce was good but definitely lacked the smoky flavour or deep richness that you would normally expect from a dish like this.

Smoky lamb ribs

Smoky lamb ribs

Didn’t bother with desserts as we were all pretty much disappointed by the end of the meal. The service was really good but the food as such, quite disappointing. Though prices were affordable, considering the quality, I would say on the higher side especially for a family. Don’t think I will be going back, unless by chance.

My rating: 6/10

Address:
Vons Restaurant and Bar
78 Hardware Lane
Melbourne 3000
Phone: 96001042
Website: http://www.vonsrestaurant.com.au/index2.html

Timings:

Monday to Friday – 12pm to 3pm and 5pm to 11pm
Saturday, Sunday – 5pm to 11pm

Vons Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Disclaimer – This is not a sponsored review; all the food and drinks were paid for by me.

Braised Chicken with Baby Spinach and Pine Nuts

All those who have been following this season of Masterchef Australia would know that the ‘Marco Pierre White’ week has just ended. Wow! What an experience it was watching the man himself.

Marco is a legend in the culinary world; often referred to as the Godfather of Modern Cuisine. But it was his wisdom, humility and greatness of character that touched me the most. There were many remarkable and wise one-liners or rather life-lessons that he gave the contestants during the entire week, some of which are truly inspiring and also that I have adopted or want to practice in my own personal life.

‘Never hide your tears’ – One of the most important lessons of life that I have picked up in my journey so far. All through my childhood, teens and early 20s, I tried excessively to hide my true feelings and put on a brave front for others’ sake. Even when I was down in the dump, I put on a brave smile and acted as if I am perfectly fine. There are many who called it ‘strength of character’ but I do not believe so. Today, much wiser, I would say it is better to let your family, friends and the larger world know your feelings. You don’t have to be a burden but neither do you have to be perfect. Just be human and let the tears show when it truly flows…

‘When you are down on the ground, stay there as long as you need but never let anyone else pick you up. Get up yourself!’ – If someone had told me this line 5 years back, I would have scoffed and made an excuse saying, it is easy to talk. But today, I totally stand by it. You become stronger when you get up yourself and then you won’t fall back to the ground, at least not for the same reason.

‘Success comes from arrogance but greatness comes from humility’ – And the line that sums it all. Humility and humbleness – the two traits that makes a person truly great. It is not an easy task, one that I struggle by. But also one that I try to practice every single day because at the end of my time here, I want to be remembered as a good person and not as a successful person.

Well, time to get back to today’s dish – braised chicken with spinach and pine nuts. Classic Meditteranean flavours!

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What I loved most about this dish was the lightness and simplicity. It is an extremely easy dish to prepare and perfect for this season. The chicken pieces are juicy and succulent, the spinach not just adds flavour but increases the health quotient too, the pine nuts a bit of crunch texture and nutty flavour and finally the broth – indulgent, warm, comforting and packed with flavour.

Recipe Courtesy – Adapted from the Coles food magazine

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Ingredients:

1. 1 whole chicken – cut into 10 pieces
2. Olive oil – 2-3 tbsp
3. Red/brown onion – 1, finely sliced
4. Garlic – 3 cloves, crushed
5. Dried chilli flakes – 1 tbsp (I like the heat! But do adjust according to your preference)
6. Ripe red tomatoes – 2, diced
7. Chicken stock – 1 cup (I used homemade but you can use any type)
8. Saffron threads – a pinch
9. Cinnamon – 1 stick
10. Lemon peel – 1 tbsp
11. Baby spinach leaves – 100 gm
12. Pine nuts – 2-3 tbsp
13. Salt – to season

Method:

• Cut the chicken into pieces, wash and drain well.
• Heat oil in a pan and brown the chicken pieces on high heat in batches; keep aside.
• If necessary, add more oil and add the sliced onions to the same pan. Saute till golden brown.
• Add garlic, chilli flakes and stir through for another 30 seconds. Then add the tomatoes and cook till soft and pulpy.
• Add the stock, saffron, cinnamon and lemon peel; then add the chicken pieces and bring to boil. Season with salt if necessary.
• Turn down the heat and simmer for 45 minutes or till the chicken pieces are soft and tender.
• Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts and keep aside. (Take care to keep on low heat as these burn easily).
• Once the chicken is done, add the washed spinach leaves and stir through for another one minute and take off heat.
• Check seasoning and garnish with toasted pine nuts.
• Tuck in!

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Hummus Bi Tahina (Middle Eastern Chickpeas Dip)

This is the Holy Week and for every Christian including me, this is the time for silent reflection, a time for praise and thanksgiving. A time to reflect on your inner self, your spiritual self. I am not a regular church-goer but I am deeply religious though my idea of religion does not always conform to today’s society and its perceptions of Christianity.

For me, religion is not something to be practiced on a weekend – it is a way of life. It is who I am….my identity, my character, my personality…..

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My religious non-conformity has always made it difficult for me to find the right place of worship/church. I feel lost in the big ones which are run more like corporate organizations than places of worship. I prefer going to a church where I can sense and feel the presence of God even if I am sitting amidst many others, a place which allows me to pray from deep within, a place I feel happy in and a place with a strong sense of community. After coming to Melbourne, we were in search of such a church and have finally found one – a 150 year old church which has stood strong and proud, celebrating the life and passion of Christ. Feeling blessed!

Well, let’s get back to today’s recipe which is a world away (or is it?) from Christianity and the Holy Week. A Middle Eastern staple – hummus bi tahina or hummus is perhaps the most famous Arabian dish that is made and relished around the globe.

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There is no dearth of recipes for hummus and though my mum has been making this one for years, I decided to follow the recipe outlined in the cookbook, ‘Traditional Arabic Cooking’.

The literal translation of hummus bi tahina is chickpeas with sesame seed paste and so the base for a hummus is chickpeas/garbanzo beans and tahina (or tahini/sesame seed paste). Chickpeas is the native or indigenous food of the Levants (Levant is the Eastern Meditteranean region comprising of Israel, Cyprus, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and parts of Turkey). It is believed that this protein rich beans was used to feed the Arab armies sent out to conquer North Africa.

Hummus is served as a dip and as part of the mezze platter and it is best eaten with pita bread. But these days, it has become a healthy dip that can be paired with vegetable sticks, bread sticks, crackers, meat skewers and even as a spread in sandwiches.

An extremely healthy dish, hummus is also very simple to prepare and can be stored for upto 2 weeks refrigerated in an airtight container.

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Ingredients:

1. Dried chickpeas – 225 gm; soaked, drained and boiled (you can use canned chickpeas also)
2. Tahina (sesame seed paste) – 5 tbsp
3. Garlic – 2 cloves
4. Lemon juice – 3-4 tbsp
5. Salt – to season
6. Olive oil – ½ cup
7. Black olives – to garnish
8. Paprika – to garnish

Note – Tahina is available commercially and is easily found at Middle Eastern food stores.

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Method:

• If using dry chickpeas, soak for at least 4 hours or overnight, rinse and cook till soft and mushy. Drain and reserve some liquid.
• Puree the chickpeas along with garlic.
• Cool and add tahini and lemon juice. Taste and adjust sourness with lemon juice and season with salt. Add the reserved liquid to loosen up consistency if necessary.
• Garnish with olive oil and black olives.

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Moroccan Lamb Salad

Having spent over a decade living in the Middle East, I have always had a soft spot for Middle Eastern cuisine. But in the 80s, the food globalization was yet to start off and most Indians stuck to the Indian cuisine, experimenting very little with the local cuisine. There were a few dishes that were mass popular and appealed to the Indian palate like the shawarma (a variation of the doner kebabs), hummus, grilled chicken and falafel.

In retrospect, I feel I have wasted a good chunk of my life living in another country, yet not learning much in terms of its cuisine. But after coming to Australia, where there is a good representation of Middle Eastern food, I have once again re-kindled my interest in this cuisine which is one of the oldest in the world.

Moroccan cuisine – I am always in a predicament as some like to categorize it under Middle Eastern cuisine while others tend to call it Meditteranean. For me, it is more of Middle Eastern though you can find plenty of dishes that are a perfect mix of both cuisines.

This Moroccan lamb salad recipe was totally new to me – I have had a lot of vegetarian salads including the famous ‘tabbouleh’ and ‘fattoush’ but hadn’t heard or tasted any salad with minced lamb like this one. I used commercial Moroccan spice mix since I am still experimenting with the home made mix. It is important to use good quality lamb mince and not the supermarket mince which is full of fat. Choose good quality boneless lamb pieces and ask your butcher to mince it for you which is the best way to get amazing mince and makes all the difference for dishes like these.

Moroccan lamb salad - thespiceadventuress.com

The sultanas/raisins and pine nuts provide a sweet crunch which balances out the heat from the chillies and coriander; the freshness of the tomatoes and cucumbers when mixed through the mildly spiced lamb mince make this a beautiful salad perfect for all seasons. And the best way to serve it – with fresh yoghurt and pita bread. Or this could make the perfect share platter to being a meal with tzatziki and crackers on the side.

Here’s how you prepare, Moroccan lamb salad.

Ingredients:

1. Lean lamb mince – 500 gm
2. Moroccan spice mix – 2 -3 tbsp (this mix is mildly hot so adjust to your preferences)
3. Coriander powder – 1 tsp
4. Raisins/sultanas – ½ cup, coarsely chopped
5. Birdseye chilli – 1, finely chopped
6. Tomatoes – 2, chopped
7. Lebanese cucumber – 1, chopped
8. Toasted pine nuts – ½ cup
9. Coriander leaves – ½ cup, finely chopped
10. 1 lemon zest – grated
11. Salt – to season

To serve:

12. Yoghurt – 1 cup
13. Pita bread

Method:

• Heat a pan and lightly spray with oil. Add the lamb mince and brown over high heat. Do not lower flame as this tends to draw out moisture from the mince and tends to overcook it. Break up lumps as it browns.
• When half done, add coriander powder and Moroccan spice mix; mix well. Cook for a minute and add the raisins and chilli. Cook for another 30 seconds and remove from heat.
• Gently toss through the other ingredients and season with salt if necessary. Serve warm with yoghurt and pita bread.

Pilafi Me Garithes (Greek style Prawn Pilaf)

 

I am not a great fan of cookbooks; in fact, I don’t own any! I usually find cookbooks fanciful and expensive filled with recipes (often complicated), techniques (not practical in my home kitchen) and ‘too perfect’ photographs. But recently, I got my hands on a huge cookbook ‘The Complete Middle East Cookbook’ by Tess Mallos – and I am hooked! Pages and pages of recipes complete with the origin, history and culinary style of the various countries, the cookbook is an expansive insight into Middle Eastern cooking.

Having grown up in Sharjah (the lesser known city of UAE, except for the infamous Sharjah Cricket Cup) I grew up eating many Arabian classics especially the grilled lamb, hummus, shawarma, falafel to name a few. So this cookbook naturally excited me when I discovered how simple and easy it is to create these Middle Eastern flavours right at home. And now I not only want to cook every single recipe in this book but also use the Middle Eastern spice blends and incorporate it into other international cuisines. So, the first one from this book was the pilaf – a common Greek rice preparation!

Greek style Prawn Pilaf - thespiceadventuress.com

There are different types of pilafs using different proteins like prawns, mussels etc… The traditional Greek flavors are quite subtle with a generous use of olive oil, herbs like parsley and a variety of spices. But this dish uses very little in terms of spices and the white wine makes a real difference!

Ingredients:

1. Fresh prawns – 1 kg, deveined and shelled (leave the shells on for added flavour if you want to)
2. Olive oil – 4-5 tbsp
3. Butter – 2 tbsp
4. Onion – 1 large, finely chopped
5. Dry white wine – ½ cup
6. Short grain rice – 2 cups
7. Salt – to season
8. Ground black pepper – to season
9. Parsley – 1 cup, finely chopped
10. Tomato puree – ½ cup
11. Lemon wedges – to garnish

Method:

• Heat oil and butter in a deep pan; add onions and sauté for a minute.
• Add the prawns and sauté for another minute.
• Season with salt and pepper; add wine, tomato puree and water. (water: rice – 2:1; remember to include wine quantity to the total water quantity)
• Bring to boil and add the washed rice along with parsley. Reduce heat and cook till the rice has absorbed all the water.
• Garnish with parsley sprigs and lemon wedges
• Serve hot with yoghurt dips/raitas (I made a green olive raita to keep with the Greek flavors)

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