Totally Addicted to Persia

…and Sabrina Ghayour

I have been on a Persian binge recently, I can’t get enough of it; the more I cook it the more I want it…you can see how this could easily get out of control (and it has).  I have quite a few recipe books of that ilk (see my Cookbook Library for the full list) which I’ve used on and off over the last few years; but it’s Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour (see post here) that has set me off on my binge.  After loving Persiana so much I couldn’t resist buying her new book Sirocco and it hasn’t let me down – oh no – It. Has. Not.

The first meal I made out of Sirocco was Citrus & Za’atar Roast Chicken with a Date, Orange, Almond and Rocket Salad and a Maftoul Salad.  The chicken is pretty straight forward – just smother the chicken in a rub made of spices and zest and bung it in the oven for a while. One thing I did find a challenge was not letting the spice rub burn; you can see in the image below that it got pretty dark (but luckily in a good way).  I turned the chicken over a few times while it was roasting and next time I’ll put it on a rack so that the skin stays crisp on all sides.  I ended up taking the chicken out of the oven early (thanks to my trusty instant read thermometer telling me it was cooked) but if I’d left it in there for any longer I would have had to cover it in tin foil to stop it colouring further.

What a gorgeous looking bird🙂

To go with the chicken I made a Maftoul Salad which is basically just Palestinian couscous mixed with lots of other tasty morsels and a gorgeous citrus-y dressing.  I’d had some black garlic in the cupboard for quite a while and I recently bought a jar of sour cherries so I couldn’t resist making this salad just so I could use both of those ingredients!

I also couldn’t resist the Date, Orange, Almond and Watercress Salad because it looks so beautiful.  In this case I couldn’t find watercress so I used rocket which worked well.  The dressing on this salad contains honey and red wine vinegar and it is ab-so-lutely delicious. One of the great things about all of these recipes is that they are very straight forward to put together and they make a great alternative to the western-style Sunday roast.




The next meal I cooked from Sirocco was Rose Harissa Seared Lamb Steak (was meant to be beef but I wanted lamb) with Turmeric & Spice-Marinated Cauliflower and Asparagus with Preserved lemon & Pickled Chilli.  This was actually a pretty quick meal.  I did do one thing in advance that you wouldn’t normally need to do, but because I was going out on the night that I wanted to cook this I made the spice paste the night before and left the cauliflower to marinate in the fridge. That meant that when I got home from work all I needed to do was make a quick tomato sauce and fry the cauliflower (another adjustment – the cauli was actually supposed to be deep-fried but I shallow fried it).

The asparagus was also super quick and easy to prepare and is deliciously crisp, has a lovely freshness from the mint, a salty tang from the preserved lemons and heat from the chilli (in this case I didn’t have pickled chillis so I just used chilli flakes).  Sooo good!


For the lamb, I don’t have rose harissa so I crushed up some edible rose petals and mixed those in with the standard harissa that I have in the fridge.  After rubbing that all over the steaks I gave them a quick hot fry and Bob was my Uncle – dinner was ready!  Such a nice combination of flavours, looks super fancy and is quick enough for a week night – I had it cooked and eaten in plenty of time for me to lounge around for a while before I went out – win, win and win🙂


It’s funny but I didn’t realise how often I was making slight changes to the recipes until I was writing this post and it reminded me of something that Sabrina Guyour wrote in her introduction to this book:

“…many people feel the pressure to follow recipes to the letter, but Middle Eastern cookery just isn’t rigid in that way.”

I can certainly vouch for that.


by Diana Henry

At the beginning of this year I started using Instagram (to which I’m now slightly addicted…).  I ended up following Diana Henry’s Instagram feed although I’d never heard of her at that point; now that I do know more about her I’m amazed that I didn’t know her before!  Not to mention the fact that she owns more than 4000 cookbooks (makes my collection of 200 look embarrassingly modest; I was sure to let my husband know that!) she was also a winner at the 2016 James Beard Awards.  I’m happy to report that I am now the proud owner of two of Diana Henry’s books – “Salt, Sugar, Smoke” which is a book on preserving (I haven’t used this book yet) and “Simple” which she published just last month.

The first recipe I cooked from “Simple” is Lamb with Preserved Lemon, Dates & Cumin Butter…and yes, it does taste as good as it sounds.  The lamb is stuffed with a mixture of kale, chili, dates and preserved lemon before being slathered in cumin butter and roasted until it has a gorgeous crust.

Straight out of the oven looking gorgeous in it’s golden pool of butter and lambiness

I don’t often make a stuffed roast but it looks amazing when it’s sliced; I was very happy to see that the lamb had retained some pinkness (phew!)  One very sad error I made was forgetting to pour the cooking juices over it at the end – what a mistake!  The greens are out of the garden and dressed in butter, lemon juice and shaved parmesan.

If only the cooking juices were on that lamb…

I’m always a sucker for Spanish flavours and anything with chorizo and beans, so I couldn’t resist making Diana’s recipe for Spanish Rice with Chorizo, Beans & Pumpkin.  This is a good one for a weeknight because it doesn’t take too long and it doesn’t require lots of stirring.  Saffron is used to add an earthy flavour to the rice…I have to admit to cutting back substantially on the number of chorizo – the recipe calls for 10-12 chorizo! I used half that. I also had to use quite a bit of extra stock to get my rice to cook through (so actually…when I say it’s a good weeknight meal, it did end up being quite a late one!).  Other than the laborious task of cutting up the pumpkin everything else is quick to prepare and it all gets cooked in the same pan which is great for those on washing up!

I had some leftover roasted red peppers in the fridge so I added those to the pan as well…great decision🙂

Probably my favourite of the recipes I’ve made from this book so far is Chicken Piccata with Lemon & Parsley Orzo.  The chicken is cooked in oil and butter over a high heat so that it becomes crisp and golden and then a quick sauce is made with vermouth, lemon juice, capers and herbs.  I made some slight adjustments to my sauce – instead of capers I used nasturtium capers that I made from the nasturtium berries in our garden last summer and I added a few green peppercorns (so good!).  The orzo with lemon and parsley is a great side dish to the chicken as it contains similar flavours, is quick to make and has a satisfying texture.

It doesn’t look very impressive…but trust me, it’s good

The most recent recipe I’ve made from this book is Persian Inspired Eggs with Dates & Chilli.  Mine doesn’t look anywhere near as good as Diana Henry’s version (which my husband kindly pointed out to me) but it still tasted amazing.  It’s basically fancy scrambled eggs with cumin, spinach and dates added (among other things).  It makes me realise that while basic scrambled eggs are definitely a winner there are so many other possibilities! For this particular recipe I didn’t have fresh dates so I used some gorgeous black dried figs instead…too good.


So I’m very happy to know of Diana Henry now that I’ve cooked some of her recipes. I’m looking forward to working my way through more of her recipes in this and her other books.  I’ve also discovered another cookbook author through Diana Henry’s Instagram – Naomi Duguid – I now own two of her books as well…but hey, as long as I own less than 4000 cookbooks then I think I’m doing ok🙂


Easy decadence

A few months ago I bought a cookbook by Sabrina Ghayour called Persiana which, as the name suggests, is full of all sorts of Middle Eastern and Persian delicacies that make me feel decadent just reading the recipes.  How can I possibly resist going out immediately to purchase edible rose petals and dried limes to add to what I already thought of as a well stocked middle-eastern pantry?  And of course, once I had possession of these gorgeous goodies I absolutely had to cook with them.  Below are some photos of what I’ve cooked from this book so far, and trust me when I say that these won’t be the last!

This first one is Spiced Vegetable Soup cooked on the recommendation of the person who sold me the book…we weren’t disappointed.  Beautiful and hearty topped with a pistachio herb oil.

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Baked Eggs with Feta, Harissa, Tomato Sauce and Coriander is Persiana’s version of Shakshuka and like all Shakshuka’s, it’s a great start to the day.  One thing I liked about this version is that it doesn’t contain capsicums so it’s a good one for the winter months.

Persian Dried Lime, Lamb & Split Pea Stew…O…M…G!  This one was amazing!  I wasn’t able to find dried limes in time for this recipe but used pickled lemons instead (on the advice of the man at the Middle Eastern supermarket) and they infuse the dish beautifully…and I always love the texture of split peas, satisfyingly soft and yet firm.  Definitely a winner.


I served the lamb stew with a Bulghur Wheat Salad.  This was supposed to have pomegranate seeds in it but there aren’t any around at the moment so I used dried cranberries soaked in lemon juice instead.  They made a good substitute and since then I’ve seen that you can buy dried cranberries that are soaked in pomegranate juice which would probably be even better!


If you want to try something sweet, Spiced Carrot, Pistachio and Almond Cake with Rosewater Cream was a great way to use up a bag of pistachios that had been sitting in the cupboard for a while.  It’s more of a dessert cake (very moist and crumbly) but I was quite happy to take it to work and eat it with a fork.  It has a lovely flavour, is gluten free and totally decadent.

Spiced Lamb Kefta with Butternut Squash, Pistachio Pesto, Feta, Cranberries and Almonds.  There’s a burst of sweetness from the currants in the Kefta which goes nicely with the lamb and spices.  The mixture was a bit loose so I added a decent amount of breadcrumbs to get the right consistency.  The pumpkin with the pesto is amazing, almost like a nut butter.  I used the leftover pesto as a pasta sauce which was also divine.

Lamb Shank, Black Garlic and Tomato Tagine was a great use for a couple of huge shanks that I had in the freezer.  If you haven’t come across it before, black garlic is garlic that’s been slow cooked until it becomes caramelized, sweet and delicious.  To be honest, it’s so good I could eat it on its own and it melts into the tagine to provide little surprises of flavour every now and again.

Persian Saffron Chicken, Fennel and Barberry Stew…this is the only one of Sabrina’s recipes that I would categorise as just ‘good’ rather than ‘amazing’.  It tasted good, it just didn’t have the gutsy flavour of some of the other recipes.  By the time the fennel had cooked for so long it was pretty tasteless and it really relied on the barberries to add oomph.  Still…one average recipe amongst a bunch of crackers isn’t too bad.

Poussin with Harissa and Preserved Lemon enabled me to use a poussin that I’ve had in the freezer for quite a while now.  We got all excited when we saw them at the local butcher a while ago but they were so expensive that we only bought one…it then proceeded to sit in the freezer because I could never think of what to do with one small bird.  Eventually we just got it out of the freezer and ended up having it for breakfast!  The harissa and preserved lemon blended together to make a rub…a genius idea, I’ve never thought of blending preserved lemons before but it opens up so many more uses for them.

Tray Baked Rose Petal Lamb Chops with Chilli and Herbs…of course I had to make something that included the edible rose petals!  These chops were amazing, so much flavour from the marinade and fast enough to make on a weeknight.  They are served with a herb and chilli drizzle which is quick and easy to make and very tasty.

To go with the lamb chops I made a Fattoush Salad with some slight variations.  I didn’t have any tomatoes (it’s the end of winter), I used jarred chargrilled capsicums instead of fresh and I used rocket instead of lettuce.  This salad is amazing…it is so crunchy and fresh and the dressing is wonderfully zesty which was a great match for the rich lamb chops (which were quite salty).

My rating for this book so far?  Totally fab!  So if you’ve been thinking about trying it out I would highly recommend it.  I hadn’t realised quite how many recipes I’d already made from this book and out of the 12 recipes I’ve cooked, 11 were amazing and 1 was good…that’s a pretty good strike rate!

Eggs are Good for Hangovers

I may have slightly over-indulged on wine and cocktails last night…as a result, I over-indulged on eggs today.  I don’t know about you but I always find myself reaching for the eggs when I have a hangover…comforting and easy to digest, they also provide a good protein hit and if need be, they can provide the “must-have” of the more advanced hangover…they can be fried.

At lunch time I was still in the denial stage…”my hangover’s not too bad, I feel pretty good”.  So for lunch I had Eggs en Cocotte using Elizabeth David’s method with a bit of butter and cream…really good with the toast fingers dipped in!


But as the day wore on I was forced to admit that maybe I was feeling a bit worse for wear than I’d previously hoped.  To deal with this I needed to step the eggs up a notch and get the frying pan out.  Using an idea that I saw on instagram recently, I sprinkled some za’atar into the pan with the butter.  I served my fried egg with another piece of toasted vogels, avocado and plenty of salt…this definitely hit the spot.

Eggsv2However, despite the best efforts of the eggs I have to accept that I’m not going to feel better until tomorrow…or at my age…maybe the next day!  I hope you all had a good weekend and that it was a hangover free zone🙂

My French Kitchen

Cookbook by David Lebovitz

I bought David Lebovitz’s book “My French Kitchen” last year.  I really enjoyed reading it; almost every recipe has a funny story associated with it about his life and experiences living in Paris…but I realised a few weeks ago that despite loving the book I hadn’t really cooked much out of it.  This has since been rectified.

Almost every recipe has a funny story associated with it!

The first thing I cooked was his cover recipe – Chicken with Mustard Sauce and I served it with Celeriac Puree.  The sauce for this dish is really good; it has a lot of mustard in it which I thought might be too much but it wasn’t at all.  Extra mustard and mustard seeds are added at the end to give the sauce a fresh mustard kick and some extra texture.  The parsley on top is key; I didn’t serve any green veges with the dish so it was a much needed freshness.

I did however serve the chicken with Celeriac Puree (also from David’s book) which took a lot longer to cook than I had anticipated (30-40 minutes boiling time!).  So dinner was a bit late that night.  The celeriac was a good accompaniment to the chicken and mustard as it seemed to support the other flavours without overpowering them (whereas potato might have been a bit too bland).

I had to test my chicken jointing skills for this meal – it’s been a few months since I last jointed a chicken so I was very impressed that I had the chicken jointed in 3 minutes flat – nice work!!🙂


I also cooked David’s Pork and Chard Sausage alongside his Puy lentil salad.  The sausages took a couple of hours because the sausage needs 30 minutes in the oven after all the other preparation. The resulting sausage is quite green from the chard which the family found a bit disconcerting…I can understand why David didn’t include a photo in the book! The ingredients are supposed to be processed until combined, but still chunky; I had trouble getting the chard to break down so it all ended up quite fine. It wasn’t too much of a problem but next time I’ll process the chard on its own before adding the other ingredients.

My husband thought it had essence of haggis…

The flavour is really good, the chicken livers bring a parfait sort of flavour to it which is delicious.  My husband – being Scottish – thought it had essence of haggis about it. Despite the green colour everyone really enjoyed them. The lentil salad went nicely with the sausage; the lentils are cooked very simply with finely diced veges and fresh herbs until al dente-ish. The salad is then finished off with fresh parsley, feta cheese and toasted walnuts…beautiful.

Ready for the oven
Out of the oven
The full ensemble

The final recipe that I cooked from David Lebovitz’s book (for now) is Multi-grain Bread. This makes a lovely soft round loaf and it’s a loaf that is very forgiving in the face of neglect.  It has a starter that you make the night before which is quick to put together – just flour, water and yeast. I left this to sit for a really long time -about 12 hours (instead of 8) before I got around to doing the next phase.  After the starter has done its thing you add the rest of the ingredients and leave it to rise for another 2 1/2 hours (mine was left quite a bit longer!), then it goes into a proving basket for another 1 1/2 hours (mine was left quite a bit longer!). Finally it gets baked in a Dutch oven for 30 minutes and it’s ready! Even though it could have been ready by lunch time I didn’t get it out of the oven until about 5pm…very forgiving and delicious.


So not only is David Lebovitz an entertaining writer he produces pretty good recipes as well! I’m looking forward to cooking some more of his recipes in the coming months.

Winter Comfort Food

Stews, Roasts, Ragus and Broth

Now that the weather has finally started to feel wintery in Christchurch I’ve been able to break into some winter comfort food.  Although the first one of these is more of a transitional dish for the changing of the seasons…slightly wintery but still containing essense of summer.   This is a recipe from an Auckland restaurant, The Engine Room (recipe book of the same name) for Hapuku with Celeriac Puree, Fennel and Pea Broth and Tapenade.

a great entertaining dish

I’m still not great at food styling (which you may notice as you read my blog) but for this dish I followed the image and plating instructions to try and emulate their style and frankly I think it looked stunning!  For this and other reasons it’s a great entertaining dish; the tapenade and broth can be made in advance and the root veges can be chopped and ready to go.  Then all you need to do is make the mash and fry the fish.

The broth has a lovely fresh flavour from the vegetables that are cooked in it, particularly the fennel.  The celeriac puree is beautifully smooth and creamy from being pushed through a sieve and mixed with cream and butter.  I put lots of salt on the fish and cooked it in lots of butter with some oil.  It’s started in the pan and finished in the oven which takes away some of the worry of overcooking it.  The tapenade is quick and easy to make, just chuck all the ingredients in a food processor and then put it in a jar.  I made half quantity which was PLENTY.  I definitely recommend this recipe; you can find the recipe here (although strangely, The Engine Room isn’t credited with the recipe in this link).


This next recipe is a good one for the depths of winter when you need a good hearty, warming stew – Beef and Red Wine Stew by Elizabeth David from the book “At Elizabeth David’s Table”.  Unfortunately I don’t have an image of this one, it was so good that all other thoughts were blocked out as we dived straight in!

It’s one of those meals that when people walk into the house they start to drool.

The meat is cooked in large chunks which cook on top of the other ingredients with aromatics tucked into them such as orange peel and thyme.  The recipe doesn’t have much liquid but it’s cooked under a cartouche at a low temperature to retain the moisture.  I cooked the stew at a slightly higher temperature than the recipe suggested (150 rather than 140 degrees C) for 3 hours until the meat was falling apart and served it with good old mashed potatoes and peas.

The flavour was sooo good, a great classic stew.  It’s one of those meals that when people walk into the house they start to drool.

Another winner of a dish is Roasted Pork Shoulder and Rhubarb by Florence Knight from her cookbook “One”.  This is the second meal I’ve cooked from her book now and it’s proving to be a most excellent book.

I was drawn to this recipe for a number of reasons but I’m always interested in recipes that use rhubarb in a savoury way.  I didn’t have a bone-in pork shoulder so I used pork strips instead.  The full shoulder was due to have 5 hours in the oven but I put my pork strips on for just 3 1/2 hours and they come out all lovely and fall-aparty.

I used full quantity stock for only half quantity of the other ingredients to make sure it wouldn’t dry out and this was the right decision or I wouldn’t have had enough liquid for the gravy.

IMG_0087When the pork finished cooking I kept the chunks of carrot out and served them with the meal rather than squashing them into the gravy.  For the lentils I used small onions chopped in half and then served the onion with the lentils which was a nice addition and fIMG_0088or the rhubarb I added less honey – probably 1/2 – 2/3 of the amount.

The flavour of the meal was delicious.  There is a subtle flavour from the fennel on the pork and the lentils had a good savoury flavour and a good texture.  The rhubarb was fantastic – as the recipe said, it adds a wonderful astringency to offset the fattyness of the pork – delicious, delicious, delicious!!



The final meal to finish this set is a Rosemary Lamb Ragu with Golden Sweet Potato Mash from Eleanor Ozich’s book “My Family Table”.  The great thing about this recipe is that unlike the ones above it’s a much faster recipe for a warming weeknight meal.  My initial critique of this recipe was that the Worcestershire sauce was too overpowering…I then re-read the recipe and realised that I’d read “tablespoons” when in fact it said “teaspoons”!  So I don’t think I can mark the recipe down for that!

One thing that I didn’t think worked very well was the parmesan cheese in the kumara/sweet potato mash – for some reason it just didn’t go together.  But that’s an easy fix for the next time I make this meal. The recipe itself is quick without much prep required…always an attractive feature of a recipe when you’re tired at the end of a day at work.  (You can find the recipe here


We’re still in the middle of winter here so I’m looking forward to creating many more hearty meals in the weeks to come.  What are your favourite winter warmers?

Rebellious Baking

You might remember from previous posts that I’ve been trying to cut down on my sugar intake this year.

I don’t usually make changes to baking recipes because of the “science” involved

I started out using recipes that were designed to be low sugar but lately I’ve gone back to more traditional recipes which I’m adjusting to make them healthier. It’s quite fun deciding what to change and to see if it’ll work out or not;I don’t usually make changes to baking recipes because of the “science” involved so my recent experiments have made me feel rather rebellious!

The first recipe I adjusted was Nigella’s Banana Bread recipe from “How to be a Domestic Goddess” (you can find this recipe here).  This banana bread was soooo good that it has been promoted to my new go-to recipe.  But really, how could it not be good when it’s full of rum-soaked saltanas?!  It has walnuts in it as well which are dee-lish.

What did I change – I changed half of the flour from white to wholemeal and I reduced the sugar by about 1/4 of a cup.  Not huge changes but I thought it best to go gently at first.

Result – this recipe is delicious and didn’t seem at all impacted by the changes I made.  The cake is very moist which makes it a bit fall-aparty but it’s an issue I’m prepared to put up with!  It’s possible that the crumbliness was caused by the wholemeal flour.  Outcome – successful change.

Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of the banana bread…we were obviously too focused on eating it to think about preserving it for posterity!

The next recipe I meddled with is a family favourite that my Gran always used to make.  It was actually quite a big deal for me to change this recipe because I didn’t want to lose the essence of what makes Gran’s Brown Betty special…however the other option was not to make it anymore which didn’t appeal either.

What did I change – I left the quantity of sugar the same but I replaced the white sugar with a mixture of coconut sugar and rapadura (only because I didn’t have enough coconut sugar).  I read online that these sugars can be difficult to cream with butter because they’ve got larger granules so I ground them a bit finer in my mini blender and they creamed up nicely.  I also substituted pure maple syrup for the golden syrup and replaced all the white flour with wholemeal flour.

Result – you can taste the wholemeal flour but the flavour is still really good and by the time we’d been eating it for a couple of days we had adjusted to the change in flour.  The texture was good and most importantly, it still had that certain special something that is distinctive to Brown Betty.  So this time I went a bit further by changing the type of sugar and using all wholemeal flour.  Next time I will try reducing the quantity of sugar as well and see how that goes.  Overall a successful experiment.


This is an outstanding dessert!

I have to admit that I made very little change to this last recipe but it didn’t contain a lot of sugar in the first place.  This is a dessert recipe for Roasted Figs with Pomegranate Molasses and Orange Zest from Ottolenghi’s book “Plenty More”.  If you want to try this recipe you can find it here.

This is an outstanding dessert!  The sauce consists of pomegranate molasses, strips of orange zest, thyme sprigs, lemon juice and brown sugar.  The figs marinate in this before being grilled with another sprinkling of brown sugar until caramelized…very easy!

While the figs are grilling the sauce is reduced and thickened then drizzled over the figs, which are sprinkled with thyme leaves and served with a dollop of sweetened mascarpone and greek yoghurt and a sprinkling of orange zest…devine…it looked stunning and tasted stunning!

This recipe would be great for a dinner party because most can be done in advance.  The mascarpone and yoghurt is whipped and put in the fridge and the figs can be left to marinate for a reasonable period of time until needed.

What did I change – there are only 3 tablespoons of brown sugar in the recipe but even so I cut this in half and I only used 1/2 tablespoon of icing sugar in the cream.

Result – I think the above says it all…devine!



For my next experiments I’m keen to try replacing the white flour not just with wholemeal flour but other flours such as buckwheat, brown rice and almond meal etc.  Even though I’m still in the early stages of making these adjustments, there’s something very satisfying knowing that my treats are nourishing(ish).