On Friday lunchtime this week, I sat down with my friends and watched them chow down on a veritable feast of falafel. Both of them had fluffy white pitta breads stuffed with salads, hummus, chilli and falafel. Meanwhile I nibbled away at a pot of Edamame beans and a banana.
The gulf in the appetite whetting nature of our lunches was mostly down to my bad organisation, but it spurred two important thoughts. One: when can I eat falafel and pitta, I want it now! and two: I need more interesting lunches.
I have always said this project is not about deprivation but experimentation and love of food. So I just need to start making sure that I’m having good food every meal rather than just elaborate weekend feasts and salads for the rest of the week.
This spurred on my new campaign for March, which I have titled “ Interesting Lunch Month” – but as the month is only just starting perhaps its better off to delve into that minefield another time.
So that was issue two dealt with (well, at least started). Now for the more immediate solution to problem number one: how to get some pitta inside my belly as soon as possible.
I decided I would make some over the weekend. However as always with these things one minute I am planning some simple falafel and pitta and the next its “Turkish feast at mine 8pm” (I learnt from last time and invited people that little bit later- although as you will see it didn’t really make any difference). And thus the day started like all weekend feasts – with a trip to the shops to get everything.
Although this time I had a plan and I didn’t want to spend all day cooking. I worked out I would start at 6pm and finish at 8pm = perfect timing for some great food.
As I have previously said I am a planner, but clearly very optimistic with my time management, as nothing took too much time – it was just I had a lot to do and this time there was no “sue” in sight.
I won’t sell my friends short though as they did a good job of either helping out or getting out of the way. We got around to dinner in the end even though it was about 45 minutes late – although as they say good things come to those who wait. (It was just a shame everyone had to wait so long)
Anyway to the menu for my Turkish dinner (well maybe Greek or middle eastern- as I don’t think this is really authentically Turkish- either way we can say Turkish inspired)
And a lemon tart for dessert.
So at 6pm I embarked on the start of my dinner party preparations thinking I was fine for time – another grave time-keeping error! But time management aside the food was really pretty simple.
I won’t give you every recipe for the sake of being slightly more concise but there were definitely some key elements that made the meal what it was.
200g/7oz chick peas, drained
Juice of 1 lemon,
1 clove garlic
1 tsp sesame oil
small handful mint
1 tbsp olive oil
pinch of salt
There isn’t really a method to this- just bung it all in a food processor and blitz together – you may need to add some more oil to get a smooth enough consistency.
Again a very simple dip to make, which was apparently the “star of the show”. I really recommend making this as it was so easier and very satisfying 🙂
1 clove garlic, mashed
pinch of salt
bunch mint, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
250ml/9fl oz Greek yoghurt
- Chop the cucumber into small cubes, place in a sieve and allow to drain (I found they didn’t drain that easily by themselves so I found gently pressing down through the sieve did the job)
- In a large bowl mix the garlic, a good pinch of salt and one third of the mint. Add a squeeze of lemon and the olive oil, mix well
- Add the yoghurt, followed by the drained cucumber. Mix well and store in the fridge until needed.
Both these dips were so simple to make and bung in the fridge for later, and they tasted pretty darn good! I think they also serve as a brilliant dinner party snack, with a few carrot sticks they kept hungry guest at bay for that little bit longer!
After whipping these up I cracked on with the dish of the day and original inspiration: falafel
400g can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 garlic clove, chopped
handful of flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1⁄2 tsp chilli powder
2 tbsp plain flour
Sunflower or Vegetable Oil for frying
- Pat the chickpeas dry with kitchen paper. Tip into a food processor along with the garlic, parsley, spices, flour and a little salt. Blend until fairly smooth, then shape into circular balls. ( just a note – I think these needed more salt – so maybe worth adding some extra, as they were on the bland side)
- Heat the oil in a saucepan; add the falafel, then quickly deep fry until lightly golden. Remove from pan and pat off excess oil with kitchen paper. (When I put to 5 falafel in my pan at once they started to fall apart so I think its best to cook them a few at a time and give them enough space to turn)
I remade these again for one of March’s interesting month lunch lunches and had the satisfaction of eating my From Scratch falafel whilst my friend munched down on her store bought- Falafel Fridays are definitely a hit!
Then I embarked on my second type of bread – Pitta!
450g white plain flour
1 tsp fine-ground sea salt
1 tsp white sugar
2 sachets (14g) fast-action dry yeast
300ml tepid water
1 tbsp olive oil
1. Mix the flour, salt, sugar and yeast together in a bowl. Stir in the warm water and olive oil and mix until it comes together as dough.
2. Knead on a lightly floured surface for 10 min until smooth. Place in a large, clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise for 2 hours in a warm place.
3. Punch the dough down, and knead for 1 minute. Cut the dough into 12 pieces, shape into balls, and set aside for 10 min.
4. Heat the oven to 200C/Gas 6. Roll each ball into a fine, flat oval. (Just to note this takes time! And some sort of baking skill I’m yet to acquire- it was almost like you need a pitta whisperer analyzing your technique!) Bake on a lightly floured tray for 6 to 7 min, until puffy, soft and pale. Wrap in a slightly damp tea towel until cool. To serve, place in a hot, dry pan for a minute or two until warm. (I served mine straight away so didn’t do this second part- but good to know just in case)
(oh and just as an aside watching the pitta puff up is very exciting! If only I had an oven camera 🙂 )
And finally my favorite part – the dessert.
This was based on a Mary Berry recipe. My general rule is if in doubt go with Mary – the woman is a legend- every recipe always tastes great! It was my first attempt at making pastry or lemon tart and I wont lie I was very pleased with the final result. Again something that’s definitely worth a try 🙂
For the pastry
225g/8oz plain flour
150g/5oz cold butter, cut into small cubes
25g/1oz icing sugar
1 free-range egg, beaten
2 tbsp water
For the lemon filling
9 free-range eggs
300ml/½ pint double cream
350g/12oz caster sugar
6 large lemons, finely grated zest and juice
- Preheat the oven to 200C/390F/Gas 6.
- For the pastry, place the flour, butter and icing sugar into a food processor. Blend until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs, then add the egg and water. Blend again until it forms a ball. Roll out the pastry very thinly on a floured work surface until just a little bigger than the size of a 28cm/11 deep, loose-bottomed tart. Line the tart tin, letting the extra pastry overhang over the sides of the tin. Place on a baking sheet and then chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Bake the pastry blind, lining the tin with greaseproof pastry and filling with baking beans. Bake for 15 minutes in the preheated oven until pale golden-brown. Remove from the oven and remove the baking beans and paper. Carefully trim the excess pastry off around the sides using a sharp knife. Return the empty pastry shell to the oven for another 10-12 minutes or until it is completely dry. Set aside to cool. (I also bunged the edges in the oven – which was brilliant as they satisfied a hungry boy genius at around 6.30pm- its good when nothing goes to waste)
- Reduce the temperature of the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4
- Measure all of the filling ingredients into a bowl and whisk together until smooth. Carefully pour the filling mixture into the cooled baked pastry case.
- Transfer to the oven and bake for a 40-45 minutes or until just set but with a slight wobble in the middle. (Mine actually took about 50 mins to get there so do check just in case :))
- Leave to cool a little or completely then remove from the tin, transfer to a serving plate and dust with icing sugar to serve. (I actually baked mine in a pastry dish and served straight out – this avoided any issues with it falling apart during the transfer)
This for me was definitely the star of the show for me, not only did it look amazing, but it tasted delicious and was sooooo satisfying. In short, a lemony dream. This will definitely be added to the ‘how often can I eat lemon tart without being greedy’ recipe rotation.
This is a snipit of what I thought I could get done in 2 hrs – I think in fact its taken me more than that to actually get it all down on paper. Although I think optimistic cooking is sometimes the best way to go. Usually things turn out great and if they don’t there is always lemon tart.
It was nice to end the evening feeling pleasantly full and knowing my guests seemed reasonably happy. It’s very satisfying to cook for other people and know they have enjoyed it. But hopefully this next month will prove its just fulfilling to cook for yourself.