Category Archives: Cooking middle eastern

Zereskh pollo aka berry pulao

This is a magnificent rice dish which comes from Persia or as it’s called these days Iran.

This country has an amazing history of food and influences of these foods are seen in the cuisines of the Indian subcontinent and the Ottoman empire. The pulao and the biryanis have originated here or in the Ottoman empire and travelled with the many invaders to the sub continent.

There might have been rice which went there and saffron which came back who knows what happened with the old trading routes invaders and all of that. What we do know is we have some amazing food that we can use today.

I learnt to make this when post gulf war two our hotel in Dubai was running empty and restaurants were suffering. Our director ops got the bright idea to sublet our banquet rooms to an Iranian restauranteur / caterer to whom we had to to assist with the food production in our banquet kitchen .

They came or rather the one chef they sent came with their pots and A charcoal bbq which was quite amazing. Had a shallow pit and an electric blower to help light the fire faster .When they left we arranged for this to get hidden so we got the proverbial fell off the back of the truck amazing bbq. I also got the design to custom make two BBQs which 15-16 years later are still in use in my hotel then.

I used this recipe also for the 1st curry cup competition at the Nz culinary fare. The judges had never seen zereskh berries before and we’re blown away. My students Simaranjit Singh and Shamika Ratnayake Palliyage went on to win the inaugural cup , gold medals and best in category award..much joy and happiness. Boom boom fwd to recipe before you fall asleep.

  • Basmati rice get the good quality one- 200 gm/ 1 cup. Wash with room temperature water till it’s clear this gets rid of the excess starch because the rice when cooked should be individual grains.
  • saffron -1/4 of a gram.or a bit less.. toast this in the microwave for 20 seconds ..this makes it easy to get the maximum colour and flavour out. Then add in a few spoons of warm water and cover and keep for atleast 15-20 mins
  • Zereskh berries – a good spoonful 2- gms or so.. if you can’t get these you cannot really use cranberries because they taste so’s like using pears for apple pie because it’s a pip fruit. U can buy them dry from a persian shop but keep them on the fridge they get brown and yucky otherwise
  • Oil and butter 20-30 gms together ..can go a bit higher too..

Heat water in a heavy bottom pot and add some salt to it and 1 bayleaf and 2-3 cardamom.

while it’s boiling soak the zereskh/ barberries with some clarified butter and some warm water.just to rehydrate them.

When water has boiled add in the rice and cook till 80 %done and drain it. Then in that same pot add some of the oil butter mix and pour the rice over it.. the traditional way they put the saffron and berries underneath but sometimes that kills the delicate saffron or zafran as it’s called . This slow cooking of the base forms a cripsy rice cracker like crust called “Tahdig,”.so In my way we put the saffron on the top of the rice and the berries right in the end .pop a lid on and low heat ,6-8 mins voila..

zereskh pollo

Baba ghanouj with pomegranate molasses

Typically baba ghanouj in the western world is the wrong kind or rather wrongly named..what the world calls Baba ghanouj is actually called Muttabel in the levantine region .I know this because I was taught by the master Jedi of Lebanese food when I worked in Dubai. While that is great in itself , it is not Baba ghanouj..which we will try to make today .

so this forms part of Mezze which are different kinds of appetizers/dips/fritters /baked stuff and so on .

  • Eggplant 🍆- look for a plump one not too large mind U as those sometimes contain lots of seeds , let’s say -1 medium sized one about 300-400 g it’s not an exact science like bread making more like alchemy..add a drib of this or that. You need to stab this several times with a small paring knife ..think evil thoughts and let it out. The reason to puncture the skin is to make the cooking easier and let the steam escape. Then you roast this over an open flame, gas or charcoal, U could roast in the oven but doesn’t get the smoky aroma then. You need to turn it during the cooking process so the skin gets completely black and burnt, but don’t fear have some faith. Once this is done put it in a steel bowl and cool down.then you peel all the black burnt bits off and discard the stalk as well. wash and drain so we don’t get bits of carbonized eggplant skin in out diet.The burnt bits are great for your worm farm or in your garden.Then you take your favourite knife and again with the evil thoughts chop it up for 1 min and 28 seconds ( not really, but it’s good to put random times to see if the people are really reading). We need it roughly chopped and in a mixing bowl
  • Capsicum red is nice-1/4 /50 g chopped evenly please this time .. everything can’t be rustic
  • spring onion green and white -2 / 40-50 g washed well and chopped
  • Parsley flat leaf/ Italian the curly stuff has no flavour- 1-2 sprigs chopped doesn’t have to be very fine but not very chunky ..
  • lemon juice – to give a hint of tartness ..U figure out how much you like
  • Extra virgin olive oil which has a good taste and aroma -2 T roughly
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Garlic cloves -2 peeled and crushed really fine this time – this is good to do with the salt and the flat of your knife .
  • Cumin powder – 1 g / large pinch

Mix everything in a bowl , taste to see if you like it..arrange it neatly in a nice ceramic bowl and garnish / drizzle with some pomegranate molasses just a little because this can be quite acidic/ tart and some more Ev olive oil. No irritating foams and gels here , this is food which is heart warming not just fancy pants impress the Jones kind.

eat with bread of some kind, pita bread triangles to scoop it up ,or foccacia or khubz Afghani / which is like pide bread topped with sesame seeds.You can find bread recipes here or make one which you have used before..

All of mine do work .They might not be the prettiest buttons in the box but they certainly work .No filters, no Dramas or pretty faces in the background.

I can prove it , got evidence..😆😀

Baba ghanouj with some focaccia

Shawarma like Habibi Ibrahim Hadla..well almost

I first ate shawarma or kebab/ doner as it is also called in Dubai ,in 2000 when I’d moved from Madras ( yeah was still called Madras then).There were a few places which used to sell Shawarma and the better amongst them was the Lebanese village / bistro , which unfortunately no longer exists . So for those who don’t know the Shawarma has come from the Ottoman Empire and each country from the Levant region proclaims that their version makes the bestest version.

So we have lots of chicken / layered with the skin on on a vertical spit/ thick skewer which either slowly rotates or is rotated by hand so each side gets heated and then is sliced of so you get thin slices of cripsy ( no it’s not a typo)chicken and some soft bits ..which then goes in a warm pita bread/ khaboos which is like a wrap but better tasting , a smear of garlic sauce( toom), sliced tomato( panadura in Arabic ), some mint( Nana), some pickled cucumber or pink turnips( don’t ask me why pink, they use beets apparently), and soggy french fries,

Chicken boneless skin on 1kg..this is important, we need the fat from the skin to melt out and keep the meat juicy.if you can get only legs that’s even better, they can stay better with the intense heat..

White vinegar 50ml

Orange juice from 1orange

Allspice powder-1tsp

Clove powder Pinch.

Cinnamon powder -1tsp

Chopped garlic/paste-25gm


Sliced raw onion 100gm

Green cardamom 2-3

Chicken stock powder 2gm

Olive oil-20mlSh

  • Mix all marinade ingredients and bash the chicken a bit to make all the ingredients penetrate better . In any case it needs to sit for a few days to to make it better..the vinegar almost half cooks the most of the levantine countries they use a spice mix called Baharat shawarma, but you are better off making your own.
  • Next keep in the fridge well covered otherwise everything is going to smell of the spices and stuff.
  • Fast forward to day 3.. if you are stressed for time , atleast keep it overnight . Cook in the oven with a roasting pan lined with baking paper ( listen to me, it makes clean up simpler). Temp 200 C for 20-.move it around after about 15 mins ..and allow to rest in oven after turning it off.
  • then shred it up when cooler and roll up in the pita ( you can make your own, if you are slightly cuckoo like me), or go help your brother in need buy buying his pita bread in the packet , with all the paraphernalia i mentioned before..

Falafel with tahina sauce

chick peas dry- soak overnight with a pinch of baking soda- 200 gms

fresh parsley- few sprigs – enough to make the mixture nice and green and give it a burst of flavour

fresh peeled garlic cloves – 4 nos.

lemon juce- from 1 lemon

salt – to taste

white onion peeled- 1 no

sesame seeds- about 2 tsp/10 gms

now drain the chickpeas, and grind to a semi smooth paste, without any water,(ok maybe 20 ml or so)  but with the onion, parsley, and the garlic. add in the lemon juice, the sesame seeds and season with salt.

form into about 20 gm patties and deep fry till browned and cooekd through.

serve with tahina sauce (tahina thinned down with some natural yoghurt ) called taratoor sauce in lebanon/syria

good as a snack or in a bun as vege filling.

Oriental rice.

This is the one served with ouzi or the arabic styled roasted lamb.its really aromatic and flavourful.

Our lebanese chef Ibrahim Hadla, would make this really well and i learnt how to do it by watching him.After that i would usually make this for 900 odd people on New years eve buffet.!! in a huge 300 ltrs tilting braising pan.Now i know you might not have that at home  so this is modified to suit your home kitchen.

you will need

  1. lamb mince- 200 gms

  2. onion chopped- 1 no / 150 gms

  3. garlic- 2-3 cloves chopped

  4. bayleaf-1 no

  5. baharat powder- 1/2 teaspoon ( you can make this one at home and use for shawarma etc, needs cinnamon, cloves, some green cardamom  and some pepper, quite strong on the cloves)

  6. cinnamon powder as well again -1//4 tsp

  7. black pepper powder-1/4 tsp

  8. Gum arabic/ gundar/ gond/mistika – 1/4 tsp- pounded with some rock salt to a fine powder

  9. Basmati rice- 250 gms soaked in cold water and washed well.

  10. Saffron strands- 1/4 gm or less- toast in microwave for 15 seconds and soak with water first

  11. oil+Butter mix-25 ml


  • heat oil and add onions and garlic, lightly brown and then add the mince, which has to be really well browned and caramelised.

  • then add the spice powders and stir fry even more. add bayleaf and the rice and continue to stir fry till the rice is well coated with the mince and the oil . that will make the rice grains quite separate and nice when the mix has cooked.add in the gum arabic powder.

  • Add in enough hot stock or water (you can add some chicken stock powder to cheat) to cover the rice and a little more still.

  • Top with the saffron which you must have soaked in a little water.(what you dint know that?.Then get out of here).

  • cover with a lid for about 10-12 minutes on a low heat .

  • Serve with roasted lamb as an can top the rice with fried almonds, cashew, pistachio ..