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Middle Eastern Salad Plate, August 2014

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Apart from a takeaway beetroot and falafel wrap eaten on the fly near the Coombe a few months ago, I had somehow missed out on trying the Fumbally café up till now, which is actually a little embarrassing. It’s exactly the sort of place I knew I’d love – excellent (and really quite keenly priced) Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food; bright, vibrant interiors and good coffee.

Anyway, better late than never. I tried the garlicky eggs, the falafel salad plate and a hazelnut flapjack and I loved every mouthful. The falafel plate in particular stuck out as a great lunchtime option, as the salads – a sesame-seeded hummus, a carrot and labneh mix and a chickpea fennel slaw – were all delicious, filling and really carefully made. It’s the kind of food which makes you feel good (fed; satisfied; nice in your bones) rather than merely virtuous (a hollow victory).

After a coffee, we headed out to Francis Street to check out the ‘Antiques Quarter’ for ourselves, and surprisingly it turned out to be just that: there must have been 20 shops selling oddities and rugs and china dogs. I found a nice retro restaurant tray in one of the shops for €2.50, which I decided to fill with some Middle Eastern salads of my own.

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I made lentil and roasted garlic hummus with roasted sesame carrots and seeded pitta; beetroot, feta and fennel salad; a herby yoghurt and freekeh, a gorgeous, smoky-tasting, fibre-packed cereal made from roasted green wheat, which has been roasted and cracked after harvesting. The name comes from the Arabic word farīk, meaning ‘rubbed’ and its wholesome, nutty texture is very similar to bulghur. Since it’s not a full grain it takes less time to cook than wheatberries do – about 20 minutes, after a ten-minute soak. I found it in the strange foods section in M&S Dundrum, but it’s probably available in health food and Middle Eastern speciality stores too.

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   MIDDLE EASTERN SALAD PLATE

There’s a lot of flexibility with this, so just use whatever you have in your fridge and cupboards. I think a nice ratio is something crunchy, something smooth, something creamy, something to dip with, and something else to dip into – so maybe a chopped salad; a hummus or baba ganoush; a tzatziki or other yoghurt dip; some crudités or toasted pitta and then maybe some olive oil or harissa – or a combination of both. All of these salads serve 4, but they could just as easily serve 6 or 8. 

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Beetroot, Fennel and Feta Salad

According to Niki Segnit, the secret of beetroot’s success is its ‘strange combination of sweetness and earthiness, which sets off ingredients that are predominantly sour, salty, or both, like goat’s cheese’. I’m using feta rather than goat’s cheese as I still haven’t crossed that particular bridge into adulthood yet, but the effect is pretty much the same.

1 large cooked beetroot (not vinegared!)

1 fennel bulb

1/2 a cucumber

1 white onion

200g of feta

Mint and coriander

for the dressing

1 teaspoon cumin seed

1 teaspoon coriander seed

3 tablespoons of fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons of olive oil

Salt and pepper

Chop the onion in half and soak in cold water for 15 minutes. Use a vegetable peeler to make long, thin strips of the fennel bulb and cucumber and to cut thin, flowery slices of beetroot. Slice the onion as thinly as you can and add to the mix. Tear the herbs up and add into the salad. Make the dressing by shaking all the ingredients in a lidded jam jar and pour over the salad. Crumble the feta over the salad, poking some in under the salad. (Feta looks better if you break it rather than cut it – more Ottolenghi, less chiller cabinet deli olives). Tear some more herbs over the top of it.

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Lentil and Roasted Garlic Hummus with Sesame Seed Carrots

1 tin of green lentils, drained and rinsed

2 or 3 cloves of garlic, skins still on

Lemon juice

2tbsp tahini

Salt

Olive oil

Tiny carrots

Mix the carrots with oil, salt and sesame seed and roast along with the garlic cloves until visibly cooked but still reasonably firm. Take the garlic cloves out when they’re soft to the touch and peel. Mash with the side of a knife and add to the lentils, along with the oil, salt, tahini and lemon juice. Pulse it with a hand blender and serve with the leftover oily sesame seeds from the tin and a drizzle of olive oil.

Freekeh

Hate the name (there’s too many jokes) but love the taste. Here’s the basic ratio for cooking freekeh: increase as required.

100g freekeh

1 litre of water

1tsp salt

Soak the freekeh in cold water for 15 minutes before cooking and pluck off the bits that float, or, to put it another way, literally sort the wheat from the chaff. Bring the water to a rolling boil and add the salt and freekeh. Boil over a medium heat for 15 – 20 minutes, then dress with a little oil and herbs and any other flavours you choose – some lemon juice and zest maybe, or a little harissa and oil.

Yoghurt with Coriander and Mint Oil

I got the idea for this coriander and mint ‘pesto’ from Nigel Slater, as like Slater, I wanted to use up some of the coriander before it went completely to seed*. As for the basil, Slater notes that ‘there are only so many times a tender plant can withstand the yo-yo existence of extreme pampering and utter neglect’. Herb pastes ‘lift everything from a laksa to a stir fry, but are best added at the last moment to preserve their freshness’. It’s a real winner. 

1 large bunch of mint, coriander and some basil

1.5 cups of Greek style yoghurt, stirred

Olive oil

1/2 a cup of cashew nuts, either toasted or untoasted

3 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice

Salt

1/2 a clove of garlic

Trim the herbs so that you’re left with the leaves and maybe a few soft stems (the stems have lots of flavour). Blitz them with oil, lemon juice, the cashews and salt, using a hand blender. Add more oil and lemon juice till you reach the desired consistency: it should be a little runny so that it could drop off a spoon. Gently fold the diced garlic into the yoghurt and then stir the herb mix into it in a spiral.

*Keep the funny little insect-like seeds and freeze them. They are the best coriander hit you can get.

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6 comments on “Middle Eastern Salad Plate, August 2014

  1. I have to try this!!!! Thanks for sharing.

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