End of Winter Salad with Bulgur and Lemon

Bulgur is a legacy from my dearest Lebanese friend Claude, who left for Boston last year.
9 years ago, when we started running Libaliano - Lebanese and Italian cooking courses - in London, I immediately introduced bulgur in my cuisine. Easy to cook and to combine with any pulses and vegetables, bulgur soon became an essential ingredient I always have in my pantry.

Today I felt like having a light lunch after my morning work and before a good walk: I prepared a bulgur salad with vegetables I had in my fridge. No need to do any shopping.

I roughly sliced the leek and the courgettes, as I like to feel their texture.
While the bulgur was boiling in a pan, I sautéed the leek, courgettes and Trevisana salad in a frying pan, one after the other, as they need different cooking times. 
Eventually I combined all the ingredients in a bowl, with lemon zest and juice and with a drizzle of olive oil. I loved it.

End of Winter Salad with Bulgur and Lemon 

200 g bulgur
1 large leek, trimmed and sliced, green leaves included
2 medium courgettes, trimmed, halved and sliced
350 g Trevisana salad, trimmed, halved, white core removed and shredded
The zest of 1 lemon
The juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt and black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Serves 4
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes

  1. Wash the bulgur and drain it. 
  2. In a pan, cover the bulgur with 600 ml of cold water and bring to the boil. Add 1 teaspoons of salt and cook until tender, approx 20 minutes. Drain. 
  3. In a frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil and add the leek with a pinch of salt; sauté for 3 minutes on medium heat. Cover the pan, lower the heat and cook for another 3 minutes. 
  4. Add the courgettes and cook, uncovered, over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Lower the heat, cover and cook for another 2 minutes. 
  5. Add the Trevisana salad and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  6. Adjust the seasoning and remove from the heat. 
  7. In a serving dish, place the bulgur over the bottom. Stir in the vegetables and toss to combine. 
  8. Dress with 2 tablespoons of oil and the lemon juice. Toss to coat. 
  9. Sprinkle with the lemon zest and serve warm.

Fish Kibbeh

Kibbeh, kibbe, kebbeh or kubbah, which ever way you pronounce it, is traditionally composed of meat mixed with burghol. Those who know it, love it.  
For christians all over the world, the week preceding Easter is packed with significance and associated with fasting and abstinence.  In Lebanon many people will not eat meat which they will replace with legumes, vegetables and fish. 

If you want to make a little fish go a long way, turn it into kibbeh.

Fish kibbe with caramelised onions and walnuts

In order to get even layers of kibbeh, divide them into handfuls and flatten each batch next to the other. Dip your fingers in water, to smooth the surface and make it into one uniform layer. 

For the kibbe:
500 g white fish fillets - I used cod 
200 g fine burghol
100 g fresh coriander leaves, chopped
1 large onion
Grated zest of 1 lemon
½ teaspoon black pepper
5 tablespoons olive oil

For the caramelised onion base:
2 large onions, sliced
1 orange zest,
1 lemon zest,
¼ teaspoon saffron strands
¼ teaspoon white pepper
60 g walnuts
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

Serves 6,
Preparation time: 40 minutes, 
Cooking time: 50 minutes

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
  2. To prepare the onion base use two separate bowls, one for the orange zest and the other for the lemon zest. Cover each with boiling water and blanch for 3 minutes. Strain and set aside leaving them separated until ready to use.
  3. Soak the saffron strands in two tablespoons of hot water for 5 minutes.
  4. Peel and halve the onions. Holding the onion flat side down, slice it thinly against the grain.
  5. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy based pan. Add the onions and cook on medium to low heat until they begin to brown.
  6. Add the salt and pepper.
  7. Spread the walnuts onto a baking sheet and toast in the hot oven for 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and reserve. 
  8. Stir the saffron water into the onions on high heat to reduce.  Remove from the heat and mix in the orange zest. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  9. To prepare the fish kibbeh, puree 1 onion in a food processor.
  10. Cut the fish into manageable portions and drop them into the creamed onion while the food processor is running. Continue to blend until the mixture is soft and slightly sticky.
  11. Whizz the coriander into the fish and finally combine with lemon zest, and black pepper; transfer to a mixing bowl.
  12. Rinse burghol in cold water and strain it in a sieve. Squeeze out excess water with your hands.
  13. Work burghol into the fish mixture. At this stage you can either pulse it through the food processor, or simply knead it like dough. The mixture should look uniform and evenly smooth.
  14. Oil a 25 cm round ovenproof dish.
  15. Divide the kibbeh in two portions.  Spread the first part evenly onto the base. Arrange the caramelised onions and walnuts on top. 
  16. Now cover with a final layer of kibbeh mixture making sure it is of even thickness. 
  17. Wet your hands to smooth the surface. With a kitchen knife, cut 6 equal triangles inside the circle.  Make crisis cross indents onto the surface of each triangle. 
  18. Brush the surface with the remaining olive oil.
  19. Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges and the surface are golden. 
  20. Remove from the oven and leave to cool down to room temperature.
  21. Serve with salad.


Food is culture. Recipes are more than a list of ingredients, they also speak about different ways of life and values.

Pendolòn, for instance, is a tangible memory of the past, when people used to work in the fields for long hours, bringing their food from home. Peasants’ life was hard, when lunch was a short break to boost people's energy with inexpensive but nourishing food. Pendolòn (which literally means ‘dangling’) is a kind of polenta from the Lamon region in Veneto. Made with borlotti beans and potato, and enriched with pancetta and onions, it is a nutritious and filling meal that peasants used to carry with them to the fields. As it dangled from their shoulders, they called it pendolòn.

The recipe is in Beans & Friends, the latest book on pulses Claude and I wrote together.

Here we enjoyed bringing to life the creativity of the Italian cucina povera, which could transform plain ingredients such as beans and potatoes, into a tasty and fulfilling meal just by dressing it with crunchy pancetta and onions. It is a heavy lunch for our time, but still delicious.

250 g dry borlotti beans
1 carrot, roughly chopped
3 medium blond onions
1 celery stick
2 bay leaves
1 kg baking potatoes, washed, skin on
160 g pancetta slices, chopped
40 g butter

Preparation time: 30 minutes plus the beans’ soaking time
Cooking time: 110 minutes
Serves 6 to 8

  1. In a large bowl, cover the beans with cold water, and soak overnight. 
  2. The next day, drain and rinse. 
  3. In a pan, cover the beans with fresh water, bring to the boil and cook for 10 minutes. Drain, return the beans to the pan and cover with boiling water. Add the carrot, 1 onion peeled and quartered, the celery stick and the bay leaves. Season with salt and simmer, covered, for 40 minutes until tender. 
  4. Drain the beans, discard the vegetables and the bay leaves and keep 2 ladleful of the cooking water. 
  5. Meanwhile, in another pan, cover the potatoes with fresh water and bring to the boil. Leave on a simmer for 40 minutes until tender. Drain. 
  6. Finely chop the remaining onions. 
  7. In a frying pan, heat the butter and gently sauté the pancetta with the onions on low heat, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Keep hot. 
  8. In a food processor, mash the beans into a coarse paste, adding some of their cooking water, if necessary; mash potatoes with a ricer. 
  9. In a large pan, mix beans and potatoes together and heat. 
  10. Stir in the pancetta and onion; cook on low heat for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon until you get a dense paste like polenta. Season with salt and pepper. 
  11. Arrange the pendolòn in a large dish, and let it set few minutes before serving.

Tony, profession, window cleaner, enjoyed eating Pendolón  when we were testing the recipe

Chickpea and Pumpkin Stew

In autumn, along the roads of the Bekaa valley in Lebanon, street sellers stack hundreds of pumpkins of all colours and sizes under make shift tents.
With no Halloween tradition, the Lebanese pumpkin is never carved, it serves its natural purpose: to feed and satiate. Inexpensive, filling, and with a long shelf life, it is is a popular ingredient in the regional kitchen.
Steam it and substitute it to meat in a vegan kibbe rich with mellow spices.  For a hearty soup, cream it with chicken stock; if you crave a thick stew, add some beef and a few potatoes and braise it in tomato sauce.

Having moved to the US a few months ago, I experienced Halloween and its fanfare for the first time. Preparations started slowly over the month of October. Shops and homes began displaying haunting decorations or cobwebs, giant spiders, ghosts and grimacing pumpkins. Charmed at the idea of a pumpkin patch, I went to a farm and came back laden different pumpkins, gourds and squashes. I thought I would use them as decorations on my table until it was time to cook them. This was simple, for it happened according to the weather and to my mood. On a cold day I turned them into soup. On a warm day I served kibbe at room temperature and finally last weekend during Halloween night, I made a big and filling stew with chickpeas.

As a cook I find it difficult to dissociate a pumpkin, however radiantly glowing, from food and it got me thinking about the fate of the hundreds and hundreds of that lined the city streets.

Chickpea and Pumpkin Stew

1 leek
2 carrots
2 celery sticks
850 g or 2 cans of cooked chickpeas
600g pumpkin, acorn squash or butternut squash or a mixture of all three ( weight after peeling and trimming)
2 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoon smoked paprika
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Sea salt
40 parsley, chopped
To serve
Plain yogurt
1 crushed garlic
Olive oil

  1. Heat olive oil in a deep, heavy based pan and sauté the leeks for 1 minute.
  2. Add the crushed garlic and sauté on medium heat for 1 more minute.
  3. Finally add the carrots and celery which are cut into 1 cm rounds sauté until they begin to change colour; lower the heat, leave to cook 5 minutes.
  4. Add the spices and mix them with vegetables, the heat will release their aromas.
  5. Add the chickpeas and 800 ml vegetable stock or water. Add the saffron strands and bring to a boil, lower the heat; simmer covered for 10 minutes.
  6. Add the pumpkin cubes, mix and leave to simmer for 15 minutes or until tender.
  7. Take two ladlefuls of soup mixture and cream in a blender.
  8. Return to the soup to give it a smooth texture.
  9. Just before serving, stir the chopped parsley in, it will add fresh fragrance to the stew.
  10. Serve plain or with a dollop of garlic yogurt.

Pasta con broccoli alla Siciliana

If you happen to order Pasta con broccoli in Sicily, you will get delicious cauliflower pasta. Do not blame the waiter, he is perfectly right, as in Sicily cauliflower is called broccoli, while the light green broccoli (Romanesco broccoli) are cauliflower and the dark green ones (the traditional broccoli) are ‘sparacelli’. A bit confusing, but the language enhances the independence of this beautiful island.
Whatever you call it, pasta with seasonal vegetables is a popular dish in Italy, with plenty of variations and inspirations. It is the perfect example of cucina povera: inexpensive, traditional, healthy.

The sweet and sour pasta with broccoli (cauliflower) alla Siciliana is made with raisins, pine nuts, anchovies and saffron. I like to prepare it with short pasta, such as maccheroni, but both bucatini and spaghetti would work as well.
Remember to keep the cauliflower al dente and to add the saffron at the very end. You will preserve its full flavour.

Pasta con broccoli alla Siciliana
Cauliflower and Raisin Pasta

350 g maccheroni
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 cauliflower, about 800 g
50 g raisins
50 g pine nuts
6 anchovy fillets in oil
15 g saffron
2 tablespoons extra virgin oil
Sea salt and black pepper
Extra virgin oil

Serves 4
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes

  1. Soak the raisins in hot water for 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry. 
  2. In a pan, sauté the pine nuts without any fat for 4 to 5 minutes until just golden, stirring frequently. Transfer to a bowl; do not leave them in the pan, as they would keep on cooking, even off heat. 
  3. In a large frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil and sauté the onion with a pinch of salt on low heat for 10 minutes, until translucent. 
  4. Stir the anchovies into the onions and cook until dissolved, 2 to 3 minutes. 
  5. Divide the cauliflower in florets and boil them in plenty of salted water with a good pinch of salt for 5 minutes. Drain and keep the water for the pasta. 
  6. Add the florets to the onion along with two tablespoons of their cooking water and leave to cook on low heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  7. Dissolve the saffron in 2 tablespoons of hot water and add to the cauliflower sauce. Stir well. 
  8. Cook pasta in the cauliflower water until al dente. Drain, reserving one ladleful of cooking water. 
  9. Add pasta to the cauliflower, stir in half of the cooking water and sauté for 2 minutes on high heat. Sprinkle with pine nuts.
  10. Serve at once, with a drizzle of oil.

Spicy Roasted Cauliflower Florets

"Move over broccoli" here comes cauliflower.
For a number of years now, food articles about this brassica point to the revival of a vegetable often boiled and over-cooked, and discarded as being ordinary, smelly, and uninteresting.
The common cauliflower is white but it can also be orange, green or purple. Each boast different health benefits and all are good to our digestive system and wellbeing. They are low in fat, high in fibres, and possess many vitamins. Raw, you can crunch them as a filling snack; you can also cook them in many delectable ways.
At home in Lebanon, we deep-fried the florets. No batter, just as they were. They came out soft on the inside with crispy bits on the outside. We dipped them hot in a tangy, garlicky tarator sauce.
I have to admit I like this simple variation. However, I try avoiding frying food; on the one hand I do not like the lingering smell in my home, and on the other, it is not so healthy.
In Boston where I am currently living, autumn has set in. The air is crisp and foliage is bright with rusty, golden colours. This makes me want to change my eating habits. I only wish I had a fireplace to roast chestnuts. 
Warm and coloured spices, which I tend to leave on the shelf in summer, are sneaking back into my food. I swathed my florets with a mixture of aromatic and fiery seasonings and roasted them in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil. They came out soft and yet they retained enough crunch to help forget that they were once thought of as soggy and limp. I ate them with a yogurt, garlic and herb based sauce.

Spicy Roasted Cauliflower Florets

1 medium to large cauliflower
½  teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon sumac
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
¾ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt

For the sauce:
400 g plain yogurt
½ garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon aleppo pepper
2 tablespoons tahini

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes
Serves: 4 to 5 persons

  1. Wash and trim the cauliflower and pat dry on kitchen paper.
  2. Separate the florets and place them in a deep bowl.
  3. Mix all the spices together in a small bowl and sprinkle them over the cauliflower. Toss the florets into the spice powder until evenly coated.
  4. Transfer them to an oven dish and drizzle about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over them. 
  5. Roast for 35 minutes in a preheated oven at 180°C
  6. While the vegetables are cooking prepare the yogurt sauce.
  7. Using a whisk, mix together tahini and yogurt until smooth and well blended. Mix in the crushed garlic together with 1 teaspoon salt.
  8. Finally, combine the sauce with the chopped parsley. 
  9. Spoon the yogurt in the bottom of a dish and arrange the florets in the middle.