Polpette di pollo - Chicken Boulettes

I like meatballs because they give me the chance to combine different ingredients, herbs, spices, bread, egg, vegetables, cheese, and the final result is  never too 'meaty'. 

Chicken boulettes are my favourite ones, so light and delicate. Since I started making my own organic minced chicken, I prepare them quite often. The only trick is to chop the chicken breast into 2 cm cubes and freeze them for 30 minutes. This makes it easy to blend the meat  in a blender. Just pulse few time in order to  have a coarse mince.

I wanted boulettes with a Mediterranean flavour so I added a red onion, sun-dried tomatoes in oil, balsamic vinegar and parsley. Bread and egg help to keep the ingredients together.

Polpette di pollo
Chicken Boulettes

For the meatballs:
400 g best quality lean minced chicken
20 g bread, crust removed, torn in pieces
Milk to soak the bread
50 g sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
50 g red onion, finely chopped
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
15 g flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Sea salt and black pepper
Plain flour to coat

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
100 ml dry white wine
1 ladleful vegetable/chicken stock

Serves 4
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

1. In a small bowl, soak the bread in the milk for 10 minutes. Drain and squeeze.

2. In a large bowl, combine the meat with the bread, the tomatoes, the onion, the egg, the vinegar and the parsley. Season with salt and black pepper. Use your hands to mix all the ingredients thoroughly.

3. Flour your hands. Shape the mixture – about one tablespoon at a time – into balls, with the help of your hands. Coat each one with more flour. Arrange them on a chopping board.

4. In a large frying pan, heat the oil and sauté the meatballs on medium-high heat, until nicely brown all over, for 4 to 5 minutes. Stir and roll frequently.

5. Pour in the wine and leave to evaporate. Pour in the stock and lower the heat. Cover the pan with a lid. Cook gently for 15 minutes, over low heat. Stir occasionally.

6. Serve with any grain you like. Here I serve it with freekeh dressed with basil pesto and sun-dried tomatoes.

Mediterranean Feta, Tomato and Olive tart

Start the year with simple and tasty foods such as this feta, olive and tomato tart that is warming and delicious.


Lentil, Tomato and Aubergine Stew

We love lentils so much that the first book of our trilogy on pulses was dedicated to this small and ancient ingredient, with 58 traditional and contemporary recipes from the Mediterranean. 
Yet, here we are with a new dish, as we keep on exploring different combinations around this easy going pulse. No soaking needed, quick cooking time.

Here we use the small brown lentils from Umbria, Italy along with aubergine, ripe vine tomatoes, red onions and plenty of fresh flat-leaf parsley. A truly Mediterranean dish. The secret: we cook each ingredient in a separate and different way, to enhance their single flavour and texture. We braise onion and lentils together.

We sauté the aubergine in little oil until soft and sweet, and we season it with oregano.

On the other hand, we quickly bake the tomatoes and leave them in the switched off oven for a while.
Once cooked, we gently combine all the ingredients together, with plenty of fresh flat-leaf parsley.
We serve it warm on its own or pairing with any cheese, meat, fish.

Lentil, Tomato and Aubergine Stew

1 large red onion, peeled and chopped

200 g small brown lentils 
600 vine tomatoes, halved 
2 tablespoons dried oregano 
1 medium aubergine, half peeled and diced 
500 ml litre water 
100 g fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped 
Sea salt and black pepper
1 teaspoon allspice 
Extra virgin oil

Serves 4 to 5

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 60 minutes

1. Heat one tablespoon of oil in a medium saucepan and soften the onion with a pinch of salt for 5 minutes on low heat, until translucent.

2. Stir in the lentils and sauté for 1 minute.

3. Pour in the water, hot, and leave to simmer for 35 to 40 minutes, covered, until just tender. You do not want mushy lentils. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon.

4. Adjust the seasoning and add the spice.

5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200°C

6. Arrange the tomatoes over an oven tin, cut-side up. Sprinkle with salt and half of the oregano and drizzle with oil.

7. Bake for exactly 3 minutes. Switch the oven off and leave the tomatoes inside, without opening the door, for 20 minutes. Remove. Leave to cool and chop.

8. In a medium frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and sauté the aubergine with a pinch of salt for 10 minutes over medium-height heat, stirring frequently. Sprinkle with the remaining oregano.

9. Add the tomatoes and the aubergine to the lentils. Stir in the parsley and drizzle with oil.

10. Serve warm.

Red Lentil and Seafood Soup

I met a charming lady last night who is into grains, Maria Speck, a published and award winning food author.  I looked through her excellent book 'Simply Ancients Grains', and I became aware that I often take grains and also pulses for granted; why? because they belong to my daily world, to my own food culture.

In Lebanon and in the Levant in general, more than 50 per cent of the recipes are with grains and pulses. They are the building blocks of a varied and healthy kitchen. People have relied on them for millennia, for sustenance, for growth and for economic development and yet today, if they are seen as healthy, they are still considered frugal. They need not be; they combine beautifully with the most exclusive ingredients, and there's a whole world of compositions that will tempt the most discerning palate.

When I was researching recipes about lentils for our book 'Lentils: traditional and modern recipes from the Mediterranean', I realised that in the traditional Lebanese kitchen, we cooked fish and we cooked lentils, but never lentils and fish together. An idea sprouted, and I worked on building a soup which married land and sea, red lentil soup with fish and seafood.  Here is how its cooked.

Red Lentil and Fish Soup

This recipe is in our book : 'Lentils: Traditional and Contemporary Recipes from the Mediterranean', Tamyras, Beirut

Cooking time: 65 minutes
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Serves 6

250 g red lentils
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
3 banana shallots, finely chopped
½ fennel bulb, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
500 g mussels
100 ml dry white wine
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 pinch of saffron, soaked in a little water
1 teaspoon hot paprika
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 sprigs of lemon thyme
2/3 bay leaves
500 g sea bass, roasted and then flaked
180 g prawns
Extra virgin olive oil
1.3 L water
Sea salt

1.     Wash the mussels under running water, trim off their beards and brush to remove sand and grit;      leave them to soak in cold water and discard any that are broken or have remained open.
2.     Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a deep pan, and cook half the shallots until soft.
3.     Strain the mussels and toss them in the onions for 3 to 4 minutes before adding the wine. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes; reduce the heat and leave to simmer for 15 minutes. By then all the shells should have opened. Discard any that remain closed; take out the meat from most of the mussels leaving a few whole to use as garnish. Set aside both the resulting stock and the mussels.
4.     In a separate pot, fry the rest of the shallots until soft, about 5 minutes; add garlic and cook for another minute; incorporate the vegetables. Cook covered over low heat, for 10 minutes.
5.     Add lentils, tomato paste, spices and water, increase the heat and bring to a boil. Tie the herbs with a string and place them in the soup. Cook over medium to low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
6.     While the lentils are cooking, place the sea bass in a roasting tin. Fill the cavities with fennel and herbs. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt. Roast in a 180°C pre-heated oven for 20 minutes.
7.     When the fish is cooked, peel its skin off and separate the white meat which you will place in a dish and set aside until ready to add to the soup.
8.     Incorporate the mussel meat and their liquor to the lentils. Add prawns and allow them to cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until they turn orange. Finally flake the fish into the soup.

9.     Serve hot, garnished with whole mussels and sprinkled with parsley.  

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.