Cook’s notes

Cook’s notes

By
Greg Malouf, Lucy Malouf
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740667418
Photographer
Mark Roper

Cooking equipment and ingredients

Middle Eastern cooking is, at heart, home cooking and doesn’t require any fancy equipment to prepare. The usual range of pots and pans, baking trays and tart tins, knives, spoons and other utensils which most of us have in our kitchens at home, will do perfectly well for most of the recipes in this book.

There are some pieces of equipment, certainly, which save time and make cooking easier. An electric mixer is invaluable for beating, whisking, whipping and kneading, and all but the purist would use a food processor or blender, rather than the more authentic mortar and pestle, for whizzing up large quantities of spice mixes and herb pastes.

That being said, the two absolutely essential items for the Middle Eastern cook are a mortar and pestle. These are in constant use for crushing garlic, grinding spices and pounding nuts, seeds and herbs (except when we are dealing with large quantities). Not only is there something very satisfying about the action itself (excellent stress therapy), but it fills the kitchen with exotic fragrances in a way which no electronic gizmo can.

Another item that we use extensively is a heavy ridged, cast-iron griddle pan, which allows one to recreate some of the savoury, charred flavours that Middle Easterners would otherwise get from a charcoal grill. We use our griddle pan daily for cooking poultry, meat and all kinds of vegetables; you could, of course, crank up the barbecue, which creates the same effect.

Most of the ingredients used in Middle Eastern cooking are readily available. Some spices and flower waters might be hard to find in your local supermarket, but all are available from delicatessens, speciality stores and Middle Eastern grocers. We do recommend that you buy spices in smallish quantities as they lose their potency if they sit around in the pantry. Similarly, where possible, we suggest that you buy whole seeds, rather than ready-ground spices. The essential oils within spices dissipate very quickly once ground, so it is better to grind them yourself at the last minute.

Other things to bear in mind for the recipes in this book

Butter is unsalted

Eggs are free-range and weigh 63 g

Chocolate is dark and the best quality you can afford

Cream is listed as pure (45% butterfat) or thickened (35% butterfat)

Milk is full fat

Olive oil is listed as extra virgin or pure

We prefer to use sea salt

Recipes serve four generously, unless stated otherwise

Measurements

When it comes to measuring, we think it is important not to get bogged down by minutiae. Many of the traditional spice mixes and dishes have their roots in an oral tradition, and recipes (such that they are) are handed down through the generations. Many Middle Eastern cooks prepare their food by feel or taste – adding a pinch of this or a handful of that, rather than careful weighing and measuring, and this is the kind of ‘suck it and see’ approach to cooking we really like! Remember, too, that there is a degree of parochialism in this kind of cooking: every region and family has its own subtle variations on a basic recipe. Ask ten different Middle Eastern housewives for their recipe for tabbouleh, for instance, and you’re likely to get ten different recipes.

We suggest that you use these recipes as templates, particularly when it comes to the spice-mixes, which are the flavour foundation for Middle Eastern food. Try them using the prescribed quantities, and once you get the idea of things, allow yourself to be a bit more laidback, and adjust quantities to your own taste.

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