‘Hi king around Jezzine, an impressive waterfall cuts through the centre of the town, spilling down into the lush valley below. I walk through thick pine forests and across meadows strewn with purple irises, pink orchids, red poppies and white geraniums. The sweet scent of wild herbs wafts up through the verdant grass…’ It’s a far cry from the images of Lebanon we see on the news, and from the way food writer and chef John Gregory-Smith writes about the country, you can tell it’s well on its way to capturing his heart. But it’s not just the mountains that inspired the food and travel writer to pen his fifth book, Saffron in the Souks: Vibrant Recipes from the Heart of Lebanon (Kyle Books, £25). Back in the city it’s very a different vibe.
Feast On The Exquisite Flavours Of The Lebanon With These Delicious Recipes Photo Gallery
The fish market is buzzing. Bright blue plastic tables groan under the weight of shimmering octopuses, huge king prawns and anchovies that glisten like silver. I seek shade in the souk and feast on bowls of hummus and tart pickles, winding my way through narrow alleyways lined with piles of fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices. I’m utterly enchanted.’ Inspired by his travels in the country, Saffron is not the definitive guide to Lebanese cuisine, but a snapshot of what’s going on in the country today. Which is why you’ll see an Iraqi-inspired kibbeh that uses rice instead of bulgur wheat, and a Syrian kebab alongside traditional dishes such moghrabieh. ‘I called this book Saffron in the Souks because, for me, the name conjures up something exciting, exotic and mysterious,’ says Gregory-Smith. ‘It encapsulates the hidden beauty of that vibrant souk in Tripoli and the quiet calm I felt in the mountains: positive, beautiful experiences that I wanted to communicate through every element of my book. ‘I’m all about discovering new recipes,’ he adds, ‘which is why there are no recipes for classic tabbouleh or hummus in this book.
Instead, the Channel 4 presenter shares a version of tabbouleh made in the mountains during spring with no tomatoes or parsley. ‘It’s incredible,’ he says. As for hummus, ‘which I adore, I have a similar dish that has more texture and a fresher flavour’. The book includes chapters on meze, bread and pastries, vegetables, grains, roasts, grills and deserts, and with mouth- watering dishes such as Rose Petal Labna, Sticky Pomegranate Sujuk (sausage), Aleppo Sour Cherry Kebab and Shish Barak (Lebanese tortellini), we can’t wait to get cooking!
CHARRED OCTOPUS WITH TOMATOES & OREGANO
Serves: 4 as an appetizer Per serving: 211 calories, 13g fat (2g saturated fat), 21g protein, 1g fibre, 3g carbohydrate, 3g sugar, 0.4g salt 4 tbsp olive oil 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped ½ red chilli, finely chopped 300g red and yellow baby tomatoes, halved Juice of 1 lemon Large handful fresh oregano leaves 4 small cooked octopus tentacles (about 450g) 2 large handfuls parsley leaves Large handful of mint leaves, chopped ½ tsp sumac, to serve Sea salt 1 aHeat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in frying pan over a medium heat. Add the garlic, chilli and tomatoes. Season with a pinch of salt. Mix well and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes until the tomatoes relax a little in the oil.
Add half the lemon juice and most of the oregano. Mix and remove from the heat. Set aside to cool while you cook the octopus. 2 WHeat a griddle pan over a high heat. ash the octopus, pat dry and tip into a mixing bowl. Pour over the remaining oil and season. Toss together and griddle for 2-3 minutes a side until the tentacles have a few griddle lines and are crispy. 3 Tip the tomatoes and all the juices into a mixing bowl. Add the parsley, mint, remaining lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Toss together and tip onto two serving plates. Top with the octopus and scatter over the sumac and remaining oregano leaves. Serve immediately.