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RECIPES FROM AL WAHA

 

MOUTABEL
Grilled eggplant with sesame paste and lemon juice

Moutabel is a dip like hummus, but it is a completely different experience. Like hummus, moutabel is regularly found on nearly every Middle Eastern table. In this recipe the eggplants are grilled, however they can also be fried. You may be familiar with a form of this dish known by another name, babaganoush. During the month of Ramadan, moutabel is eaten every day. In the past the eggplants would be pounded and mixed with all other ingredients by hand in a large copper bowl. I can remember my mother assigning me the task of garlic crusher.

Moutabel

Ingredients (serves 4-6 people)

2 eggplants
1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)
3 ounces plain yogurt
1-2 teaspoons of salt or to taste
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons pomegranate paste (optional)

For garnish:

Paprika
Sweet red peppers
Parsley
Pomegranate seeds
Walnuts

Preparing Moutabel

Grill the eggplants.

Stick the eggplants on a couple of skewers and grill over an open flame (I place them on the naked flame of my gas stove). This is the best way to obtain that great smoky flavor (you can put them under the grill if you like). The skin will blacken and wither with the heat, keep turning them until the eggplants’ skin is soft all over to the touch and a skewer can easily cut through the vegetables.

As soon as this happens, take them off the flame and put them in a pot filled with cold water (this will help to cool the eggplants and make it easier to peel them).

Peel the eggplants (I found it helps also to peel them under cold running water).

Discard the burnt skin and put the pulp in a strainer to preferably leave overnight in the fridge. This will ensure that the excess water is removed.

(Instead of grilling, you can deep or shallow fry your eggplants until golden. Then continue on with preparation. Using this method however, you do not get that smoky taste which is so typical of this dish.)

Cut the eggplants into small pieces and then pound to a rough pulp (you don’t want it too smooth, it’s good to have some texture left).

As you add the other ingredients make sure you incorporate them one by one into the mixture.

First, add the tahini, then the yogurt if you wish (yogurt will help take some of the bitterness of the vegetables away, but if you like that bitter taste don’t add any yogurt).

Now add the lemon juice and the salt (to taste).

If you prefer a sweeter taste I found that adding pomegranate paste works very well.

Serving Moutabel

Place the mixture in a dish and smooth it out to cover the dish. Garnish with paprika, parsley leaves, wedges of sweet red pepper, pomegranate seeds and walnuts (walnuts go extremely well with this dish). Finish off with a dash of olive oil. Like hummus, moutabel will keep for a couple of days in the fridge. Don’t forget to cover with plastic wrap.




Shishtaouk
SHISH TAOUK (Chicken Shishkebab)
Boneless chicken marinated in garlic, lemon juice and olive oil and grilled on skewers

When I was growing up in the 70’s, “shish” almost always meant grilled lamb – you rarely saw chicken. But the popularity of chicken means that we long ago adapted one of our most popular ways of preparing meat to chicken as well. Now, shish taouk is one of the most popular meat dishes at Al-Waha. It is very simple and the marinating yields the most tender, delectable chicken.

Ingredients (serves 4-6 people)

1 1/4 pounds boneless skinned chicken
1 tablespoon paprika
2 tablespoons lemon juice
5 tablespoons olive oil
Garlic sauce (see recipe below)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparing Shish Taouk

Cut the chicken into medium size cubes. In a bowl mix the paprika, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic sauce, salt and pepper.

Marinade the chicken cubes in the mixture for 4-5 hours or overnight.

When ready to cook, thread the chicken pieces on a skewer. Make sure the pieces are firm (you do this by cramming lots of them on the same skewer).

Then, simply grill (or better, charcoal) until the meat begins to brown.

Serving Shish Taouk

This delicious dish can be served with wedges of pita bread and lemon, and is particularly good when served with rice and salad.

~ M. Alden



AL-WAHA'S GARLIC SAUCE

Garlic sauce is made like mayonnaise and a lot of fresh garlic is added in the process. A simpler way of doing this is to use ordinary mayonnaise and add lots of fresh crushed garlic.

Ingredients

1 head of garlic
1 egg
vegetable oil

Preparing Garlic Sauce

Peel and crush the garlic and place in a food processor. Add the egg and mix until very smooth. Add the oil very, very slowly (like a trickle) in the mixer until you reach a creamy consistency.

Should the mixture separate in the process, remove it from the food processor, thoroughly wash and dry the machine. Re-assemble the processor put and egg in and beat. Then add the mixture very slowly.

~ M. Alden




HUMMUS
Pureed chickpeas with sesame paste and lemon juice

HummusHummus has its history as a “food of the poor,” because it’s very filling and fairly nutritious, and yet this chickpea dish has now become a staple eaten throughout the Middle East, showing up on every table at every meal at every level of society. Hummus even shows up regularly on Western appetizer lists and buffet tables.

When I was growing up in Damascus, my father used to go to the shop to have our hummus made to taste. You could even provide your own tahini (sesame paste) and lemon juice. While making it, the shopkeeper would let you taste it so that it could be prepared exactly how you wanted it...a little more lemon, or a bit more salt. This personalized approach to hummus may be a thing of the past in Damascus, however, it is still usual to pop out to buy your hummus freshly made in a neighborhood shop...and it’s delicious!

Hummus must have a smooth, velvety texture: this is absolutely essential! In order to achieve this, you need to skin the chickpeas -- not as hard as it may sound!! (Once a customer asked me how did we do this in Al-Waha. I answered that we had about 20 little children in the kitchen doing just that. The lady looked at me very perplexed and after some hesitation asked whether that was legal! Now I shall tell you how it’s really done...)

Ingredients (Serves 4 to 6 people)
20 ounces (1 ¼ pound) of dried chick peas (also known as garbanzo beans) (Note: Do not use canned chickpeas, they are too soft!)
1 tablespoon of baking soda
6 ounces of tahini (sesame paste)
6 ounces of lemon juice (very cold: add icy water to achieve this)
Salt

For garnish:
Paprika
Sweet red peppers
Parsley
Olive oil

Soaking the Chickpeas

It is a good idea to sort through your chickpeas before you boil them to remove any disfigured or bad chickpeas.

Soak the dried chickpeas overnight with a lot of water (cover them completely, use twice the amount of water vs. the volume of chickpeas).

The next day, rinse the chickpeas well with cold water.

Cooking the Chickpeas

Fill a pot with plenty of water, using the same amount as when you soaked them.

Add the baking soda, then bring to the boil.

When the water is boiling turn the heat down and allow to simmer until the chickpeas are cooked, 60 to 90 minutes. You can cover them with a lid, but this is not necessary, just make sure that the water keeps boiling.

(To check if your chickpeas are cooked, throw one onto the wall. If it sticks, they are cooked!)

Skinning the Chickpeas

Take the pot off the heat and put it under the cold water tap. The cold water will shock the skins into cracking so that they will easily come off and float to the surface. In order to allow them to float up you need to gently stir the chickpeas and as the skins surface remove them with a slotted spoon. Keep stirring a little and removing the skins that surface until you’ve removed most skins.

Now strain the chickpeas and leave them in a colander, in the fridge, preferably overnight. This will allow all the excess water to drain.

Preparing the Hummus

You can pound the chickpeas by hand in a bowl using a pestle; however, a food processor makes things much easier.

So, place the chickpeas in a food processor until you have a smooth paste, add the tahini (sesame paste) until the mixture become very smooth, but still a little firm.

At this point add the very cold lemon juice (mix icy water and lemon juice to have an extremely cold juice). By adding very cold lemon juice you will prevent the mixture in the food processor from heating up so much as to affect its taste.

Finally add salt to taste.

Now leave the mixture as it is in the processor for 15-20 minutes, this allows it to rest and develop its full consistency. If, when you return to it, you find that it is too thick, just add a little more lemon juice.

Serving the Hummus

Put the hummus in a dish and sprinkle some paprika, decorate with shapes made out of sweet red pepper, then sprinkle some chopped parsley and finally a dash of olive oil.

If you have some hummus left over, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it. It will still be delicious the next day.

~ M. Alden




Fattoush
FATTOUSH SALAD
Mixed salad with herbs, toasted Lebanese bread, vinegar and garlic

Fattoush is a very simple salad found everywhere in the Middle East. It's a wonderful starter, as the freshness awakens the taste buds.

Fattoush is best made right before you eat, so the bread stays crispy and crunchy – because if you leave it too long, the bread goes soggy.

Ingredients (serves 4 to 6 people)
1 tomato
2 cucumbers
3 scallions
Lettuce
1 green pepper
1 red pepper
5 radishes
1 small onion
1 large pita bread

For the dressing:
Olive oil
Vinegar (balsamic vinegar works well)
Salt to taste

Preparing Fattoush

Cut all the vegetable fairly finely, except for the onion, which needs to be chopped very finely.

You can toast the pita bread and then crumble it onto the salad, or can diced it first and then toast it. At my restaurant, I like to dice the bread and then deep fry it in very hot vegetable oil -- this gives it a heavier texture.

Stir everything together, add the dressing and mix.

~ M. Alden


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Al Waha, 75 Westbourne Grove, London W2 4UL Tel: 020 7229 0806 / Fax: 020 7229 5161, alwahareservations@hotmail.co.uk