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Lamb rice with crispy potato base from The Jewelled Kitchen

July 14, 2013

Stepping in through the doors of Kinokunya (my favourite book shop in Dubai) a couple of months ago, I was greeted with a huge display of books about Middle Eastern cooking. Whether this is a trend fuelled by the darling of the food world in the UK, Ottolenghi, or a a gradual discovery by authors of a niche not yet fully exploited, I cannot say. The titles ranged from locally based authors Ariana Bundy with her Persian cook book Pomegranates and Roses and Suzanne Husseini with her book of modern Lebanese recipes, to Veggiestan by Sally Butcher, to a vast tome The Complete Middle Eastern Cookbook by Tess Mallos.

My own groaning shelves hold relatively few books from the region. Claudia Roden’s A New Book of Middle Eastern Food is battered and stained as my ultimate bible of recipes and culinary documentary. Two books by Anissa Helou are stylish volumes and exhaustive guides to Lebanese mezze and savoury baking of the The Med. Close to home is Sarareed by Chef Khulood Atiq, we then travel to Iran via Ariana, Turkey with Leanne Kitchen and the Eastern Mediterranean with Paula Wolfert. And not forgetting a trio from Ottolenghi.

The Jewelled Kitchen by Bethany Kehdy joins this clutch of cookbooks as she sent a copy to Dubai so I could be part of a ‘virtual launch’. Fresh out of the parcel, the cover of the book instantly made an impact; beautiful photography of a citrus salad set against a turquoise background, Arabic-style typography raised and tactile. The photography is by lovely Šárka Babická and the food styling by Emily Jonzen (who was at Food Blogger Connect – do check out her stunning work here). However there are gorgeous cookbooks aplenty – I was ready to road test.

Dirty Kitchen Secrets, Bethany’s blog, is packed full of recipes from Lebanon (her home country) but the book derives inspiration from across the Middle East and North Africa. The recipes are rooted in tradition often with a modern twist. Authenticity is retained through using painstaking cooking processes that have been passed on through generations and these are documented meticulously.

Bethany’s life was shaped by constant change, her family split by divorce and war; her culinary roots range from eating from the land on a farm in the remote countryside of  Lebanon with her Grandparents to fast food with her glamorous Mother in the US. Bethany herself is ultra-glamorous, a former Miss Lebanon, but with a ready chuckle she’s usually laughing or making an ironic observation. Her casual manner belies a serious knowledge of the cuisine and ingredients of her home nation. Despite looking like a city girl, she’s at home in the countryside and now lives with her husband in rural Devon. Taste Lebanon is another of her ventures tempting tourists to explore the country via their tastebuds with food tours that change people’s negative preconceptions.

With my annual two month stay in the UK imminent, I was pressed for time but knew I had to cook and photograph for this entry before I left. I chose this lamb dish because I thought KP and non-veggie teen would love it (vegetarian teen was in Mongolia but that’s another story) and they did. It requires some time in the kitchen as there are many stages – these could be spilt up over a couple of days though. With a lengthy pending ‘to do’ list, I wondered why I hadn’t chosen to make the simple citrus salad and then the aroma of the tomato sauce filled the kitchen and there was no turning back. The sauce would be excellent served over rice or pasta but the additional stages and marriage with rice and potatoes take it to another level. You could easily double this and serve it for a party. Life has been so hectic of late, it was a joy to spend a couple of hours peacefully pottering. As Bethany says in the introduction:

Cooking and eating are among life’s greatest pleasures and as my uncle always says to me, “Kelé w nsee hammeek’ – ‘Eat and you shall forget your worries.’

Lamb with crispy potato base

Lamb rice with crispy potato base by Bethany Kehdy

“This is my take on a layered rice recipe known as Istambooli Polow. At first glance it does sound like a carb-on-carb sin, with its combination of potato and rice, but don’t judge it until you have tried it. Turkey also works well instead of lamb.”

Serves 4 – Preparation time: 30 minutes plus making the advieh and rice  – Cooking time: 1 1/2 hours

125ml sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped, plus 1 onion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
500g boneless lamb (preferably leg), fat trimmed off and cut into 1cm cubes
2 tsp Advieh 1
a pinch of ground cinnamon
5 tbsp tomato purée
500g waxy potatoes, peeled, one half cut into 1cm cubes, the other half sliced lengthways into long thin ovals about 3mm thick
1 recipe quantity parboiled rice
chopped mint leaves, to sprinkle
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Greek yoghurt or kashk to serve

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a frying pan over a medium-low heat, add the chopped onion and saute for 4-5 minutes or until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, lamb, spices, tomato purée and tomatoes, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add 115ml water, or enough to cover the other ingredient, then increase the heat to high and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and leave to simmer gently for 1 hour or until the meat is tender and the sauce is thick. Remove from the heat and stir in the potato cubes.
  2. Place a 2 litre non-stick saucepan with 20cm base over a medium heat, and pour in 5 tablespoons of the oil. Once the oil is sizzling, arrange the potato slices across the base (they can overlap slightly), then sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of the lamb and tomato mixture, followed by a layer of rice. Continue alternating layers of lamb and rice, building it up into a dome shape. The last layer should be rice.
  3. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, make three holes in the rice all the way to the bottom, being careful not to puncture the potatoes.
  4. Wrap the saucepan lid in a clean kitchen towel and tie it into a tight knot at the handle, then use it to cover the pan as tightly as you can so that steam doesn’t escape. (The kitchen towel will prevent the moisture from dripping into the rice, making it soggy.) Cook the rice over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes until the rice is steaming (you will see puffs of steam escaping at the edges of the lid), then reduce the heat to low and cook for 20-25 minutes, with the lid on all the time.
  5. Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a frying pan over a medium-low heat, and fry the sliced onion until crispy and golden.
  6. Serve the rice and tahdeeg as follows: When the rice is cooked, place the saucepan in 5cm cold water in the kitchen sink and leave for 1-2 minutes. This helps to shock the rice and loosen the tahdeeg (“base of the pot”). Gently spoon the rice out (making sure not to disturb the tahdeeg), and sprinkle it lightly onto a dish, shaping it into a dome. Alternatively, gently tip the pan out onto the dish, allowing the rice to spill out into a mound. Remove the tahdeeg by inverting the saucepan onto a plate, unsing a spatula to loosen it if necessary. Serve the tahdeeg separately on a plate or on top of the rice.

Sprinkle with mint and serve with yoghurt and the fried onion rings.

Parboiled rice

Serves 4 – Preparation time: 5 minutes plus soaking the rice – Cooking time: 5 minutes

400g basmati rice
3 tbsp sea salt

  1. Pick over the rice to remove and dirt or discoloured grains. Wash the rice thoroughly in five or six changes of water, until it runs clear, which signals that all the loose starch has been removed.
  2. Pour 1 litre warm water into a large bowl and add 1 tablespoon of the salt. Add the rice and leave to soak for no more than 30 minutes, running your fingers through it every so often to help loosen the grains. Strain the rice and rinse under warm water.
  3. Pour 1.25 litres water into a large saucepan and add the remaining salt. Bring to the boil over a high heat and stir in the well-strained rice, then bring back to the boil and cook, uncovered, for 3 minutes over a high heat, until the grains are soft on the outside but still firm in the centre. Do not stir the rice again, as this could break the grains.
  4. Drain the parboiled rice in a sieve and rinse with tepid water, tossing the rice gently to remove the excess moisture and to separate the grains. At this point you can set the rice aside until you are ready to cook your chosen recipe, if you like. This means that you can parboil the rice the day before you want it, then continue with the recipe the following day. (Once it has cooled, it needs to be stored in the fridge, where it can be kept safely for up to 3 days. Return to room temperature before using.)

Advieh 1

Makes: 1 tbsp – Preparation time: 2 minutes – Cooking time: 2 minutes

seeds from 4 cardamom pods
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp turmeric seeds
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon

  1. Toast the cardamom, cumin and turmeric seeds in a heavy-based pan over a medium heat for 1-2 minutes until fragrant, shaking the pan often.
  2. Grind the spices and caraway seeds using a pestle and mortar. Combine with the cinnamon. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to 3 months.

Note: I used very fresh, pungent, ground tumeric from Down to Earth  as I didn’t have seeds. I also used brown basmati and soaked and cooked it for a little longer – it was still a bit crunchy in places so I’d use white next time.

Recipe extracted with permission from The Jewelled Kitchen  ©Bethany Kehdy 2013 published by Duncan Baird Publishers, London

So many other dishes caught my eye in this book including spiced naked mini sausages, kafta snugged scotch eggs, chicken basteeya, caramelised onions stuffed with lamb, many lovely fish recipes, tahini and chocolate brioche, ginger and molasses semolina marble cake and many salads. But sorry Bethany even you can’t get me to try Jew’s mallow aka mloukhieh (of the kings) with cardamom chicken or oxtail with oozing okra as they are in the hated slimey veg category.

Fast forward to July 2013 in London at Food Blogger Connect. With other members of her family helping out, Bethany buried herself in the kitchen at the Battersea Arts Centre for two days and produced a Lebanese feast for the official launch party of the book. Stencilled lanterns, brass trays, coloured glasses and a barbecue full of aubergines set the mood. The deliciousness of this feast – including some exquisite little shredded pastry nests filled with venison meatballs and a sour cherry  – helped the book sell out at the launch (still available on Amazon).

…and more to follow from  Juls’ Kitchen, Miss Foodwise, Culeenary, Fuss Free Flavours and My Kugelhopf (links will be added as published).

Is there room for another book on Middle Eastern cooking? Do you have a favourite Middle Eastern cookbook or recipe?

  1. July 14, 2013 4:14 am

    Great account Sally. So nice as always to read about what you are up to. I must say as someone who has very little time on hand for anything, complicated and long winded recipes don’t feature in my kitchen. CHuck it all into to preferably one pot is more my style. Enjoy your summer in England.

    • July 14, 2013 9:46 am

      There are quite a few stages with this but it’s not complicated and all the flavours develop together. Hope you are enjoying life ‘down under’

  2. July 14, 2013 4:44 am

    A wonderful book which I have added to my wishlist… This dish looks mighty scrumptious! My kind of food.



    • July 14, 2013 9:45 am

      It’s a beautiful book Rosa – my kind of food too.

  3. July 14, 2013 9:55 am

    Wonderful recipes and beautifully produced post. I have to say that Claudia Roden’s book is all I need, although Ottolenghi has joined her now.

    • July 14, 2013 11:30 am

      Thanks Roger – those are my staples too.

  4. July 14, 2013 10:58 am

    sounds very interesting. The book looks like a keeper.

    • July 14, 2013 11:29 am

      Most definitely – I think it’ll be available in the Gulf soon.

  5. July 14, 2013 11:25 am

    A wonderful review. I was as captivated by your collection of Middle Eastern cookbooks as I was with Bethany’s book in itself! Really, a wonderful library you have there. I’m so pleased you documented this recipe – I loved Bethany’s description of it as a “carb-on-carb sin!” We loved the Whipped Hummus with Lamb and it will now be part of my monthly repertoire. I also made the Seabass with caramelised onion rice this week – also delicious. I missed out on the launch as I was attending my father’s 90th party in the North (as you know, since I met your sister there!) but your photos and account of it make me feel as though I was there. As usual, not enough time to chat at FBC and I do thank you for all your hard work there xxx

    • July 14, 2013 11:29 am

      Thanks Ren – really regret that there was so little time but you were slightly preoccupied with giving one of the most useful talks of the conference and also whipping up your Polish Kitchen (a feast which I think Flo and I made a big dent in!). Will try both the whipped hummus and seabass – so many lovely things to cook.

  6. July 14, 2013 11:37 am

    This looks like a book I could add to my collection and love🙂

  7. July 14, 2013 11:38 am

    Oh,oh, oh! There is always room for another book on Middle Eastern food in this house, especially one with recipes like this. I have prepared rice dishes in this way in the past and it is well worth the time it takes.
    Have you seen any of the beautiful books on Middle Eastern food by Aussie chef Greg Malouf? They are lovely.

    • July 14, 2013 11:42 am

      You know I was thinking that as I wrote about my cook books – Do you have any of them? They are quite expensive but absolutely beautiful. Can you cook from them or are they coffee table books (nothing wrong with the latter and the photography is beautiful)?

      • July 14, 2013 11:47 am

        Yes Sally, I have all of them and they are great to both cook from and simply read. I wangled them, one by one, from my family for Mothers Day, birthday etc. Beautifully photographed and interesting text too.

      • July 14, 2013 11:52 am

        Good to know – trying to restrain my cookbook buying, but, you know…. always room for another one.

  8. glamorous glutton permalink
    July 14, 2013 12:07 pm

    I bought Bethany’s book at FBC5 as my first real foray into Middle Eastern cooking beyond hummus and tzaziki. The photography is beautiful and the dishes very tempting. Love this lamb dish, I’ll definitely be making that ans as, like you I enjoy a potter in the kitchen I don’t mind if there are lots of processes. It usually results in a very tasty dish. I must stop flicking through The Jewelled Kitchen and start cooking from it. GG

  9. July 14, 2013 1:06 pm

    There is more than enough room on my shelves for this book Sally. Made the lentil dish ‘mess of pottage’ with white cabbage salad last week and, as with the roasties & tomato jam, nothing disappoints. There’s a reassuring, detailed quality to the recipes which I love – I expect it’s a book that will become well used over time.

  10. July 14, 2013 3:33 pm

    Thank you, Sally! This is the kind of cookbook I get really get excited about – it’s now on my wish list.

  11. July 15, 2013 12:38 am

    Thanks for the like, Sally. Appreciate it. It may shock you to know I’ve never cooked lamb. Guess that because in Kansas, sheep are very rare.

    • July 15, 2013 12:40 am

      As someone who grew up in the Cotswolds, where the hills are dotted with sheep, you are right that I find this extremely strange!

  12. July 15, 2013 1:30 am

    There’s definitely room for a book on Middle Eastern cuisine, especially given I don’t have one right now, and have been in love with this kind of food for ever. Perhaps The Jewelled Kitchen could me my first – an investment worth making, if I had to judge from this recipe alone.

  13. July 15, 2013 8:13 am

    I have never owned a middle eastern cooking book…have to add it to my x’mas list!
    The rice looks so flavourful!

  14. therealgeordiearmani permalink
    July 15, 2013 4:48 pm

    I bought Ariana’s book last month and it is my challenge to learn to cook Iranian during the summer🙂 lovely article Sally x

  15. July 15, 2013 4:51 pm

    My, my, now you can easily make Biriyani Sally. All you need to do is up the spice level. No honestly, the Istanbooli Polow that you have cooked looks like it’s come out of the page of Bethany’s cookbook! This is the next Middle Eastern cookbook that I’m eying now!

  16. July 16, 2013 2:57 pm

    This looks delicious, I have a list of things I want to make out of Bethany’s cookbook – must add this one! I have to say, I keep seeing things that remind me of some southern Italian dishes and this reminds me of a tiella, a dish from Puglia’s east coast, which is layers of rice, potatoes, tomatoes and mussels cooked in a round dish in the oven.

  17. July 17, 2013 1:14 am

    Wonderful post Sally. I’ll have to try Bethany’s recipes. I was also amazed by your collection of Middle Eastern cookbooks. My favourite Middle Eastern influence book (and the only one I own so far, really) is Diana Henry’s Crazy water pickled lemons; let me know how you like it if you get your hands on it. I didn’t indulge in any book purchases during FBC5 out of conscience for the weight of my bags for the flight home, but thankfully Amazon will change that very soon with a few deliveries on their way! LaBouche

  18. July 17, 2013 2:44 pm

    Another beautiful post, your photos really are stunning. I am so glad that I picked up a book at Bethany’s launch. Can’t wait to dive into the recipes. I like your choice in recipe. Definitely one that would appeal to me.

  19. ginger and scotch permalink
    July 29, 2013 3:02 am

    Always love your cookbook reviews, Sally. Just bought Ariana’s and looking forward to checking out Bethany’s too.

  20. July 31, 2013 10:04 pm

    Hi Sally,
    I did a recipe from the book: in english too.
    I have some books from middle easter, my best are: Falling cloubberries of Tessa Kiros, Plenty of Ottolenghi and Pickeled lemons by Crazy water.
    Ciao, Marica


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