I wanted to not only anoint my new flat with a home warming party, but also to thank those girlfriends without whom I would not have survived the last few months of pain and hurt in one piece. A true feast of friendship.
Five women, all of whom are battling with their own problems and yet have found the time and the space in their hearts to cherish me at the time when I have most needed it. The least I could do was to cook a meal for them.
All of us are interested in food and like to taste different cuisines and I realised that I have eaten in Lebanese restaurants with each and every one and so I let the Lebanon flavour the dishes. As ever I tweaked recipes that I have digested to make them my own and conjured up the following:
Nigella Lawson's Aubergine Moussaka (veggie option)
Saffronjeweledd rice (white basmati cooked with saffron threads and dried cranberries, decorated with toasted flaked almonds and flat-leaf parsley)
Chocolate crusted lemon and cardamom tart
I promised to post the recipes for the first and the last of the above dishes and will include the chicken for good measure, purely because it is such a simple main course to create. The tart is rather time consuming but from the licking of lips and pleas for leftovers to take home for husbands/fiancees, I surmised that it have been worth the effort.
Aubergine Moussaka (serves four as a main course, six as a side dish)
500g aubergine (two decent sized vegetables), cut into 11/2 cm cubes
1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
10 small cloves garlic, peeled and thickly slivered
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 ½ tbsp pomegranate molasses
500g tomatoes, peeled, seeded and quartered (do this before you embark on the rest of the recipe)
1 ½ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon or one stick
½ tsp ground allspice
Pack of feta
In a large pan, heat a good amount of oil and fry half of the aubergine until golden brown. Remove to a dish and repeat with the remainder aubergine.
Splash in some more oil and add the onion and garlic and fry until soft and pale.
Add the chickpeas, the molasses and return the aubergine to the pan. Add the tomatoes, sprinkle with the spices and add the water. Bring to the boil, cover and reduce to a simmer for around an hour.
Serve warm or cold, strewn with torn mint leaves and a crumbled pack of feta.
6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1tsp each salt and ground black pepper
1tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp paprika
1kg chicken thigh fillets (I remove as much fat as possible)
150ml freshly squeezed orange juice
Pared rind of one orange
150g organic dried apricots (organic ones are darker in colour as they aren't dried with sulphur dioxide)
¼ tsp saffron shreads
150ml sherry or white wine (whatever you have to hand)
3tbsp sherry vinegar
1 onion, peeled and finely sliced
3tbsp plain flour (I make a cornflour paste, being unable to eat wheat)
300ml chicken stock or bouillon
Two or three preserved lemons
Flat leaf parsley
Put the first five ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Add the chicken, orange juice and rind and stir to ensure that the chicken is well covered. Chill for at least four hours or overnight.
Put the apricots, saffron, sherry or wine and vinegar in a bowl. Cover and leave to marinate at room for temperature for the same length of time as the chicken.
Heat the oil in a large casserole. Transfer the chicken (reserve the marinade) and brown over a high heat then remove. Add the onion and cook until soft (around five mins).
Add the flour, stir well and cook for one minute (or make a cornflour paste and add). Add the marinade, stock, the apricots with their soaking liquid and the preserved lemons. Stir and bring to the boil. Return the chicken to the pan and simmer.
Cover and either cook on the hob for around 30 minutes or in the oven at 180C for around 40 minutes.
Serve with chopped flat-leaf parsley.
Chocolate Crusted Lemon and Cardamom Tart
(serves approximately eight)
175g plain flour
25g cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
25g icing sugar
125g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
1 large egg yolk
2tbsp cold water
75g dark chocolate (the higher cocoa content the better), grated
3 unwaxed lemons
150g caster sugar
4 large eggs
150ml double cream (or a 142ml pot - for some reason it is not possible to buy 150ml)
Six cardamom pods, crushed to release the black seeds. Throw away the pods.
Icing sugar to serve
To make the pastry put the first five ingredients into a food processor and pulse until the mix resembles fine breadcrumbs. Don't over process - this is very short pastry!
Mix the egg with the water and add to the mixture to make a soft dough. Gather the pastry into a ball, flatten into a disc and wrap in clingfilm. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
Roll out the pastry (between two sheets of greaseproof paper is best) and line a 23cm (9 inch) tart tine with a removable base. Prick the pastry with a fork in several places and chill for at least two hours.
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6.
Line the pastry case with foil and baking beans, put on a baking sheet and bake blind for 15 mins. Remove the foil and beans and return to the oven for five minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the grated chocolate over the base. Leave to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 170C/gas 3.
To make the filling, finely grate the zest of the lemons into a bowl. Squeeze the juice from the lemons and add to the bowl with the sugar. Whisk until the sugar has dissolved then whisk in the eggs, cream and the cardamom pods until the mixture is smooth.
Pour the mixture into the cooled pastry case and carefully return to the middle of the oven. Bake for 30-35mins until just set. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely on a wire rack before removing from the tin.
Dust with icing sugar and serve with a few raspberries for a contrast of flavours and colours.