Sunday, 3 February 2013

Za'atar-Topped Naan Breads

I have gone spice-crazy at my local Waitrose. Noticing that they stock the whole Bart spice range, I decided to spend some of my John Lewis (which you can also spend at Waitrose - who knew?) Christmas vouchers on the whole gamut of exotic delights adorning the racks of dried herbs, spices, rubs, marinades, potions, tinctures and unctions.

Ras-el-hanout (four-bloody-quid-thankyoumuchly) is some kind of translation for 'best spices in the house', and is a heady mixture of the pungent and fragrant. The mix can vary from place to place, but mine contained  cinnamon and clove, together with coriander and cumin - and rose petals, among other things. What a weird idea, but very very effective. A sprinkle on to a salmon fillet and a quick roast in the oven, and you have a feast, rather than a meal.

Sumac. Ahhh, sumac. It seems that every Londoner I have spoken to recently has told me about eating some houmous sprinkled with an amazing mystical sour-tasting orange-coloured spice, in a Lebanese restaurant, which justified the menu price of £6 for a starter portion. After their enquiry of the reluctant waiter, it became apparent that the secret is sumac. And what a find! £2 for a big jar means that my shop-bought houmous will magically taste six times more expensive. And guess what? It does.

Za'atar (yup, another four quid). A blend of dried wild thyme, sesame seeds and some of that spicy cocaine (err, sumac again) is the only thing to adorn freshly made bread. Mrs Ribeye and I live above a Middle Eastern grocer, who along with the dodgy baked beans ('Multipack. Not to be sold separately') and questionable brand toilet paper, does do a nice line in pitta bread with a fabulous thick dark herby coating. Until now, I had no idea this was za'atar.

So, with my bag of spicy delights in my eager-with-anticipation sweaty palm, I hotfoot it home to start cooking for my Saturday night dinner party. The only problem: Which spices do I use in tonight's menu? The answer: All of them. Problem solved.

I cooked ras-el-hanout salmon with a sumac and garlic yoghurt sauce, together with rice and salad. And these breads on the side. Bingo. All three purchases in one fell swoop. Did they go together well? Yes! The salmon was rubbed with the 'ras' a full day earlier to allow the flavours to fully intermingle and penetrate. The yoghurt sauce was subtle enough not to overpower the fish, but was still redolent enough with sumac to let my buddies know that there was something special going on, and the bread was - well the bread was incredible actually. In fairness, not incredible enough to entirely stop me popping downstairs to Mazur's shop to buy his pittas, but incredible enough to think twice.

Bread-making may be more time-consuming than a quick trot down the rickety staircase, but it is so much more rewarding to be able to tell your mates that you made the stuff yourself. Being a good bread buyer is not quite as cool than being a good baker. Even in central London.

Price-wise, home-made bread is a HUGE win. I made eight breads (1 each for my greedy guts friends, plus leftovers for lunch today) for the princely sum of £1.50. Even if za'atar is pricey for a whole tin, I only used a scant half-teaspoon per bread, which means that this recipe comes in at a less-than-fancy 20 pence per serving. Certainly cheaper than that Lebanese restaurant (but then, they probably put sumac on their bread too).

Serves 8


500g strong white bread flour
1 level tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
7g dried yeast
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 beaten egg
150ml milk, warm
150ml yoghurt
2 tablespoons sunflower oil, plus a little extra for the baking sheets and for glazing the breads before cooking
3-4 tablespoons of za'atar
1 tablespoon of rock salt, for sprinkling

In a large pot, mix all of the ingredients - not the za'atar or rock salt - together (much as I do for my Regular Bread Recipe) and prove it, then form into hamburger-shaped breads. Transfer to oiled baking sheets, smear the tops with more sunflower oil, then liberally with the za'atar and rock salt, and allow to prove for a second time. Preheat oven to the maximum setting (230-240c) and place the breads onto the highest shelf. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the breads are golden, crispy and risen. Remove from the oven and serve still warm.

Friday, 1 February 2013


Having made Houmous at home, and decided that shop-bought is actually better, I thought I would change my luck and try my hand at some marmalade. The reason, is that Seville oranges happen to be available at my local Waitrose and knowing that they make the best marmalade and that they are rarely available in supermarkets, I thought I'd give them a go.

One problem: I have no idea what I'm doing.

So, using a little common sense and a load of blind luck; after using my potato ricer (basically a giant garlic press) to extract all of the juice and pulp from the oranges, and mixing in a load of sugar (no idea exactly how much) and boiled it until the mixture was thick and gluey, then it cooled down... Voila, marmalade. I am not kidding. Actual marmalade.

I chose not to make the type with the bits in, (a) because I'm not a fan of the bitter peel; and (b) because clear marmalade is more versatile in other recipes (like cakes etc), in case I found that I didn't like it that much on toast.

So, let's get down to what actually happened:

I bought a kilo of oranges. I cut them open and squeezed them to extract the juice. I found that about a dozen decent sized oranges yielded a measly half cup of juice. So I set to work with the potato ricer to get every last drop of nectar out of the pathetic dry fruits - and knew that I needed some pulp and pith etc to extract 'pectin', the mythical enzyme which turns juice to jelly.

When I guessed how much sugar I would need, I went to my sugar tub in the cupboard and saw it was a third full. So I dumped the whole lot into the saucepan. How much was in there? No idea, but it was about a third of a container that used to hold just under a kilo, so I would say 300g.

Then I boiled the mixture. For how long? Can't remember. But I do know I watched an episode of Iron Chef America while it cooked, which is 40 minutes without the fast-forwarded commercials - which means I cooked the marmalade for 45 minutes, including the time it took to find the episode and the remote control and sit down to watch it.

How did I know when it was done? I didn't. The mixture looked like a fairly runny orange syrup. When I put it into the sterilised kilner jar (by 'sterilising' I mean put into a hot oven for 10 minutes) and then allowed it to cool down, I had no idea if I was the owner of a jar of sweet orange juice or marmalade. I waited an hour or two until the jar was cool and then stuck in a spoon. A REVELATION! The best marmalade ever! Smooth, fruity, sharp/sweet in the right proportions, back notes of toffee. In a word... Marmalade.

Slight problem: A dozen oranges (£2) and 300g of sugar (50p ish) has yielded half a jar of marmalade - which means a whole jar would be a fiver (not including the cost of the jar, which in fairness I will re-use). But so what? The marmalade is home-made, and definitely tastes different to shop-bought, and another victory chalked up to 5% knowledge and 95% good fortune. A perfect ratio.

Do Do Do make your own. I know it's expensive and time consuming and you have to wash up a sticky pan afterwards, but it's so rewarding to know you can make really delicious stuff so easily. The half jar may have set me back £2.50, but at 10p a serving, it's still a Potless bargain.

Makes a half jar (200g approx)


12 Seville oranges
300g granulated sugar

Extract as much juice and pulp from the oranges as you humanly can, and transfer to a heatproof pan together with the sugar. At this stage, you can cut up some of the peel (but none of the bitter pith) and add it to the mixture to make marmalade with bits in. Simmer the mixture on a low to medium heat for 45 minutes. The mixture should be runny but thick. Transfer to a sterilised jar and allow to cool. Spread onto buttered toast or use in cake recipes.