Sirocco’s Lamb, Fennel & Apricot Lollipops…

There are some cookbooks that sit nicely on your shelves, looking ever so fashionably current & lovely. There are some that get leafed through eagerly upon purchase and then spend the rest of their lives propping up pots & pans, looking wistfully across the kitchen as you bake, boil & roast without them. And then there are those that you buy and love and use again and again and again until the pages are graffitied with pencil scribbles and dripped, drizzled & spattered with your valiant attempts to recreate the magic that lies within them. ‘Persiana’, for me, fell squarely into the latter category.

I loved everything in it from the simplicity of the instructions to the eye-opening ingredients lists to the dishes that looked intimidating but actually fell into place with remarkable ease and I found myself returning to it over and over, whether I was looking for something to pimp up a mid-week salmon supper for two or a feast with which to impress my culinarily adventurous friends.

What this meant was that by the time Persian virtuoso Sabrina Ghayour’s second book came out, I was already hopped up on anticipation and eager to see if ‘Sirocco’ would pick up where its older brother left off. Bringing the flavours of the east to the kitchens of the west, this kaleidoscopically vibrant tome has dishes for every meal of the day and talks about some of the now-easy-to-find ingredients that should become cupboard staples in your adventures through big flavour and beautiful presentation.

I’ve never found Sabrina’s recipes to be intimidating in the way that ancient French volumes like Larousse Gastronomique might be; there are a lot of ingredients required for 1 or 2 of the dishes which might stir your nerves but honestly, my advice would be to relax, pour a glass of wine, close the door, put on the music you love, pick a dish and just get stuck in. Now it this all sounds like something you could do, let’s pop that cork and have a look at something that’s rich & fresh with flavour not to mention perfect for the summer.

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These Lamb, Fennel & Apricot Lollipops are so simple that I feel confident in promising you that there’s nothing to fear and no room for error. I made one tweak to the recipe by baking instead of frying and it’s this method that I describe below – I was making 3 times the amount listed below for a big group lunch and wanted to ensure an even cook throughout without trying to fry nearly 60 of these beauties! They turned out so well though I have to confess a smidgen of chef’s bragging rights..

Thirty minutes at 180c/160c fan/350f/gas mark 4 with two lots of rotation, one each at the 10 and 20 minute mark, and they were beautifully juicy and caramel in colour; I’m sure that frying would give you a crisper end result but the platter I served them in was bare at the end of lunch save for a bunch of discarded cocktail sticks so I’m gonna take that as a sign of approval from a hungry horde!

INGREDIENTS (makes 18-20 lollipops)

  • 450g/1lb lamb mince
  • 140g/5 oz dried apricots, finely chopped
  • 65g/½ cup/2.25 oz fennel seeds, toasted & finely ground
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 onion, very finely chopped (I used red as I’m obsessed with them!)
  • 2 heaping teaspoons turmeric
  • 20g/0.5 oz of dill, finely chopped plus extra to garnish
  • 2 heaping teaspoons flaky sea salt
  • crushed freshly ground black pepper
  • vegetable oil
  • wooden skewers or cocktail sticks

TO DRIZZLE ON TOP

  • 145g/5 oz Greek yogurt
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • sweet tamarind sauce
  • small handful of nigella seeds

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METHOD

  • Put all the lollipop ingredients, except for the vegetable oil, into a large bowl and mix everything together well using your hands.

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  • Feed everything continuously through your fingertips and really incorporate all the ingredients thoroughly until you have an evenly combined mixture.

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  • Lightly grease a baking tray with vegetable oil and get yourself a bowl of cold water in case your hands get sticky, then begin rolling the mixture into golf ball sized balls.

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  • Place each ball onto the baking tray leaving roughly 1-2cm between each ball and then pop your baking tray in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow the balls to firm up slightly so they don’t lose their shape.
  • Remove the tray from the fridge, lightly brush each ball with a little more vegetable oil then place on the middle shelf of your oven (TIP: if you have extra dried apricots, throw them whole onto the baking tray here along with the meatballs for a little extra colour as well as a ridiculously, deliciously sweet, sticky & chewy addition!)
  • Bake for thirty minutes, rotating the balls every ten minutes to ensure an even bake and colour.

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  • Thin out your Greek yoghurt with the lemon juice then season with salt & pepper.
  • Remove your lollipops from the oven and place onto a serving platter.
  • Drizzle the yoghurt over the top, followed by your sweet tamarind sauce, a scattering of nigella seeds and extra fronds of dill if you like.
  • Pop your skewer or cocktail stick into each ball and proudly serve to your guests who will be climbing the walls at this point due to the insanely good fragrance coming from your kitchen!

 

 

Flavouring your world Japanese for an evening…

If there’s one thing I love, it’s eating food.

Ok well, it’s actually eating food and cooking food, my bad.

And learning about food…ok, so if there’s three things that I love, it’s learning about and cooking and eating food.

Divertimenti is a cook shop in the beautiful beating heart of South Kensington, an area of London whose museums and galleries and restaurants make up some of the prettiest streets in the capital. As well as being the sort of store that makes you want to buy things you never even knew you needed until you saw them – FYI that is the entire range of cookie cutters – its basement is also home to some of the hardest working staff in London’s cooking schools and it was here that I recently found myself swept away to the Far East courtesy of a Japanese canapes workshop and the very talented Reiko Hashimoto.

Kyoto born Reiko has been teaching Japanese cooking to students in London for over a decade following time spent travelling the world with the airline industry and living in the global melting pot that is Hong Kong. Setting up her own cookery school ‘Hashi’ thirteen years ago has allowed her to inspire both novice & experienced food lovers and her first book was released in 2011 with a sibling on its way. Normally based in Wimbledon, it was absolutely delightful to spend a few hours in the company of her and four fellow food enthusiasts as we learnt a little about the ingredients, the dishes & the cooking techniques of Japan in Reiko’s first Divertimenti class.

My favourite food of the night was this incredibly warm, comforting & moreish take on the traditional Italian ‘arancini’ using miso and mozzarella. Cooking everything – rice, mushrooms, leeks & sauces – together in the same pot made it reassuringly simple and I can’t tell you how delicious the savoury, earthy flavour of the miso was when paired with the freshness of the leeks and the nuttiness of the rice.

Panko breadcrumbs should be in every home cupboard; try them once and lament at how many years you spent using the pale imitation churned out by other brands. Bigger & flakier & sturdier than their counterparts, these are breadcrumbs that give you a gorgeous crunchy texture on anything you coat them in and deep fry and, word to the wise here, you will want to coat & fry everything you can get your hands on once you start…you have been warned.

A crispy, golden crumb exterior that gives way to soft & yielding umami flavoured rice with a nugget of molten mozzarella at its core…that my friends, is how you take a classic and flip it to reveal something pretty delicious underneath. Read More