Feast recipes: From spicy baked fish to saffron fritters

Feast recipes: From spicy baked fish to saffron fritters

Feast recipes: From spicy baked fish to saffron fritters 1

Slow-cooked biryani – India

Dumpukht in Lucknow or dumpokht in Hyderabad describes a way of slow­cooking in an airtight pot (handi), which can be earthenware or metal, covering the pot with a sealed lid or a sheet of pastry (as in this recipe). The word dumpukht comes from the Persian – dum meaning ‘breathe in’ and pukht meaning ‘to cook’. The method is traditionally associated with the Awadh region of India, once ruled by the Muslim Nawabs, with the origins of dumpukht assigned to the reign of Nawab Asaf Udd-­Daulah, who ruled from 1748 to 1797.

I learned to make this biryani in the garden of Begum Mirza (Begum is a title given to noblewomen deriving from the word Bey, the title given to noblemen) in Hyderabad, and even though the Begum was quite old and not so mobile, she had organised a perfect mise en place and was very precise and attentive to details as she proceeded through each step of the biryani. Begum Mirza used mutton, which means goat in India, saying it is the preferred meat there; but goat in India seems to be a lot more tender than goat in England or even America, so I am suggesting lamb. As I watched the Begum cover the raw marinated meat with the uncooked rice, I wondered how the meat was going to cook in the same time as the rice. She assured me it would, explaining that the green papaya she had added to the meat marinade was a natural tenderiser.

Serves 6-8

For the marinated meat

4 small onions (about 400g in total), finely grated
1 tablespoon finely chopped green papaya (optional)
Seeds from 2 black cardamom pods
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
6 whole cloves
Good pinch of saffron threads
1kg boneless shoulder or leg of lamb, cut into medium chunks
Sea salt
500g plain yogurt

For the biryani

500g long-­grain rice, soaked in lightly salted water for 15 minutes
500g plain yogurt​
Sea salt
150g ghee or unsalted butter, melted
125ml organic whole milk, infused with a good pinch of saffron threads

To marinate the meat, mix together the onions, green papaya and spices in a large bowl. Add the meat and season with salt to taste. Mix well. Add the yogurt and mix again, then leave to marinate for at least 2 hours, preferably longer. To make the biryani, drain and rinse the rice and put into another bowl. Add the yogurt, 160ml water and salt to taste.

Put the marinated meat into the bottom of a large pot. Pour 125g melted ghee or butter over the meat. Add the rice mixture and 250ml water. Wrap the lid with a clean kitchen towel and place over the pot (wrapping the lid stops the steam from the rice from falling back, which keeps the rice fluffy and the grains separate). Place the pot over medium­high heat and bring to the boil, which should take about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Uncover the pan and sprinkle the remaining melted ghee or butter over the rice, along with the saffron milk. Place the lid back over the pan and cook for a further 15 minutes, or until the meat is completely tender and the rice has absorbed all the liquid and is tender and fluffy. Serve immediately.


Saffron fritters – Arabian Gulf

Traditionally, l’geimat (saffron fritters) are served drizzled with date syrup, but many Arabian cooks sweeten them with a sugar syrup flavoured with saffron and cardamom, as I have done here. You can also serve these drizzled with date syrup, if you prefer.​

Serves 6-8

For the fritters 120g plain (white) flour
120g wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon fast-action dried yeast
1 tablespoon caster sugar

1⁄4 teaspoon fine sea salt
125g plain yogurt
 organic egg
Sugar syrup (below)
Vegetable oil, for deep-­frying

To make the fritters, mix together both flours, the yeast, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add the yogurt and 125ml water. Add the egg and mix until you have a very loose dough/very thick batter. Cover with clingfilm and set aside to rest for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.

Pour 5cm vegetable oil into a large frying pan and heat over medium heat until very hot (if you drop a piece of bread into the oil, it should immediately bubble around the bread).

Wet your hand and, with the tips of your fingers, pinch off bits of dough. Drop the fritters into the hot oil and fry them, stirring all the time to colour them evenly, for 7 to 10 minutes, or until they are golden brown all over. Remove to a sieve so the excess oil can drain. Serve immediately or soon after frying, drizzled with sugar syrup.

Sugar syrup

400g golden caster sugar
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 small cinnamon stick
Pinch of saffron threads
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Put the sugar into a medium pot and add 250ml water. Add the cardamom, cinnamon stick, saffron and lemon juice and bring to a simmer over low heat. Simmer, stirring every now and then, for about 30 minutes, or until you have a thick syrup. Take off the heat. If you are not going to use the syrup straightaway, store it in an airtight glass jar in the fridge, where it will last for a few days.


Spicy baked fish in a tahini, herb and nut sauce – Lebanon 

At the Silver Shore restaurant in Tripoli, they prepare this fish using a large sea bass that feeds four, but I suggest making it with fish fillets, which are easier to eat with the sauce, with no need to pick out any bones or discard the skin.

Serves 4 to 6

50g pine nuts
100g walnuts
250ml tahini
8 cloves garlic, crushed to a fine paste
Juice of 3 lemons, or to taste
Vegetable oil, for frying
1kg white fish fillets (4–6 pieces)
80ml extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions (about 300g in total), finely chopped
1 medium red pepper, finely chopped
½ bunch fresh coriander (about 100g), most of bottom stems discarded, then finely chopped
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan. Spread the pine nuts and walnuts on separate non-stick baking sheets and toast in the hot oven for 5 to 6 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer the pine nuts to a small bowl. Wait until the walnuts have cooled, then chop them coarsely.

Put the tahini into a large mixing bowl and add the garlic. Add the lemon juice and start mixing it in. At first you will notice the tahini thickening instead of thinning, but do not worry, it will eventually thin out as you add more liquid. Slowly add 180ml water, stirring all the time, until you have a sauce the consistency of double cream. Set the tahini sauce aside.

Place a large frying pan over medium heat and pour in enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom. When the oil is hot, slide the fish fillets into the pan, skin side down, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the skin is crisp and golden and the fish just done. You don’t need to flip the fish as it will finish cooking in the tahini sauce. Transfer to a plate.

Wipe the pan clean. Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and red pepper and sauté for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the onions are golden and the pepper completely softened. Add the fresh coriander and stir until wilted. Add the chopped walnuts, ground coriander, Aleppo pepper, cumin and salt to taste. Stir in the tahini sauce. Bubble gently, stirring regularly, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until you see a little oil rise to the surface. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.

Slide the cooked fish fillets into the sauce, skin side up, and gently shake the pan to coat the fish with the sauce. Simmer for a couple of minutes, or until the fish has finished cooking. Transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with the toasted pine nuts and serve hot or warm.

Extract taken from ‘Feast’ by Anissa Helou (Bloomsbury, £45) is out now. Photography by Kristin Perers

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