Georgina Campbell's Cookery Feature - Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cooking

The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook by Salma HageVegetarian or not, many of us are now choosing to eat less meat (‘less but better’, perhaps) and more plant-based protein. Aside from the health and environmental arguments, one of the great advantages for the cook is that is that it opens up a whole new way of thinking about cooking.

Freed from the habit of considering vegetables and pulses as secondary to meat, we can take pleasure in exploring the rich diversity of cuisines where vegetarian food has long been the norm - and, with its aromatic flavours, unpretentiousness and casual mezze-style dining, Middle Eastern cuisine is especially appealing and offers many ideas that can work very well with contemporary home cooking and entertaining.

A great guide to have beside you on this enjoyable journey would be Salma Hage, a Lebanese housewife and grandmother whose long experience of family cooking and feeding large numbers comes across in the direct style of her books, The Lebanese Kitchen (2012) and The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook, published this year.

The familiar vegetables, salads and fruits common to the Mediterranean countries are all here, with a touch of the exotic provided by ingredients such as the beautiful jewel-like pomegranate, floral flavours (orange flower, rosewater) and aromatic spices that appear in many dishes - notably the Lebanese 7-spice seasoning mixture (see below) that is so widely used that it is pretty much ‘the taste of Lebanon’.

Using affordable and easily obtained ingredients, the 140 or so recipes often have vegan and/or coeliac versions given and cover every conceivable occasion from breakfast to parties - the flexible mezze approach of Middle Eastern cooking works especially well when catering for a crowd.

You’ll find versions of all the best known dishes such as Baba Ganoush, Falafel, and Tabbouleh along with less familiar ones such as the Lebanese ratatouille know as Msa'aa (see below), the refreshing drinks and salads that are such a pleasure when visiting the region, and beautiful desserts such as Pistachio meringues with rose cream and Strawberry-rose sorbet…

Many of the vegetable recipes would make great side dishes alongside more conventional main courses (chefs please note!) and there are lots of appealing ways to use pulses and grains.

If this is sustainable eating, then it is no hardship. The sheer deliciousness of the cuisine is what’s really appealing about this book - helped along by the beautiful, simply styled photography. 

RECIPES from The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook by Salma Hage, with photography by Liz & Max Haarala Hamilton. (Phaidon, £24.95.)

Ginger, strawberry, and mint limeade

Ginger, strawberry, and mint limeade

This twist on lemonade is flavoursome and delicious—I always enjoy its incredible aroma. The bite of fresh ginger is balanced by a hint of fresh mint. It's a perfect thirst-quencher on a hot summer's day.

Preparation time: 20 minutes + 1½ hours steeping time Serves: 4-6

zest and juice of 6 limes
zest and juice of 2 lemons
2-3 tablespoons honey
2-inch/5-cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
20 mint leaves, plus extra to serve
10 strawberries, hulled and sliced
plenty of ice, to serve
lime wedges, to serve

Put the citrus zests and juice into a heat-proof pitcher (jug). Add 2 tablespoons honey, the ginger, and mint leaves and pour in 4¼ cups (34 fl oz/1 litre) of boiling water. Set aside and let steep and cool completely, which will take about 1½ hours.

In a blender, purée the strawberries.

Once the steeped mixture is cold, combine with the strawberries, sweeten with more honey, if desired, then strain and serve over ice with fresh mint leaves and lime wedges.

[Vegan] Replace the honey with superfine (caster) sugar.


Lebanese 7-spice seasoning

This is a classic spice-blend recipe that I have been using for many years, but many Lebanese families have their own version of this 7-spice blend. Just a teaspoon of it really lifts so many dishes.

For me, this seasoning captures the taste of Lebanese food and it is a flavour that I find I miss if I don't have it for a while, or if I am travelling abroad.

It only takes a few minutes to prepare once you have all the ingredients together, and you can scale up the ratios to make larger quantities, though the following recipe provides a good amount to start out with.

Preparation time: 5 minutes
Makes: about 1¾ cups (6 oz/175 g)

5 tablespoons ground allspice
3½ tablespoons pepper
3½ tablespoons ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons ground cloves
4 tablespoons grated nutmeg
4 tablespoons ground fenugreek
4 tablespoons ground ginger

Mix all the ingredients together thoroughly and store in an airtight container.




I'd describe this dish as a kind of Lebanese ratatouille. It is warm and sustaining, and one that people often request when they're coming to dinner. Traditionally, it is served slightly cooled, and is sublime when served over hot rice.

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour - 1 hour 30 minutes
Serves: 4
Preheat the oven to 400ºF/200°C/Gas Mark 6.

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2-inch/5-cm chunks
2 zucchini (courgettes), chopped into 1-inch/2.5-cm pieces
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 eggplants (aubergines), chopped into 1-2-inch/2.5-5-cm chunks
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped into 1½-inch/4-cm chunks
2 onions, finely chopped
7 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Lebanese 7-Spice Seasoning (see above)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 sprig thyme or rosemary
6 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 (14-oz/400-g) can chickpeas, drained
scant ½ cup (3½ fl oz/ 100 ml) vegetable broth (stock)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
sea salt and pepper
brown rice, to serve (optional)

Arrange the sweet potato and zucchini (courgette) chunks in a large roasting pan with 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper. Toss well, then roast for 10 minutes.

Add the eggplant (aubergine) and bell pepper to the pan and roast, stirring occasionally, for another 15 minutes.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet or frying pan over medium heat, add the onions and garlic, and gently cook for 5 minutes, or until softened. Add the spices and the thyme or rosemary and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, vegetable broth (stock), and balsamic vinegar and cook for 10 minutes.

Take the pan of roasted vegetables out of the oven and add the sauce from the pan. Stir to combine in the roasting pan.

Wrap the top of the pan in aluminium foil (be sure to wear oven mitts [gloves], because the pan will be hot). Return to the oven and roast for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to let the vegetables to soak up the sauce.

Remove the foil, stir, and return to the oven to cook for another 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven, stir again, and let cool for a few minutes. Remove the thyme or rosemary sprig and serve piled on top of hot brown rice, if desired.


Asparagus and feta quiche

Asparagus and feta quiche

Every so often the French influence appears in our cooking in Lebanon, and nowhere more so than in this classic quiche.

Preparation time: 20 minutes + 30 minutes chilling
Cooking time: 25-30 minutes
Serves: 8


2 ½ cups (11oz/300g) all-purpose (plain) flour, plus extra for dusting
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (5 oz/150 g) unsalted butter, cubed, plus extra for greasing


1 cup (4½ oz/125 g) asparagus tips
1 teaspoon olive oil
onion, finely chopped
garlic cloves, crushed
3½ oz/100 g feta cheese, crumbled
3 extra large (UK: large)?eggs, lightly beaten
1¼ cups (10½ fl oz/ 300 ml) crème fraiche
2 tablespoons fresh ?mint, finely chopped
salt and pepper

To make the pastry dough, put the flour and butter into a large bowl and rub them together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add 4 tablespoons of chilled water and use a blunt kitchen knife to bring the dough together. Then use your hands to shape it into a smooth ball. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead gently and briefly. Wrap in plastic wrap (clingfilm) and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 3750F/190°C/Gas Mark 5 and grease a 9-inch/25-cm fluted tart pan with a removable base.

Roll the chilled dough out on a lightly floured surface, then carefully transfer to the prepared pan, pressing it into the sides and trimming and discarding the edges. Prick the dough with a fork and line with parchment (baking) paper and pie weights (baking beans). Sit the pan on a baking sheet and bake blind for 12 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and bake for another 10 minutes, or until lightly golden.

To make the filling, first blanch the asparagus tips briefly in boiling water. Drain and rinse under cold water, then pat dry and set aside.

Heat the oil in a skillet or frying pan and sauté the onion until soft but not browned. Sauté the garlic and fry for 1 minute. Spread the onions and garlic over the pastry, then add the asparagus tips and feta cheese.

Whisk together the eggs and crème fraiche, add the mint, and season well with salt and pepper. Pour into the pastry shell (case), then return to the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the filling is golden and just set. Remove from the oven and let set, then slice and serve while still hot.

[Coeliac: Replace the all-purpose (plain) flour with gluten-free flour.]


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