Who doesn't love the punchy flavours and interesting spices of Middle Eastern food?
In July I was invited to join Joanna Nissim’s mezze cooking workshop. Nissim specialises in Sephardi flavours. In particular, the foods of her husband’s Indian Iraqi family that now form the bulk of her repertoire.
Nissim welcomed us into her kosher, home kitchen with glasses chilled wine and bowls of crisps, nuts and shiny, wrinkled black olives. Already there were 20 or so friendly foodies — many of them frequent flyers on her interactive evening events.
On the menu for the evening: vegetarian yabra (stuffed vine leaves); smoky baba ghanoush (aubergine dip); a rich muhammara (a second dip — made from roasted red peppers, pomegranate molasses and walnuts) and two types of Middle Eastern flatbreads called lahm b’jeen.
While fressing, we watched Jo mix up a super simple dough for the flatbreads before moving blitzing up two versions of the dip — one with regular bread and the other, gluten free, as one of her guests doesn’t eat gluten.
Baba ghanoush was next: a combination of tahina, lemon and seasoning with smoky aubergine flesh from which Jo had rubbed off sharp speckles of charcoal-covered skin. She then prepared the spiced meat topping for the flatbreads — a simple minced beef and onion mixture packed with spices. We heard about ou — a tamarind-based condiment traditional in Syrian cuisine that flavours the meat paste. It’s a tangy tamarind-based condiment (I’d put it in the pomegranate molasses family) that adds pep to the lahm b’jeen.
Roasted red peppers also lost their char before being blitzed with the other dip ingredients. Then it was time for us to get our hands dirty. We rolled out piles of mini flatbread circles and topped them with beef or muhammara (super easy) and while they baked, Jo demonstrated how to fill and roll vine leaves with a veggie rice stuffing.
Then it was time to feast — mountains of mini flatbreads with more muhammara to scoop up plus steaming hot vine leaves that Jo had prepped ahead — Blue Peter-style —cooking them with sticky sweet, dried apricots. All deliciously different.
Her next workshop (on Wednesday September 6) will focus on her Rosh Hashanah menu. Chicken Fesenjan — with pomegranate and walnuts plus seasonal sides and dessert.
If you love Middle Eastern flavours and want to add some to your menu, there’s no better way than learning hands on with the expert at your side.
A proper Jewish mother — under Nissim's watch, no one went hungry and there was enough over for a coach party — or perhaps for Jo’s hungry family to finish over the week.
Contact Joanna via her Instgram account Awafi.