A little taste of North Africa in South West London

I celebrated my first weekend at home for the last five weeks by throwing a dinner party for some friends of ours who have recently moved to London from the emerald isle. Even better than them having merely moved to London, they are now approximately a 10 minute walk away so we are developing a very nice little congregation of amazing people in South West London.

The first culinary challenge for the evening was that the lovely Siobhan is vegetarian… I’m not anti-vegetarian, (I happen to think that Mildred’s is a fantastic restaurant and I own a copy of ‘Plenty’), I just panic when it comes to catering for them and I’m inclined towards the opinion that vegetarianism isn’t for me in any long term capacity. It did mean however, two main courses and late dessert substitution owing to a lack of vegetarian gelatine. After playing a long game of ‘you suggest things and I say no’ with James, the following menu was put together:

Starter

Mezze of Hummous, Cacik, Merguez sausages, cheese and herb Borek, and bread

Main

Lamb Tagine or Honeyed Sweet Potato and Chickpea Tagine

with Roasted Vegetable Couscous

Dessert

Lemon Millefeuille with Raspberries

I had originally intended to finish off my rather North African / Middle Eastern menu with a baklava cheesecake but as I said, could I find any vegetarian gelatine substitute? No, so that plan went out the window and a last minute decision in favour of millefeuille was made.

I did an Ocado shop during the week making arrangements for it to be delivered to me first thing on Saturday morning so that I would then have plenty time to take myself to the North End road market for additional fresh produce and time to take myself to a further supermarket should there be anything that was unavailable for delivery. The later proved to be unnecessary but I spent a very pleasant hour with James browsing the market stalls on the North End road and purchasing a whole gardens worth of mint, coriander, spinach and parsley and a lot of lemons all at most reasonable prices I have to say. I think that the six Merguez sausages were the biggest bargain but then again, the herbs were a close contender, as was the bowl of limes I was eyeing up. These ultimately got left behind however when I reminded myself that I already had several limes sitting in my fruit bowl and that I really didn’t need any more for the time being.

Prior to the trip to the North End road however, in approximately 2.5 hours I achieved the following: made and drank my morning cup of tea, cleared out and cleaned the fridge, emptied the dishwasher, put the shopping away, seasoned the lamb meat with the spices for 2 hours before browning, adding the remaining ingredients and putting the whole lot in the slow cooker to cook for 6 hours, made all of the component parts of the millefeuille for assembling later on that evening, and done all of the resulting washing up from the cooking that had taken place so far. I won’t lie, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself.

On returning home from the market, I whipped up the Cacik and the hummous, both of which are incredibly easy to make, made the honeyed sweet potato and the accompany sauce for the vegetarian tagine, roasted the vegetables for the tagine and made the borek. I really enjoyed making these; I found making the little pastry triangles incredibly satisfying. They would be a great thing to make with little people, a little bit messy (melted butter everywhere) but nice and simple.

The best thing was that I had plenty of time to clean the house (it really needed doing after spending the best part of the last 5 weeks away), arrange the flowers, dress myself and set the table.

I got a little bit carried away in my mind with great plans for decorating my garden in line with the food (lots of hot pink, gold, orange, cushions, lanterns and coloured glass – you get the idea), until I realised that a) it was most probably going to be raining (and yes, it certainly was), b) that to achieve the effect that I was really after it was going to cost me rather a lot of money, and c) that after the party I would have to find somewhere to store everything… So I decided that I would have to make do with the various bits and pieces that I already own.

I think that the overall table effect was very pleasing, even if it didn’t incorporate the many hundreds of ‘North African’ textiles and pottery that I wanted. I was particularly keen on the fairy lights that I wound around the underside of the table (I have a glass table) so that they shone through. This is definitely something to do another occasion because it really did look pretty. I did also manage to use some of the bowls from my collection of ‘small bowls to serve things in’ which was another bonus.

Another successful and enjoyable dinner party at mine I think. Now just to plan the next; I’m thinking “girls’ night”…

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Borek

Ingredients:

I ball of mozzarella cheese

1 packet of feta cheese

1 egg

Finely chopped mint

Finely chopped parsley

Grated nutmeg

Freshly ground pepper

Filo pastry

Method:

1. Grate the mozzarella into a small bowl, crumble in the feta and add the egg. Beat together.

2. Finely chop the herbs and then add to the cheese mixture. Mix together and season with freshly ground black pepper and nutmeg. Put to one side.

3. Melt some butter. Cut a sheet of filo pastry into four long strips. Take the first strip, placing the rest under a damp tea towel, and brush with melted butter. Put a spoonful of the cheese mixture in the bottom corner and fold into triangles by folding the pastry over onto itself until you reach the end of the strip. Place on a lined baking try. Repeat until you have used up all of the cheese mixture.

4. When you are ready to cook, pre-heat the oven to 180 and bake the borek for 30 minutes. They can be eaten hot or cold but I personally think that they are much better hot.

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