Honey & Co duo's hot tips on how best to do home-style Middle Eastern cooking
Ella Walker meets the Honeys, aka husband and wife chefs Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, on the release of their third cookbook
MIDDLE Eastern food has entered the mainstream – who isn't addicted to dredging pitta through craggy mounds of hummus? Who doesn't scatter pomegranate seeds on everything?
But there's more to the cuisine than chickpeas and jewel-like fruits, as you'll know if you've picked up Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer's first two cookbooks.
The husband and wife duo, who hail from Israel, run three London stores and restaurants under the banner Honey & Co, but their new cookbook, Honey & Co At Home, lets loose recipes from their private lives.
It's what the Honeys (as they're affectionately known) are calling a "fluke book". They were meant to be writing a recipe collection about their deli, Honey & Spice "but when we started collecting the recipes we were interested in," says Packer, "we were like, 'This is nothing to do with Honey & Spice, this is to do with us and how we eat, and how we entertain people'."
Writing it was a process of rediscovery, because, after 15 years in professional kitchens and then launching Honey & Co, there hadn't been much time for home cooking and entertaining.
They'd never even had weekends, and "it takes skill to do a weekend properly," says Srulovich. "We're getting quite good at them now," adds Packer. "Our life is starting to get back to normal, and we're spending more time at home and with each other again."
Sharing that, in recipe form, just made sense. "Spread the joy," says Packer. "It's just food, it's not patented, it's not magic, it's not rocket science. If we enjoy it, and then someone else makes it and enjoys it – perfect."
There are the potato and feta fritters drizzled in thyme honey that Srulovich calls his "secret weapon" and the tinned tuna cakes they are forever dipping into their store cupboard to make after a long day.
The book is woven through with stories and memories too, which are inseparable says Packer, "or it is just sustenance". Srulovich tells of eating grilled anchovies in Greece, of picking figs in the Balearic Islands, and most charmingly, of their two weddings – an elopement to Cyprus, where they got hitched in a town hall above a KFC, and a party back home in Israel. "It was such a disaster," he recalls happily.
"It was so funny, because the Cyprus one was amazing, very romantic and sweet above the KFC, and then we had to come back and we decided to cook for ourselves for our own party," says Packer, shaking her head wryly as she remembers spending the celebration in the kitchen and fuses that kept tripping.
"It was very us, like, this is how your life is always going to be; slightly out of place, slightly hiding in the kitchen, always overworked and tired when you shouldn't be," says Srulovich, descending into laughter. "It's very much the way things continued."
They both still cook every day, but you're unlikely to find them in their kitchen at home together. "Yep, is the long and short of it," says Srulovich when asked if it leads to arguments.
Their domestic kitchen is lined with books on garage-like shelving. "There's a lot of light and plants, everything is pretty much on display," says Packer. There's no fancy equipment, no bizarre gadgets – what they cook at home, even though they're chefs, you can do at home too.
"Usually you learn to cook with someone," says Srulovich, musing on the whole idea of following a recipe. "Written instructions is reverse engineering, if you know what I mean. Someone cooked this, and you want to recreate it, and this is the set of instructions; so you are in a literal way repeating the actions that someone broke down and wrote down so the result would be the same.
"That's a very intimate thing, because, even with fiction, you will read it, but it will stay contained in your imagination, it's not going to be 3D in your kitchen, in your home.
"This is why the background, the stories and the culture [behind a recipe] is so important, because you are going to not only make the food that someone made, eat the food that someone ate, but actually do the same things in the same order as someone else, because you trust them to give you nice food at the end of it – that's so incredible to me."
:: Honey & Co. At Home: Middle-Eastern Recipes From Our Kitchen by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, is published by Pavilion Books, priced £26. Photography Patricia Niven. Below are three recipes from the book for you to try.
(Makes 12-14 meatballs)
For the meatballs:
400g minced beef
200g basmati rice, uncooked
2 onions, peeled (240g)
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 small bunch of parsley, top leafy part only (about 20g)
1 small bunch of mint, top leafy part only (about 20g)
1 small bunch of coriander, top leafy part only (about 20g)
1tsp ground coriander
1tsp ground turmeric, or grate 2cm fresh turmeric root
A sprinkling of white pepper
For the sauce:
3tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely diced (120g)
1 leek, thinly sliced and washed
1 garlic, peeled and crushed
1 green chilli, thinly sliced
4 celery sticks, thinly sliced
1tsp ground turmeric, or grate 2cm fresh turmeric root
2 dried Persian limes (or 3 wide strips of peel from 1 lemon)
2 bay leaves
Juice of 1 lemon
Place the minced beef and uncooked rice together in a large bowl. Use a food processor to blitz the onions, garlic and fresh herbs together to a paste (or you can chop everything by hand very finely) and add to the meat and rice along with the ground coriander, turmeric, salt and pepper. Mix together until fully combined and then divide into 12-14 balls, each about 80-90g. Cover and store in the fridge until you are ready to cook.
To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a shallow casserole that is large enough to contain all the meatballs in one layer. Add the onion, leek and garlic and cook on a medium heat until they soften, then add the chilli, celery, turmeric, Persian limes and bay leaves. Mix well and fry for five minutes, stirring occasionally, then add one litre of boiling water.
Bring the mixture to the boil and carefully add the meatballs to the liquid. Bring back to the boil and cook uncovered for five minutes. Turn the meatballs over in the liquid, then cover and reduce the heat to low. Keep covered and cook for 30 minutes. Open the lid carefully, add the lemon juice, re-cover and cook for the final 10 minutes before serving.
SUMAC AND VANILLA SHORTBREAD
(Makes 24-28 shortbreads)
240g butter, at room temperature
120g icing sugar
360g plain flour
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
1/2tsp flaky sea salt
For the coating:
2tbsp granulated sugar
Use a food processor or an electric mixer with a paddle attachment to work the butter, icing sugar, flour, vanilla seeds and salt until the mixture just forms a ball of dough. It takes a while to come together, so don't lose faith. Once it has formed, turn the dough out onto the work surface. Divide into two pieces and shape each one into a log - I prefer to make it rectangular but it is tasty in any shape.
For the coating, mix the sumac and sugar on the work surface. Roll the log in the sumac-sugar to coat all over, then place in the fridge to set for at least one hour (or freeze it until you want to bake them).
Heat your oven to 190C/170C fan. Line two baking trays with baking paper. Use a sharp knife to cut each log into 12-14 slices and place them flat on the trays. Bake for 10-12 minutes until light golden, then remove from the oven. Leave to cool on the tray before eating.
FIG AND FETA PIDE
For the dough:
1/2tsp freshly ground black pepper
1tbsp nigella seeds
A pinch of cayenne pepper
15g dried active yeast
For the filling:
1/2tsp dried oregano
1/2tsp sumac (you could substitute with zest of 1 lemon)
For the toppings:
1 green chilli
3tbsp olive oil
6-8 figs (depending on size)
1 small bag of washed baby spinach
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A few sprigs of fresh thyme or a pinch of dried oregano
Place the flour, sugar, salt, black pepper, nigella seeds and cayenne pepper in a large mixing bowl. Dissolve the yeast in 100ml of water and stir in the honey, then add this, along with the yogurt, to the dry ingredients. Knead together to form a nice, supple dough (you can use a mixer with a dough hook if you wish, but it is really easy to mix by hand). Cover the bowl with a cloth or cling film, set in a warm place and allow the dough to double in size. It will take about one hour in a warm room, slightly longer if it's cold.
Make the filling by crumbling the feta into a small bowl and mixing with the yogurt, oregano and sumac to create a paste.
For the topping, slice the green chilli into rounds, place in a small dish and cover with the olive oil. Cut the figs into four to five slices.
Once the dough has proved, divide it into six evenly-sized lumps. Roughly stretch each piece into an oval boat-shape measuring around 20cm long and 8cm wide. Put a tablespoon of the feta filling on each, spreading it over the centre. Add a handful of baby spinach, then slices of fig. Top with the chilli slices and the oil, using it all up. Season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with some leaves from the sprigs of thyme or dried oregano.
Pinch the sides of the dough up around the edges, then pinch each end of the oval into a point to create a pide boat. Leave to prove again and, while you are waiting, heat your oven to 220C/200C fan. By the time the oven is up to temperature, the boats will be ready to pop in. Bake for 10-12 minutes until beautifully golden. Serve warm.