Honey & Co Chefs, husband and wife team, Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich are sitting contentedly at our kitchen table podding peas and broad beans for supper. They’ve spent the afternoon prepping for their guest chef course at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. They live in Central London, run two mega successful and much loved restaurants and a deli called Honey & Smoke in Fitzrovia.
Each is jam packed with guests who absolutely love their homey Middle Eastern food. There’s something particularly welcoming, warm and comforting about Sarit & Itamar’s places and it’s the kind of food we love to eat, who isn’t addicted to scooping up dollops of hummus or baba ganoush on ashtanur flat bread or pitta. They both love cooking and have since they were five. They originally met in the kitchen of a posh Italian Restaurant in Israel but decided to emigrate to London, where they worked in the Orrery, it’s worth knowing that Sarit was pastry chef for Ottolenghi and executive head chef at Nopi, both sensational restaurants.
This is their third guest chef appearance at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, they love coming to Ireland and their idea of heaven is being able to wander through the farm and gardens, pick the leaves and petals for the salad, dig potatoes, snip off the blossoms from the zucchini, licking their lips at the thought of how they will prepare them. Real cooks are endlessly excited by beautiful produce and exciting new flavours. They have searched the highways and byways of the Middle East for the best spices, sumac, za’atar and best street food. Their enthusiasm is infectious, even strangers sometimes share recipes with them – they endlessly try to recreate the flavours of their childhood and home country. Honey Spice is like a tiny Aladdin’s Cave with shelves packed with the best Middle Eastern ingredients, which I’ve discovered I can now order online to recreate their recipes from their three books.
Honey & Co, Honey & Co The Baking Book and the recently published Honey & Co At Home, which has already become many of their devotees favourite. The format of Honey & Co At Home is different to the two previous books and includes recipes, For Us Two, For Friends, For the Weekend, For a Crowd…at the end of the book there’s an excellent section entitled For the Kitchen, a sort of store cupboard section of spice mixes, pickles, relishes & sauces. The book is worth the price for this one chapter alone. Their harissa, ras el hanout and tahini has certainly added zing to my dishes, I also love the pithy and the self-deprecating writing.
Sarit & Itamar enchanted us for a whole day, and here are a few dishes they cooked for us, the Ashtanur bread, a super quick flat bread and so worth knowing about, kids also love to make and bake it on a pan or outdoors.
The one pot chicken dish will definitely become a favourite, cracked wheat is easy to find nowadays but if you can’t source it, use long grain rice.
It’s also worth checking out the Honey & Co podcast The Food Talks available on iTunes and Spotify to download and several segments on Youtube where they are cooking favourite dishes in their inimitable way.
Honey & Co www.honeyandco.co.uk
25 Warren St., Fitzrovia, London, W1T 5LZ Tel: 2073886175
Honey & Spice
52 Warren St., Kings Cross, London W1T 5NJ Tel: 2073886175
Honey & Smoke
216 Great Portland Street, London W1W5QW Tel: 2073886175
Harissa and Goat’s Cheese Buns
Makes about 20
175g (6oz) self-raising flour
100g (3 1/2oz) butter (at room temperature), diced
1 egg, lightly whisked and divided into 2 small bowls
60g (2 1/4oz) finely grated Pecorino or Parmesan, divided into 2 small bowls
125g (4 1/2oz) ricotta
125g (4 1/2oz) soft, young, rindless goat’s cheese
30g (1oz/2 tablespoons) rose harissa paste
1 teaspoon sea salt or a generous pinch of table salt
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
Pre-heat your oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 or 180°C/350°/Gas Mark 4 (Fan)
I use a mixer to make these; the dough is easy enough to make by hand, but it’s a little messy. Place the flour and butter in a mixer bowl with a paddle attachment and combine to a crumb-like consistency.
Add half the egg and half the grated pecorino or Parmesan, along with the ricotta, goat’s cheese, harissa paste and salt. Mix together until everything forms a nice, soft, pliable dough.
Divide the dough into two pieces and roll each one into a log about 20cm (8 inch) long. Brush each log all over with the other half of the egg, which you set aside earlier.
Mix the remaining Pecorino or Parmesan and the cumin seeds together, and sprinkle on the work surface. Roll the logs in the cheese cumin mixture until coated all over. Place on a tray in the fridge to rest for at least an hour, and up to 48 hours.
When you are ready to bake – best done just before serving as these are great hot –Cut each log into about 10 slices, each about 2cm (3/4 inch) thick, and lay them flat on a lined baking tray. Bake for about 13-15 minutes, until the cheese becomes golden but the buns are still soft. Remove from the oven and serve hot.
Fennel, Kohlrabi, Orange and Chilli Salad
Makes enough for 6-8 as a side of 4-6 as a starter
2 fennel bulbs
1 head of kohlrabi
1/2 teaspoon salt
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 red chilli
3 oranges (blood oranges work beautifully here)
1 small bunch of coriander
1 teaspoon Orange Blossom Water
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
Halve the fennel bulbs and remove the core. Lay them flat on a chopping board and slice lengthways as thinly as you can. Place in a large bowl.
Peel the kohlrabi, cut into quarters and then cut into thin wafer-like slices (you can use a peeler, or a mandolin if you own one). Add the kohlrabi slices to the fennel, sprinkle with the salt and lemon juice, and mix.
Cut the red chilli into thin rounds and add to the bowl. Peel the oranges, slice into rounds and add these to the bowl too. Pick the coriander into sprigs and pop them into ice cold water for 10-15 minutes. Drain and add them to the bowl just before serving.
Dress with the orange blossom water, vinegar and olive oil. Mix well and serve.
Ashtanur – Griddle Bread
Makes 6-7 flat breads
250g (9oz) strong flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
7g fresh yeast or 1/2 teaspoon dried yeast
1/2 teaspoon honey (or sugar)
60ml (2 1/2fl oz) + about 60ml (2 1/2fl oz) warm water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus extra for oiling and rolling
Mix the flour and salt in a big bowl. Dissolve the yeast and honey (or sugar) in the first 60ml of warm water and set aside until it starts to foam.
Pour the foaming water-yeast mixture and the oil into the flour and mix, bringing it all together. Add as much of the additional water as you need to get a good even dough, then start kneading until it becomes supple and shiny. Drizzle with some extra oil on the top, cover the bowl with cling film and set aside until the dough doubles in volume, or place in the fridge for the next day.
Oil your workbench and turn the dough out, Divide into six or seven balls of approximately 50g (2oz) each and roll them in the oil, making sure each one has a nice coating of it. Leave them on the counter for 10 minutes to rest. Now is the time to set the griddle pan on the stove to heat up.
Start stretching the dough balls. The best bay is to oil your hands, then press the dough down to flatten and spread it with your hands until it is as thin as you can get it – you should almost see the work surface through it.
Lift the first stretched dough ball carefully and pop it on the hot griddle pan. It will take about a minute or two to colour, then flip it, cook for 10 seconds and remove from the pan. Put the next one on and repeat the process. Stack them while they are hot and wrap them in cling film to serve later the same day, freeze once cooled or eat immediately.
Chicken Braised in Spicy Matbucha and Cracked Wheat Pilaf
A gorgeous one pot dish…
1kg (2 1/4lb) chicken thighs
2 teaspoons salt
1 red chilli, thinly sliced
1/2 lemon, quartered and very thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 long red pepper, cut into thick rings
3 plum tomatoes cut into thick slices
1/2 teaspoon sugar
20 cherry tomatoes (any type will do, but a mix is nice)
1 small bunch coriander, roughly chopped
125ml (4 1/2fl oz) water
200g (7oz) coarse cracked wheat
Place the chicken thighs skin-side down in a large saucepan or sauté pan and season with a teaspoon of the salt. Place on the stove on a low heat and allow the fat from the skin to render out — it will take about 15-20 minutes to crisp the skin. Then flip and cook for an extra five minutes on the other side. Carefully lift the thighs on to a plate, leaving all the fat that’s been produced in the pan. Keep the pan on the heat and add the chopped chilli, lemon slices and garlic. Sauté until a strong aroma of lemons comes from the pan — about three minutes.
Increase the heat to medium-high and add the pepper rings. Sauté for another three minutes, stirring all the time, then add the tomato slices. Season with the second teaspoon of salt and the sugar and mix well. Cook for about five minutes or until the tomato slices start to fall apart and create a sauce.
Return the chicken thighs to the pan, skin side up. Add the whole cherry tomatoes and sprinkle the chopped coriander on top. Add the water, reduce the heat to a minimum and cover. Simmer for 20 minutes, then remove the lid. Stir your dish a little to make sure it isn’t catching on the bottom of the pan. Replace the lid, but this time don’t close it entirely. Allow some steam to escape and simmer very slowly for another 15 minutes.
You can eat the dish now if you wish, but the best thing to do is to sprinkle the cracked wheat into the pot. Stir it a little, bring back to the boil and return the lid to the pot. Set aside for 15 minutes (off the heat) and then serve.
Sumac and Vanilla Shortbread
240g (8 1/2oz) butter, at room temperature
120g (scant 4 1/2oz) icing sugar
360g (12 1/2oz) plain flour
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
1⁄2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
For the coating
2 tablespoons sumac
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Heat your oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5 (170°C/325°Fan)
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.
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 1 hour (or freeze it until you want to bake them)
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.