‘Chasing Smoke, Cooking Over Fire Around The Levant’ (Cookbook by Sarit Packer & Itamar Srulovich)

Even if you didn’t know Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, you’d have to be intrigued by this title and bright orange cover.  There are many cookbooks these days so it’s difficult to stand out from the crowd but this one certainly does.

It’s a third book from the ‘Honeys’ who own the much loved London restaurants, Honey and Co, Honey & Smoke and Honey & Spice. 

Where there is smoke, there is fire and this irrepressible couple have been following the trail of smoke all their lives.  They tell me that where there’s fire, food, friendships and memories are made. 

Their own fires burn brightly at their grillhouse Honey and Smoke at the northern end of Great Portland Street in London.  The irresistible smell of aubergines, onions, courgettes and squash charring over coal and wood smoke wafts out onto the street to tempt the passers-by to follow the trail to the source of the delicious smells.

This book takes us across the Levant as Sarit and Itamar visit their favourite cities in Alexandrea, Egypt, Amman, Jordan, Acre, Israel, Adana, Turkey and Thessaloniki in Greece.  They’ve really get a knack for ferreting out the most delicious simple, flavour packed dishes – could be a meal for two or a mouth-watering joyful feast for your family and a few friends.  Perfect timing…exactly the sort of food I want to eat now that we can have a little get together outdoors, lots of fresh air and tantalizing smells.

Sarit and Itamar really are masters of cooking over fire.  I love how they pass on many of the tips and tricks they’ve learned over decades of grilling both at home and in their restaurants – there’s even some rainy day advice.  In Chasing Smoke, they’ve put together a beautiful collection of recipes from all over the Middle East from the most famous grill houses to the humblest roadside kebab houses, even cooking over a circle of stones on the sea shore.

I also learned about balcony cooking, the reality for so many in high-rise apartments but it doesn’t matter where you live, one can cook safely over a little grill and reawaken the hunter gatherer within us all.

It was so difficult to choose just a few recipes.  Here are a few to tempt you and suggestions for cooking in the oven if the heavens open…Enjoy

Chicken Heart Skewers

Many people have never eaten heart, which is a shame as it is easy to cook and has a pleasant, subtle flavour. The heart is a muscle (of course) and benefits from quick cooking over a very high heat to avoid becoming tough or chewy. Strangely enough, these skewers tend to be a favourite with kids, although we are not sure whether they’re more drawn by the idea of the flavour. Finding chicken hearts for sale can sometimes be tricky, but if you ask your butcher nicely, I’m sure they will set some aside. It is a part of the bird that tends to get thrown away, but really it should be celebrated.

Makes 8 skewers (allow 2 per person)

500g (1lb 2oz) chicken hearts
2 tablespoons flaky sea salt
2 litres (3 1/2 pints) very cold water

For the cooking
1 bunch of parsley (about 40g/1 1/2oz)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika (or a pinch of cayenne pepper)
a sprinkle of flaky sea salt

Clean the hearts, removing any white membrane and trimming away viable veins. Mix the salt and water in a large bowl, add the cleaned hearts and leave to soak for 30 minutes to draw out any impurities.

Pick and chop the parsley, mix with the minced garlic and set aside until needed.

Tip the soaked heats into a colander or sieve to drain, then pat them dry with kitchen paper. Thread five or six on each skewer. Stack the charcoal on your BBQ really high to get a good heat. Sear the hearts for 2 minutes on each side on a very hot grill, then dip each skewer in the parsley-garlic mixture before placing on a serving plate. Sprinkle with the salt and paprika (or cayenne) and serve immediately.

To cook without a BBQ
Use a lightly oiled, preheated griddle pan over a really high heat on your stove or hob and cook just as you would on the fire (but without the skewers).

From ‘Chasing Smoke, Cooking Over Fire Around the Levant’ by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich published by Pavilion

Joojeh kebabs – Chicken in yogurt and saffron

Makes 4 large skewers (allow at least 1 per person)

8 large chicken thighs (boneless and skinless) – about 1.2kg (2lb 10oz net weight)

For the marinade
1 onion, peeled (about 150g/5 1/4oz)
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 green chilli, halved and seeds removed
2 tablespoons ras el hanout spice mix (see recipe)
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
zest from 1 lemon
1 pinch of saffron strands
1 tablespoon rose water
80ml (3 1/4fl oz) water
200g (7oz) goats cheese

Purée the onion, garlic and chilli together in a food processor. Transfer to a large bowl, then combine with the rest of the marinade ingredients. Add the chicken thighs and mix really well to cost all over. Leave to marinate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

When you are ready to cook, use double skewers for each kebab (to keep the thighs as flat as possible) and thread with two pieces of marinated chicken. Keep any remaining marinade to baste the chicken as it is grilling.

Roast over good hot coals to caramelise the marinade and develop the sweetness, turning the kebabs every 5 minutes and brushing with leftover marinade after each turn. The chicken will take about 15-20 minutes to cook through. If your BBQ has a lid, covering it for 5 minutes will help the kebabs cook well without charring too much, however we tend not to do this as we really favour the taste of the charred marinade.

Serve with a small herb salad mixed with orange segments, for a freshness that goes really well with the robust marinade.

To cook without a BBQ
Roast the chicken thighs (no need to skewer them) in a very hot oven (240°C/220°C Fan/Gas Mark 9) for 15-20 minutes, or use a lightly oiled, preheated griddle pan on your store or hob and cook just as you would on the fire.

Ras el Hanout Spice Mix

There are as many versions of this spice mix as there are spice shops in the Middle East.  The literal translation of ras el hanout is ‘head of the shop’, meaning the best the shop has to offer, and can contain up to twenty different spices.  This is our version, which you can make yourself.

60g (2 1/4oz) cumin seeds

60g (2 1/4oz) coriander seeds

90g (3 1/4oz) fenugreek seeds

3 whole cloves

2 dried Persian limes

30g (1oz) whole cardamom pods

20g (3/4oz) dried rose petals

20g (3/4oz) curry leaves

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon ground white pepper

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon amchoor (mango powder)

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

Heat your oven to 190C/170°C fan/Gas Mark 5.

Place the cumin, coriander, fenugreek, cloves, dried limes and cardamom pods on a baking tray.  Roast for 5 minutes, then add the rose petals and curry leaves and roast for another 3 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool before using a spice grinder to grind to a powder.  Mix with the pre-ground spices.  Store in a dry, airtight container, ideally in the freezer.  This will keep for up to 6 months, but I always think you should try to use it within 2 months to get the flavour at its best. 

From ‘Chasing Smoke, Cooking Over Fire Around the Levant’ by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich published by Pavilion

Pork Chops with Spiced Butter


This invariably ends up being a staple dinner when we are on holiday. We buy a couple of chops and a local spice mix, light a small BBQ in the garden and cook this just for the two of us.

Serves 2

2 large potatoes
2 large pork chops on the bone
juice of 1 lemon

For the spiced butter
50g (2oz) butter (or ghee)
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice (pimento)
a pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
zest of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt

Build a BBQ and let it settle to nice hot embers. Wrap the potatoes in foil and pop them in the coal about 45 minutes before you want to eat.

Melt the butter in a small pan and stir in the spices, oregano, olive oil, lemon zest, garlic and salt. Remove from the bear and leave to infuse for 5 minutes.

Brush the chops on one side with the spiced butter and lay them buttered-side down on the BBQ. Grill for 5 minutes, brushing butter on the top (previously unbuttered) side of the chops as they cook. Flip them over to grill for 5 minutes on the other side, again brushing the top side with butter. Remove to a plate.

Pull the softened potatoes from the embers and leave to cook for a few minutes until you can easily unwrap them. Slit them down the middle and pour the rest of the seasoned butter over them. Serve with the chops and drizzle the lemon juice all over.

To cook without a BBQ
Bake the potatoes in a hot oven (220°C/200°C Fan/Gas Mark 7) for 45-60 minutes until soft. Use a preheated griddle pan on your stove or hob and cook the chops just as you would on the fire.

From ‘Chasing Smoke, Cooking Over Fire Around the Levant’ by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich published by Pavilion

Fire-top knafe

There aren’t many Middle Eastern recipes for sweet things cooking on the fire.  The tradition is only to serve fresh or dried fruit to end a meal or maybe tiny, very sugary baklavas, mini doughnuts or halva, if you want to spoil your guests.  Fire-top knafe is an exception to this rule.  This combination of desiccated kadaif pastry, stringy cheese, rich syrup and a hint of smoke was celebrated in Jordan more than in any other place we visited.  I didn’t understand why the pastry was desiccated until I got back to London, started experimenting, and jammed one mincer after another with fresh pastry.  The heat in Jordan dries the pastry, making it brittle and requiring a new method to make it delicious again.  You will need to open a packet of fresh kadaif pastry and leave it on a try in a warm room for a day or two to dry out completely.  You can make the sugar syrup and kadaif crust in advance, so you just need to prepare the filling and cook this on the day of serving.

Fills a 28cm (11 inch frying pan) (or a knafe pan, if you own one)

Sugar Syrup

400g (14oz) granulated sugar

230ml (8 1/4fl oz) water

a squeeze of lemon juice

2 teaspoons orange blossom water (you can use more or less, to taste)

For the crust

375g (13oz) kadaif dough, air-dried until crisp

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) sugar syrup (the rest is poured over the cooked knafe)

45ml (1 1/2fl oz) water

100g (3 1/2oz) melted ghee

For the filling

250g (9oz) fresh Mozzarella

250g (9oz) hard Mozzarella (the stuff you can grate)

To cook and serve

30g (1oz) melted ghee to brush the pan

ground pistachios to garnish (optional)

Combine the sugar, water and lemon juice for the syrup in a medium saucepan, set on the BBQ over a high heat and bring to the boil.  Move to a low heat and let it simmer very gently for about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the orange blossom water.  You could, of course, prepare this on the stove if you prefer. 

Break up the dried kadaif pastry, then mince in a meat mincer or grind in a coffee grinder until you have a fine powder.  Place in a bowl, pour over 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) of sugar syrup, the water and the ghee, and mix until the pastry is well-coated and resembles cooked couscous.  Bake in the oven at 170°C/150°C Fan/Gas Mark 3-4 for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes until dry and crumb-like, but still pale.  Allow to cool and store in an airtight container until needed.

Drain the fresh Mozzarella and roughly tear apart.  Place in a bowl, roughly grate in the hard Mozzarella and stir to combine.

Brush the base of your frying pan (or knafe pan) with the ghee.  Set aside 4 tablespoons of the toasted pastry crumbs and press the rest into the base of the pan to form a crust.  Spread the cheese mixture over the crust, leaving a 1cm (3/8 inch) border uncovered around the edge.  Set the pan over a mellow, low heat and cook for 10-12 minutes, rotating the pan every 2 minutes, until the outermost edge of the crust turns deep golden brown and the cheese has started to melt.  Sprinkle the reserved crumbs over the melting cheese layer, cover, remove from the heat and leave to rest for 5 minutes.  Then take a large plate that can easily fit the diameter of the frying pan and place it on top.  Very carefully, holding the two together, flip them over so the knafe is on the plate.  The cheese will now be the base, and the crispy crust will be on top.  Douse with all the remaining sugar syrup, sprinkle with pistachios (if you wish) and serve hot.

From ‘Chasing Smoke, Cooking Over Fire Around the Levant’ by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich published by Pavilion

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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