One of the great things about the weekend is taking the time out to do the lazy, relaxed activities you normally only treat yourself too. Like a morning spent strolling around the farmers market and enjoying a boozy brunch with a friend. Part of my swag from the market was an armful of beautiful fresh mint and parsley, and since I’ve been planning this meal for a few days, I thought I’d try it out this weekend.
I love fusion cuisine – no, really. I love the idea of finding a common ingredient, method or dish found across cultures, and combining that. I love the philosophy behind that, of breaking down the barriers between our cultures. Food can help you see how much we share, rather than what separates us.
Two of my favourite cuisines are Middle Eastern and Mediterranean, and I realise we’re talking about two continents now rather than countries but just go with it. I wanted to create something creamy, fresh and tasty, with layers of flavour.
I enjoy making my own spice mixes, since I find the remade ones contain far too much salt, or the balance isn’t to my taste. Dukka is an Egyptian spice mix, using roasted spices, nuts and herbs ground together. Everyone has their own recipe, but I really enjoy adding extra nuts to mine. I love the crunchiness you can get out of it.
Baba ghanoush is another classic but often ruined, I find, by too much tahini, and nowhere near enough smokiness. I took Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe (because he’s basically a genius) and adjusted it to my kitchen, patience and the availability of certain ingredients. I made the most of having a gas stove to do this, but you should use the grill setting on your oven if you don’t have one, rather than roasting the aubergines. It makes a huuuuuuge difference.
I then marinated some chicken breasts in a spiced yoghurt for around 24 hours. The longer you leave it of course, the juicier they’re going to get. I picked up some thick and fluffy laffa breads from the hummus place around the corner and made the two dips.
I also really love making a meal with lots of elements that can be combined in different ways. Open a packet of chips and those dips are suddenly a fantastic post-work snack. That chicken could easily be served cool with mayo in a sandwich. I did this. The cold chicken is also awesome in a cold salad, with an extra tablespoon (OK, a few tablespoons) of the baba ghanoush and as much rocket as you can stuff into your lunchbox. Yuuuuum
So anyway, here’s the recipe!
For the dukka chicken:
3 tbsp dukka spice mix*
2 medium sized chicken breasts (around 300g)
1 cup yoghurt
2 tsp sumac
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp oregano
2 tsp tahini*
Mix all the marinade ingredients together and season to taste. Add or adjust these ingredients as you like, then add the chicken. I sliced them into long thin strips, so they would be easy to assemble in a wrap, and also quick to cook. Leave to marinate in the fridge for at least an hour, and ideally overnight.
Dry-roast a cup of sesame seeds in a frying pan, keeping them moving regularly to avoid them burning. When they’re a lovely golden brown, remove and add to your chopper or food processor. Pulse until the oil is released and the mixture comes together well, then slowly add good quality extra virgin olive oil in small portions until you get the consistency you like. Store in an airtight container, at room temperature. The toasting of the sesame seeds and the amount of oil are completely subjective. I like to take the seeds almost to the edge and keep the olive oil minimal, so I get a really well-rounded, bitter sesame flavour.
Dry-roast 1/2 cup nuts of your choice (I used a mixture of hazelnuts and pistachios), 1/2 cup coriander seeds, 1 tsp fennel seeds and 3 tbsp cumin seeds until fragrant. Remove and allow to cool slightly before pulsing with 1 tsp black peppercorns, 1 tsp dried mint leaves and 1/2 tsp salt. Then add the sesame seeds and store in an airtight container once cool.
Over a gas flame, grill two large aubergines, regularly turning them with tongs, or using the stalk as a handle. The best advice I was given about this step – “you’ll think the aubergines are done, because they’re soft and toasty. They’re not, keep going.” The only thing to be aware of is the open flame, and to not let one side overcook. I spent about 15 minutes grilling each aubergine.
You could then wrap them – carefully, they’ll be burning hot and very soft! – in foil and bake them in a pre-heated oven (200C) for about 25 minutes, just to make sure they’re fantastically soft.
Remove them from the wrappers, chop the flesh and allow the bitter juices to drain out, using a colander. Depending on how smoky you like the baba ghanoush, you could leave some of the charred skin on. I did! While the aubergine is draining, mix a handful of flatleaf parsley, 2 tbsp tahini, 3 cloves of garlic, a large handful of spearmint and 2 tsp salt in a food processor. Add the aubergines, and lemon juice to taste to balance out the flavours. Scoop into a bowl and add a small handful of mint leaves, thinly sliced.
To make the sandwiches
The next day, toast laffa or a thick flatbread of your choice in a pan, and grill the chicken. The pan should be hot, and the chicken should sizzle as soon as it hits the pan. When you get beautiful dark brown char marks on your chicken, cook the other side.
Spread the laffa on your plate, and smooth a tablespoon of hummus and a tablespoon of baba ghanoush on your wrap. Using these as the base, layer the chicken on top in one layer, then add crumbled feta on top and any fresh herbs or salad leaves of your choosing. You could also add some more dukka mix or some nuts to give it a great textural contrast. Roll it up and enjoy!