Recipes for lamb koftas and flatbreads are at the bottom.
I have never been to anywhere in the middle east (not yet anyway) and had the chance to taste all the colourful food, but shops like Maqbool’s in Edinburgh can at least transport you temporarily to a different world. Maqbool’s is a small supermarket not far from South Bridge selling all things Middle Eastern, and then some. Maqbool’s is an Aladdin’s cave of exotic ingredients. Every single shelf is packed full with vegetables, grains and pulses, unusual flours, pickles, giant tins and spices. The aisles are narrow with surplus stock piled high and bulging.
Shops like this are inspiring and they make you want to cook. British supermarkets just make you want to scream. I am always amazed at how little I spend in comparison in to how much I buy in Maqbool’s. It is extremely good value for money and worth going just for the spice aisle – their collection is enormous. Everything from interesting varieties of dried chillies to more dried gooseberry powder and melon seed. It is shocking when you compare the price of their generous spice packets to those sad little glass jars in the supermarket.
There is a butcher at the back that sells Halal Scottish lamb that is delicious, and very good value for money. Last time I was there I had the idea to make lamb koftas. A beautiful pairing of Scottish lamb and all those aromatic spices. These cigar shaped meatballs are so popular and so common throughout the middle east there are as many variations as there are cooks. The spicing is something you can play around with and vary depending on what you want to serve with them. These ones have cinnamon which is always a good combination with lamb, along with dried mint and lots of black pepper and cumin. Pine nuts or sesame seeds can be good to add texture as well.
There are so many things that go well with lamb koftas. I tend to get carried away with too many ideas and serve far too many accompaniments. Probably best to keep things simple and just have some tzatziki. I like lamb koftas with a salad of thinly sliced red cabbage, carrot and coriander and a chilli garlic yoghurt. Lamb koftas are great for when you are having a party. Apart from always being popular they are cheap. With all the accompaniments it is easy to turn a basic meal into a bountiful feast. You can lay out those long pickled chillies, plates of hummus, grilled aubergine and peppers. Maqbool’s also sell great big sheets of flatbreads which are perfect for the lamb koftas. I have included a recipe for very soft and pillowy flatbreads. When fresh like this they are delicious.
Hummus with Za’atar and Olive Oil
Serves 6 people
1 kg minced lamb – minced shoulder meat is best (not lean)
2 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp allspice berries
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
6 dried bird’s eye chillies/or chilli flakes
2 tsp dried mint
1 small onion, very finely chopped or grated (if you grate it squeeze the excess water out)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Lightly toast the peppercorns, cumin seeds and allspice berries in a dry frying pan. Grind these in a mortar and pestle with the chillies. Stir in the cinnamon and mint. Mix with all the other ingredients well in a large bowl and shape on to skewers. Do this well in advance so you can refrigerate the koftas so they have time to set in the fridge – this will mean they hold their shape better when you go to cook them. You can grill them under a fiercely hot grill, but cooking them on a barbecue or chargrill is best, failing that a very hot frying pan will do.
The best thing about these flatbreads are that they stay flexible and soft. Perfect for wrapping around the lamb koftas. The softness comes from added oil and yoghurt. The thinner you roll them the better they will be.
500g strong white bread flour
7g fast action yeast (or 15g fresh yeast)
200g – 250g water
100g greek style yoghurt
50g olive oil
In a jug mix the oil, yoghurt and 200g water. In a large bowl incorporate the flour, yeast and salt. Pour the wet mixture over the dry and combine. You may need to add more water if the dough seems dry. You don’t want too dry a dough so the flatbreads are soft, on the other hand if they are too wet they can be difficult to work. Knead lightly, cover and leave to rest preferably in the refrigerator for up to twelve hours, failing that rest it for at least 2 hours. The longer you rest them the better the texture they will be.
Now take a large frying pan and heat it up over a high heat. Take a small piece of dough and flour it lightly, roll it out so it is nice and thin. Cook the flatbreads on this dry pan flipping them halfway through. Leave them until they have dark spots on the surface which gives them a good flavour. They should puff up when cooking but it doesn’t matter if they don’t. Keep warm in a tea towel while you cook the rest of them.