Saturday, 29 September 2012
I went with friends last week to Med One in Huddersfield. This is not a private health centre as the name might suggest, but an excellent Lebanese restaurant. I’d recommend rethinking that name, mes amis – it’s more suggestive of finger-up-the-tailpipe Well Man check-ups than the beautifully simple and healthy food of the Levant. I had chicken shawarma, and it was delicious. I decided to try to reproduce it as best I could the following evening at my mum’s, and it wasn't too damn bad, if I do say so myself. I’ve made it again a time or two since. Here’s how I go about it, for anyone who wants to have a go, or suggest improvements.
Take a chicken breast for each diner, and cut it into strips about the thickness of a finger. Put the strips in a bowl and pour over some olive oil, (I use the garlic flavoured stuff from Sainsbury's) some lemon juice, a pinch each of salt and cumin and some curry powder and / or a blob of harissa. I threw in a squit of tomato puree as a well. Toss the meat well in the marinade. Know that Sainsbury’s harissa is pathetic stuff. Harissa should make its presence decisively felt at both ends of the alimentary canal, and the Sainsbury’s own is timid and apologetic. Get the real thing and treat it with respect.
Set the chicken aside to fester while you whip up a dipping sauce. To a small pot of Greek yogurt, add a couple of generous spoonfuls of tahini, some garlicky olive oil, salt, and enough lemon juice to make a dip with the consistency of single cream. Add finely chopped mint and parsley if you like. I’m iffy about mint myself. I used to like it a lot, but unfortunately these days it simply reminds me of chewing gum, and I hate chewing gum even more than I hate butter.
After the chicken strips have had about twenty minutes in the marinade, shove them in the oven at 200 or so for around twenty minutes, and prepare a salad to keep you occupied while you wait. I might do cucumber and tomato with black olives, or maybe a horiátiki salata, which is the one everybody thinks of when they hear ‘Greek salad’. When the chicken looks OK to you, well, odds are it’ll be OK, so fall to. I serve this with lemony couscous, or herby bulgur wheat. I’m on a rosé wine kick at the moment, and I reckon it’s the perfect accompaniment.
On the matter of Greek salads, too much horiátiki salata does pall a bit, so tonight I'm doing something different. In winter, when few foreigners visit Greece, it makes a welcome change to find polítiki salata on the menu. Horiátiki salata means ‘village salad’ and polítiki salata means ‘city salad’, the city in question being Constantinople. Polítiki salata, then, is somewhat more sophisticated and a bit more demanding to make, because the vegetables have to be very thinly shredded if eating the salad is not to exhaust your jaw muscles. For the most basic version, assemble very finely sliced cabbage, grated carrot and very thinly sliced red peppers. Then follow the very excellent advice of Peter Minakis over at 'Kalofagas': toss the vegetables with a sprinkle of sugar and some wine vinegar, and let them stand for twenty minutes or so. That typically Minakis touch makes a delicious difference to the end result. Drain, then add green olives or capers, some chopped open-leaf parsley and celery leaves, salt and pepper and a dressing of olive oil and wine vinegar. It is beautifully crisp and piquant, and of course it’s very good for you, so I expect to see the decks cleared, OK?
Photo: Kalofagas Go there at once.