Purple citrus and sweet perfume, 256pp.
by Silvena Rowe
Hutchinson, London, 2010
Cooking on page 32
I love purple, so I had to check out this book when I spotted it at the library recently.
I’d never heard of the author, Silvena Rowe, but it turns out this Bulgarian-born woman is a shining light in Britain’s food scene. She’s a chef, food writer, television personality and a restaurateur. Heston Blumenthal (yes, I’ve heard of him) thinks enough of her to have written a glowing foreword for this cookbook.
Rowe’s Turkish father taught her the traditions of Ottoman cuisine, so it’s not surprising that this book highlights dishes from the eastern Mediterranean.
This page-32 recipe comes from Syria, where Poor John and I lived in the early 1980s and where our first daughter, Libby, was born.
Rowe first had this dish in a shabby café in the ancient village of Ma’alula. I have no idea what shape the place is in now, but it was a lovely village many years ago. My heart breaks for Syria.
White butter bean, feta and za’atar crush
200g dried butter beans, soaks overnight with the skins removed
1 large garlic bulb
6 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1/2 small lemon
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 large bunch of fresh mint, leaves only, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
150g feta, crumbled
1 teaspoon za’atar
Preheat the oven to 200°C fan/gas mark 7.
Bring a saucepan of water to boil and add the pre-soaked, skinned beans. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes until the beans are soft and mushy, then season. Allow to cool, then process to a rough puree.
Meanwhile, place the garlic on a small baking tray, drizzle with a little olive oil and roast in the oven for 30 minutes. Cool, then squeeze the garlic out of its skin and add to the mashed beans. Stir half the olive oil into the bean and garlic mixture. Mix in the lemon juice and zest. Then add the mint, cumin and feta, stirring until you have a rough chunky purée, and season.
Place in a serving dish, drizzle with the rest of the olive oil and sprinkle with the za’atar. Serve with flat bread.
How it played out
Every Friday I take one or two dips to the office for the weekly drinks and trivia quiz. The crowd there is used to me using all sorts of unexpected ingredients, so I figured butter beans (you might know them as lima beans) were just the thing.
I made the dish as written, except for limiting the oil to 2 tablespoons and upping the za’atar to a tablespoon. Oh, and I forgot to grind the cumin seeds.
Mashed the beans by hand because the food processor was dirty from the first dip I made.
Super easy to make and completely delicious. Everyone was surprised to hear that the main ingredient was a pulse that they usually didn’t eat or like. One fellow said this was a ‘whole new take on the horrible lima beans that get served at Christmas dinner’.
Next time, and there will be a next time very soon, I will double the za’atar, add extra feta and stir the dip before serving. The other 4 tablespoons of oil were not at all missed.
Hope you’ll take time to ‘dip’ into my travel blog. Here’s an entry about finding duck breasts in Kyrgyzstan.