My festive season

The best way to battle a major case of post-festivities blues (which I am currently experiencing big time!) is to relive the joyful memories by finally writing up the recipes from some of the special December meals. Both Christmas and New Year’s Eve were spent in the small and relatively quiet group of my nearest and dearest, allowing me some time for planning and executing the menu. The best part of the festive season, as well as of any dinner party, is of course that magical moment when you conjure up images of the beautiful tablescape and let your imagination run wild inventing the menu. As the group of eaters was particularly small this year, I decided to bypass all the big classics going instead for a tapas style meal. It was a bit of an eclectic mix of Middle Eastern and Georgian recipes plus a few things inspired by some of my culinary (Instagram) comrades. The highlights of the night were: Persian lamb keftas, fish falafels, mini khachapuri muffins and a spicy fennel-orange pickle salad. So here’s how I made these.


Persian lamb keftas:
(recipe based on the one from Sabrina Ghayour’s cooking class)

Makes around 15

500 gr lamb mince
1 onion (finely chopped)
1 tsp of turmeric
1 tsp of cumin
1 tsp of ground coriander
1/2 chilli powder
a large bunch of dill finely chopped
2 large handfuls of dried apricots finely chopped
generous seasoning of salt
2 eggs

Chop all the ingredients that need chopping then add them to the mince, eggs and the spices in a large bowl.
Make sure to mix all the ingredients really well (for a good few minutes) so that the meat really absorbs all the vibrancy of the spices.
Form the mixture into small even-sized balls and place in an hot, oiled pan.
Fry the meatballs until really crispy on both sides and they begin to ooze an irresistibly delicious smell.
These are equally delicious hot, lukewarm or cold. A good accompaniment to these would be a yogurt and fresh mint dip with a bit of lemon zest to balance the fiery spices.


Fish Falafels:

(a variation on a recipe by Emma Spitzer)

Makes around 15

2 large fillets of cod
1 tin of chickpeas
1 large bunch of fresh coriander
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp of ground coriander
1 tsp of ground cumin
1 tsp of harissa paste
2 tbs of sumac
2 eggs

A food processor is a really handy companion here (though I have previously made a successful batch of these my finely chopping everything). Whichever way you decide to go, what you need to end up with is a evenly combined mixture which still retains some individual tiny bits of chickpea and fish; blending it into a smooth paste doesn’t really work at the end.
Form the ‘dough’ into evenly-sized small balls … now there are a few ways these can be cooked. The best one is of course deep frying, but if you want to opt for a lighter (and less smelly) version then cooking them in a lightly oiled pan or in an oven works just fine too.
To accompany these little gems you can make a dipping sauce of harissa and yoghurt or if you are going all the way, then use mayo instead of yoghurt.
I am really in love with this recipe and these Middle Eastern beauties have become quite the regulars on my table.


Khachapuri-style muffins:

One of the most indulgent, heavenly-creamy creations of Georgian cuisine, khachapuri are flatbreads stuffed with salty cheese, egg and butter. Here’s a refined, lighter version adapted to the cheeses available in the UK. I have also cheated by using filo instead of making a proper rich and fluffy traditional pastry. Technically this is not really a khachapuri, but as this recipe was given to me by my London-based Georgian friend, it still bares a stamp of authenticity.

Makes 6

1 pack of filo pastry
1 pack of feta cheese
1/2 pack of ricotta
1/2 halloumi
1 egg
200 gr of butter (about 50 for the filling and the rest for smothering the pastry)
a generous seasoning of black pepper

Mix grated halloumi, crumbles feta and ricotta in a bowl together with the egg, some melted butter and black pepper.
Use 1 sheet of filo pastry folded in half: butter it generously on both sides and carefully place inside a muffin mould (which also needs buttering, of course).
Load the muffin to the rim with the cheese mixture and cover it with the ends of the pasty that are flowing out of the mould.
Bake in a fan oven at 200C for about 30 minutes or until the pastry gets golden and crunchy.
I have discovered that these muffins go exceptionally well with a chutney, becoming a centre piece of, as opposed to an accompaniment to, a meal. My current chutney of choice is Newton and Pott’s tamarillo chutney.

Fennel and Orange pickle salad

This is officially my new favourite winter salad after sampling it at a dinner party of a dear friend (who happens to be a brilliant chef too).

1 fennel
1 apple
1 orange (zest, juice and flesh)
1/2 red onion
1 small clove of garlic, finely grated
1 tbs of jalapeño brine
large bunch of dill, finely chopped
2-3 slides of jalapeño finely chopped
2 tbs of white wine vinegar
Maldon salt

Mix the liquid elements in a large bowl. Add the finely chopped onion, grated garlic and leave to infuse.
Meanwhile, finely slide the fennel and apple.
Add it to the pickling liquid.
Zest half of an orange, then add the flesh+some juice to the rest of the ingredients.
Add the dill and jalapeños and season with salt.
Leave to sit for about 10 minutes and boom! This will add a kick to any meal. Goes particularly well with the fish falafel and the meatballs (so this pescatarian was told).

An even better way of dealing with post-festivities blues would actually be to recreate this meal immediately!

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