Z is for…


Za'atar spice blend

There are certainly some bona fide foodies amongst my readers, since many of you guessed correctly what I would choose for “Z” !

I’ve posted a recipe using Za’atar before on the blog, my Wheatberry, Chickpea & Za’atar Salad and talked a little about it then. I’m sure there are many of you who aren’t familiar with this ingredient though so here’s some info: Za’atar is a herb and spice blend widely-used in the Middle-East.  Its specifics vary according to region but it usually includes toasted sesame seeds, dried thyme and sumac, a tangy, lemony spice.

Both Sumac and Za’atar have become much more widely known in recent years, due, almost exclusively, to the world-renowned chef, Yotam Ottolenghi, as it’s an ingredient that features in many of the recipes in his popular cookbooks. It’s used as a seasoning for grilled vegetables, salads, sprinkled on top of hummus and the traditional recipe I just made, Manakish Za’atar , which are traditional Lebanese flatbreads spread with a topping made from Za’atar combined with olive oil.

Manakish Za'atar- Lebanese Flatbreads

I basically followed this recipe from The Kitchn, making only a small batch (something I definitely regretted as they were soooo delicious) and using light spelt fLour instead of all-purpose.

The flatbreads kind of reminded me of a crispy focaccia, with the olive oil in the dough and the salt in the topping, but this is even better with its bright herbs, spices and toasted sesame seeds.

Baba Ghanoush

I had planned to make my usual hummus recipe to serve with it but remembered the meal we enjoyed at Al Shami a few weeks ago and that amazing Moutabel/Baba Ghanoush. Since then, I’ve been wanting to replicate it at home and this felt like the perfect opportunity!

Like hummus, baba ghanoush is a spread which includes tahini, garlic and lemon, but instead of chickpeas, blackened aubergine is used instead.

Grilling the aubergine until nicely charred lends a deep, smoky flavour to the dip which is divine. There are a million variations on this dish but this is the ratio of ingredients I like best:

Baba Ghanoush with Lebanese Flatbreads (Manakish Za'atar)

Baba Ghanoush (Moutabel):

2 Medium aubergines, to yield 1 heaping cup cooked flesh when drained of excess liquid
2 Cloves of garlic, minced
1/4C Lemon juice
1/4C Tahini
3/4t Salt
Dash of smoked paprika
Fresh chopped parsley and more paprika to serve

To cook the aubergine, prick all over with a fork, place on a baking sheet and cook under the grill/broiler for 20-30 minutes until collapsed and blackened.

Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Cut aubergines lengthwise down the middle and scrape out as much of the flesh as you can, leaving behind the skin (a few little flecks of skin are ok). Squeeze the flesh to remove liquid or drain in a colander for 15 minutes.

In a food processor combine all the ingredients and process until smooth.

Garnish with more paprika and chopped parsley.

Serve with Manakish, pita and crudités or other meze.


Baba Ghanoush with Lebanese Flabreads (Manakish Za'atar)

And so we’ve reached the end! A-Z complete!

Thank you to everyone who’s stuck with me this month and especially to those who’ve commented or even made one of my recipes.  As much as I love recipe creating and blogging, you lovely readers make it all the more worthwhile!

I’ll be back tomorrow for a little Vegan MoFo round-up, featuring some of my favourites from Coconut and Berries this month, as well my top picks from elsewhere, sharing lessons learnt and what the future holds for the blog.


T is for…


Oh the trials and tribulations of food blogging! I made this dish last night but since I didn’t realize the time and got started on dinner too late, the light had gone by the time it was ready so I couldn’t get any good pictures Sad smile My apologies but this is definitely a repeater recipe so when I make it again I’ll update the post.

Repeater recipes are, in fact, rare around these parts, quite simply because I love to try new things and there aren’t enough meals in the day to allow me to eat the same thing over and over. This, however, is one of my all-time favourite meals and I’ve made variations on it many a time.

Warm Butternut Lentil Salad with Tahini Dressing

Tahini sauce has got to be one of the best things ever. I know many of you agree…

My Favourie Tahini Dressing

Drizzled (liberally) over sweet roasted squash and perhaps my favourite legume, puy lentils, it’s bound to be good.

The original recipe came from the Casa Moro Cookbook (Moro is a wonderful restaurant in London if every you get to visit. The dishes are Spanish, North African and Eastern Mediterranean inspired, and, although it’s not vegetarian, normally there are various veg or adaptable dishes on the menu) but I came across it on the blog Orangette a few years ago and and have adapted it to my tastes. I hope you love it as much as I do!

Warm Butternut Lentil Salad with Tahini Dressing

Warm Butternut & Lentil Salad with Tahini Dressing:

1/2 Medium Butternut Squash (Approx 400g/1lb), cut into large chunks
1/2T Olive oil
2 Cloves garlic, squashed with the flat edge of a knife
Large pinch of salt
1/8t Cinnamon
1/2C Puy Lentils
1C Vegetable Broth
1/4 Red onion, finely diced
Fresh parsley to serve, coarsely chopped

Tahini Dressing:

1 Small clove of garlic, minced
Pinch of salt
1 3/4T Lemon juice
1 1/2T Tahini
2T Water (depending on thickness of your tahini)
1t Maple syrup

Preheat oven to 200C/425F

Toss squash, smashed garlic, olive oil, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl until all coated in the oil. Spread mixture into a roasting dish and cook for 15-20 minutes, until cooked through and edges are beginning to caramelize.  Set aside.

While squash is cooking, simmer the lentils, in the vegetable broth, covered with a lid, for approx 20 minutes, or cook according to your package instructions. Drain if any liquid remains and set aside.

Whisk together all the dressing ingredients, adding more or less water to reach your desired thickness

Stir the red onion into the lentils and add several grinds of pepper.

Spread lentils onto a serving platter, top with the roasted squash (remove garlic cloves), a generous drizzle of the tahini sauce and chopped parsley. Hold a little of the tahini sauce on the side, for dressing at the table.

Serves 2


Of course, I use tahini for many other things than just this salad. Tahini sauce is great on almost anything. It’s commonly served with falafel. Rather than a falafel wrap I like to top a big salad with a few falafel balls and then douse in tahini sauce. I also love it on roasted beetroot, dark leafy greens or steamed broccoli.

These Tahini Noodles sound really delicious to me too. Of course tahini can be used in sweet recipes too. It’s great as an alternative to peanut butter, spread on a banana for a snack, or try these Raw Chocolate Caramel Tahini Delights.

Of course I love my own Chocolate-Sesame Biscotti too.

Even though it’s Saturday tomorrow and this month I haven’t been posting at weekends, check back here as I hope to bring you a post for the letter “U” to get through the last of the letters in the alphabet for my A-Z series.

Review: Al Shami, Oxford

I wasn’t planning on posting today but I couldn’t resist a little bonus post This is not following my Vegan MoFo theme. I’ll be back on the A-Z next week, with the letter F on Monday.

As I’m shortly leaving Oxford to move to a new city my Mum asked if there was anywhere I’d like to go out to eat for a “farewell” meal. I didn’t have to think twice about my choice as Al Shami is my favourite Oxford restaurant. It’s not vegan, nor even vegetarian but is incredibly vegan-friendly and all vegan dishes are clearly marked with Ve on the menu. Apparently a new menu is in the works with  info for those avoiding gluten and nuts too.

Review: Al Shami Lebanese Restaurant, Oxford

It’s a Lebanese restaurant and if you’ve been reading Coconut and Berries a little while you’ll know that Middle-Eastern might just be my favourite cuisine!

The restaurant’s not particularly fancy at all but it’s definitely authentic :)

There are so many dishes to choose from that it’s best to go with a few people so that you can try more! Most of the dishes are “Meze” (small plates) anyway so order lots! Although I was eating with omnivores everyone was very happy to eat vegan and let me take charge of the ordering.

Here’s what we got :

Review: Al Shami Lebanese Restaurant, Oxford

Mohammara Bil-Jawz- Mixed crushed nuts, red capsicum, olive oil and spices

My love of dips probably warms me to Lebanese food as there are so many, and all completely different. This is rich and slightly spicy.

Review: Al Shami Lebanese Restaurant, Oxford

Fattoush- Mixed salad with herbs and toasted Lebanese bread

A traditional salad with plenty of parsley and lemon, just how I like it.

Review: Al Shami Lebanese Restaurant, Oxford

They automatically bring a basket of flatbread and a plate of salad to the table- lettuce, tomato, raw carrot and pepper, radishes and pickles- which is nice to nibble on to start with or to use to scoop up the delicious dips and other dishes. Review: Al Shami Lebanese Restaurant, Oxford

Moutabel- Puréed aubergines, tahini, lemon juice, garlic

The phrase “looks can be deceiving” comes to mind with this dish as it looks slightly bland and insipid. I don’t know how they managed it but it had a fantastic smoky flavour. I thought it must be smoked paprika but it’s not red coloured so I’m perplexed… Any suggestions? I really want to recreate this one!

Review: Al Shami Lebanese Restaurant, Oxford

Falafel- Ground chickpeas and broad beans mixed with spices, fried

Does anyone not like falafel?! These were rather a treat as I always bake rather than fry the falafel I make at home. I adore them anyway but they’re quite different to these crispy little morsels.

Review: Al Shami Lebanese Restaurant, Oxford

Ardi-Shoki- Artichokes with selected vegetables cooked in our special sauce

The cute name alone enticed me into ordering this one (!), but it was delicious too. I’ve not had artichokes cooked like this before- I usually just use them to top pizza to be honest but they soaked up the sweet, tangy sauce wonderfully.

Review: Al Shami Lebanese Restaurant, Oxford

It came served with rice…

Review: Al Shami Lebanese Restaurant, Oxford

Mujadara- Cracked wheat, lentils and fried onions (This comes with yogurt but we asked them to omit this).

I’m going to be on the look out for cracked wheat like this as the bulgur I’ve bought before is finer and doesn’t have the same toothsome quality.

I forgot to get a picture of this dish but you can kind of see it in the first photo- Zahra Maqlia- Fried cauliflower topped with tahini, parsley, garlic, lemon juice. Gosh was this good. The cauliflower is wonderfully tender but crisp and draped in silky tahini sauce. We were so stuffed but couldn’t bear to leave any of this behind.

There were four of us eating and it all came to only £8 a head (excluding drinks)! Seriously good value I think. For some reason it wasn’t listed on Happy Cow so I’ve just added it to the listings so other vegans/vegetarians visiting Oxford can find out about it.

Are you a Middle-Eastern food fan? Which dish looks best to you?

Wheat Berry Salad with Chickpeas + Za’atar, Tahini Beetroot

I’ve already talked about my love for Middle-Eastern flavours on the blog and I’m featuring them again today in another couple of recipes.

Dried pulses, fresh produce, herbs and spices, olive oil, lemon, garlic and grains are all characteristic ingredients in dishes from that part of the world. You can probably see why I’m drawn to them, given how naturally vegan-friendly they are, not to mention packed with flavour.

Za’atar is a herb and spice blend widely-used in the Middle-East.  Its specifics vary according to region but it usually includes toasted sesame seeds, dried thyme and sumac. It’s used as a seasoning for grilled vegetables, salads, sprinkled on top of hummus and mixed with olive oil and spread on flatbread, known as manakeesh.

I brought a bag of freshly ground sumac home  from the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul last year and am always on the lookout for new ways to use this tangy, lemony spice. So far I’ve especially enjoyed it rubbed onto roasted potatoes, a light sprinkle on fattoush (cucumber, tomato, herb + pita salad), and now in this spice blend.

Wheat Berry Salad with Chickpeas + Za’atar

I love all the different textures in this salad, with the chewy wheat berries, tender chickpeas, melt-in-the-mouth roast aubergine and juicy fresh tomatoes. The combination made it satisfying enough for a supper salad, alongside my delicious tahini beetroot.Grain and bean salads hold up well for a while in the fridge too so this salad would be perfect to keep on hand for quick lunches throughout the week.

Wheat Berry Salad with Chickpeas + Za’atar

Adapted from Green Kitchen Stories

1 1/2C Cooked chickpeas/ 1 Can chickpeas
1/2C Wheatberries OR Farro OR Spelt berries
1 Large aubergine, diced into 1” chunks
1 T Olive oil, 1/2 t cumin seeds, 1/2 t sumac
1 C Cherry tomatoes, halved
2T Lemon juice
1T Olive oil
Salt + Pepper
Large handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1-2T Za’atar spice blend

Za’atar *

1T Toasted sesame seeds (toast in dry pan over medium heat, tossing occasionally, approx 5 minutes or until fragrant)
1T Sumac
1/2 T Dried thyme
1/4 T Ground cumin

* I just made a small amount, enough for this recipe and to rub on a few flatbreads but I recommend doubling the recipe as it’s nice to have prepared for other dishes.

Cook your wheat berries according to the package instructions. I used semi-pearled so they only took 30 minutes but they can take up to an hour. Drizzle with a little olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper and leave to cool while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Toss the aubergine chunks with 1T oil, sumac and cumin seeds, spread in an even layer on a baking tray and roast at 200C/400F for 20-30 minutes until brown and very soft.

In a bowl combine wheat berries, chickpeas, warm roasted aubergine and halved cherry tomatoes. Mix in remaining olive oil, lemon juice and plenty of salt and pepper. Sprinkle liberally with chopped parsley and za’atar seasoning to taste. Toss again and serve.

Serves 3-4

Wheat Berry Salad with Chickpeas + Za’atar, Tahini Beetroot

The tahini beetroot I made to go with the salad is a repeat recipe in my kitchen. Everyone who tries it loves the stuff and it’s a great accompaniment to all sorts of dishes, not just those with Middle Eastern flavours.

I cut the beetroot in a different way each time I make it but I think I’ve finally decided that julienned (as in the below picture) is the way to go-  greater surface area allowing for maximum sauce coverage.

I originally found the recipe at The Kitchn but now know it off the top of my head.

Tahini Beetroot:

3-4 Small to medium beetroot, roasted and peeled (Scrub beetroot, slice off greens, wrap loosely in foil, place on a baking sheet and roast at 350C for approx 1 hour, or until the beetroot fall off a knife easily when pierced. Leave to cool and skin should rub off easily)
2 Garlic cloves, minced
1/4 t Sea salt
2T Tahini
1 1/2T Lemon juice
2-4 T Water

Slice cooled beetroot into thick matchsticks (or your preferred shape)

Use pestle and mortar to grind garlic and salt into a smooth paste. Add tahini and lemon and stir until homogeneous. It will separate initially but keep stirring and it will smooth out. Thin with water to desired thickness.

Combine sauce with beetroot in a bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. It’s best left an hour or 2 to sit so the sauce soaks in.

Serve with the above salad or with a selection of mezze.