By the looks of these images you can probably tell I have been sitting on this awhile. No sparse concrete background to set off the dish, just a narrow floor tile and a crumpled piece of paper. But regardless of the dubious aesthetic I really wanted to share this recipe.
I was motivated to make this colourful, one-pot dish by my unending desire for Middle Eastern food. This is despite getting a really rather awful case of food poisoning in the mid-80s from a late-night (early morning) visit to an anonymous Edinburgh takeaway. I’ll explain.
It was one of those places with a column of pallid, pre-formed “lamb” turning slowly on a vertical spit in an open window, and a bleary eyed guy on standby to satiate the drunken students with cheap, meaty wraps and bottles of Irn Bru. With only the slightest contempt for his braying customers he would slather flatbreads with yogurt sauce, stud them with salad (quite revolutionary in 80s Edinburgh), and then shave some of this mystery meat on top to make a döner kebab or a shawarma – the name depending on what nationality was making your sly meal. A squirt of spicy red sauce pulled it all together.
Well, at 2 am with a belly full of beer and not much else, this always seems a good idea. At least when you are 19. There was always a queue at this place, so that was a good sign, right? But my happiness at having a warm, unexpected meal on a sharply cold February night was short-loved. I spent the next few days doing what one does when afflicted with proper food poisoning. I really thought I was going to die. It took a full week to recover, and many years before I ate anything vaguely Turkish or Middle Eastern again.
Now of course Middle Eastern and Turkish food in the UK is much elevated. You can still get a dubious shawarma, but more likely you will see restaurants with menus full of authentic homestyle and street food dishes. The chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi have done much to rehabilitate the reputation of Middle Eastern cooking in the UK, and their influence has spread to the US and beyond.
Middle Eastern ingredients are also pretty easy to get now, so that if one has even the slightest hankering for an authentic couscous dish then the supermarket rather than online is usually the place to go for the proper ingredients. I am writing as someone living in a city, and a rather food-centric one at that, so I apologise if you aren’t easily able to get a jar of preserved lemons or harissa, let alone sumac or Aleppo pepper. I can help you out with the preserved lemons and the harissa, but so far growing sumac and these special Syrian, fruity-tart peppers eludes me.
Which leads me back to today’s recipe. This is a comforting one-pot meal that is easy enough to make during the week, and will be even better as leftovers. I like to use rather humble and commonplace base ingredients in many homey recipes, but have tried to elevate them in this instance by simmering in a mildly-spiced, shawarma-ish sauce. Obviously it is not a shawarma as this denotes spiced meat, but for my aromatic vegan recipe I slathered veg in a sauce combining commonly used shawarma lamb spices with a hint of the unique tomato sauce that accompanies the spiced lamb in stuffed flatbreads. We really liked this rather delicious sauce, and it is absolutely perfect for firm, seasonal vegetables. Think tangy, exotic, tomatoey goodness. I used sweet potato and cauliflower, but you could easily use kohlrabi, carrots, a winter squash, parsnips, swede, salsify – anything of this rooty, autumnal sort.
I wish I could go and properly research shawarma for myself. But for now my food will have to be my journey.
The list of countries where I have a serious case of food love is ever-growing. So much so that I may need to get another job to fulfil my ambition of eating it all authentically. What country’s or regions’s food do you love that you have never experienced in the country itself? What would be your ‘dream dish’ to eat if you went?
One-Pot Shawarma-Spiced Sweet Potatoes, Cauliflower and Chickpeas
Super-easy and full of warm spices, this hearty, fibre-rich dish is perfect for autumn evenings. We enjoy this with wholegrain couscous, but equally quinoa, brown basmati rice, some flatbreads for scooping, or even baked potatoes would be a great accompaniment to this colour- and flavour-packed family-minded dish. Serve with a crisp green salad or wilted greens studded with raisins and pine nuts. xx
The Shawarma Sauce
350g cherry tomatoes OR 1 tin of best quality tomatoes (I like Cirio whole plum tomatoes and Napolina cherry tomatoes) plus a double handful of fresh cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp harissa paste (here is my rose harissa recipe)
1 tbsp sundried tomato paste or regular tomato paste
1 tsp each of fennel and caraway seeds, pan-toasted and crushed in a pestle and mortar
Drizzle of honey, date syrup or maple syrup (for balance) – I use date syrup
2 tsp sumac – optional if you can’t get it but it does add a gorgeous, gorgeous tart, earthy flavour
1/8 tsp ground cardamom OR seeds from 3 green pods, lightly crushed
¼ tsp ground cumin,
2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 large red onion, sliced
1 large sweet potato (about 400g), scrubbed and cubed
1 small-medium cauliflower (about 300g), broken into florets and including chopped stem and some leaves
400g tin or carton of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tsp cumin seeds pan-toasted, then crushed in pestle and mortar
200ml water – or as needed to keep the sauce loose and cook the vegetables*
Feta cheese – optional as a garnish
Parsley or coriander – optional as garnish
Note: I get some of my less common spices from Steenbergs (including the anise seeds from last week’s fig and walnut polenta cake recipe). And if you don’t make your own harissa, Al’Fez and Belazu make good ones.
*the amount of water you use depends on how saucy you want this and the water content of your tomatoes – use your best judgment as you can’t really go wrong. Start with 200ml and go from there as the stew cooks.
1. First of all, make the sauce. I think a blender is best for this but use a food processor, or even a hand blender if that’s what you have. A good blender like my trusty Froothie Optimum 9400 gives you an ultra smooth sauce and grinds down the seeds. Set aside for now.
2. Heat the oil over low-medium in a sauté/frying pan. Add the onions and sauté, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the remaining ingredients, including the sauce and water, turn up the heat and bring to a fast simmer. Reduce the heat to simmer and cover. Cook, with occasional stirring, for 40 minutes. Remove the lid as the sweet potato is nearing tenderness and let some of the moisture evaporate if needed. You can have this soupy – in which case, add a little more water – or drier as I have made it here. Also, I don’t think this needs salt but do add maybe 1/2 teaspoon or so during cooking if you think it needs it. I like to think all of the flavours going on here makes you forget all about salt.
Serve warm rather than boiling hot, with your chosen yummy starch – couscous, rice, potatoes, quinoa, flatbread. Enjoy!
Soft food diet: blend the vegetables to your suitability then layer over the sauce. Or, perhaps blend each vegetable individually and layer up to serve. For a cuttable almost moussaka type dish, combine the blended vegetables with two beaten eggs, pour into an oiled baking dish and top with the sauce and sprinkle over feta cheese or other cheese. Bake for 20 minutes.
Food To Glow uses the Froothie Optimum 9400 blender and the Froothie Optimum 600 slow juicer to make juices, nut milks, sauces, desserts, soups and smoothies (and more!). These are affiliate links, meaning if you buy a blender or juicer through them I will earn a small commission but you will pay no additional money. This is not a paid post and all thoughts and opinions are, as always, my own.