Lebanese falafel, Turkish stuffed mussels and Honey & Cos signature pudding, feta and honey cheesecake, finish our collection of the best Middle Eastern dishes to cook at home
Anissa Helou’s stuffed mussels – midye dolmasi
If there were one street food I could take with me to a desert island, it would have to be stuffed mussels. I remember the first time I visited Istanbul in the mid 1970s, I stayed at the Pera Palace, still in its faded glory, spending my mornings in mosques and museums and my afternoons and early evenings in the bazaars.
I was on a mission to find the ultimate stuffed mussels. I had never eaten them before and had fallen in love with this elaborate delicacy that was sold so cheaply on the street when it could have been on the menu of a Michelin-starred restaurant.
My hotel was just down the road from Çiçek Passajı (Flower Passage), a lovely small market leading into a maze of narrow streets full of charming restaurants. Every afternoon, I walked up to the market to sample stuffed mussels. At that time, there were many stalls selling them, while today only one remains. I went from one vendor to the next, tasting the mussels. If they were good, I would linger, gesturing to the vendor to give me one more, then another and another until I had eaten half a dozen extra mussels. Fortunately the last remaining stuffed-mussels vendor is one of the best in town.
It is not that easy to find mussels that are large enough for stuffing. If you can’t find any, simply change the dish to a pilaf by preparing 2–3 times the amount of rice stuffing and cooking it completely. Steam the mussels separately and arrange them, on the half shell, on top of the cooked rice.
extra-virgin olive oil 4 tbsp
pine nuts 1 tbsp
onions 2 small, peeled and finely chopped
paella rice 110g, or other white short-grain rice (bomba, Calasparra or Egyptian), soaked in warm water
raisins 1 tbsp
tomato paste 1½ tbsp
ground cinnamon ¼ tsp
ground allspice ¼ tsp
paprika ¼ tsp
cayenne pepper a pinch
ground cloves a pinch
finely ground black pepper
mussels about 40 medium-to-large, in their shells
flat-leaf parsley 1 tbsp, chopped
dill 1 tbsp, minced
lemon wedges to serve
Put the olive oil, pine nuts and onions in a saucepan and sauté, stirring regularly, until lightly golden. Drain the rice and add to the pan. Add the raisins, tomato paste and spices, and some salt and pepper, then pour in just enough water to cover – about 250ml. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered with a lid, for 8-10 minutes or until the water is absorbed and the rice barely done. Take off the heat, wrap the lid in a clean tea towel and place back over the pan before setting it aside to cool down.
Preparing the mussels is a lengthy and rather difficult process, so allow time and be patient. First pull off and discard the beards, if there are any, and rinse the mussels under cold water – don’t let them soak or they will die. Lay one mussel on a tea towel on your work surface and insert the tip of a small sharp knife in between the two shells at the slanted end. Slide the knife downward and all around the shell until you cut into the muscle – the mussel will open easily with the two halves remaining attached. Prepare the rest of the mussels in the same way. Take your time and don’t rush this part of the preparation or you will either break the shells or hurt yourself with the knife.
Once you have opened all the mussels, stir the fresh herbs into the rice and fill each mussel with a teaspoon or more of the rice mixture, depending on how large it is. Close both halves of the shell together, wipe away any rice grains sticking to the outside and arrange in 2-3 layers in the top part of a steamer. Weigh down the filled mussels with a plate and steam for 20-25 minutes. Remove the steamer section and let the mussels cool. Serve at room temperature with the lemon wedges.
From Levant by Anissa Helou (Harper Collins, £20)
Georgina al Bayeh’s falafel
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