Byzantine Brilliance!

We cooked up a very eclectic menu last weekend when we used Rick Stein’s latest offering ‘From Venice to Istanbul’ as our inspiration. Rick’s Mediterranean pilgrimage took him through the countries of the old Byzantine Empire, eating delicious food all along the way. Eastern influences can be seen throughout and so this was very tempting for us as cooks to give it a go. We couldn’t actually decide what to cook as everything was so tempting and so this was our biggest menu to date!

Starting in Venice our guests were welcomed with a classic Bellini – sparkling Prosecco with aromatic peach puree. Canapés were freshly baked pide bread (a bit of a Turkish focaccia) with muhammara which is a rich dip made from roasted red peppers and walnuts – to me it was very romesco like. Also on offer were spiced vegetable borek, lovely little filo parcels filled with a yummy spiced mushroom mix.

Our starters on this gastronomic adventure included halloumi saganaki with pumpkin puree – this was a salty, sweet delight with thick cubes of halloumi rolled in semolina and fried til crispy and golden, then served with a soft, sweet pumpkin puree and lashings of honey! Next up was a delicate dish of almond skordalia which is pureed potato spiked with tons of olive oil, white wine vinegar and garlic. This came anointed with lovely little roast beetroots and a fresh anchovy – this unusual dish used ingredients we all know very well but paired with very different and punchy flavour combinations.

Next up was fish and first on offer was a little fritter packed full of fresh prawns, dill and ouzo – again using some unusual flavours with very well known ingredients. This was paired with a pretty little classic Greek salad – we had to get it in there somewhere! The other fish dish (yes the dishes were still flowing at this point!) was a pretty little seared scallop dish paired with crushed broadbeans and crispy pancetta, a lovely combo of fresh and salty and soft and crispy .

For main courses there was a very rich lamb stew called hunkar begendi, which I believe was a Turkish sultan dish. The lamb was soft and tender and the glistening sauce was full of tomato, red peppers and spice. This was paired with a creamy aubergine puree and slivers of pistachio to try and counteract the wetness of the dish. The final main course was one of the stars of the night, a delicious sumac roasted chicken salad. Chicken was marinated overnight in an intoxicating array of ingredients that included pomegranate molasses, sumac, chilli and garlic. It was roasted with sesame seeds until the skin was nice and crispy and then served atop a fragrant salad of smoky freekah, fruity pomegranate and earthy herbs. Given the sour flavours in the chicken, the dish was actually deliciously umami and is one I’ll be making again to try on the BBQ!

Given all the food we had served by this point and that we were well and truly in Istanbul by now, we thought there was no better dessert offering than to go all the way back to Venice and service a nice, light TIRAMISU! Rick’s recipe is very classical, with lots of mascarpone, sponge fingers and coffee. There’s nothing to hide behind and so it needed good quality ingredients and strong flavours. The bowls were all licked clean, which given the feast we had served was a triumph!

Coffees and teas were served with my homemade halva. I’ve no idea if I made it correctly, I followed Rick’s recipe to the T! Homemade halva is much wetter and softer than the shop bought version. This will probably appeal to most people as shop bought halva has a bit of a polystyrene quality to it but mine was much more like a marzipan or an Indian sweet. Semolina is toasted in oil and then cooked slowly in a sweet milky syrup until soft and all absorbed. Whole hazelnuts were added and then it was left to set. I served mine with pretty pistachios and rose petals to try and counteract the beigy browness of it all!

So all in all it was a successful but exhausting night. We served up 10 whole different course to our guests, which is probably not a number we’ll ever do again as it was so much work! The guests seemed to enjoy it, although I’m sure they didn’t need to eat again for the rest of the bank holiday weekend! We do it all over again next weekend when it’s our special Leeds Indie Food events – FILTH. We’ve even bought a deep fat fryer in celebration! In other news we have now agreed our dates for the rest of the year. Once we’ve picked themes for these we’ll let you know before they then go on general sale. Expect them to be out before the end of the month – watch this space!

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