London is not designed for heat. The streets are narrow, the Tube is un-airconditioned and it houses almost eight million people. So the last week’s temperatures have been a challenge. After seven years of taking the Tube for two hours a day, I am ridiculously grateful that I can walk to my current freelance assignment. But by the time I get home my top-floor flat is rather toasty, I’m starving and the last thing I want to do is cook or turn on the oven.
So I’m always on the lookout for summer recipes that are fast, easy to source and prep and prevent me sitting in front of the fridge (I have a tiny under-the-counter one so can’t stand to do this!) and shoving whatever I spot first into my mouth.
The following two, one from the first Moro cookbook and one from Nigella Lawson are perfect antidotes to summer post-work hunger. The cinnamon-lemon dressing in the tabbouleh is glorious and watermelon and feta is an inspired combination. All you need with them is sunshine, something cold to drink and perhaps some pitta bread (okay, you may have to warm that up a little bit…).
I’ve posted them together because they share some key ingredients which means, hurrah, less shopping and less waste. Since I tend to buy herbs by the bunch from the local Turkish/Greek shops (rather than in those miniscule supermarket packages) I always have half a bunch of mint and flat-leaf parsley left after making either of these, unless I’m cooking for friends. So if you make them in the same week, you get to use up the herbs. A singular solution for single life!
Tabbouleh (adapted from Moro)
Unlike every other tabbouleh I’ve ever had (mostly in France), this one is built around the herbs not the grain, so it’s important to have good, fresh and healthy herbs, not the last scraps hanging around the bottom of the fridge. You wouldn’t make a salad with dried-out lettuce now would you? Would you…?!
You will need (for 4 people; easily halved for one meal and next day’s lunch)
NB tsp = teaspoon; Tsp = tablespoon (just saves me some keystrokes)
85g fine bulgur wheat
400g small tomatoes (small plum, small cherry are great but I confess I’ve made it with whatever tomato I had to hand before). In Moro they say ‘sweetest tomatoes, seeded and cut into 5mm cubes’. Sorry, but I can’t imagine cutting them so small, or even being able to cut something into a 5mm cube. Halved or, depending on their size, quartered cherry tomatoes are fine.
4 spring onions, trimmed and chopped
3 small bunches fresh flat-leaf parsley, stalks removed as far as possible, roughly chopped
1 small bunch fresh mint, stalks removed as far as possible, roughly chopped
(NB the size of a bunch whether of mint or parsley is going to vary from shop to shop, and country to country so this is a very difficult amount to quantify. I think if you imagine a cereal bowl-worth of each herb for each person then it’ll be about right. Though, of course, cereal bowls vary in size too…oh, and whatever you do, cut out most of the stalks, particularly the mint ones. I forgot to do this tonight and felt like I was eating a tree.)
1 garlic clove
Sea salt (I think it’s important to specify sea rather than table salt because it’s so much better for this)
1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon (Moro also lists 1/4 tsp of allspice but I’ve never used it and never missed it)
2 Tsp lemon juice (again, difficult to quantify how many lemons you will need; tonight I found that half a lemon gave me 1 Tsp but it will, like your bunches of herbs, depend on the size of the fruit.)
3 Tsp olive oil
sea salt and black pepper
1) Wash the bulgur in water in a fine sieve. If you have fine bulgur it should soak up enough water from the wash but if it doesn’t then cover it with a little water and leave it for a few minutes. Medium bulgur will also need covering with water and leaving for about three minutes (depending on the amount you are making) in order to swell.
2. Mix the tomatoes, herbs, wheat and spring onions together in a bowl.
3. Crush the garlic clove with sea salt to make a paste (best to do this in a pestle and mortar rather than using a garlic crusher).
4. Add cinnamon and lemon juice to the garlic and stir well to mix the dry spice into the juice.
6. Mix the dressing into the salad. Not much matches this on a summer’s night apart from the next recipe.
Watermelon and Feta Salad (adapted from Nigella Lawson’s recipe)
The same rule for herbs applies to this too: fresh, healthy, stalks removed.
You will need (for 8; I’ve always halved the recipe and it works fine cut down)
1 small red onion
2–4 limes (Nigella points out that the number of limes required will depend on how much juice they produce. But since she states 3-4 Tsp of oil, I’d aim for half that of juice.)
1.5 kg ripe watermelon
250g feta cheese
bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, stalks removed and leaves intact (i.e. don’t chop them up, you want it to remain leafy)
bunch fresh mint, chopped
3–4 Tsps extra virgin olive oil
100g pitted black olives
1. Peel the red onion, cut it in half (root to tip) then cut each half widthways into half-moons. Put into a small non-metallic bowl with the lime juice and leave, as Nigella puts it, to steep. She says the steeping brings out the ‘transparent pinkness’ of the onions and ‘diminishes their rasp’. I confess that’s all a bit faffy for me and I’ve rushed this by mixing the onion with lime juice and chucking it straight in and I haven’t really noticed much change in taste.
2. Peel and de-seed the watermelon and cut into bite-sized chunks. Since I usually buy a piece of watermelon not a whole one (try getting a whole watermelon into a 2-shelf fridge; the reverse of the old joke about spitting out a watermelon…) I find it easiest to cut it into chunks then deseed it (especially since the black seeds are obvious but there are sometimes lots of pesky smaller seeds too). Nigella suggests ‘cut into approximately 4cm triangular chunks’. I’m a bit resistant to this measuring stuff: you want it to be bite-size and only you know what that means to you and yours.
4. Cut the feta into bite-sized pieces too and put in a large salad bowl with the watermelon.
5. Add the parsley and chopped mint.
6. Tip the onion-lime juice mix over the salad, add the oil and olives, then toss very gently (Nigella says use your hands ‘so that the feta and melon don’t lose their shape’ but salad spoons are fine). Add freshly-ground black pepper and taste. It may need a bit more lime juice but, depending on the saltiness of your feta, it shouldn’t need any salt.