Sunday, 23 August 2020

Walnut Baklawa

Flaky, sweet and buttery, with subtle undertones of rose water balanced with walnuts. The must have at every single family function. Siham's Baklawa. Not baklava, but baklawa. This is the Lebanese pronunciation and the flavour profile is also very Lebanese. Once you try my mum's baklawa, you will not want to eat any other. Once you see this simple method, you're likely to give it a go yourself. 

For the record, this is mum's exact recipe, but even I can't make it as well as she does. Something about Siham's special baking trays or her hands.


Sugar syrup

1.5 cups white sugar

1 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp rose water



Walnut Baklawa

250 g raw walnuts

1 pack of filo pastry (Antoniou brand is my preferred option)

250 g melted unsalted butter (or canola oil if making the vegan version)

50 g pistachio nuts and/ or rose petals for decoration

OPTIONAL extra teaspoon of water, sugar and rose water, mixed together


Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Sugar Syrup:

Bring sugar, lemon juice and water to the boil. Put enough water in so that the sugar is covered by about a centimetre. Ensure that the sugar is dissolved. 

Boil for approximately 10 minutes. Test the consistency by drizzling the syrup on a chilled plate. Add the rosewater at the end. For the correct consistency of the syrup, have a look at my knafeh recipe.

Allow to cool completely. This is important. It assists in the soaking process towards the end.

Melt the butter on a low heat, so that the milk solids do not boil and mix in with the pure butter.

Walnut Baklawa

Put walnuts in food processor. Process until fine, with some chunks.


OPTIONAL add extra teaspoon of water, rose water and sugar to the walnuts and pulse for a second. This can help to slightly bind the mix (as pictured on the right).

Cut filo pastry in half. Place one half on bottom of a greased square tray, which should be approximately 30x 30 cm and 10 cm deep. (I have doubled the recipe. My tray is double this length). You want the filo to go above the base of the tray's edges by a centimetre or two. This will stop the nuts from touching the pan directly and will prevent them from burning.

Spread walnuts over the filo. Cover with the other half of the filo pastry. You may need to trim the filo so that it fits neatly. Slice lines into the filo, vertically and diagonally, to create diamond shapes. There is no need to cut all the way into thge bottom layer. This may damage your tray and isn't necessary for the butter and sugar to soak through.

Pour the butter/ oil evenly over the pastry. Be sure not to pour the milk solids in (the white part at the bottom of the melted butter). You will be left with black, burnt spots on the surface of the baklawa.

Bake until golden brown and puffed. This takes approximately 45 minutes.

Pour the sugar syrup over the hot baklawa. You should hear a sizzle when the hot baklawa and the cool syrup make contact.

Sprinkle ground pistachio nuts and optional rose petals on top of baklawa. I use a mortar and pestle to crush the pistachios but you could use a food processor or even a rolling pin.



Allow to stand for 1 hr before cutting and serving.



Friday, 17 January 2020

Syrup Soaked Doughnuts- Owomette

For years my Mum refused to pass on this recipe, for fear of the sugar and fat content. I recently showed her my Instagram account. She conceded that owomette were the least of my worries.

Traditionally, my Tayta, aunties and Mum make owomette (also known as zlaybya) on the 6th of January, for the feast of the Epiphany. With a Lebanese Maronite mother, rituals like these are entirely non negotiable, not that anyone would ever complain.

Below you will find a super easy, extra naughty recipe that will please the masses. This version has been scaled back to 'normal people' proportions, and also happens to be plant based. My mum literally makes four times the amount listed. Who knows? You may find yourself doing the same!


Sugar Syrup (Attar)

2 cups sugar
1 tsp rosewater (optional)
1 tsp lemon juice

Doughnut Batter

3-4 grams instant dry yeast (about half a sachet)
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup room temperature water
1 cup plain flour
1 pinch of salt
1 cup of canola or vegetable oil
Dried rose petals (optional- for decoration)


1) Bring sugar, lemon juice and water to the boil. Put enough water in so that the sugar is covered by about a centimetre. Ensure that the sugar is dissolved. Boil for approximately 10 minutes. Test the consistency by drizzling the syrup on a chilled plate. When you dab a drop of the syrup between your thumb and your finger, you should see a fine string form. If a string does not form, boil the mix for a little longer. Add the rosewater at the end, if desired. ( I certainly desire rosewater, however others may prefer orange blossom, cinnamon or other flavours. I try not judge these people...) Allow the syrup to cool.

2) Mix yeast, 1 tsp of sugar and warm water in a clear cup or bowl. Cover the cup or bowl with a plate and allow the yeast to activate. This should take approximately 15 minutes. The mix will double in volume.

3) Mix flour, salt and the activated yeast mix in a bowl. Gradually add the room temperature water until you achieve a pancake like consistency. (See video below.) Add a bit of water if you need to thin the mixture.

4) Cover the mix with a tea towel or blanket and allow it to stand for 20- 30 minutes. The mix should double and have visible air pockets in it.

5) Heat the oil in a small pot or pan, so that the oil is about 3 cm deep. Test the oil's temperature by inserting the back of a wooden utensil or a skewer. When bubbles form around the utensil, the oil is at the right temperature.

6) Use a spoon or a piping bag to drop dollops of batter into the oil. Size is entirely negotiable! I like to aim for 20 cent sized pieces. (See video below)

7) Flip the doughnuts when the underside turn golden brown. Once the whole doughnut is golden, remove from the oil and drain on a plate lined with paper towel.

8) While still warm, dunk the doughnuts into a deep jug or bowl filled with sugar syrup. Allow them to soak for 30 seconds or so before taking them out.

When you bite into a doughnut, you should see air pockets that are glistening with sugar syrup.

9) Serve warm, at room temperature, or even chilled the next day (if you have any left!)

You will find that you have extra sugar syrup. Not a bad thing. Just use it when you make knafeh. My Tayta's favourite recipe is on this blog.


Saturday, 17 February 2018


Caramelised onion and the nuttiness of cooked lentils. A familiar scent that wafted through my grandparents' home every Friday without fail. Growing up amongst Maronite Catholics, Fridays were meat free all year around. That didn't mean that my Tayta was going to let us go without a phenomenal feast. Mjadra was always on the table.

This is a go to dish for those of you who are fasting, experimenting with plant based foods or trying to reduce your meat intake. It's also gluten free and lactose free. Do not be fooled by mjadra's humble appearance and simplicity. There is a reason why families all over the Middle East serve this (and its many variations) every week without fail. Even my carnivorous in-laws and my fussy five year old nephew request 'special rice' at every family get together.

You'll be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to make.

3 sliced onions
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup green lentils -washed and drained
1 cup basmati rice -washed three times and drained
3 cups of boiled water
salt to taste

1) In a medium sized pot, fry the onions in olive oil. Start on a low/medium heat until the onions soften, then increase the heat until the onions are caramelised. After this, argue with your mother about whether or not the onions should be burned. True story, many people prefer the onions completely blackened. It's entirely up to your taste. If you are going to take the onions further, you will need more olive oil.

2) Remove the onions from the pot, leaving the oil behind. If a few stray onions remain, let them be. They'll just boost the flavour.

3) Add the drained lentils to the pot carefully, as the residual moisture from the lentils will make the oil spit. Add the boiled water and salt. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Taste the broth for salt at this point. Adjust to taste.

4) Add rice, cover the pot and simmer for a further 10 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Leave the pot to stand for 10 minutes.

5) Spread the rice on a platter and smother with caramelised onions.

Tip: This dish can be served hot or at room temperature. My personal preference is to eat it piping hot, with fresh garden salad dressed in lemon and crushed garlic.

When you eat this dish, I ask that you think of my talented Tayta's legacy. Meat free doesn't have to be taste free!


For more videos and recipe ideas, find me on Instagram: @maryj_1

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Lebanese Vine Leaves

What did the Lebanese Mamma say to the vine leaves growing in her garden?

"Get stuffed!"

And the rest is history.

Before any nation or region tries to claims the origins of this brilliant concept, allow me to say that I adore stuffed vine leaves in its various forms. Don't care who started it! Just glad that it happened. Shout out to the cabbages, onions, capsicums and zucchinis out there. They may not appear in this dish's title, but they hold a special place in my heart/ stomach (same same).

The variation that I'm sharing is, of course, my Tayta's. No surprises, you're in for a whole lot of lemon and garlic. There are plenty of other versions, so if you enjoy this recipe, don't stop here! Try using capsicum paste, pomegranate molasses or change up the stuffing. The possibilities are deliciously endless.

Why share this recipe? Annual Lemon Juicing Day (it's a real thing in my family) just passed. Right when I had 60kg of freshly juiced lemons at my disposal, my colleague delivered the last of her vine leaves to my classroom. It was a sign.

50 vine leaves (fresh or preserved)
3 onions
1 capsicum
2 cups of washed rice (of your own choosing. I prefer basmati)
500g mince lamb
A few lamb chops
1 cup lemon juice (to taste)
1 head of garlic
1 tablespoon of baharat (Lebanese 7 Spice)
Boiled water
salt to taste
1) If using fresh vine leaves, place in a bowl and cover with boiled water. Allow to blanch until the colour changes and the leaves are softer to the touch. Drain and cut off stems.

If you do not have an awesome colleague who delivers fresh vine leaves, you can purchase preserved vine leaves from any Mediterranean grocery store. Be sure to wash and soak them in cool water for 15 minutes to an hour. This will remove some of the briny flavour.
2) Peel the onions and make one cut into the core. Microwave for 7 minutes. Peel apart the layers.
3) Hollow a capsicum or any other vegetables that you wish to stuff.

4) Prepare the stuffing by mixing the rice, meat, baharat and some salt (to taste).  Don't be shy. Get those hands dirty! It may appear that the meat to rice ratio is off balance. Rest assured, the rice will expand and the meat will shrink.

5) Start rolling and stuffing, as below. Lebanese friends, judge me all you like. When I visited the Motherland back in 2010, it was a battle of the finest fingers. The smaller and tighter the rolling, the more acclaimed the cook. Sorry Aunties and Mammas, but ain't nobody got time for that!


6) Assemble, starting with lamb chops at the bottom. Try to pack the other ingredients in tightly and place a heavy plate over the top. This will stop the ingredients from moving while boiling.

7) Cover with boiled water, by about 2 centimetres. You can add water throughout the process if it absorbs too quickly. Simmer for 40 minutes, with the lid on.
8) Crush garlic, using salt to create friction. Bring lemon juice to room temperature (if you keep it stored in the refrigerator or freezer).

9) Remove the lid and plate. Cut a vine leaf open to check if the rice is close to being cooked. Add water if necessary. Otherwise, tip the lemon juice in and cover with crushed garlic and salt to taste. Put the plate back on the ingredients and simmer for another 15 minutes.

10) Remove the plate and serve. Don't be concerned if the garlic turns blue :)

As promised, the meat the rice ratio is juuuust right after cooking.

And would you look at those chops...

If you ask me, it tastes even better the next day after soaking up all of the lemony goodness . Perfect for lunch boxes. Just reheat and eat.