Despite being a veggie all my life, it was only in my late teens and early twenties that I discovered the joys of Middle Eastern food and vast variety it offers us non-meat eaters. With hummus, falafel, herby salads and flatbreads now staples in my everyday diet, I recently started getting a bit more adventurous in my exploration of this type of cuisine. And when I discovered Yotam Ottolenghi’s vibrant cookery shows, London restaurants and mouthwatering recipe books last year, I was hooked.
My most recent Middle Eastern experiment came last weekend, when I decided to try my hand at Ottolenghi’s herb pie, taken from his Jerusalem cookbook. The original recipe calls for swiss chard and rocket, but since I was unable to buy the former and I’m one of the few people who dislikes the latter, I replaced these ingredients with a mix of spring greens, kale and watercress. Here’s my version of the recipe:
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for brushing the pastry
160g onion, diced
250g kale, thinly shredded
250g spring greens, thinly shredded
150g celery, thinly sliced
50g spring onion, chopped
30g flat-leaf parsley, chopped
30g mint, chopped
20g dill, chopped
120g anari or ricotta cheese, crumbled
100g mature cheddar, grated
60g feta, crumbled
the grated zest of 1 lemon
2 medium free-range eggs
1/3 tsp salt
½ tsp coarsely ground black pepper
½ tsp caster sugar
250g filo pastry
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Pour the olive oil into a deep frying-pan. Add the onion and sauté for eight minutes over a medium heat without browning. Add the celery and continue cooking for four minutes, stirring. Add the kale and spring greens, increase the heat to medium-high and stir as you cook for four minutes, until the leaves wilt. Add the spring onion, watercress and herbs and cook for two minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer to a colander. Once the mixture is cool, squeeze out as much water as you can and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the three cheeses, lemon zest, eggs, salt, pepper and sugar and mix well.
Lay out a sheet of filo pastry and brush it with olive oil. Cover with another sheet and continue in the same manner until you have five layers all covering an area large enough to line the sides and base of a 22cm pie dish, plus extra to hang over the rim. Line the pie dish with the pastry, fill with the herb mix and fold the excess pastry over the edge of the filling, trimming the pastry as necessary to create a 2cm border.
Make another set of five layers of filo brushed with oil and place them over the pie. Scrunch the pastry to create an uneven top and trim the edges so it just covers the pie. Brush with olive oil and bake for 40 minutes or until the filo turns golden. Remove from the oven and serve warm.
greedy sister tip: Make sure you have a huge pan at the ready, all the herbs and veg take up a LOT of room before they wilt – I had to do mine in batches to fit it all in a generous frying pan.
This is delicious served cold with salad for a light lunch the next day. The recipe makes plenty; you can even freeze it then defrost thoroughly and re-crisp with a quick blast in the oven.