For more than a decade I’ve been dreaming of the Chickpea Bake from Melbourne’s humble restaurant treasure, Moroccan Soup Bar. If you are in Melbourne, go there for the earthy, inclusive and unpretentious experience, packed with happy diners and chatter, and taste, first hand, the unforgettable flavours and intoxicating aromas.
This modest establishment has been my favourite Melbourne eatery, on and off, for about twelve years. I already raved about it just a few weeks ago in my 7 Winter Days of Dinners series. You can read about that here and try one of the delicious recipes.
Dreams can come true, it seems, now that Hana Assafiri has revealed her secret recipe for Chickpea Bake and more in this inspiring book Moroccan Soup Bar: Recipes of a spoken menu, and a little bit of spice. . . A gorgeous book full of recipes, stories from the restaurant and Hana’s life, and her ideals of kindness, inclusiveness and generosity.
I was a bit beside myself to finally have the recipes I’d dreamt of for so long. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. I couldn’t wait to get cooking and dived straight in with an impromptu Moroccan feast on a random week night for just us four.
I was a little anxious that it would be complicated and long-winded a-la-Ottolenghi, but I was pleasantly surprised at how straightforward and uncomplicated things turned out. The recipes do call for a few more unusual ingredients, but these seem increasingly available these days, thanks probably to the Ottolenghi craze that seems to have swept Australia. I decided on the famous Chickpea Bake, Makloubeh (also called eggplant turnover in the book), and Cabbage, Walnut and Feta salad.
Luckily I had all the more unusual ingredients, like pomegranate molasses and orange blossom syrup, on hand from previous forays into middle eastern cooking. The cook went pretty smoothly, except that the chickpeas were a little firmer than I would have liked (I put that down to my lack of experience using dried chickpeas). I challenged myself a bit by candying my own walnuts (surprisingly not too difficult). I followed the recipes to the letter and everything turned out absolutely deliciously. Rich, buttery, spicy, zingy, exotic – a taste sensation! Mr.B and the girls raved! I was pretty chuffed. The recipes don’t state how many people they’re intended for, and in hindsight I’d say they are feast proportions. I reckon I could have fed 8-10 people generously! The girls took left-overs for school lunch the next day, and we had the rest for dinner and there was plenty.
When I decided to write a review I thought I ought to cook a few more dishes. Last week I did Mujadara (rice and lentils), Fatouch (a classic Moroccan salad), Hummus (we eat so much of this at our place I thought it high time I knew how to make it myself), and Honeyed Cauliflower gratin (because it sounds so good!) Again everything was simple and pretty easy. I halved the proportions this time, except for the hummus (which I regret now as we’ll never eat it all).
On the whole, everything was scrumptious again, with Miss E singling out the Honeyed Cauliflower Gratin for special mention. The Hummus was so simple to make I don’t know why I didn’t try it before and save myself a fortune. The Mujadara was tasty and I’d make it again, but the others preferred the rice from the Makloubeh. The only thing that wasn’t a complete success was the Fatouch – Miss E though it was a bit spicy (?), and I think I used too much dressing as my crispy flatbread turned a bit soggy, although that might have been because it was gluten-free. It was really fresh and zingy tasting though, and I will try again with a few adaptations for our particular issues.
My friend, Erica, bought this book for her husband (nice move E!) who is a keen cook. She has made a few things from it and we chatted about it over lunch yesterday.
Me: So what have you made so far?
Erica: The Chickpea bake, of course, and the Lentil and Spinach soup.
Me: How did the Chickpea Bake go for you? I’m going to cook the chickpeas for 2 hours next time as they were a bit firm for my liking – it was really yummy though.
Erica: It was OK, but not really like the restaurant version as I couldn’t add yoghurt.
Me: That’s one of the main ingredients!
Erica: Sarita (daughter) is a vegan so I couldn’t add it.
Me: What on earth did you do about the butter then? (Aghast!)
Erica: I used Nuttelex. (Dairy free spread) It was a bit tasteless.
Me: Not really the same at all then. (More aghast!)
The moral of this story is, take care how you adapt the recipes for vegans (or they’ll just have to miss out – butter too yummy!)
I’ve loved reading and cooking from this book. It’s been on high rotation in my kitchen for the few months I’ve had it. I proclaim a success!
Buy Moroccan Soup Bar. Recipes of a spoken menu, and a little bit of spice . . . direct from the restaurant if you’re in Australia here, and from Book Depository here if you’re overseas.