best compliment, ever


dried fig icecream with fresh figs & pistachios 

It’s no secret that I love a good dinner party. I love the whole process; planning the menu, procuring the ingredients, doing the cooking, cleaning the house and setting the table (actually this bit I’m not that fond of), greeting the guests, enjoying the evening, even cleaning up afterwards and reviewing the night. I love how having guests changes the dynamic of your home, bringing it alive with the glow of friendship and laughter. I love how the casual intimacy allows for a much more relaxed catchup away from the formality and interruptions of a restaurant. But if the truth be told, I’m also a sucker for the praise….I mean I am human.

I love how forgiving and encouraging a dinner party audience can be. Overcooked pasta, undercooked chicken, crunchy chickpeas all seem to magically go unnoticed. Over the years I’ve learned that it is much better to smile and nod graciously rather than point out that the beans were a little on the crunchy side or that the salad dressing was over salted. After all accepting the praise, no matter how tenuous the basis for it, is all part of the joy of being a good host.

But every now and then I manage to serve up something that comes close to culinary nirvana and it feels so good when the compliments are justified. I was lucky enough to experience this last Friday. I had some people from work and their partners over for a Friday night feast. I knew that a couple of them had spent a bit of time in the Middle East so decided to use that as the inspiration for the meal.

To start there was my old favourite dukkah with my very best extra virgin olive oil and fresh Turkish bread from my favourite Turkish restaurant on Cleveland St in Surry Hills. Mahamarra, that addictive roast capsicum and walnut dip was also on the menu. Along with a really unusual but intensely flavoured egg and olive salad. A good solid start to the meal.

For main course I had toyed with the idea of BBQ squid with almond tarator, a Turkish almond and mint sauce, but decided that I wasn’t up for cleaning enough squid for seven people so opted for some swordfish kebabs instead. A soft herb salad made a delicate and refreshing accompaniment that was well received by the crowd.

Dessert proved to be the highlight of the evening. I had been eyeing off the fig and barberry icecream recipe in Greg & Lucy Malouf’s divine book, Saha for a while now. Since I didn’t have access to any barberries I decided to keep it simple and just stick to figs. So dried figs were plumped up in a sugar syrup before being pureed and mixed through a vanilla icecream base. Served with some fresh figs and a sprinkling of chopped pistachio, this was one of those desserts that is good enough to shut everyone up. Silence, a rare occasion at my dinner table, but a lovely compliment in itself.

As we ate, I remember thinking to myself that this was bloody good icecream, possibly the best I’ve ever made. So I was incredibly touched when I got a thankyou text message from one of my guests the next day that said ‘best icecream ever!’ That has to be up there as one of the best compliments I’ve ever received….all good things.

a middle eastern dinner for team 10K
egg & olive salad
dukkah & olive oil
turkish bread
BBQ swordfish& zucchini kebabs with almond tarator
soft herb salad
dried fig icecream with fresh figs & pistachios

serves 8-10 as part of a mezze selection
Adapted from Saha by Greg & Lucy Malouf

This is one of my favourite dips. It has a lovely sweet nuttiness with a bit of a lemony kick from the pomegranate molasses that is just delicious. If you can’t get your hands on any pommegranite molasses, lemon juice makes a passable substitute.

It’s best if you can blacked your capsicums (peppers) under the grill in a closed oven so that the flesh cooks as the skins blacken to intensify the sweetness of the capsicum.

3 large red capsicum
1 clove garlic
200g walnuts, toasted
1T pomegranate molasses
juice 1/2 to 1 lemon
1/2t sugar
1/4C extra virgin olive oil

Roast capsicum under the grill until well blackened and soft. Place in a bowl. Cover and allow to cool. Remove skin and seeds and place flesh in a food processor with remaining ingredients. Whizz until you have a smooth paste and then season to taste.

egg & olive salad
serves 6 as part of a mezze selection
Adapted from Saha by Greg & Lucy Malouf

Eggs and olives are a winning combo. The intensity and saltiness of the olives is nicely tempered by the eggs while enhancing the egg flavour. Pinenuts add a lovely supporting textural counterpoint as does the crunch of the red onion.

1/2 red onion, finely sliced
4 eggs at room temperature
75g green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
80g pinenuts, toasted
2t sweet paprika
2t sumac*
1/2t cayenne pepper
4 sprigs parsley, leaves picked & chopped
2T lemon juice
3T extra virgin olive oil

Soak onion in a small bowl of cold water for 10mins, drain. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil then simmer eggs for 6mins. Drain and run under cold water until cool. Peel eggs. Roughly chop three  of the eggs then combine with the onion, olives, pinenuts, spices and parsley.

Whisk together lemon juice and olive oil and season keeping in mind that the olives in the salad will be quite salty. Toss enough of the dressing through the salad to moisten. You may not need all the dressing. Chop the top off the remaining egg to reveal the yolk and place in the centre of the salad. Sprinkle over additional sumac and serve at room temperature.

*note: Sumac is the ground berry from the sumac plant. It has a lovely lemony taste. You could make the salad without but it wouldn’t be near as tasty. At a pinch consider substituting in a little lemon zest.

BBQ swordfish and zucchini kebabs with tarator
Serves 6
Adapted from a recipe by Emma Knowles in the Feb07 Australian Gourmet Traveller.

Emma used BBQ squid in her version which is delicious but I wasn’t up to cleaning enough squid for six people so opted to give swordfish a go with great results. The dish would also work really well with other fish or even chicken.

I used rosemary sprigs for skewers because they look so pretty but you could use wooden or metal ones or even just keep the fish whole and serve as a steak.

1.2kg swordfish steaks, cut into 1.5cm cubes
1 large zucchini (courgette), finely sliced into rounds
12 sprigs rosemary
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/4C olive oil
3T dukkah
1/4 preserved lemon, finely chopped
lemon cheeks, to serve
for the tarator:
250g whole almonds
2 cloves garlic, peeled
juice 1 lemon
75g turkish bread
1/2 bunch mint, leaves picked
pinch baharat*, optional
250-300mL water
1/4C extra virgin olive oil

For the tarator, place almonds in a saucepan. Cover with water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 20mins then drain.  Place almonds, garlic, lemon juice, and bread in a food processor and whizz until you have fine crumbs. Add mint and baharat if using and gradually add water with the motor running until you have a smooth creamy paste. Add oil and season to taste.

Combine garlic, oil, dukkah and preserved lemon in a large bowl. Season with pepper and toss in swordfish cubes to coat evenly. Thread zucchini and swordfish onto skewers, alternating two swordfish for every round of zucchini. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for 20 – 30mins.

Heat BBQ and when hot cook skewers for approx 2min each side or until cooked to your liking. To serve place a dollup of tarator on each plate. Top with swordfish skewers and place a lemon cheek to the side.

* note: Baharat is a Lebanese spice blend. For a recipe on how to make your own click HERE and scroll down to the comments section.

soft herb salad
serves 6 as a side salad
Adapted from Greg and Lucy Malouf in Arabesque.

This slightly unusual salad was a bit of a hit. Greg and Lucy use flat leaf parsley but I prefer to go with the beautifully flavoured delicate leaf of chervil.

1/2 bunch mint, leaves picked
1 bunch coriander, leaves picked
1 large bunch chervil, leaves picked
1T lemon juice
1T white wine vinegar
2T extra virgin olive oil

Combine lemon juice, vinegar and oil in a large bowl and season. Toss through herbs and transfer to a serving platter. Serve immediately.

dried fig icecream with fresh figs & pistachios
serves 6-8
Icecream adapted from Greg & Lucy Malouf in Saha.

I am in love with Greg’s basic icecream method. No need for delicate custard stirring, just boil a sugar syrup and whisk it though the eggs. In an effort to minimise the expansion of my egg white collection, I experimented with using one whole egg with the yolks which I may have imagined but I thought it did lighten the texture a little. Am planning further experimentation with using the whole egg so watch this space.

180g sugar
200g dried figs, halved
5 egg yolks
1 egg
600mL cream
300mL sour cream
2t vanilla extract
6-8 fresh black figs, to serve
large handful pistachio, toasted, to serve

Combine figs and sugar with 250mL (1C) water in a small saucepan and stir over a low heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15mins.

Place figs in a food processor with about 1/3 of the syrup and whizz until smooth and allow to cool. Whisk yolks and eggs in an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Gradually whisk in remaining hot syrup and beat for 10mins. Combine sour cream and cream and stir until smooth. When fig puree is cool combine yolks, creams and puree with vanilla extract and refirgerate until well chilled. Churn in an icecream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

To serve cut a cross in the top 2/3 of each fig and push them to open up into a pretty flower like shape. Divide figs between plates and place a large scoop of icecream beside. Top with toasted pistachios.


  • Great menu/recipes/photos as always. I aspire to one day be as wonderful in the kitchen as you are :D If I’m lucky…well, we can all dream, right?

  • Have been reading your blog for the past few months and always look forward to your new posts – inspiring flavors, lovely photos even if I am in the wrong hemisphere to immediately recreate the seasonal things you make… Fig ice cream looks amazing…

  • mmm delicious. that dip looks really good… and i really must give the ice cream a go. i cannot believe ive gone through summer without making any ice cream. how lucky to have a meal cooked by you… i admire the detail you go to :)

  • I am of turkish origin and your menu looks real good, you earned the compliments! Just one addition: We put some cumin and one or two slices of zwieback into the muhammara. But your recipe is the first one that gets close enough to the original.

  • I always enjoy your innovative menus and enticing photos. I treasure fresh figs and couldn’t get enough of them when they were in season last summer/fall. Even though it’s months before they’ll be back, I’ll have to save this recipe to try it then. Delicious!

  • I discovered your blog quite by accident, when I was surfing for a good restaurant in Singapore and I saw your posting on the CHUBBY HUBBY blog. Your recipes and food shots look great …yummm….can’t wait to try em!
    You had mentioned the lack of good Indian restaurants in Sydney. Try my favourite, Zaaffran in Darling Harbour. Visit their website You will drool at the food shots. When I go there to eat, the food is so good, I don’t even gaze at the harbour views.

  • ellie
    thanks..but I think you’re selling yourself short. I could never make perfect dumplings like yours

    thanks MI

    thanks for leaving a comment. The whole different hemisphere thing is a bit crazy I know.

    thanks deb, a summer wihtout icecream? the good thing is that it goes so well with hot desserts in the winter too.

    wow hande, a compliment from a Turkish person…thats got to be up there as best ever. will give the cumin a go next time but will have to do some research on zwieback. thanks for the tips

    thanks truffle

    susan, I know I wait all year for fig season. a consolation that summer is over here.

    thanks for dropping by. haven’t been to zaffran yet. will have to remedy that. appreciate the tip.

  • wow!
    what delightful reading that was. i feel like i was there. thank you for sharing that.
    have just discovered this site and feel i have found a new toy!
    madame cholet

  • I recently started my own food blog and have been browsing the net for inspiration. Your blog is truly amazing with a great, simple design and delicious recipes and photography. I only wish to get to this stage someday. It’s incredible how the www can bring people around the world together to share the best parts of life (one being food). Thank you!!!

  • Very nice, lively and well-structured blog, that transmits a powerful mind behind the curtain.

    Congratulations from the -spanish- other side of the world!

  • Your website is divine! My mouth was watering as I took in every detail of your pictures and descriptions of the scrumptious items you cooked. I have one question about the fig ice cream. What type of cream do you use? Half and half, light cream, heavy cream or whipping cream? Thanks.

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