From Beirut to London in 100 Dishes

flayfleh mahshiyeh (stuffed peppers) – or the time of ghosts

IMG_6887The time of ghosts is almost upon us.  Halloween and All Souls Day.  It’s one of the gravest times of year — when autumn begins to turn towards winter.  In London, we have slate grey skies and speckles of rain.  The clouds look like an utterly endless, empty sea — the cold Atlantic, not the Mediterranean I grew up beside.  When I was a child in Lebanon, we didn’t have Halloween celebrations.  We had a day almost a month later, Eid Al Berbera, which was similar, though.  Children would go knocking on doors on the trail of sweets, just like on Halloween.  But I think by the time I was old enough to do it, it wasn’t safe any more.  Many of our neighbours were gone.  And the sort of doors that were near us were just as likely to have a sniper behind them as a kindly old woman with a bag of goodies.  When we had Christian neighbours, they would have gone to visit their dead on All Souls Day.  But they were long gone by the time I was old enough to know the difference between them and Muslims like us.  But with the twin, unstoppable forces of Americanisation and the Lebanese love of any excuse for a party, Halloween is now firmly established in Beirut.  And here in London where I’ve been living for many years now, it’s also of course a very big deal.  Fireworks have even started across the river — with the separation between Bonfire night and Halloween well and truly blurred.  I can remember how I used to shudder when I first heard fireworks outside Lebanon — instinctively flinching from years of habit.  That’s long past.  But the ghosts I carried from Lebanon to here are still with me — not as visible as on the facades of the scarred and pockmarked office and apartment blocks of the 1960s and 1970s in Beirut, which are now increasingly dwarfed and overshadowed by Dubai-esque highrises.  But enough for me neither to need nor want to play with scary fancy dress to summon those furies.IMG_6761But it’s altogether a brighter prospect this year.  In the Twickenham cafe I’ve been cooking for, we are preparing for the Rugby World Cup Final, which is being played on the day of Halloween.  Our cake maker has come up with some wonderful designs that are displayed proudly in the window.  My contribution is the most Halloween-like dish that I can think of — in looks at least.  The bright red peppers stuffed with rice and herbs look like miniature pumpkins.  This is a vegetarian version.  With all the recent bad news about meat, that’s probably a good thing.  The skin of the peppers themselves are as juicy and sweet whatever filling you put inside. Although looking at them now, the rice does give them a slightly unsettling vampire-like smile…



6 red or yellow bell peppers washed

200g of basmati rice washed

1 small tomato diced

1 small red onion diced

50g of seedless raisins

50g of bleached almonds

1 pinch of saffron

1/2 tea spoon of turmeric

2 tea spoons of mixed herbs

1/2 tea spoon of salt

1 tea spoon of black pepper

1 large spoon of vegetable oil

6 table spoons of waterIMG_6858

For the sauce

3 cloves of garlic peeled and crushed

2 tea spoons of sun-dried tomato paste

1 lemon juiced

1 tea spoon of dry mint

1 tea spoon of salt

4 glasses of water


Wash the rice couple of times with fresh water, drain and leave aside. Wash the peppers and cut the top off

Remove the seeds and put in a cooking pot

Keep the tops aside as they will be used to close the peppers so the rice doesn’t spill out

In a small bowl put the washed rice, diced tomatoes, diced onion, raisins, almonds, saffron and turmeric

Mix well then add the herbs, salt, pepper and vegetable oil

Mix again and leave aside for 5 minutes

Divide the rice in 6 portions and stuff all the peppers equally

Pour 2 large spoons of fresh water inside the peppers and close each one with one pepper top

In a small bowl, crush the garlic and add the sun-dried tomato paste, lemon juice, dried mint and salt, mix well and add to the peppers

Add 3-4 glasses of water until you cover the peppers 3/4 of the way

Cover the pot with the lid and put on the hob at high temperature

Once the sauce starts to boil, reduce temperature and leave to cook for 20-30 minutes or until the rice is cooked and peppers are soft

Serve hot with yogurt or saladIMG_6878

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