Savoury lamb pies and yoghurty flatbreads: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Lebanese-inspired recipes | Middle Eastern food and drink

When thinking about why I love Lebanese food so much, I’m tempted just to list some of that cuisine’s big hitters: the crunchy kibbeh and creamy hummus, the fresh fattoush and herb-crammed tabbouleh. Pilaf and pine nuts, fried falafel and sweet knafeh … This is food I can eat every single day and never be bored with. It’s food to scoop up, to share and often to tear, and always to keep coming back to time and again.

Shish barak with pine nut oil (pictured top)

My Lebanese colleague Pierre speaks so passionately about these little savoury pastries that I couldn’t not make them. Opinions are divided, Pierre tells me, as to whether the lamb should be cooked before it’s encased in dough, so we tried both in the test kitchen and came down unanimously on the not-cooked side, because the filling stays juicier. Once assembled, these pastries freeze well, too, so if you don’t bake and eat them all on the day, any extras will become a handy future meal or snack.

Prep 30 min
Cook 50 min
Serves 4-6

For the dough
180g plain flour
1½ tsp sugar
Fine sea salt
40ml olive oil
80ml milk

For the filling
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
, peeled and finely chopped (150g)
30g pine nuts
3 garlic cloves
, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp Lebanese seven-spice, or any other spice mix of your choice
250g lamb mince
10g parsley leaves and soft stalks
, finely chopped
10g mint leaves, finely chopped

For the yoghurt sauce
1 tsp cornflour
400g plain yoghurt

For the pine nut oil
60g pine nuts
120ml olive oil
1 tsp chilli flakes
½ tsp smoked paprika

First, make the dough. Put the flour, sugar and a half-teaspoon of salt in a bowl and stir to combine. Pour in the wet ingredients, mix well, then knead into a smooth dough. Cover with a cloth and set aside while you get on with the filling.

Put a saute pan on a medium heat. Once it’s hot, add the oil, onion, pine nuts, garlic and spice mix, and cook, stirring often, for 20 minutes, until the onions are soft and translucent. Take the pan off the heat and leave to cool.

Once the onion mix is cool, stir in the lamb, parsley, mint and half a teaspoon of salt. Divide the mix into 40 roughly 10g pieces, roll these into little balls and put on a tray.

Roll out the dough on a clean work surface to 3mm thick, then cut out as many 7cm-wide circles as you can. Cover these with a clean tea towel, so they don’t dry out, then re-roll any scraps and cut into more 7cm circles (if need be, add a splash of water to soften the dough). Repeat until you have 40 circles.

Put a meatball in the centre of a pastry circle, stretch the dough and fold it over the meatball, to make a crescent shape, then pinch well around the edges to seal. Carefully gather each pointy end of the pastry, fold them over so they overlap and meet, then pinch to seal into a tortellini shape. Put the pastry rounded side up on a large oven tray lined with greaseproof paper, then repeat with the remaining meatballs and pastry until they’re all used up.

Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6, then bake the tray of pastries for 20-25 minutes, until golden all over.

Meanwhile, make the yoghurt sauce. Put the cornflour in a saucepan, whisk in 200ml cold water and a half-teaspoon of salt, then stir in the yoghurt. Put the pan on a medium heat and cook for four to five minutes, just to warm it through – take care the mix doesn’t get too hot, or the sauce will split. Set aside and keep warm, or reheat later, as necessary.

Now for the pine nut oil. Put a small pan on a medium heat, then toast the pine nuts for four or five minutes, until golden all over. Pour in the oil and, once that’s hot, take the pan off the heat and stir in the chilli, smoked paprika and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt.

Divide the pastries and yoghurt sauce between bowls, spoon the pine nut oil on top, and serve immediately.

Manakish (flatbreads topped with labneh)

Yotam Ottolenghi’s manakish, or Levantine flatbreads topped with labneh.

These Levantine flatbreads work both as a snack and as part of a meze spread. I like to top them with homemade labneh, which is essentially strained yoghurt. It takes at least a day to make, but there’s not much hands-on work involved, and if need be, to save yourself the effort, you can buy it ready-made from Middle Eastern food shops.

Prep 5 min
Strain 24-36 hr
Cook 30 min
Makes 12

For the labneh
Flaky sea salt
400g Greek yoghurt
, or 300g ready-made labneh

For the breads
2 tsp dried active yeast
¼ tsp caster sugar

500g strong white bread flour
110ml olive oil
15g za’atar

If you’re making your own labneh, whisk half a teaspoon of salt into the yoghurt, and line a deep bowl with cheesecloth or a clean tea towel. Spoon in the yoghurt, draw together the corners of the cloth to make a tight bundle, then tie firmly with string. Hang the parcel on a wooden spoon suspended over a jug or bowl, then put in the fridge for 24-36 hours, by which time the yoghurt will have drained and turned thick and quite dry, though the centre may still be a bit creamy.

Now for the breads. Whisk the yeast, sugar and 300ml lukewarm water until the yeast dissolves, then set aside for 15 minutes, until the mix starts to froth.

Put the flour and two teaspoons of flaky salt in the bowl of a mixer with the dough hook attached. Pour in the yeast mix and two tablespoons of oil, then work on a low speed for two minutes, just to bring the dough together. Turn up the speed to medium-high, then work the dough for two minutes more, until smooth and elastic. Transfer to a large oiled, cover with reusable kitchen wrap or similar and put somewhere warm for an hour, until doubled in size.

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces, then roll each of these into a smooth ball. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rest for five minutes.

Working with one ball at a time, use your fingertips to press out the dough into a 10- to 12cm-wide circle (much as you might when making focaccia). Put this on 30cm x 30cm sheet of baking paper and repeat with the remaining dough; you should be able to fit six breads on the sheet, so you’ll need a second sheet to accommodate the other six breads.

Heat the oven to 240C (220C fan)/425F/gas 7, and put into in two large baking trays inside to heat up. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir the za’atar into the remaining 75ml oil and mix well.

Spread the labneh all over each bread, going right up to the edges, spoon some of the za’atar oil on top, then sprinkle half a teaspoon in total of flaky salt all over the tops of the breads. Take the hot trays out of the oven and carefully slide one bread-topped sheet of baking paper on to each one. Turn down the oven to 220C (200C fan)/390F/gas 6, put the manakish trays in the oven and bake for 11-12 minutes, until golden brown both on top and underneath.

Remove, leave to rest and cool for five minutes, then serve with any remaining za’atar oil spooned on top.

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