Ghillie Basan recipes: Fish cakes | Lamb Tagine

Fish cakes by Ghillie Basan. Picture: Contributed
Fish cakes by Ghillie Basan. Picture: Contributed
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HANDFULS of fresh coriander, dill, parsley, and mint; roasted cumin seeds and ground cinnamon; the scented waters of orange and rose blossoms; pomegranates, apricots, figs, dates and quinces – these are some of the flavours and ingredients that come to mind when I think of Middle Eastern food.

Add a sprinkling of the history and mystery of the ancient spice trade routes and the grand empires of the Persians, Romans, Arabs, and Ottomans and you will be inspired to produce something delicious and unforgettable to grace the table of each season.


Serves 4

• 4 large quinces, washed and well rubbed

• 4 tablespoons olive oil

• knob of butter

• 1 onion, finely chopped

• 2 garlic cloves, crushed

• 2 tablespoons pine nuts

• 2 tablespoons currants, soaked in warm water for 5 minutes and drained

• 1-2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

• 1-2 teaspoons ground allspice

• 175g short-grain rice, rinsed and drained

• salt and ground black pepper

• a bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, plus extra to garnish

• a bunch of fresh dill fronds, finely chopped

• 2-3 vine tomatoes, finely sliced

• freshly squeezed juice of

• 1 unwaxed lemon

• 3 teaspoons granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas Mark 3. Place the quinces on a baking sheet lined with foil. Roast them in the oven for about 1½ hours, until they feel soft to the touch. Leave them to rest until they’re cool.

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil and the butter in a heavy based pan. Fry the onion and garlic, until they soften. Add the pine nuts and currants, and fry until the pine nuts turn golden, then stir in the spices and one teaspoon of sugar.

Toss in the rice, mix, then pour in enough water to cover. Bring it to the boil. Season with salt and pepper, stir, then reduce the heat and leave it to simmer until almost all the water has been absorbed. Add the herbs and turn off the heat. Cover the pan with a dry tea towel, followed by the lid, and leave the rice to steam for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the quinces. Cut them open lengthways and remove the cores with a small knife. Scoop out a bit of the flesh to create a deep enough hollow for the filling, chop the flesh finely and stir it through the rice. Spoon the rice into the quince hollows and place them in an ovenproof dish.

In a small bowl, mix together two tablespoons of olive oil, lemon juice and two teaspoons of sugar with 2-3 tablespoons water, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Arrange 2 slices of tomato over the rice filling in each quince half and pour over the oil and lemon juice mixture.

Turn up the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4 and bake the quinces for about 25 minutes, basting them with two tablespoons of olive oil and the lemon juice mixture. Garnish the baked quinces with a little parsley and serve with a salad or as an accompaniment to grilled or roasted meats.


Serves 4

• 450g fresh or cooked fish fillets such as sea bass, sea bream or haddock

• 2 slices day-old bread, soaked in a little water and squeezed dry

• 1 red onion, finely chopped

• 2 tablespoons dried apricots, finely chopped

• 2 tablespoons toasted sunflower seeds

• 1 teaspoon ground cumin

• 1 teaspoon ground coriander

• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

• 2 teaspoons tomato purée or ketchup

• 1 egg, lightly beaten

• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 2 small bunches fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, reserving half to serve

• a small bunch fresh dill, finely chopped

• a small bunch fresh mint, finely chopped

• 3-4 tablespoons plain flour

• 3-4 tablespoons sunflower oil, for frying

• a dusting of cinnamon, to serve

• 1-2 unwaxed lemons or limes, cut into wedges, to serve

In a bowl, break up the fish fillets with a fork. Add the bread, onion, apricots, sunflower seeds and spices. Add the tomato purée and the egg and season well with salt and pepper. Toss in the fresh herbs and, using your hands, knead the fish cake ingredients together and mould the mixture into circular shapes, about 2cm thick.

Tip the flour onto a plate. Take each ball in your hand and gently press it in your palm to flatten it a little into a thick disc-shaped cake. Roll each fish cake lightly in the flour.

Heat the sunflower oil in a wide shallow pan and fry the fish cakes in batches, until golden brown on both sides. Drain them on paper towels. Dust with a little cinnamon, garnish with the parsley and serve hot with lemon or lime wedges.


Serves 4

• 16 dried apricots, soaked in water for at least 2 hours

• 1-2 tablespoons olive oil

• knob of butter

• 1 onion, finely chopped

• 2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

• 40g piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

• 2 teaspoons coriander seeds

• 2-3 cinnamon sticks

• 2 teaspoons ras el hanout

• 700g lean lamb, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces

• 1-2 tablespoons runny honey

• 1-2 tablespoons orange blossom water

• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

• a small bunch of fresh coriander, finely chopped

Drain the apricots and reserve the soaking water in a measuring jug. Put half the apricots in a blender or a food processor with 2-3 tablespoons of the soaking water and blend to a purée. If necessary, top up the rest of the soaking liquid with water so that you have roughly 700ml.

Heat the olive oil and butter in the base of a tagine or in a heavy-based casserole dish and stir in the onion and garlic for 2-3 minutes. Add the fresh ginger, coriander seeds, cinnamon sticks and ras el hanout, then toss in the chunks of lamb, coating them in the onion and spices. Pour in the apricot soaking water with enough plain water to just cover the lamb. Bring the liquid to the boil, reduce the heat, put the lid on the tagine and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Add the whole apricots and continue to simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the honey and the puréed apricots and simmer for a further 10-15 minutes. Splash in the orange blossom water, season with salt and pepper and scatter the coriander

over the top. Serve immediately with rice, bulgur, couscous or chunks of crusty loaf.

• Flavours of the Middle East by Ghillie Basan is available for the special price of £13.99 including postage & packaging (rrp £18.99) by telephoning Macmillan Direct on 01256 302 699 and quoting the reference GLR 9MX -