New Feast: Greg and Lucy Malouf talk plants, grains, Middle Eastern inspiration and the art of less meat

Justine Costigan
14 October, 2014

Chef and writer Greg and Lucy Malouf would like to introduce you to the idea that a satisfying, plant-based diet is easily achievable. And that one chicken breast can feed four!

What do you do when you find yourself gradually taking on a new, healthier way of eating? If you’re Greg and Lucy Malouf, you write another cookbook.

Q: New Feast celebrates a new way of eating and cooking for you both. What prompted the change?

Lucy: For both of us it was a bit of a slow realisation that the way we were eating was unhealthy. I’ve always been a bit of a veggie at heart, I was for a number of years in my student days and early twenties, and I just found that I was eating less and less meat. The balance of meat to non-meat days shifted and I found that when I did cook meat, I was eating much less of it. I don’t think I’m particularly unusual in this respect ... more and more people are starting to reduce their meat consumption and are looking to a more plant-based diet.

Greg: I had put on quite a bit of weight and I was getting tired very quickly. I didn’t want to end up in the Alfred Hospital again. My doctors weren’t happy and neither was I. With this massive new restaurant project [Greg will open Cle Dubai next month] I wanted to be healthy. I stopped sugar and carbs and reduced meat and started using the gym in my apartment building. Eight months later, I had dropped 18 kilos.

Q: Are you now completely vegetarian or is it more about a re-focus – with vegetables, fruits and grains at the centre of your diet and meat only on special occasions?

Lucy: It’s more of a re-focus. But it’s a pretty determined re-focus. These days, my husband George and I almost never eat red meat, unless we’re served it at someone’s house. We do eat chicken and seafood occasionally. But because it’s infrequent, I make an effort to choose really good quality produce, so it does become something of a treat. We also eat much, much less of it in any one meal than we used to. I’ll make a single chicken breast serve four people, for instance such as in a stir-fry, with loads of veggies, or in a big mixed salad.

Greg: For me the emphasis is on salad, vegetables, pulses and a little grain. I try to stay away from dairy. I used to have cheese on just about everything, and I also used lots of butter and cream.

greg and lucy malouf

Greg and Lucy Malouf

Q: Does cooking vegetarian food require more effort?

Lucy: I don’t believe there’s more effort involved in the actual preparation or cooking of vegetables than there is of meat. I think it really is a case of slowly expanding one’s repertoire, instead of always reverting to the same old familiar pasta or risotto dishes. It’s one of the things that we hope to show in New Feast, that there are lots of easy and exciting ways to eat that don’t involve meat.

Greg: I think this new way of cooking is much more exciting. I love using spices and grains. The western diet is based on entrée, main course and dessert, with a piece of protein at the centre. The way I eat now is based on vegetables and pulses and grains. And you put all the dishes on the table together and share.

Q: What should you have in your pantry if you want to make great vegetarian food?

Lucy: For me, the pantry essentials are all about adding flavour. So, I always make sure I’ve got a good range of spices in the pantry. Middle Easterners love cumin and coriander, and I also love sweeter spices, such as cinnamon or ginger or dried mint, and savoury, pungent spices such as fennel or turmeric. Chilli is useful, of course, for a punch of heat ... and I also make liberal use of flavoured oils – herb, citrus, garlic – and different vinegars for salads – apple balsamic is my current favourite – and for a touch of sweetness, honey or molasses. Over in Australia and in the UK, the most widely available is pomegranate molasses, although in the Middle East there are many more kinds, which has a wonderful sour–sweet tang. Flower waters also add an exotic fragrance to some dishes, although they need to be used judiciously.

I’m also a big fan of incorporating dried fruits, nuts and seeds into vegetable and grain dishes. I love the intense bursts of sour sweetness that dried fruits such as currants or craisins or sour cherries add. Nuts add texture and crunch while tahini is another fantastic flavour booster, with its toasted nutty sesame depth.

Greg: The spices I always have in the pantry include cumin, coriander, allspice and saffron. I like to use dried mint in salads too. I love using jars of chickpeas from Spain and Italy. They’re unbelievably easy to use – creamy, tender and nutty and without the metallic taste you get from tinned beans. Baby puy lentils don’t take long to cook and they’re great in salads. Also aged basmati rice, Arborio and loads of yoghurt.

slow roasted eggplant and braised artichokes

From New Feast Slow-roasted eggplant with saffron-lemon cream & Braised artichokes, preserved lemon and fingerling potatoes with basil creme fraiche

Q: Where did you turn for inspiration for the recipes for the book?

Lucy: To the Middle East! Greg and I did a lot of brainstorming ... looking back through journals we kept from our travels around Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iran and North Africa. Greg has also been expanding his vegetable repertoire in a restaurant environment, so old menus were also a source of inspiration.

Greg: Middle Eastern food lends itself to this style of eating so we had lots of inspiration at our fingertips. We were able to turn this book around very quickly. We started with 300 recipes and gradually whittled them down.

Q: Given you and Greg are in different countries, how did you create this book?

Lucy: It turned out to be much simpler than we’d initially thought. These days, distance is not really much of a barrier to collaborations and we are in frequent communication with each other. So the first research phase was probably no different than it might have been, were we living in the same city.

It’s probably true to say that I had more input in the actual recipes for this book than I have in previous books, simply because I’ve got a much longer history of eating vegetable-focused meals. I’ve got a recipe folder crammed full of vegetarian recipes that I’ve developed over the years.

Greg came to visit me here in Kent and we literally worked our way through our list of recipes. My husband was a very dedicated ‘taster’. Over the years he’s become the arbiter of a recipe’s fate. If he gives it the thumbs down, then it’s out!

The photography also took place in my house. My kitchen is brilliant for cooking as I’ve got plenty of bench space and it’s all very open plan. As this is now our seventh book, we are pretty comfortable with the whole process. We had a great team working to bring it all together.

Q: How have you and Greg sustained such a successful collaboration for so long? What's the secret?

Lucy: I think it boils down to respecting each other’s skills and qualities and being understanding and tolerant of foibles. Our skills are somewhat complementary, which makes for a good partnership in the cookbook arena. We’ve been collaborating on books for nearly 15 years now, and I think we both have a very similar take on food and so know each other really well. We are still in frequent communication, although we only see each other a few times a year, now that we’re living in different countries.

Greg: Lucy is a great friend. She understands where I’m coming from. I’m a dreamer, I struggle to write a shopping list! Lucy also writes beautifully and has great ideas about food. A lot of the recipes in New Feast are hers.

Q: What are some your favourite recipes from New Feast?

Lucy: Most of the recipes in New Feast are simple, and many of them are quick to prepare and cook. Nearly all of the dips and salads, for instance, take very little effort to pull together. Other easy examples might be the corn soup with rice, yoghurt and sizzling mint butter or the potato salad with peas and Persian spices or the carrot tagine with yoghurt and honeyed pine nuts. When it comes to grains, quinoa and bulgur wheat are both terrific options as they are dead simple – and quick – to prepare. The cucumber, quinoa and tarragon-yoghurt salad is a lovely summer dish as is the couscous with mixed spring greens, wild garlic and raisins.

Greg: The section on bread is really interesting and the breakfast section is a favourite. I’m finding a few of the recipes from New Feast are now sneaking on to the menu here [at Cle Dubai].

corn soup and honey roasted carrots

From New Feast Fresh corn soup with rice, yoghurt and sizzling mint butter & Honey-roasted carrots with dates, dandelions and Moroccan dressing

Q: Which recipe from New Feast do you return to again and again?

Lucy: Banana ice cream with salted date caramel. I made an awful lot of that over the summer. There are probably a handful of savoury dishes - don’t make me choose just one! - that I cook regularly, too:

  • Slow-roasted eggplant with saffron-lemon cream – although it’s a hot, baked dish, it’s very quick to make and absolutely everybody loves it.
  • Braised artichokes, preserved lemon and fingerling potatoes with basil creme fraiche – that’s another winner. If you use frozen or preserved artichokes, rather than fresh ones, which can be tricky to prepare, it’s very speedy, too.
  • Honey-roasted carrots with dates, dandelions and Moroccan dressing – you don’t have to use dandelions, any bitter or peppery leaf will do. The dressing is amazing and the sweetness of the dates really brings out the sweetness of the roasted carrots.
  • Fresh corn soup with rice, yoghurt and sizzling mint butter – I can’t tell you how often I knock this soup up. It’s creamy and rich, yet somehow tangy and fresh tasting.
  • Toasted nuts, seeds and grains with smashed cherries, herbs and goat’s curd – a fantastic salad full of texture and flavour. You can use sour cherries when fresh are out of season.

Greg: The flavoured butters. I wanted to see what flavour combinations would work and I was surprised by what I created. The butters are blended with different spices and they work beautifully.

Preserved lemon butter

Makes 1 x 220 g log of butter

preserved lemon butter

  • 175 g softened butter
  • 1 preserved lemon, skin only, finely chopped
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1/2 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon sumac

Combine the ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat everything together well. Spoon onto a sheet of cling film or greaseproof paper and shape into a log.

Roll up neatly, twist the ends, tie securely and chill until required. The butter will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for 2 weeks or up to 3 months in the freezer.

New Feast book cover

New Feast: Modern Middle Eastern Vegetarian by Greg and Lucy Malouf will be released in November.


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