Three recipes from Sabrina Ghayour’s latest okbook, Feasts (From Bournemouth Echo)

FEEDING people is integral to Sabrina Ghayour. Even if you're a stranger meeting the Persian cook for the first time, she'll tell you: "I want to spoil you and the only way I know how is to feed you senseless."

The Tehran-born cookbook writer, famed for her bestselling debut recipe collection Persiana, will be helping the rest of us feed each other senseless with her opulent new volume, Feasts.

"I would describe it as a serious business," she says wryly, when asked to explain traditional Persian feasting. "We are really lighthearted; we're the 'fun bunch' of the Middle East. We're the busybodies, all up in your business, we're loud and we're fun and we like to dance."

And the food? There is volume and variety "but all in a strange balance. Lots of vegetables, an aubergine dish on the side, yoghurt dishes [on huge platters], lots of tearing flatbreads, fresh herbs, blocks of cheese, fresh wet walnuts, rice and stew - stew is the cornerstone of Persian family cooking."

Then, if it's a really special occasion, there'd be kebabs. Not 3am-after-a-night-out kebabs, explains Sabrina, 41, but meat roasted over flames until golden and spitting with flavour. "You generally can't walk afterwards," she adds happily.

While Feasts, the book, is not wholly traditional and not wholly Persian ("I could do chow mein and people would say, 'I love your Persian chow mein'"), volume and variety are still key.

"There'll always be five or six things on the table because it's in my culture," says London-based Sabrina. "If I'm going to the takeaway, I'll always order eight things even if there's only two of us eating."

But that doesn't mean the recipes are tricky or time-consuming. Whether it's tamarind-doused ribs or butterflied leg of lamb, ingredients are pared back to the essentials and comfort is crucial.

"Comfort is pretty much what I eat all the time - I can't do fuss," says Sabrina, who admits she had beans on toast for lunch, and shared that fact with her 30,000 Instagram followers. "People are like, 'yes!' Because it's just real."

She's not afraid to put her more "disgusting failures" online, either. "You have to," she says sharply, "because being perfect is just so naff, and I'm so not perfect in any way."

The self-taught cook formerly worked in hospitality before starting her own supper club, and has been interested in food ever since she "ousted" her mother and grandmother from the kitchen as a child.

Sabrina, who spends chunks of the year exploring Asia to find new flavour inspiration, is a heart-on-your-sleeve, self-confessed "pie and mash girl", whose food is about love, honesty and simplicity, whether she's cooking it herself or eating out.

"I like middle of the road - not 'crap cheap' - cheap eats," she explains. "It's not that I don't like fine dining but it is not where I get much inspiration. The fact you have to try to understand [what you're eating] winds me up.

"I'd much rather sit down with a good bap filled with pork and apple sauce, or a bao bun, or just a really good plate of pasta. I'd rather spend my money on a really good loaf of bread and a lump of cheese than caviar and lobster."

And if anyone can turn a loaf of bread and a lump of cheese into a banquet, it's Sabrina Ghayour.

Here are three of Sabrina's recipe to try at home.

1. Chicken Shawarmas

These fragrant, heartily spiced flatbreads from the Persian food writer have the crunch of salad and the soft bite of well-cooked chicken. One won't be enough.

Ingredients:

(Serves 2-8)

600g boneless, skinless chicken thigh fillets

1tsp ground turmeric

1tsp ground cinnamon

1tsp ground coriander

1tsp ground cumin

1tsp cayenne pepper

4 fat garlic cloves, crushed

Finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon

Juice of 1/2 lemon

4tbsp Greek yogurt

Olive oil

Maldon sea salt flakes

Freshly ground black pepper

To serve:

6-8 round flatbreads of your choosing (or use pittas)

200g Greek yogurt

4 large tomatoes, sliced, then each slice cut in half

1 large red onion, halved and finely sliced into half-moons

1 small bunch (about 30g) of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Gherkins or cucumbers in brine (as many as you like), finely sliced

Method:

1. Place the chicken thigh fillets in a bowl. Add the spices, garlic, lemon zest and juice, yogurt, a good drizzle of olive oil (about two tablespoons) and a generous amount of salt and black pepper. Using your hands, work the marinade into the chicken, ensuring it is mixed evenly and coats every exposed part of the fillets. Cover the bowl with cling film and marinate for at least 30 minutes, or overnight in the refrigerator.

2. Drizzle a little olive oil into a large frying pan set over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken - reduce the heat if the thighs begin to cook too quickly. Fry gently for 10-12 minutes on each side, or until the thighs have a nice, deep, golden brown crust and are cooked through. When done, remove and cut the thighs widthways very thinly.

3. To serve, lay a flatbread on your work surface. Spread Greek yogurt across the surface. Place a line of tomato half-moons down the middle. Stack some shredded chicken over this, then follow with the onion, coriander and a few slices of pickled cucumbers.

4. Fold up the bottom of the flatbread, then fold over the sides to enclose the filling as tightly as possible. Repeat with the remaining flatbreads and filling. To make eating the shawarmas a little easier, wrap the base with some doubled-up baking paper or a square of kitchen foil, to hold the juices in.

2. Beer Roasted Pork Shoulder

It may take a few hours of low and slow cooking but when you bring it to the table and everyone tucks in, it'll be worth it. Serve with some mixed greens and use the leftovers for tasty lunch wraps the next day.

Ingredients:

(Serves 4-6)

1.5-2kg shoulder of pork

Olive oil

4tsp dried wild oregano (or regular oregano)

3tsp celery salt

3tsp English mustard powder

3tsp coarse black pepper

3tsp ground coriander

650ml pale ale or lager

For the plum sauce:

600g plums, pitted and roughly chopped

3tsp ground coriander

1tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 small bunch (about 15g) tarragon leaves finely chopped

200ml water, plus extra as needed

Maldon sea salt flakes

Freshly ground black pepper

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/Gas Mark 3. Line a large roasting tin with baking paper.

2. Place the pork joint in the prepared tin and, if any string has been used to tie it together, remove. Score the skin, then drizzle over some olive oil and rub it into the meat.

3. Mix the oregano, celery salt, mustard powder, pepper and coriander together in a small bowl. Scatter the mixture all over the pork and use your hands to rub it in, especially on the underside and deep into the skin on top. Pour the beer around the pork and add a little splash on top, ensuring you don't rinse off the spice mixture. Roast for four hours, or until cooked through - check the joint after three hours and if it is browning excessively, cover it with a double layer of kitchen foil for the remaining cooking time.

4. If the skin has not crisped up when the cooking time has elapsed, remove the pork from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 220°C/Gas Mark 7. Using tongs, carefully peel the skin off the meat and lay it flat on a rack over a baking tray. Roast the skin for a further 10-15 minutes, or until crispy. Meanwhile, cover the pork loosely with foil and leave to rest for about 30 minutes.

5. To make the sauce, put the plums, ground coriander and cayenne pepper into a saucepan set over a medium-low heat and season with salt and pepper. Sweat the plums for about 15 minutes, mashing them until they soften and are cooked.

6. Stir in the chopped tarragon and add the water, increase the heat to medium and cook gently for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced to a gravy-like consistency. Add more water if necessary to reach your preferred sauce consistency. Carve or shred your pork and serve with the crackling and plum sauce.

They make for a decadent brunch, comforting late-night snack, and if you halved the slices, could become great pre-dinner snacks for party guests. Tuck in.

3. Fig Toasts

Ingredients:

(Makes 4)

200g thick-cut unsmoked streaky bacon (approximately 14 slices)

1tbsp pul biber chilli flakes, plus extra to serve (available online, or use standard chilli flakes)

4tbsp clear honey

200g ricotta cheese

1 heaped tsp dried thyme, plus extra to serve

zest of 1 unwaxed orange

4 large slices of sourdough bread

4 figs, each cut into 5-6 segments

Maldon sea salt flakes

Freshly ground black pepper

Method:

1. Heat a large frying pan over a high heat. Line a plate with a double layer of kitchen paper. When the frying pan is hot, add the bacon and dry-fry for a few minutes on each side, until the fat has rendered and the bacon is golden brown, completely crisp and can be crumbled with ease. Transfer to the paper-lined plate to drain excess oil.

2. When the bacon is dry, crumble it into a small bowl and crush it finely with a fork. Mix in the pul biber and honey and set aside.

3. Put the ricotta, dried thyme and orange zest into a large bowl, season generously with salt and pepper and whip until smooth and a little aerated.

4. Toast the bread, then divide the ricotta mixture between the slices. Reserve a little of the bacon mixture for sprinkling, then divide the remaining mixture into four portions and spoon one portion over the ricotta on each slice of bread. Arrange the fig slices on top, then sprinkle over the reserved bacon and a little dried thyme and pul biber to serve.

n Feasts by Sabrina Ghayour is published by Mitchell Beazley (octopusbooks.co.uk), priced £20. Photography Kirk Kirkham

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