a love affair begins


there are some dishes which, just from glancing through a recipe, you know you will love. and once you try them they become an instant old favourite.

this happened to me a couple of years ago when i first tried this recipe for bulgar and spinach pilaf with labneh and chilli roast tomatoes from diana henry’s crazy water pickled lemons book.

labneh is an old favourite of mine, first discovered via the moro books. harissa is also something that, once discovered, instantly became part of the group of foods where, if i don’t have any in the house i get very nervous…

this turkish dish, served in its entirety is divine. however, it is also time-consuming (the labneh needs starting the day before) so it is good to know that many of the components are good in their own right. so, if you do make it – and you must – double up on those bits which you think you’ll particularly like. in my case i always make extra harissa tomatoes. they are particularly good with grilled oily fish such as mackerel.

diana henry’s bulgar and spinach pilaf with labneh and chilli roast tomatoes (serves 4 as a main, 8 as a side)

1 onion, finely chopped

4t olive oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed

175g bulgar wheat

300ml stock

salt & pepper

300g spinach

fresh mint leaves


250g greek yoghurt

1 clove garlic, crushed

pinch of salt


12 plum tomatoes

4t olive oil

2t balsamic vinegar

1-1 ½t harissa (i use the belazu rose harissa)

2t soft brown sugar


2 onions, finely sliced

30ml olive oil

½t cinnamon

1 ½t soft brown sugar

juice of ½ lemon

labneh - start this the day before. line a sieve with a piece of muslin and set over a bowl. mix the yoghurt with the salt and pour into the sieve. refrigerate and leave for 24 hours - the yoghurt will lose some liquid and become much firmer. when ready add the crushed garlic and mix well (abby edit: i like to add a chopped green chilli too).

tomatoes - halve the tomatoes and place cut side upwards in a roasting tray. mix the olive oil, balsamic, harissa, sugar and salt and pepper. coat the tomatoes with the mixture and roast at 180c for 45-60 mins. they can be added to the pilaf hot or cold so you can do this in advance.

pilaf - sauté the chopped onion in half the olive oil. when soft add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. add the bulgar, stock and season. bring to the boil. turn down the heat and simmer for 15 mins (mine takes much less time so be careful). cover and let the bulgar fluff up for 10 mins.

wash the spinach and remove the stalks. cook in a covered pan until they wilt. squeeze out any excess moisture, chop and sauté in the remaining olive oil. stir into the bulgar.

onions - cook the onions in very hot oil until golden brown with crispy bits. at the end add the cinnamon and sugar and once the sugar has melted and begun to caramelise add the lemon juice and salt and pepper.

layer up the different components in a broad shallow bowl - bulgar, half the mint leaves, tomatoes, mint. break the labneh into lumps and scatter over the tomatoes. top with the onions and a glug of olive oil