Sam and Samantha Clark, the chefs and husband-and-wife team behind Moro, the hugely successful Moorish restaurant and the neighbouring tapas and mezze bar Morito in London's buzzing Exmouth Market, are flying over for the Sharjah International Book Fair.
The Sams - as they are collectively known - will be talking about their three books (Moro: The Cookbook, Moro East and Casa Moro) and cooking a few of their classic dishes - slow-cooked chicken with preserved lemons, aubergine and yogurt purée with spiced lamb, mint and pine nuts and yogurt cake with pistachios among them.
Ahead of their first visit to the UAE, they talk about cooking, the success and long-standing appeal of Moro and their culinary influences.
How would you describe the style of cooking at Moro and has it changed since the early days?
The food has its roots in classic Spanish and Middle Eastern dishes, with all the soul and love of home cooking - so, wonderful ingredients, simple recipes and fairly rustic in style. Taste is everything. We change the menu completely every three weeks, so over the past 15 years, we have acquired quite a substantial repertoire. Our cooking style certainly has evolved over this time, perhaps with a deeper understanding of each country's culinary culture, striving to perfect our techniques and a move away from the absolute classics to the more unusual, esoteric dishes. It is important we are always learning new things to keep ourselves, our chefs and our customers stimulated.
Are Middle Eastern and North African cooking and ingredients becoming more widely recognised in the UK?
Many of our customers were completely unfamiliar with ingredients such as sumac and zataar, both of which were on our opening menu. There were certainly no wholesale suppliers able to deliver many of these spices when we first opened and we had to go to the Lebanese and Turkish communities in London to hunt them down. Moro was certainly at the forefront of introducing British taste buds to these exotic ingredients and now they are buzzwords on London's culinary scene.
What is it about Moro that has made the restaurant so enduringly popular?
When Moro opened in 1997 there were very few good Spanish restaurants on the scene. Our main training was at the famous Italian restaurant The River Café in Hammersmith, but we didn't want to open an inferior version of that, so we travelled around Spain, North Africa and the Middle East. We used our River Café training and similar Mediterranean ingredients, adapting them to the southern and eastern Mediterranean and further east. We loved Spanish food but felt it was a bit limited on its own, so decided on the Moorish route to complement our love of the Middle East. Our innovative menu was met with rapturous approval from the day we opened and we have not looked back since. There's always a buzz in the restaurant.
Who or what is your cooking most influenced by these days?
Two cookery writers have heavily influenced us: the wonderful Claudia Roden, and Paula Wolfert. Roden's classic A Book of Middle Eastern Food and Wolfert's The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean and Mediterranean Grains and Greens have been very important books to us. Then, of course, travelling is the most important source of new information.
How important has travelling been to your culinary life? Where else would you like to explore and eat?
Travelling is perhaps the most important part of what we do other than cooking. By visiting a country we can soak up the traditions and culture of each country. This is so important, for when we are back at Moro, we can close our eyes and be transported back to a particular place to recreate the dish in the most authentic way possible. We would love to go to Iran and explore more of Turkey as it is such a vast country.
What is the most memorable meal you have ever cooked or eaten?
New Year's Day in the desert with friends in Faiyum, Egypt, eating bottarga (cured mullet roe) from Alexandria with sweet spring onions, olive oil, lemon and flatbread. The flavours and the views were so exhilarating.
Sam and Samantha Clark will be appearing in the Cookery Corner on November 14 at 5.45pm and the following morning at 11am. Samantha Clark will also be cooking with her sister, the food writer Rose Prince, on November 14 at 11am. The Cookery Corner is located in Hall 5 of the Sharjah International Book Fair at the Sharjah Expo Centre. Seats are allocated on a first come, first served basis and all sessions are free
Recipe: Yogurt cake with pistachios (Serves 6)
- 3 large eggs, separated
- 70g caster sugar
- 2 vanilla pods, split in half lengthways
- 350g yogurt
- finely grated zest of 1 lemon and half of an orange
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 20g plain flour
- 30g shelled, unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/gas mark 4 and put a bain-marie of water in to warm on the middle shelf.
Have ready a 25cm round or square baking dish or cake tin with a solid bottom, preferably stainless-steel or lined with greaseproof paper.
In a bowl, beat the egg yolks with three-fourths of the sugar until thick and pale. Scrape out the seeds from the vanilla pod and mix into the egg-sugar mixture. Add the yogurt, lemon and orange zest, lemon juice and flour and mix well.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites with the remaining sugar until soft peaks form. Gently and evenly fold the whites into the yogurt mixture. Pour the mixture into the baking tin. Place the tin in the bain-marie, making sure that the boiling water comes halfway up the tin and cook for 20 minutes. Next, add the chopped pistachios, sprinkling them gently on top, and continue cooking for a further 20 minutes or until the top is light brown in colour.
The correct consistency of the cake should be a light sponge on top with a wet custard below. Serve with yogurt.
Other authors to look out for
The food writer and author is renowned for her no-nonsense, pragmatic approach to cooking. Her 2010 book Kitchenella is something of an ode to the "heroic female cook" and is filled with simple, thrifty, imaginative dishes, created with a busy family in mind.
During her Simply Cooking demonstration at 11am on Sunday, Prince - who writes a baking column in the UK's Telegraph - will be preparing traditional English teatime dishes; think boiled, dark ginger cake, scones and cocoa and almond cake.
Prince will also be appearing with Sam Clark on November 14 at 11am.
With 26 cookbooks under her belt, Baljekar is something of an expert on the subject of Indian food. Over the course of her career she has written about vegetarian cooking, regional Indian dishes, low-fat Indian food and explored the curries of the world as well as sharing her secrets for preparing real Indian food fast and much more besides.
Baljekar also runs cookery courses in the UK, appears regularly on television, has her own line of gourmet food products and has done numerous cooking demonstrations - so her presentation should be a polished one. She will be making dishes from her award-winning cookbook Great Indian Feasts at 11am on Tuesday and at 7.20pm on November 15.
The chef, cookery teacher and food historian is known for in-depth exploration of food culture and history, specialising in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine.
Riolo's first book, Arabian Delights: Recipes & Princely Entertaining Ideas from the Arabian Peninsula, helped familiarise her audience with Arab dishes and culinary practices; her second, Nile Style: Egyptian Cuisine and Culture won the World Gourmand Award for Best Arab Cuisine Book in the US in 2009. Riolo is also the author of the blog www.diningwithdiplomats.blogspot.com. During her demonstrations (Sunday, Monday and Tuesday at 5.45pm) she will be preparing dishes from her 2010 book The Mediterranean Diabetes Cookbook, which has won praise for its healthy but tasty recipes such as swordfish with aubergine bundles, bruschetta with roasted red pepper purée and calamari stuffed with spinach.
A Fatafeat television network favourite and a senior member of the Egyptian Chefs Association, Hanno will be the first to take to the stage this morning at 11am.
Hanno will be rustling up dishes from her latest Arabic cookbook Wala Bel Ahlam (Only in Dreams). She will also be appearing this evening at 6pm and again tomorrow morning at 11am.