"Dubai’s a really tough place to be cooking Middle Eastern food. Middle Easterners have not embraced anything modern about their cuisine or any adaptation, so this is a major challenge. You can’t just jump into it and throw molecular cuisine at them because they’d freak out, and I’d freak out too! So I’ve realised over the last four years you have to tread gently."
Those words at the top come from an interview with Greg Malouf shortly before he opened his new restaurant in one of Dubai's swish hotels. I've headlined it because this is a lucky dip post - the book being New Feast, which he wrote with his ex wife Lucy, and the recipe being Fatima's fingers with goat's cheese, lemon, tarragon and thyme, - Fatima's fingers - or 'cigars' being a common snack everywhere in the Middle-East, Greece, Spain and North Africa. Well anywhere in the old Ottoman Empire really. And today this very trendy cuisine has been adopted by us westerners and changed to suit our tastes. With Greg Malouf leading the pack - and this recipe is a prime example. I mean it's got tarragon, thyme and goat's cheese, none of which are really Middle- Eastern. Moreover he uses spring roll wrappers rather than filo because they "hold up better to deep-frying". Fatima's fingers on the left and, on the right, from the June Coles Magazine Spinach and ricotta filo cigars with herb salad. Filo pastry this time and a more traditional filling but served with a Persian style herb salad and sitting on a yoghurt mint sauce. Also pretty classy really. Certainly not something commonplace in my youth.
And to top it off this particular dish it seems, was featured on the Zahira menu in Dubai and was extremely popular. This is a photograph taken by a Trip Advisor customer showing how it was served there. I say 'was' because Malouf left there just a year later than his debut. Since then he has been here, there and everywhere, but I think is now back in Dubai at a different hotel - Grosvenor House at the Marina with a new restaurant called Bushra. So next time you are stopping off in Dubai (if only) check it out - if he's still there that is. He seems to move around a lot.
At some point - around the first Dubai venture I think, in 2017 - he wrote this most beautiful book, crammed full of delicious food - and all vegetarian. Mind you I confess that so far I have not made much from it, which is very silly of me because there are so many tempting things within - like these Feta cheese straws with Turkish chilli. Next time I have the family around here I am going to make these - and maybe Fatima's fingers too for everyone to nibble on when they arrive. In true family fashion they always want something to eat as soon as they arrive and these may well fit the bill. The cheese straws are not filo but a pastry you make with feta cheese and chilli.
So Fatima's fingers. Who was Fatima and why her fingers? Well Fatima was the daughter of Mohammed, who was married off to his cousin Ali - from whence, I think, comes one of the two strands of Islam through her children; and her fingers are reputed to have had long fingernails - hence the fact that the pastries are open ended. Her fingers though are also featured in the Hamsa - a good luck charm which has more ancient connections as well and is also featured in the Jewish religion. There is often an eye in the middle as the charm is said to ward off the evil eye. The five fingers, amongst other things and depending on which religion you are dealing with - represent the five pillars of Islam.
There might also be a connection to the maryam plant which is also called Fatima's fingers - and if you see the picture you can clearly see why - well fingers anyway, even if there are many more than five. And there is also a connection with women because it is infused to make a concoction which is supposed to help labour pains.
Greg Malouf himself uses the hams design to decorate his North African eggplant pie with pimento sugar - a vegetarian version of the Moroccan chicken B'stilla.
I don't think I can say much more around this particular lucky dip. There are endless recipes on the net for filo cigars filled with everything from prawns to chocolate. Jamie just rolls the pastry around some carrots for his Crispy Moroccan carrots - well it's not quite that simple, but almost. So here are just a few more examples to show you the possibilities: Filo cigars with pomegranate and cream from chef John Barthelmess and featured by delicious.; Sweet pastry cigars with almond and cinnamon filling from Yotam Ottolenghi and Fatima's fingers from Dish NZ. The green bits are cucumber. These are not all that different but they looked so spectacular I couldn't resist.
So Fatima's fingers - commonplace and special all at the same time. For everyone, from those that can afford to dine in plush Dubai hotels to those who shop in Coles.