AS her 100% vegetarian cookbook Bazaar is released, British-Iranian chef, and self-confessed carnivore, Sabrina Ghayour chats to Taste...

Think of Middle Eastern food and you probably imagine big platters of succulent lamb, spiced chicken and meaty tagines - and lots of it.

Iranian-British chef Sabrina Ghayour is a "die-hard meat-lover". Being born in Tehran and having grown up in the UK, meat has just always been a huge part of her family's culture and a staple on the dinner table (and breakfast and lunch, for that matter). "In a Middle Eastern or Persian family, if you don't have meat on the table there would be suspicion: 'What's going on? Does she need money? Did you drop the meat? Is the kebab still grilling?'" she says with a laugh.

So it's perhaps surprising that, after the success of her previous cookbooks Persiana and Feasts, Ghayour is now back with her third title, Bazaar - and (to the apparent dismay of some of her social media followers) there isn't a kebab in sight.

It's a collection of colourful, generous vegetarian recipes, ranging from unmistakably Persian aubergine and caramalised onion kuku, to butternut baklava pies and the 'world's best' toastie.

It's not as radical a shift as it may seem for Britain's best-known Persian cook though; the 42-year-old is eating a lot less meat than she used to and has discovered a real passion for plant-based cooking. In fact, she's gone from eating meat every day to reducing her intake by 40%. "Maybe age has something to do with it, but I can't digest as much as I used to, I don't crave it as much as I used to, it makes me feel heavy and sluggish," she says.

There are other reasons to cut down on meat of course; it's better for the planet, animal welfare, our wallets and often our own health - and eating too much is a pretty big issue in Western culture too.

"We didn't have meat in all of our cultures in times of war, famine and suffering, and when we did have a bit of money, meat was the first thing a family would put on the table, as a sign of, 'Hey! It's good times!'," says Ghayour. "So in the Middle East, especially because they've been through constant war after war, in hundreds of thousands of years of history, that has really impacted us [the food eaten], probably a little bit excessively."

She says her journey to more plant-based cooking has happened quite organically. "I started chucking cabbage into my pasta - ribboning it up and frying it - as you would with clams - with garlic and chilli, lemon zest, heavy on the black pepper and some pecorino," she says. "And I was like, 'God, this is stupendously delicious!'

"Converting people in my family and cooking for my mother [who lives with her] is a different ball game. I would say, 'Dinner's got no meat in it', and she'd be like, 'OK, I'll have some ham, I'll open a tin of tuna'," Ghayour tells, laughing. "But now she's the same as me - as long as there's lots of flavour, she doesn't care."

But, does it require a lot more skill to make vegetarian food delicious? "I just think you have to give it a bit of thought, people just need a bit of inspiration, even vegetarians - they're probably sick of eating mushroom risotto in restaurants."

Although still true to her heritage in many ways, Ghayour's signature style has evolved pretty far from classic Iranian fare. "If you look at Lebanese and Turkish food, there are loads of vegetables - we don't really have that in Persian culture. We're very meat-heavy and we don't use spices at all, apart from saffron because we cultivate it, and a pinch of cumin in one dish.

"We don't like chilli or garlic, unless you live in the region that grows garlic," she adds. "I've probably confused the hell out of people because of my love for those things. We have one salad in Iran. One salad. But we do eat our body weight in herbs."

There's plenty of Middle Eastern influence in general at work in Baazer, although not exclusively. Think feta, pul biber, and oregano macaroni, or ras el hanout and buttermilk sweet loaf cake.

But really, her new book is a homage to the infinite possibilities from the plant-based world. "These are the most natural products on the earth that are bountiful, plentiful and not hard to season well. There are nuts for texture, dried fruit for sweeteners - you can char a cabbage and cauliflower leaves, using the whole cauliflower, and it's totally delicious."

That doesn't mean Ghayour's latest culinary venture is all about joining the healthy bandwagon though: "There are lots of people who slate salad-eaters and lots of people who slate cake-eaters - I'm the scales of justice, with cake in one hand and salad in the other, because that's the happiest I've ever been body-wise in my life.

"Once in a blue moon, I might say, 'Right I've chubbed up a bit lately, it's time to reign it in'."

She adds: "There's a rice recipe and it's better with butter; it doesn't need butter but it's SO good because it makes the grains silky and makes the sauce completely different. So what? I'll have a salad on the side."

What she really wants to get across is that her flavour-packed veggie food is all pretty simple, and always quick ("Life is too short").

"Let's not blow it out of proportion, it's not Michelin-starred, I'm not some culinary French institute, this is good, simple home-cooking," she says.

And the book is totally written with meat-eaters in mind (she assures she'll never be fully vegetarian): "I do love meat, but I love better meat, less often." A message we should probably all be taking on board right now.


Shake up your soup game with this hearty recipe.

Sabrina Ghayour is fussy when it comes to soups.

"A soup should be more than just warming - I like layers of flavour and different textures," she says in her new book, Bazaar.

"This soup is easy to make and hits all the spots you didn't even know you had."


(Serves 4)

2tsp fennel seeds

Vegetable oil or ghee

50g fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped or grated

1 onion, diced

500g carrots, scrubbed and cut into rough chunks

2 fat garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1tsp turmeric

2L boiling water

Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 2 tbsp)

150g uncooked red lentils

4tbsp labneh or thick Greek yogurt

4tsp sesame oil

Maldon sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

Couple of pinches of pul biber (red pepper flakes) and/or chilli flakes to garnish


1. Toast the fennel seeds in a large, dry saucepan over a medium heat for two minutes, then drizzle in a little vegetable oil or ghee and add the ginger and onion. Saute until the onion begins to soften, without letting it brown. Add the carrot to the pan and stir-fry until the edges begin to soften.

2. Now add the garlic, turmeric and a generous amount of salt and pepper to the saucepan and mix well. Pour over the boiling water, adjust the heat to bring the mixture to a simmer and simmer gently, without a lid, for 45 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then blitz the mixture using a handheld blender or transfer to a food processor or blender.

3. Return the soup to the pan if necessary, adjust the seasoning, then stir in the lemon juice. Set the pan over a medium heat and stir in the red lentils. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30-40 minutes, or until the lentils are soft. If the soup seems too thick, blitz half the mixture using the hand-held blender, food processor or blender. Divide the soup between four bowls. Dollop one tablespoon of labneh into each bowl and drizzle one teaspoon of sesame oil over the top. Finish with a sprinkling of pul biber/pepper/chilli flakes and serve.


This 'frittata' is packed with greens and great for on-the-go.

If you've never heard of a kuku, it's a bit like a frittata, packed with green herbs or veg, and it's a healthy staple in Iran.

Sabrina Ghayour's recipe includes cabbage, giving this Persian classic a British twist.


(Serves 4-6)

Vegetable oil

2 red onions, halved and thinly sliced into half moons

200g curly kale, tough stalks discarded,finely chopped

200g cabbage greens, cut into thin ribbons and roughly chopped

2tsp garlic granules

1tsp (heaped) ground fenugreek

1tsp (heaped) turmeric

8 large eggs

2tsp baking powder

2tbsp plain flour

2tbsp thick Greek yogurt

2 generous handfuls of dried barberries

40g pine nuts

200g feta cheese, little chunks no larger than 1cm picked off by hand

Maldon sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper


1. Heat a large saucepan over a medium heat. Pour in enough vegetable oil to coat the base of the pan and allow it to heat up, then add the onion and fry gently for a few minutes, stirring from time to time, until soft and cooked through.

2. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the kale. Stir-fry for two minutes, or until completely softened and cooked through. Add the cabbage greens and stir-fry for five to six minutes, then add the garlic granules and spices, season generously with salt and pepper and mix well.

3. Cook until the cabbage is wilted and cooked through (you are not looking to retain the texture or keep the greens al dente for this dish). Once cooked, take the pan off the heat and leave to cool a little.

4. Preheat the oven to 200C (180C fan), Gas Mark 6. Line a 16 x 30cm ovenproof dish with baking paper. Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and whisk. Add the baking powder, flour, yogurt and also a little salt, if desired, and mix well. Add the barberries and pine nuts and, once the greens have cooled slightly, incorporate them into the egg mixture a little at a time, mixing well between each addition.

5. Lastly, gently fold in the feta pieces. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish and use a spatula to ensure the ingredients are evenly distributed across the dish. Bake for 30 minutes (check after 25 minutes), or until the top is golden and beginning to brown and a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean of raw egg. Allow to cool slightly, then cut it into slabs to serve.


Pomegranate seeds, pistachio nuts, sumac and chilli meets soft, creamy cheese.

Sometimes, you just want to make something impressive-looking, be it for friends or a special occasion - and Sabrina Ghayour's 'pom-bombe' makes a pretty spectacular centrepiece (just imagine bringing this to the coffee table, for guests to dip crudites or crackers in).

It's pretty easy to whip up, although you'll need a bit of patience to stud the cheese with the nuts and fruit.


(Serves 4-6)

350g soft goats' cheese (chevre with the rind cut off also works)

2tsp (heaped) sumac

15g chives, snipped or thinly sliced

Finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed orange

1-2tsp pul biber chilli flakes

200g pomegranate seeds

50g pistachio nut slivers or 75g roughly chopped whole pistachio nuts

Freshly ground black pepper


1. Mix the cheese, sumac, chives, orange zest, pul biber and a generous seasoning of pepper in a mixing bowl until evenly combined. Lay a large sheet of cling film on your work surface. Using a spatula, scrape the cheese mixture out of the bowl and into the centre of the cling film. Gather the four corners of the clingfilm together, expel any air and twist the cling film just above the top of the ball to secure the cheese mixture. Use your hands to form the mixture inside the cling film into a ball.

2. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or, preferably, freeze for about 10 minutes.

3. Remove the ball from the refrigerator or freezer, discard the clingfilm and place the ball on a serving plate. Stud the surface of the ball all over with the pomegranate seeds. Scatter the pistachios on top and around the base, studding the ball with a few pieces wherever you can. Cover with cling film and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Bazaar: Vibrant Vegetarian And Plant-Based Recipes by Sabrina Ghayour, photography by Kris Kirkham, is published by Mitchell Beazley, priced £26. Available now (