Aika Levins’ recipes for a hybrid Japanese/Middle Eastern barbecue

Meera Sodha’s vegan recipe for oyster mushroom tacos

At home, I nearly always prefer to cook something easy, and invariably turn to the comforting Japanese flavours of my childhood. Since starting work at the Barbary in London, however, I often find myself incorporating live-fire cooking and the flavours of the Middle East and north Africa. These are the sort of dishes I make at home for an impromptu barbecue; simple food that packs a punch, but with minimal prep, so you can spend more time with your guests.

Glazed chicken skewers

These are also good made with a meaty fish (monkfish works particularly well), or substitute the chicken for king oyster mushrooms and use vegetarian mushroom sauce instead of oyster sauce. You could also cook the skewers in a griddle pan on the hob for three to four minutes a side, glazing frequently as in the method below.

Prep 15 min
Cook 15 min
Makes 12 skewers

400g boneless skinless chicken thighs
Salt and white pepper
1 bunch spring onions, trimmed and cut into 2cm lengths, green tops reserved and thinly sliced to garnish
ml oyster sauce
ml pomegranate molasses
ml rice vinegar

Cut the chicken into roughly 2cm bite-sized cubes and season lightly with salt and white pepper. Thread on to 12 skewers, alternating the pieces of chicken with the spring onion.

For the glaze, mix the oyster sauce, pomegranate molasses and rice vinegar.

Grill the skewers on a medium-high heat for three to four minutes on each side, glazing after the first turn (a pastry brush is useful here). Continue turning and basting the skewers for about another minute, until the chicken is cooked through and has a lacquered glaze. Remove from the grill and serve garnished with thinly sliced spring onion tops, if desired.

Sesame and seaweed flatbreads

These quick flatbreads require no yeast, making them an ideal side for any meal. I like to use a mix of white and black sesame seeds for colour and texture, but you could easily play around with the flavours, depending on what you’re serving them with. The breads can also be cooked in a pan on the hob.

Prep 15 min
Cook 10 min
Makes 6

350g self-raising flour, plus a little extra for dusting
½ tsp fine salt
½ tbsp baking powder
20g black and/or white sesame seeds
2 sheets nori seaweed, crushed (tear into small pieces, then rub between your palms, or blitz briefly)
350ml natural yoghurt
Toasted sesame oil, to finish (optional)

Mix the flour, salt, baking powder, sesame seeds and nori in a bowl. Add the yoghurt and mix until just combined; you aren’t trying to develop the gluten, so be careful not to overwork the mix or the dough might be tough.

Divide the dough into six even portions and roll each one into a round about ¾cm thick. Grill on the barbecue on a medium heat until lightly charred and cooked through. If you like, brush with toasted sesame oil to finish.

Smacked cucumber and radish salad on tahini

The smacking of vegetables is a Chinese technique that not only breaks them down into bite-sized pieces, but also bruises them, so they soak up the dressing better, and gives them rough, uneven edges that help catch the sauce. Use rice vinegar if you can’t find Chinkiang black vinegar, which is is widely available from Asian grocers.

Prep 30 min
Marinate 30 min+
Serves 4

100g tahini
A squeeze of lemon
1 large
250g radishes
40ml soy sauce
40ml Chinkiang black vinegar, or rice vinegar
½ tsp caster sugar
1 small garlic clove, peeled and finely grated
Crispy chilli oil

To make the sauce, put the tahini in a bowl and stir in 70ml water and a squeeze of lemon. To begin with, it will look as if you’ve made a mistake, but as you start to incorporate the water into the tahini, it will form a thick sauce. Season to taste with salt, and put in the fridge.

Cut the cucumber into roughly 4cm lengths and lightly smack them with a rolling pin to break into chunks. You may need to break the pieces down a little further by tearing them into bite-sized pieces by hand. Give the radishes the same treatment, cracking them in half with the rolling pin.

In a bowl, mix the soy sauce, black vinegar, sugar and garlic, then add the cucumber and radishes, and stir to coat. Leave to marinate for 30 or so minutes (or up to a few hours), stirring every so often.

To serve, spread the tahini sauce on a plate, and top with the cucumber and radishes, leaving most of the pickling liquor behind. Drizzle with as much crispy chilli as you dare, and serve.