When Anissa Helou isn’t enjoying breakfast or lunch out on the terrace of her new home in Sicily, you’ll find her at the white Fenix countertop behind her stainless steel island, which doubles as her workspace. It’s one of her favorite features of the kitchen in her new house, where she moved just a few months ago.
Her other favorite feature—apart from the sea view? “The floor to ceiling spice cabinet with all the spice jars from my travels. I have way too much to probably last me if not a lifetime, at least a couple of years until we can start traveling again,” Helou says.
We caught up with the chef and cookbook author to find out what she regularly relies on for fast and flavorful cooking these days, including her go-to quick dinner, pantry staple and cooking tool.
Tuesday Night Dinner: Palestinian Mussakhan
One of my new favorite dishes is the Palestinian mussakhan, which I prepare kind of differently and much faster than the traditional recipe. I first slice the onion and put the slices in a mixing bowl. I add extra virgin olive oil, sumac and salt to taste and toss the sliced onion until well blended. I do the same with the chicken thighs (I prefer them to breasts) and let both marinate for an hour or two. I then brush the bottom of a baking dish with extra virgin olive oil and I lay either a large piadina (when I am in Sicily) or lavash (when I am in London) on the baking dish. I brush the bread with more extra virgin olive oil. I then spread the onions over the bread, then the chicken over the onions and roast the whole thing in the oven (heated to 450°F) for 45 minutes. If I am in a hurry, I don’t let the onion and chicken marinate and put them in the oven straight away after seasoning them. Within an hour or so, I have a great dinner on the table.
Favorite Pantry Staple: EVOO and Fleur de Sel
It has to be very good extra-virgin olive oil and fleur de sel. I don’t think I can live without either.
Unexpected Favorite Kitchen Tool: Hand Blender
I have had one in my drawer for years but only recently started using it to pulverize the stewed fruit that I use in my ice cream. It started when I began making a lot of ice cream during the lockdown. Normally, I would have used a food processor to pulverize the fruit, but one day I thought it would be quicker and less fuss to use a hand blender and I got mine from the drawer. I then realized that it was really easy to use and that it did a great job. Possibly even better than the processor and now I love it. In fact, I like it so much that I bought a more powerful one in stainless steel to replace my old plastic one.
Listen to Helou discuss fluffy falafel, camel meat and the best way to store spices here on Milk Street Radio.
Watch Helou teach Christopher Kimball how to make toasted pasta with rice here on Milk Street TV.