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Good sense of hummus; Stephen is co-owner and chef at T&Cake Cafe, Almondbury.

Byline: Stephen JACKSON

AS the weather (fingers crossed) improves, we're all starting to think about dusting down the garden furniture and making those calls, inviting people to pop over for a lovely Summer evening's barbecue.

Outdoor eating is one of life's true delights.

Whether it's a sumptuous multi-course all-dayer or simply a grilled steak off the mini-barbecue on a work night, the feeling of being outdoors adds whole new levels of enjoyment to a meal.

The fresh air, the scents of the garden, and the smoky savoury aromas from the grill all combine to give a wonderful rush to the senses.

For us up here in the north of England, it's a short, fleeting season, and so we must be ready for it - at any given moment we must be prepared to fling off the cagoule and leg it barefoot across the lawn towards the shed, ready to fire up the barbecue.

I'm on a bit of a Levant kick at the moment. The food of Greece, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel is perfect for summery eating.

There's bags of flavour here, with zesty citrus marinades, grilled meats with those incredible crispy burnt edges, and fat sizzling fillets of fish.

There are those lovely warm herbs such as dill, oregano and parsley, working their sensuous magic in sauces, salads and sprinkles. Subtle spices are at play, too; cumin, coriander and chili all blend in with the other ingredients to make for a most exciting melange.

This week, we're dipping into the world of dips. Whenever we have barbecues, we tend to concentrate the cooking element on the main courses, and start with a simple meze or tapasstyle opener.

The emphasis is on enjoyment and conversation, so you don't want to be permanently stuck in the kitchen, listening to the chink of glasses and laughter wafting in from the garden. You need to be out there too!

For me, a few little nibbly things are just the ticket.

Charcuterie is always a good idea. Slivers of salami, folds of sweet ham and smoky chorizo are perfect for getting the appetite going, and are great with chilled rose or Cava. Little cubes of terrine, or an open jar of pate are always welcome, and a selection of good olives, and perhaps even a few chunks of goat's cheese can also add to festivities. Even a couple of bowls of some home-spiced nuts would suffice before you get on with the serious business of grilling the meats.

For me, bread is essential, whether it's a really good sourdough loaf, a crisp baguette, or some form of flatbread.

It's great for mopping up the barbecue juices way to start proceedings, alongside some dips.

And here's where we take a trip across the Med to the land of the meze.

Essential to any such spread are the bowls of tasty dipping things, from silky labneh yoghurt to the intense fishy taramasalata.

There's the Greek classic, Tzatziki, with its cooling herby cucumber flavours, and there's hummus, our dip of the day.

There are myriad recipes for this dish, but it's essentially a puree of chickpeas, enlivened with anything from lemon to chili and all stations in between. I'd recently noticed a recipe from one of my favourite cooks, Madalene, at The British Larder, and as we're just approaching the end of asparagus season, I felt the time to try this recipe I fiddled about with the ingredients a little, making it a bit more garlic-y and herbed, but it's up to you how you refine it to your taste.

Alongside, we're making our own pita breads for dipping. It's such an easy recipe, you'll wonder why you kept buying packet pitas for all these years. They are wonderfully soft, puffy little pillows of pure pleasure, and perfect for accompanying all sorts of alfresco meals.

Tuck some shredded cabbage and grilled lamb inside one, or roll one around a nice succulent sausage. Or simply, as here, griddle them until crispy at the edges, and dunk them into a big bowlful of this delicious trans-European hummus, taking us from the dusty heat of the Levant all the way to the asparagus fields of England.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Jun 5, 2015
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