Levantine Partridge

I love preserved lemons. And I love za’atar. They’re packed with flavour, and the smell alone is enough to transport me to far off lands. On dank, grey February days, that’s often just the tonic I need — the perfect solution to those late winter blues.

Serves 2 greedy people.

2 partridges

¼ large preserved lemon, or ½ small one, chopped

4 teaspoons lemon juice mix from the jar of preserved lemons (or just fresh squeezed lemon juice)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon za’atar *

4–6 dried apricots, chopped

2  garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

½ small onion, peeled and chopped

150g puy lentils

200g baby spinach, roughly shredded

small bunch flatleaf parsley or coriander, chopped (I used both, actually)

125ml white wine

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200˚C or gas mark 6.

Rinse the lentils in a sieve, looking out for pebbles and dirt, set aside.

Put the apricots, garlic and onion into the partridges’ cavities.

Mix the liquid from the preserved lemon (or lemon juice) with the olive oil and za’atar, and pour liberally over the birds, using your hands to rub in the mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Place on a baking tray and put in the oven for about 45 minutes, basting occasionally.

Once the partridges have been in the oven for 25 minutes, see instructions on side of the lentil box and cook them in water accordingly (usually it’s two parts water to one of lentils, i.e. 150g lentils to 300ml water, but check!). This should take about 20 minutes.

By this time, the partridges should be ready — delicious and golden and juices running clear. Scoop out the onions, garlic and apricots and leave them in the pan. Set the birds aside on a warm plate to rest. Add the wine to the pan and deglaze to make a sauce.

Stir the chopped preserved lemon and the flat-leaf or coriander into the lentils. Then stir in the shredded baby spinach until it’s wilted. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Serve the partridges on a bed of the lentils, surrounded with the jus and with extra flat-leaf parsley or coriander sprinkled on top, and a wedge of lemon on the side.

TIP: Za’atar is a Middle Eastern blend of spices and herbs- predominantly ground sumac, roasted sesame seeds, oregano and thyme. It is readily available at most Middle Eastern stores and on line.