Inspired by a trip to the souks of Kuwait, Mark Hix devises a mouthwatering Middle-Eastern dinner party.

Last month I was in Kuwait having a dry old time. But though it consists mostly of five-star hotels and office blocks, all business-like and air-conditioned, after my evenings on the kiwi juice I was ready to trawl around the markets each morning, wishing I could shop like this at home. Some are outdoors, some in covered souks, but they all seem like they haven't changed for centuries. It's quite a contrast to the ultra-modern buildings.

Last month I was in Kuwait having a dry old time. But though it consists mostly of five-star hotels and office blocks, all business-like and air-conditioned, after my evenings on the kiwi juice I was ready to trawl around the markets each morning, wishing I could shop like this at home. Some are outdoors, some in covered souks, but they all seem like they haven't changed for centuries. It's quite a contrast to the ultra-modern buildings.

I spent ages in the fish market trying to match familiar-looking specimens to their local names. There were weird, prehistoric-looking monkfish with scales; both species, one silvery and one brownish, of pomfret; blue swimming crabs; cuttle fish; stingray; and the local favourite, hamoor, the brown-spotted grouper, with its enormous head and cod-like firm flesh, which appears on every menu. In the end I bought a big fish chart like the ones you see in old-fashioned chippies, except this one was in Arabic.

Seafood is so plentiful that it seems to be regarded as second-rate fodder in the Gulf and you don't see much of it being cooked in restaurants. It seems crazy because the quality of the meat – mostly lamb imported live from Australia and slaughtered locally – isn't a patch on all the freshly caught fish. However, they are very good at disguising its toughness by turning it into minced kebabs, strongly flavoured with local herbs.

More aromatic than the fish and meat markets are the vegetable sections. Big bunches of barbeer (purslane) are sold next to wild thyme with leaves that look like tarragon. Armfuls of mint, parsley and coriander are displayed beside carefully arranged little polystyrene boxes of white courgettes, potatoes, baby pears and guavas that are riper and more fragrant than any you'll find in the UK, unless you have a good Asian grocer nearby. Kuwaitis are justifiably proud of their produce and they will encourage you to sample 20 varieties of preserved and fresh dates. After a couple of hours seeing, smelling, touching and tasting all this gorgeous, unfamiliar produce I couldn't wait to plan a dinner party menu: brilliantly refreshing watermelon soup to start (see over), lamb with spiced vegetables (below) and rosewater jelly (see over). When there's so much produce under your nose it's hard not to be creative, but you shouldn't have trouble finding all these ingredients closer to home.

All recipes serve four

Grilled lamb cutlets with butternut squash and broad bean relish

Although lamb is the staple meat in the Middle East, back home you can't beat our own, tender English lamb. It's worth trying some of the rarer breeds. I recently visited Jane Kallaway's Langley Chase estate in Wiltshire (01249 750095, www.langleychase.co.uk) where she breeds organic Manx Loghtan lambs. These wild-looking, goat-like, animals taste delicious, and you can have the meat delivered to your door.

This recipe is inspired by the colourful conical displays of spices I saw in the outdoor markets in Kuwait.

12 lamb cutlets, French trimmed, or 8 lamb chops
700-800g butternut squash, peeled and seeds removed
60ml olive oil
salt and pepper
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
Half tsp sesame seeds
A good pinch of ground cinnamon
A good pinch of ground cumin
A good pinch of paprika
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and chopped
For the broad bean relish
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
A piece of fresh root ginger (about 20g), peeled and finely chopped
1tsp ground cumin
80ml extra-virgin olive oil
240g shelled weight of fresh or frozen broad beans
20g tomato purée
100ml water
salt and pepper
A few sprigs of mint, leaves removed and chopped
A few sprigs of coriander, chopped

First make the broad bean relish. If using fresh broad beans, cook them in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes, then drain and run them under cold water for a minute or so. Remove the skins if they're tough. (Don't blanch if you're using frozen beans but defrost, then skin.) Fry the onion, garlic, chilli, ginger and cumin slowly in the olive oil until soft. Add the broad beans and tomato purée and season with salt and pepper. Add the water. Simmer gently with a lid for 8-10 minutes. Check it from time to time and add a little more water if it seems too dry. When it is cooked, the relish will have a nice red oily appearance. Add the mint and coriander to the relish and remove the pan from the heat.

Preheat the oven to 430°F/220°C/gas mark 7. Cut the butternut squash into rough 3-4 cm pieces. Heat a roasting tray in the oven with the olive oil. Add the squash, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and roast for 20-30 minutes stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, sesame seeds, spices and thyme, stir well and return to the oven for another 10 minutes.

If your kitchen is equipped with a charcoal grill, this is the moment you've been waiting for, otherwise heat a large thick-bottomed frying pan or ribbed griddle pan (I'd always recommend having one of these). Under the grill would be my last choice of cooking method, as it tends to boil the meat and not retain the juices. Season the cutlets with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side for pink or a couple more for medium-rare meat.

To serve, arrange the squash in a pile on the plate and lay the cutlets on top. Spoon the relish around or serve separately.

Iced minted watermelon soup with feta

In the summer we often have an iced tomato soup with baby mozzarella and basil on the menu in the restaurants. This is a version based on an interesting combination of local Kuwaiti flavours. Watermelon in all sizes and shapes, ranging from long marrow size to enormous globes, with yellow or green skins, was abundant.

The markets also boasted a wide range of local sheep and goats' cheeses. Some were woven like balls of wool sitting in milk, others were pressed like traditional feta. Grenadine, the syrup used for making tequila sunrise, is alcoholic so wouldn't be used in Kuwait. Cranberry juice or pomegranate molasses are alternative ways of adding a little tartness and colour to the soup.

This makes a good dinner-party starter and you can make the soup the day before and chill it.

1kg ripe watermelon (seedless preferably), skinned
2tbsp grenadine, cranberry juice or pomegranate molasses
To serve
A few sprigs of mint, leaves removed and washed
2tbsp olive oil
60-80g good quality feta (avoid canned) or similar, cut into rough 1cm pieces

If you possess a thing called a Parisian scoop (I found mine the other day rusting in a box along with all sorts of other redundant catering college gadgets), scoop about half of the melon into balls and put to one side. If not, cut into 2cm cubes. Either way, keep the waste. Blend these leftover bits with the rest of the melon in a liquidiser with the grenadine or cranberry juice or pomegranate molasses until smooth. Strain through a sieve. Put the soup into the freezer for a couple of hours to give it a slushy consistency, or leave in the fridge overnight. Keep the balls or cubes in the fridge, too.

Blend the mint leaves and olive oil in a liquidiser. To serve, stir the soup well and spoon into a bowl. Garnish with the balls or cubes of watermelon, a few pieces of feta and drizzle with the mint purée.

Rosewater and raspberry jelly

Rosewater isn't often found in English kitchens unless the cook has a taste for Turkish delight but its subtle flavour gives desserts a wonderful perfume. In the UK you can buy rosewater in Asian and Middle Eastern shops and good supermarkets. In markets in the Middle East you'll see on display boxes of the fragrant red petals carefully arranged and wrapped in plastic film, ready to take home and infuse.

This dessert looks very pretty but it is deceptively simple to make the day before a dinner party. It's a very kiddy-friendly party treat too, although adults are enjoying it since I put it on the menu at Pasha in South Kensington.

400ml water
200g caster sugar
Approx 12g – 4 sheets leaf gelatine
40ml rosewater
125 fresh raspberries

Bring the water to the boil, add the sugar, stir until it has dissolved and remove from the heat. Soak the gelatine in cold water – in a baking tray works well – for a minute or so until it has softened. Squeeze out the water, add the gelatine to the syrup and stir until it has dissolved. Pour in the rosewater, then leave the jelly somewhere cool but do not let it set.

Divide half the raspberries between 4 individual jelly moulds (coffee cups or similar will do), then pour the cooled, but not set, jelly in up to half way. Leave moulds in the fridge until firm, and repeat with the rest of the raspberries and still-not-set jelly. Put the jellies into the fridge for an hour or so to set.

To turn out, fill a bowl with almost-boiling water, dip the moulds in briefly, loosen the top of the jelly a little with your finger, turn the moulds over gently and carefully turn out on to plates. Serve with some thick double cream.

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