I had the idea of wrapping quails in vine leaves and smoking them for a while now. A simple smoking would have been a delicious approach for these little birds but I wanted to introduce a few Middle Eastern flavours. Baharat is a North African spice mix that, along with za’atar, have been staples in my spice cupboard for many years. The exotic warmth they bring to a dish is magical.
The procedure for this recipe really is quite simple. Make the marinade, allow the quails to take an overnight soak in it, drain then wrap them in vine leaves and smoke the little darlings. Use any wood you can find for the smoking. Just make sure it’s ok to use, of course. With this recipe I used malee sawdust. I also have a bag of hickory chips so it would have worked as well. Believe me, there’s a reward at the end of your efforts. The quails are juicy, aromatic and oh-so-smokey.
serves 4 as a starter, or 2 as a main
Place the oil, onion, tomatoes, garlic, lime juice & zest, baharat, turmeric & salt into the bowl of a food processor. Blitz until smooth. Marinate the quails in this mixture overnight.
Remove the quails from the marinade and place, breast-side up, in the centre of each vine leaf. Tie its legs together with twine. Sprinkle each quail with 1 teaspoon of za’atar. Bring the sides of the vine leaf in and wrap it tightly. Secure with twine if you wish, but it isn’t necessary. Place each quail, breast-side down, onto a plate and refrigerate whilst you prepare the smoker.
Place the quails, breast-side down, onto the smoking rack, cover and allow to smoke over low heat for 25 minutes. Turn the quails over very carefully and smoke for a further 15-25 minutes, depending on your heat. The quails will be ready when pierced with a knife and any juices run clear.
Allow the quails to rest for 5-10 minutes before sprinkling with za-atar and sumac. Serve with labne drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, za’atar and sumac and a wedge of lemon on the side.