Sunday, September 23, 2012

Open Cookbook: Jerusalem

FOR my birthday I received the new cookbook of the London-based chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi: Jerusalem. It came in the big Ebury Press edition, a picturesque clothbound tome whose dimensions do justice to the big photos within and which is altogether a finely put together experience.
Pomegranate fruit from the Greek island Simi
Karelj, 2008
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

These photos, in their scope of subject and scale, mirror the text. In the introduction and in the little prefaces to the recipes, the authors endeavour to recognize the divers communities in Jerusalem not only for their cuisines, but also as fellow citizens whose rights are sometimes in crisis. Unfortunately, the city's inhabitants and its very character is being threatened — increasingly — by a political and theocratic monopoly.

The truest test of a cookbook — aside from a quick note of its illustrations, difficulty of techniques, fairness to the Queen's English, and the kind of cuisine which it offers  — is, of course, to try the recipes. There are many recipes which look highly tempting: the hot yoghurt and barley soup, the kibbeh, the quinces with lamb stuffing and pomegranate seeds and fractured coriander leaf, the mutabbaq where soft white cheese plumply reposes underneath rectangles of resinous-coloured phyllo pastry, and so on. There are many vegetarian dishes, and in its detailed consciousness of health (implicit in the ingredients) and ethics (free-range chickens, sustainable fish, forest stewardship council seal, etc.) the book brings the caricatured demographic of the Guardian — where some of these recipes have been published — very much to mind. I, of course, approve; and especially in the political aspect I am glad of this thoughtfulness even if I, the consumer, do not practice it.

The "stuffed onions" which I decided to attempt are layers of the root vegetable, which are curled up around a tablespoonful of spiced rice and pine nut stuffing into an oval cigar-like form, then simmered in a pan for an hour and a half to two hours in stock.

FIRST came the shopping, which I did at a nearby Turkish gida. There were dauntingly huge onions, like grapefruits, there; I bought these but found out at home that, these being 450ish to 580ish grams, the 'large onions' mentioned in the recipe should in fact weigh half as much. The shallots were inexpensive; the pine nuts were not there and so I bought cashew nuts instead, which were fairly expensive. But, regarding the costs, I think that Tamimi's and Ottolenghi's recipes are intended to be fine cooking too, hence the relatively long ingredient lists; and the staple/inexpensive foods in an Israeli or British store or market will of course not always be the staple foods in a Turkish and German one.

Photograph: View of Jerusalem, by AlexS (2004)
Licenced under GNU Free Documentation License and CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As for the spices — cloves, cumin, allspice, dried mint, parsley, and fresh mint — they were either easy to find or we already had them at home. The benefit of purchasing the dried mint in form of a large bag of unchopped leaves, from the tea section, was that they have a brilliant, fresh scent when handled which even stands up to the onion fragrance which permeates the kitchen. The pomegranate molasses (the bottle said "grenadine molasses," which I thought was a French cognate, but which might reflect the fact that a pomegranate syrup is customarily called 'grenadine') were in the aisle with orange blossom water, chutneys, etc. I taste-tested them later since they were something new; they are like rose hips or, obviously, pomegranates in terms of taste, runnier than liquid honey, and lovely deep brown.

IT is a tribute to the recipe that despite the miscalculations and adjustments that I made, despite the employment of bouillon powder in lieu of true stock, and despite my scorching the shallots and other ingredients of the stuffing in the pan where they were frying separately, the final dish turned out to be delicious and filling. My family enthusiastically ate it up, too. However . . . there is some hazard that — while the hours of work do not put one off wanting to make the recipe again — one is rather inclined to whimper at the sight of an onion in any shape or form immediately afterwards.


Yotam Ottolenghi, Contributor page at the Manchester Guardian

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