Monday, October 7, 2013

Jerusalem Fever

by EP

Ever since the Internet became a part of our daily lives (literally almost every second thereof!), people who love to cook have been turning away from cookbooks and instead searching for recipes on blogs and websites from Food Network, Bon Appetit, Epicurious, Food & Wine, America's Test Kitchen (subscription required), etc. I certainly do lots of research for recipes online and find that generally these are reliable. And unlike comments on most articles on the Interwebs, comments on recipes online can be incredibly helpful in determining if a recipe works or doesn't, if some ingredient amounts need tweaking, and so on.

BUT, I still love my cookbooks. I love sitting at my kitchen table, or around my parents' table at Blackacre, thumbing through cookbooks and marking recipes to try. Books sit quietly in my kitchen and present the recipe as I cook; they don't "go dark" and require a clean finger to illuminate the recipe. Splatters and grease-stains on books are badges of honor; on a phone or iPad they mean trouble.

One such book that recently came into my possession is Jerusalem, by Ottolenghi and Tamimi. Xani gave it to me for my birthday in July and I have not been able to stop cooking from it! I swear my entire Instagram feed is shots of goodies from Jerusalem these days. And I'm not alone - "Jerusalem fever" is sweeping the nation and folks are head over heels in love with this book, and the authors (who I'm going to go see speak at Sixth & I Synagogue in a few weeks!).

You can see all my post-its marking recipes to make

I love this book for many reasons: beautiful pictures, interesting recipes that require you to go outside of your regular universe of flavors, use of lots of fresh produce, and stories with almost every recipe. I also loved Jerusalem when I visited in 2005, and love feeling connected to that special place when I cook these foods.

I know some folks criticize the book for the long list of ingredients (some of which are quite obscure), but I don't mind buying strange ingredients because they contribute to a well-stocked pantry, meaning now I am prepared to make even more Jerusalem recipes! (For folks in the MD/DC area, I found a great Middle Eastern Market in Columbia called Pars Market, off of Snowden River Parkway. I bought sumac, zaatar, tahini, orange blossom water, pomegranate molasses, cardamom pods, and Turkish delight! The gents there were nice and helpful.)

Here are some of the great things I've cooked up, to date - you know there will be more!

Conchiglie with Yogurt, Peas & Chile

This is hands down my favorite recipe I've made from the book. I've made it twice already! It's a pasta dish (one of the authors is Italian) where the hot pasta is tossed in a yogurt sauce made from yogurt, peas, garlic, olive oil that has been blitzed together. Then fresh basil, feta cheese, and more peas are folded in. Finally, pine nuts that have been browned in olive oil and hot pepper flakes are spooned over each serving. Creamy, salty, spicy, garlicky, fresh, and delicious.

Mis-en-place! Front right is local feta from the farmer's market #yuppie

A note about the garlic: it's pretty garlicky since the 4 cloves called for are not cooked. I enjoy this kind of "pain" after growing up in our family's garlic-centered household, but you may want to tone it down if you are less into the raw garlic flavor/heat.

Chicken with Caramelized Onion and Cardamom Rice

I recently made this chicken dish and found it so comforting, yet interesting and different with its spices and flavoring. It's going to be a staple winter dinner, I can tell. Also, it's cooked in one pot! So that's always a plus. This dish begins with caramelizing onions, then removing them and searing bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (my favorite chicken part that's featured in our Cast Iron Chicken) that have been seasoned with salt, pepper, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon. The par-cooked chicken and caramelized onions are combined with barberries (a dried Persian berry that is reconstituted in a sugar syrup - I got them at Pars Market!) and basmati rice. Pour boiling water over everything, then cover - this cooks the rice and finishes cooking the chicken. The dish is finished with a sprinkling of dill, cilantro, and parsley. An optional topping is some Greek yogurt with a bit of olive oil mixed in.

Chicken and rice ready for final cooking

The barberries, dill, and cardamom were big flavors for both the chicken and the rice, and added a bit of sweetness to the savory chicken and caramelized onions. I enjoyed the yogurt on the chicken too. Next time (and there will be a next time), I need to cook the rice longer - it was a little too al dente. Also, I think I may not reconstitute the barberries in sugar syrup; they were pretty sweet on their own.

This was a great dish that I could totally make for company or just for myself.

Dinner's ready!

Roasted Butternut Squash & Red Onion with Tahini and Za'atar

An easy side dish with a ton of flavor. Butternut squash is roasted with red onion wedges in a very hot oven. When it's done, drizzle a dressing of tahini, garlic, water, lemon juice, and salt over the top. Also sprinkle some fried up pine nuts and their oil, plus za'atar and chopped parsley on top.

I loved the flavors of this dish - it reminds me of an old favorite, the butternut squash salad with chickpeas, raw red onion, cilantro, and tahini dressing from Orangette. But this was more mellow. Also, something about this recipe changed my life: the butternut squash IS NOT PEELED before roasting! Peeling BNS is such a pain in the neck, and now I realize it's (sometimes) not necessary. Thank you, Jerusalem, for showing me the error of my ways.

Hummus + Pureed Beets with Yogurt and Za'atar + Butternut Squash & Tahini Spread

Recently I attended a dinner party and I was asked to bring an appetizer. I brought a trio of dips, all from Jerusalem!

First I made their basic hummus recipe. This was some of the best hummus I have ever had, much less made. It calls for dried chickpeas that are soaked overnight, then drained, then cooked with baking soda for a few minutes, then boiled until tender. The chickpeas are pureed, then lots of tahini (over a cup!), garlic, lemon, and ice water are added to the running food processor until smooth. Seriously good, and with so much tahini, it definitely tasted more authentic than what you get at the store.

The beet dip was easy too - just roast beets until tender, let them cool, then blitz them with a small chile, Greek yogurt, and garlic. Then add in date syrup (I used maple syrup, an approved substitute), olive oil, za'atar, and salt. The dip is served on a plate with garnishes of green onions, toasted chopped hazelnuts (I used almonds), blobs of goat cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil. This was not too sweet and had a good balance from the za'atar and goat cheese. I wish I had used more chile for some more heat - I was timid and used half of a small (extremely spicy) serrano. Should have used the whole thing.

These beets were so pretty - I wanted to wear them as make-up!

Finally, the butternut squash spread is similar - roast squash (note: squash must be peeled here) tossed in olive oil, salt, and cinnamon. Then blitz with tahini, yogurt, and garlic until combined but still coarsely chopped. The spread is garnished with sesame seeds, date (or maple) syrup, salt, and cilantro.  This dip was good and reminded me of mashed sweet potatoes (and therefore Thanksgiving). It was a little sweet for me - if I make it again, maybe I'll add more salt and/or tahini to balance the sweetness.

Mis-en-place to go. This is what happens when you bring high-maintenance snacks to parties.

Semolina, Coconut, & Marmalade Cake

I made this cake for Rosh Hashana this year. While it's not traditional, Xani and I, along with our good friend Jamie, decided to serve a Sephardic RH menu. We had hummus and veggies, braised leeks with black lentils, spiced carrot salad, a spinach salad with dates and pita croutons (another Jerusalem recipe), and this cake for dessert.

This cake is an example of a common Middle Eastern semolina cake that has been soaked in a syrup. I liked the use of semolina (a coarse grind of durum wheat used for pasta) here, along with the orange marmalade and unsweetened coconut. I did not have any orange blossom water at the time, so I used extra orange zest to achieve the super-orange-y flavor.

The cake is cooked in a loaf pan and then the syrup (made of sugar, water, and orange blossom water) is slowly brushed over and absorbed by the cake. The recipe said to use all of the syrup but in retrospect, I wish I hadn't - it was too sweet, even for me! The original recipe calls for two small loaf pans but I only have one large loaf pan - I'm wondering if all the syrup in the one large cake was just too much? Also, the recipe doesn't call for any salt, which I think would have balanced out some of that sweetness. Lessons learned for next time.

As you can see, I am smitten with this cookbook. I love looking through it and finding new things to try. I look forward to trying some of the heartier dishes over the fall and winter, and enjoying more of the fresh/raw veggie dishes in the spring and summer. Thanks to Xani for this great gift!

Have you cooked anything from Jerusalem? Share your stories in the comments!



  1. MMMMmmmm great post! I might have to buy a copy of Jerusalem for myself. So glad you are getting SO much use out of the gift. That yogurt pasta dish is truly TDF, and I want to try that chicken and rice dish. P.S. Bring me those dips!

  2. Wow!! It is great post. I like your all dishes. They all seems very tasty. Hope very soon I will eat .

    Kopi Luwak

  3. very tempting! Totally different flavors than I"m used to

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