An alternative Christmas dinner
December 20, 2012 § 1 Comment
I’ve been teaching some local young people simple cooking skills at our local Parish Centre/Church Hall over the past few months. To celebrate the “end of term” we congregated together for a special pre Christmas meal.
My initial idea for this meal was to showcase the 3 original Christmas gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Having researched their culinary possibilities I decided that whilst it would be straightforward to decorate a dessert with real edible gold leaf, incorporating frankincense and myrrh into savoury dishes might be more challenging and maybe even downright toxic. I sourced high quality frankincense and myrrh resins the origins of which were Oman and the Yemen and decided to incorporate them into the meal by burning them over charcoal.The fragrant smoke is very atmospheric and transports you instantly to the Middle East.
Hence the inspiration for the meal – food inspired by the the Holy Land as reinterpreted by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi in their rather gorgeous new book “Jerusalem” featuring recipes from their respective Jewish and Arabic heritages. The book, hardback and handsomely cloth bound, was an early Christmas present to myself and I couldn’t wait to put it through its paces.
This was the menu for yesterday’s alternative Christmas dinner for 18, largely taken from the pages of “Jerusalem”:
Roasted chicken with Jerusalem artichoke and lemon
Root vegetable slaw
Roasted butternut squash and red onion with tahini and za’atar
Roasted sweet potatoes and fresh figs
Basic hummus and hummus with lemon sauce and pinenuts
Golden clementine cake
Yoghurt, honey and pomegranates
Pomegranate and rose cordial
And here we are enjoying the rather magnificent feast:
I did quite a bit of prep beforehand at home helped by Laura who made the rather beautiful roasted sweet potato and fresh figs:
and stunning root vegetable slaw, vibrant in colour and taste, combining crisp raw roots sliced on the mandolin and cut into matchsticks combined with a sharp lemony dressing and Ottolenghi’s trademark abundance of fresh herbs:
At the Parish Centre kitchen, Laura and Emma prepared the chicken with Jerusalem artichoke and lemon which baked to a toasty gold and was aromatic and delicious with lots of slow-cooked shallot, sweet garlic cloves and of course the nuggets of Jerusalem artichoke. This would be a fantastic dish for an informal dinner party or a very welcome addition to a buffet for family and friends over the holiday period.
Perhaps the best fun was preparing our own hummus, just as good as the stuff you can buy at Sainsbury’s! I’ve never had much success with homemade hummus before but I’d always started with canned chickpeas. WRONG! You need to start with dried kind, and some bicarb to help remove the skins. In fact the method is not so different from our own homegrown mushy peas. Oh, and a whole jar of tahini paste per batch, and the magic ingredient – ice cold water which turns the mix, after a whole 5 minutes of processor blasting, magically into an elegantly pale and silky smooth emulsion. Jess and Oli did a fantastic job of mixing up the two different batches of hummus, one plain and one garnished.
My simplified version of Mejadra, a spicy, oniony rice and lentil mix, was a more dramatic and interesting alternative to plain boiled rice:
The finishing touch to our feast was the chocolate ganache iced and gold leaf decorated Golden Clementine cake, sweet and citrussy. This cake, minus the decadent chocolate icing, clearly derives from the many recipes for Sephardic Jewish cakes featuring citrus and ground almonds that the Jews brought with them from Spain hundreds of years ago. Many cookbook authors give recipes for similar cakes – Claudia Roden, Nigella Lawson and of course Delia to name but three. This version is simple to make, deliciously moist with the addition of syrup and very Christmassy with its sharp citrus notes shining through. It reminds you of clementines stuffed in your Christmas stocking and pays a nod to that old British confectionery favourite, the Terry’s chocolate orange. Clemmie and James were the pastry chefs who ably prepared the chocolate icing and painstakingly applied the gold leaf with tweezers.
I give below the recipes we prepared together in the kitchen last night – maybe some of the young people will cook the dishes at home for their families over the holidays?
For the rest, you’ll need to buy the book – it would make a great late Christmas present for any keen cook.
Recipe for roasted chicken with Jerusalem artichoke and lemon
Adapted from a recipe in “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.
Serves 8 as a main course or up to 16 if served as part of a buffet.
900g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and cut into 6 lengthways wedges, about 1.5cm thick
3 tablespoons lemon juice
16 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on
24 shallots, peeled and halved lengthways
24 large garlic cloves, sliced
2 medium lemons, cut in half lengthways and then into very thin slices
2 teaspoons saffron threads
100ml olive oil
300ml cold water
3 tablespoons pink peppercorns, slightly crushed
8g dried thyme or herbes de Provence mix
40g chopped tarragon leaves
4 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
3 further tablespoons lemon juice
further 40g chopped tarragon
Put the Jerusalem artichokes in a large saucepan, cover with plenty of water and add the 3 tablespoons lemon juice. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10-20 minutes until tender but not soft. Drain and leave to cool.s
Place the Jerusalem artichokes and all the remaining ingredients except the final 3 tablespoons lemon juice and 40g chopped tarragon into a large mixing bowl and use your hand to mix everything together well. Cover, refrigerate and leave to marinate for at least 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 240 degrees C/220 degrees C fan/Gas mark 9. Arrange the chicken pieces skin side up in the centre of a roasting tin and spread the remaining ingredients around the chicken. Roast for 30 minutes. Cover the tin with foil and cook for a further 15 minutes by which point the chicken should be completely cooked.
Remove from the oven and add the reserved tarragon and lemon juice. Stir well, taste and add more salt if needed. Serve at once.
Recipe for Mejadra
Adapted from a recipe in “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.
250g green or brown lentils (we used Puy lentils which were fine)
6-8 medium onions (1.4kg before prep)
6 tablespoons light olive oil
3 tsp cumin seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
400g white basmati rice
4 tablespoons light olive oil
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons ground allspice
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons sugar
salt and black pepper
Chopped fresh parsley or coriander and pomegranate seeds to garnish (optional)
Place the lentils in a small saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to the boil and cook until the lentils have softened but still have a little bite, then drain.
Peel and slice the onions thinly. Fry in 2 large frying pans each with about 3 tablespoons light olive oil over a medium heat for about 20 minutes until the onions are soft and brown but not burnt. The original recipe requires the onions to be dipped in flour and deep-fried but I have simplified this step and the resulting slow-cooked soft brown onions still taste good mixed with the rice, spices and lentils.
Take a large heavy based lidded saucepan and place over a medium high heat. Once hot, add the cumin and coriander seeds and dry-fry to toast the seeds for a minute or two, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Add the rice, olive oil, turmeric, allspice, cinnamon, sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and plenty of black pepper. Stir to coat the rice with oil and then add the cooked lentils and the water. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and simmer on a very low heat for 15 minutes.
Remove from the heat, lift off the lid and quickly cover the pan with a clean tea towel. Seal tightly with the lid and set aside for 10 minutes.
Finally, add half the fried onion to the rice and lentils and stir gently with a fork. Pile up in a shallow serving bowl and top with the rest of the onion. If like, garnish with chopped fresh parsley and or coriander leaves and a few pomegranate seeds.
Recipe for basic and garnished hummus
Recipes adapted from those in “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.
Serves 12 or more if served as part of a buffer
For the basic hummus
500g dried chickpeas
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
540g light tahini paste
8 tablespoons lemon juice
8 garlic cloves, crushed
200ml ice cold water
To garnish half of the batch
4 tablespoons whole cooked chickpeas reserved from the second batch
2 tablespoons pine nuts lightly toasted in the oven or dry frying pan
2 tablespoons chopped flatleaf parsley
For the lemon sauce
10g flatleaf parsley finely chopped
1 green chilli finely chopped
4 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, crushed
¼ teaspoon salt
Start a day before by washing the chickpeas well and placing them in a large bowl. Cover them with cold water, at least twice their volume, and leave to soak overnight.
The next day, drain the chickpeas. Place a large saucepan on a high heat and add the drained chickpeas and bicarbonate of soda. Coll for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 3 litres fresh water and bring to the boil. Cook, skimming off any foam and any skins that float to the surface. The chickpeas will take between 20 and 40 minutes to cook, maybe even longer. Once done, they should be very tender, breaking up easily when pressed between your finger and thumb, almost, but not quite, mushy.
Drain the chickpeas. You should have roughly 1.2kg now. Place half of the the chickpeas in a food processor bowl. Process until you get a stiff paste then, with the machine still running, add the half of the tahini paste, lemon juice, garlic and 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Finally, slowly drizzle in half of the iced water and allow it to mix until you get a very smooth creamy paste, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least half an hour.
Repeat with the second batch of ingredients (you used only half), but remember to reserve 4 tablespoons cooked chickpeas to garnish.
Shortly before you serve the hummus, combine all the lemon sauce ingredients in a small bowl.
Top the second bowl of hummus with the cooked chickpeas, drizzle generously with the lemon sauce, and garnish with chopped parsley and toasted pine nuts.
Recipe for golden clementine cake
Adapted from a recipe in Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.
Serves 8 generously or up to 16 if cut into delicate slices.
For the cake
200g unsalted butter
300g golden caster sugar
grated zest of 4 clementines and and 1 lemon
280g ground almonds
5 medium eggs
100g plain four sifted with a pinch of salt
For the syrup
80g golden caster sugar
120ml lemon and clementine juice
For the chocolate icing (optional)
90g unsalted butter, diced
150g good quality dark chocolate broken into pieces (or Valrhona or similar buttons)
¾ tablespoons honey
½ tablespoons cognac
Long strips of zest taken from an orange using a zester
or flakes of real gold leaf (available from specialist cake decorating suppliers)
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/160 degrees C fan/Gas mark 4. Lightly grease a 24cm round cake tin, ideally loose bottomed and line the base and sides with a double layer of parchment.
The cake is best made in a stand mixer such as a Kenwood. Cream together the butter and caster sugar thoroughly. Add approximately half the ground almonds. Beat in the eggs gradually, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula from time to time.
Add the remaining ground almonds, flour and salt and work them into the mix until completely smooth.
Spread the cake batter into the prepared cake tin and level with a palette knife (a small crank-handled one does the job well).
Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes, checking to make sure it’s not browning too much. Test in the usual way by seeing if the sides have shrunk just a little and by inserting a skewer which should come out clean.
Towards the end of the cooking time, prepare the syrup by combining the sugar and citrus juices in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil then remove the syrup from the heat.
As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, brush it with the boiling syrup until it has all soaked in. Leave the cake in its tin to cool completely before removing it from its tin.
Either garnish with the orange strips and serve as is or coat with chocolate icing.
To make the chocolate icing, put the butter, chocolate and honey in a heatproof bowl and set OVER (not in) a pan of simmering water making sure the bowl does not touch the water.
Stir until everything is melted, remove from the heat straightaway and fold in the cognac.
Pour the icing over the cool cake allowing it to dribble naturally over the sides without covering the cake completely.
Let the icing set then decorate either with strips of orange zest of flakes of gold leaf in the centre of the cake.