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.
July 17, 2011 § Leave a comment
Help! Three words that bring on a panic attack. You know the kind of thing I mean – a communal summer event, maybe a club or choir social evening, a music teacher’s summer pupils’ concert, perhaps even a street party. Some people you’ll know well, others less so, and everyone is asked to bring a dish to create an inpromptu meal.
What to bring? It’s got to be transportable; capable of sitting around on a warm buffet table without melting/disintegrating/giving everyone food poisoning; taste good; look a teeny bit impressive but not as if you’v tried too hard, and finally not something that’s going to take all day to prepare.
My suggestion is to avoid little canapé nibble type things at all costs as these take forever to put together and to go for a generous bowl of colourful salad instead. I have two reliable standby recipes, the first an old favourite and the second a recent discovery.
My first recipe is for tabbouleh, the much-loved middle-Eastern parsley and mint salad mixed with chewy grains of burghul.
I learned how to make this from one of my all time favourite cookery books, Claudia Roden’s “A New Book of Middle Eastern Food”. My cookery book collection has grown over the years and has had to have a whole bookcase of its own set aside for it in our study. Neverthless, a selection of just ten books has crept back downstairs into the kitchen because I refer to them so often. ” A New Book of Middle Eastern Food” is one of those ten. It’s a book with no glossy photos (aside from the weird close-up of spring onions and vine leaves on the cover) yet manages to conjure up all sorts of evocative images of the Middle East in its imaginative and well-informed writing. A sort of Arabian Nights of the kitchen. And this small battered paperback is full of meticulously researched, concisely written recipes that actually work.
Tabbouleh, as Ms Roden explains, is essentially a herb salad, a mass of dense green freshness speckled with the pale grains of burghul. Quite often you’ll see something described as tabbouleh which is this idea reversed – lots of pale grains flecked with specks of grain. Salads like this may be good, but to me now they’re just not tabbouleh.
I grew up reading 1970s recipe books where herbs were mostly dried and strictly rationed – a teaspoon of chopped parsley in a white sauce to accompany boiled ham perhaps. I think that’s why I love the hugely generous quantities of fresh herbs you need for this recipe – think handfuls rather than teaspoons. Even with 2 big bunches of parsley, you need still more…
All the salad ingredients can be prepped beforehand which makes it very convenient to put together for a party. I’ve included some walnuts in this version:
You can very the garnishes according to your mood, what you have in the cupboard or fridge and what’s in season. I decorated this version with a few snipped chives and tasty chive flowers from the garden:
Is there any downside to this salad? Well, being honest, it will almost certainly leave green herby flecks on you and your guests’ teeth.
If having to check yourself in the mirror doesn’t appeal, then my second suggestion is a salad of blanched mangetout and French beans livened up with orange zest, toasted hazelnuts and freshly snipped chives. It comes from “Ottolenghi – The Cookbook”, one of those books where I turn the pages and want to eat everything in there.
This isn’t a salad you can throw together in a couple of minutes – each element has to be prepared quite carefully, be it the accurate and separate blanching and refreshing of the vegetables;
the roasting of the hazelnuts to just the right degree of toastiness without burning them;
or the careful preparation of the orange zest to give visually appealing long, thin strips without any pith.
Your efforts spent on preparation will be rewarded in a crunchy salad with a harmonious mix of intriguing flavours – the orange, hazelnut and mild onion flavour of the chives work really well together without overpowering the beans and sugar snaps.
Recipe for tabbouleh
Adapted from Claudia Roden’s “A New Book of Middle Eastern Food”. Serves 10 or more as part of a selection of dishes.
250g bunched flat leaf parsley – approx. 3 supermarket LARGE bunches
100g bunched mint
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 2 lemons
80 ml extra virgin olive oil
200g spring onions
Garnish – standard
2 little gem letttuces
3 medium tomatoes or 8 cherry tomatoes
2 inches cucumber
Garnish – optional additions
Handful of roughly chopped walnuts
Chive flowers, wild garlic flowers
Handful of pomegranate seeds
Wash the mint and parsley and dry carefully using a salad spinner. Pull out the thickest of the parsley stems and any discoloured leaves. The thinner parsley stalks can stay in as they are fine to eat once chopped. Remove the mint leaves from their coarse stems as these are generally too fibrous to make pleasant eating.
Chop the herbs either in a food processor or by hand as you prefer. I tend to use a food processor, pulsing carefully to chop the herbs to a medium degree without turning them into too fine a mix or worse of all, a mush. Set the chopped herbs aside in a tightly sealed plastic box and place in the fridge. If you’re preparing this dish ahead of time, the herbs will keep quite well in the fridge for 24 hours, even longer. Given that freshness is the essence of this salad, I don’t like to leave the herbs in the fridge too long though.
Finely slice the spring onions and set these aside in the fridge.
Meanwhile, prepare the burghul. Covering with cold water and leave to soak for half an hour or so. Tip into a sieve and leave to drain for 10 minutes or so, pressing out any excess water. Put in a mixing bowl and add half the lemon juice and olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Let it absorb the dressing for a further 30 minutes or so.
While the burghul is soaking, prepare your chosen garnishes. Carefully remove perfect whole leaves from the little gem lettuces and wash and dry them thoroughly. Dice the tomato and cucumber. If using, roughly chop the walnuts and/or remove seeds from a pomegranate.
Now assemble the salad. It’s best to assemble it no more than 30 minutes before you plan to serve it as otherwise the lemon juice in the dressing begins to blacken the mint leaves. Add the chopped herbs and spring onions to the dressed burghul in the mixing bowl. Add the remaining lemon juice and olive oil and more salt an pepper. Taste and check flavours. You need plenty of lemon juice and salt to make the salad really sing. Once you’re happy with the balance of flavours, line your chosen serving bowl with the prepared lettuce leaves, pile in the tabbouleh and scatter your garnish of tomato and cucumber, plus any optional additions, over the top.
Recipe for French bean and mangetout salad with orange and toasted hazelnuts
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s “The Ottolenghi Cookbook”. Serves 8 or more as part of a selection of salads and other dishes.
400g French beans (trimmed weight)
400g Mangetout peas (trimmed weight)
60-80g skinned hazelnuts (use the higher quantity if you like hazelnuts)
1 unwaxed orange
1 clove garlic, crushed
5 tablespoons hazelnut oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
10-20g chives, snipped into small pieces with a pair of scissors (plenty of chives perk up the flavour of this salad – use fewer if you prefer)
squeeze of lemon juice
Begin by blanching the vegetables. Bring a large pot of water to a fast rolling boil and add a little salt. Throw in the French beans and, using an accurate timer, cook them for 4 minutes, until just cooked. Using a slotted spoon, remove all the beans and throw them into a big bowl of iced water to refresh. Take the bowl to the sink and allow the cold tap to run over the beans until they are completely cold. Drain in a colander and tackle the mangetout in a similar fashion but the mangetout require just 60 seconds blanching time.
Pat the vegetables dry with kitchen paper and store in a sealed container in the fridge until needed. You can do this up to 24 hours ahead of time.
Scatter the hazelnuts on a shallow baking tray (I use a battered old Swiss roll tin) and bake in an oven preheated to 180 degrees C for 10 minutes until toasted to an even golden brown. Watch the nuts carefully as they bake and check them before 10 minutes is up to make sure they don’t burn. Chop roughly and set aside to cool.
Now prepare the dressing. I use a lidded jam jar to do this. Add to the jar the nut oil, the crushed clove of garlic and the zest of he orange. To prepare the orange zest, you need either to peel off a thin layer of orange skin without any pith using a swivel peeler. Having done this, using a sharp knife, cut the peel into long thin shreds. Much easier is to buy a special little zesting tool which you scrape over the surface of the orange which produces the desirable orange shreds in an instant. Add the juice of just half of the orange to the jar together with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice to taste. Don’t add the chives at this stage as the fruit juices will make them go soggy and dark coloured.
When you’re ready to serve, tip the beans and peas and snipped chives into a handsome serving dish. Pour over the dressing and toss lightly. Scatter over the toasted hazelnuts and serve.
January 22, 2011 § Leave a comment
This salad is simply the best thing that’s ever been done with raw cabbage. I was introduced to it during the Christmas holidays by my friend Janet and I’ve made it every weekend since then. It’s a recipe from Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi and I tracked it down via his Guardian newspaper column.
Don’t be put off by the weird list of ingredients (mixing lemongrass with maple syrup?) – it works. It’s colourful, crunchy, zingy and you feel uplifted after eating it – what more can I say to brighten up your winter mealtimes?
By the way, the title of this post is in deference to one of my favourite quirky websites http://www.pimpthatsnack.com – take a look if you have a few minutes to spare… I’ve gone for ornamentation rather than size though.
Recipe for Sweet Winter ‘Slaw
A recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi featured in UK newspaper the Guardian. My own suggestions are that if you can’t get hold of papaya, then either use 2 mangoes or a handful of diced roast butternut squash – it’s sweet pulpy texture is not dissimilar to papaya.
For the dressing
100ml lime juice
1 lemon grass, chopped into small pieces
3 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp soy sauce
½ tsp chilli flakes
4 tbsp light olive oil
For the salad
150g macadamia nuts
2 tbsp sugar
½ tsp salt
½ tsp chilli flakes
7 inner leaves Savoy cabbage (170g), shredded
½ red cabbage (270g), shredded
1 mango, peeled, stoned and cut into thin strips
1 papaya, peeled, deseeded and cut into strips
1 red chilli, deseeded and cut into thin slices
15g fresh mint leaves
20g fresh coriander leaves
To make the dressing, put all the ingredients except the olive oil into a small saucepan, and reduce for five to 10 minutes, until thick and syrupy. Remove from the heat. Once it has cooled down, strain into a bowl, stir in the oil and set aside.
Put the macadamias in a hot frying pan and dry-roast for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly coloured on all sides. Add the butter and, once it has melted, the sugar, salt and chilli. Use a wooden spoon to stir constantly, to keep the nuts coated in the sugar as it caramelises. Be careful because this will take only a minute or two and the nuts can burn very quickly. Turn out the nuts on to a sheet of greaseproof paper and, once cool, roughly chop them.
Put the shredded cabbage in a large mixing bowl, along with the rest of the salad ingredients. Add the cool dressing, toss and taste. Add salt if you need to, and serve immediately.