Priyanka, who has attended a lot of our cookbook lunches and dinners had picked up Jerusalem on her way back from Georgia (the country) a few months ago. And my husband had bought me the book almost around the same time. Priyanka and I didn't know each other then, but we connected over a tweet where she'd cooked from the book. We've been meaning to cook from the book ever since, but somehow got around to doing so only this month.
“Georgian legend tells that when God was handing out land to the peoples of the world, the Georgians were too busy eating, drinking, and feasting.”
I'm inclined to believe this. The book has a complete spectrum of recipes - soups, dumplings, risottos, dipping sauces, grilled meats, stuffed vegetables, puddings, cookies and cakes. Add to that, a focus on fresh ingredients in salads, bean stews, roasted veggies for dips and stuffing and liberal use of all kinds of nuts - walnuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts...
Recipes apart, it's a beautifully written book. It talks about the Eastern Muslim and the Western Jewish parts of Jerusalem, where religions may be different but cultures are quite similar. Recipes on both sides borrow flavours from one another, all to create a wonderful comforting world of their own.
Several recipes are preceded by a few lines about why they've been included the recipe in the book - Sami's mum's favourite fattoush recipe, Yotam's childhood growing up with an orange tree in his backyard lending itself to a few recipes in the book, little cultural references here and there... It's made me realize the difference between a well-written cookbook and one that just has a long list of recipes, cover to cover. And for those of us who cannot travel, for whatever reason, these books give us a lovely insight into how people the world over live and eat.
Yotam Ottolenghi is a face well known in the culinary world. And if you're in India, you've most likely watched him on Masterchef Australia. I'd made a weekend dinner a few weeks ago, heavily inspired by the Mezze Feast I'd seen on Masterchef AU and cooking out of Jerusalem was something I was, therefore, really really excited about.
I've also made a hummus using harbhara (a fresh green pulse from the chickpea family) that you get in Indian markets in the winters several times these past few weeks, but I've always ever made hummus without a recipe, knowing what goes into making one - chickpeas, olive oil, tahini, garlic and lemon - and I usually taste as I go, to make something that suits my fancy.
Making one using a recipe from the book was a good way to see how close to the real deal my recipes are. So, I made a basic hummus and also served some of it with a lamb mince and a lemon sauce - it's called Hummus Kawarma. And it's a fun twist on serving hummus plain. Plus, what I learnt was that authentic hummus recipes use a far larger quantity of tahini than I usually did, and it adds that much for flavour to the hummus.
I also made the spicy beet, leek and walnut salad. Yotam says just before his recipe for it,
“Jews from Georgia settled in Jerusalem in the late nineteenth century, just outside the Old City walls, building a small neighbourhood near Damascus Gate. They brought with them their rich and colourful food, which fitted perfectly with the local cuisine and produce available. Pkhali, a crushed walnut sauce that can be spooned over various vegetables such as eggplants, spinach, and beets, bears a resemblance to muhammara, a local crushed walnut salad. Their beet salads were often similar to salatet banjar, the Palestinian version made of sliced cooked beets, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and chopped parsley. Sadly, as is too often the case in this city, this culinary brotherhood was not enough. ”
Truly enough, the crushed walnut sauce finds its way into the salad as the most delicious salad dressing I've ever eaten (no, this is not a hyperbole). I've posted the recipe for the salad from Jerusalem at the end of this blog post.
The potluck was a good mix of recipes from the book:
Kubbeh HamustaSpicy Beet, Leek & Walnut SaladHummus and Hummus kawarma (lamb) with lemon saucePan-fried Mackerel with Beet & Orange SalsaChicken with Caramelized Onion & Cardamom RiceConchiglie with Yoghurt, Peas & ChileBarley Risotto with Marinated FetaPoached pears in white wine & cardamomChocolate Krantz Cakes
As the book rightly states:
“Food is a basic, hedonistic pleasure, a sensual instinct we all share and revel in. It is a shame to spoil it."
It was a pretty delicious cook overall. We had our issues - the kubbeh hamusta (a lemony broth with beef dumplings was too sour for our liking) and the beet salad didn't have as many takers as I'd hoped it would. (I personally absolutely loved it, as did my mum, for whom I sent a little box because she's ever-so-ready to taste food I cook. Always.)
The mackerel was delicious as was the cardamom rice.
The stars of the evening were the barley risotto and the Krantz cakes.
And as Yotam says of hummus,
“It takes a giant leap of faith, but we are happy to take it... to imagine that hummus will eventually bring us Jerusalemites together, if nothing else will.”
Hummus makes everything better.
Spicy Beet, Leek & Walnut Salad
This gutsy salad is inspired by Georgian cuisine. The beets and leeks can be cooked well ahead of time, even a day in advance. We keep the two elements of the salad separate until serving, so the beets don’t colour the leeks red. This is not necessary if such an aesthetic consideration is not top of your priority list. Beets of other colors—golden, white, or striped—are also good.
For the Salad
4 medium beets (⅓ lb / 600 g in total after cooking and peeling)
4 medium leeks, cut into 4-inch / 10cm segments (4 cups / 360 g in total)
½ oz / 15 g cilantro, coarsely chopped
1¼ cups / 25 g arugula
⅓ cup / 50 g pomegranate seeds (optional)
For the Dressing
1 cup / 100 g walnuts, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ tsp chile flakes
¼ cup / 60 ml cider vinegar
2 tbsp tamarind water
½ tsp walnut oil
2½ tbsp peanut oil
1 tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 425°F / 220°C.
Wrap the beets individually in aluminium foil and roast them in the oven for 1 to 1½ hours, depending on their size. Once cooked, you should be able to stick a small knife through to the centre easily. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Once cool enough to handle, peel the beets, halve them, and cut each half into wedges ⅜ inch / 1 cm thick at the base. Put in a medium bowl and set aside.
Place the leeks in a medium pan with salted water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes, until just cooked; it’s important to simmer them gently and not to overcook them so they don’t fall apart. Drain and refresh under cold water, then use a very sharp serrated knife to cut each segment into 3 smaller pieces and pat dry. Transfer to a bowl, separate from the beets, and set aside.
While the vegetables are cooking, mix together all the dressing ingredients and leave to one side for at least 10 minutes for all the flavours to come together.
Divide the walnut dressing and the cilantro equally between the beets and the leeks and toss gently. Taste both the beets and the leeks, and add more salt if needed.
To put the salad together, spread most of the beets on a serving platter, top with some arugula, then most of the leeks, then the remaining beets, and finish with more leeks and arugula.
Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds, if using, and serve.
I doubled the arugula and wasn't the biggest fan of the leeks, but the beet and that dressing have become a fortnightly recipe for my mum.