I’m completely taken with Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s stirring new cookbook, Jerusalem. Native sons of the city’s Jewish west and Muslim east, respectively, Ottolenghi and Tamimi have put together a book featuring memorable, marvelously-flavored food with photos that transport the reader to the colorful, historic city of their childhoods.
I’ve tried several recipes with great success during the last week — mostly on weeknights, I might add. Jerusalem features simple as well as more involved dishes in chapters about vegetables, beans and grains, soups, stuffed dishes, meat, fish, and pastries, sweet and savory. The recipes are well-tested, thoughtfully written and feature straightforward preparations. Most importantly, the flavors sing.
I started with Baby Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds. While sliced red onions and chopped sweet dates marinate and soften in a touch of white wine vinegar, pita is torn into bite-sized pieces and sauteed with chopped almonds in butter. As the torn pieces of pita begin to brown and turn crispy, and the almonds release their nutty aroma, prepare yourself for an intoxicating moment. When the pita is crisp and golden brown, the mixture is removed from the heat and flavored with salt, chili flakes and sumac, a sour-flavored condiment with a brick-red hue. The pita-and-almond mixture then is tossed with baby spinach, the onions-and-dates, a squirt or two of lemon and good olive oil. This simple combination of ingredients delivers powerful flavor, and makes a pretty plate, too.
I paired the Baby Spinach Salad with Braised Chicken Thighs with Apricots, Currants and Tamarind (subbing chicken for quail). This dish is easy to prepare. Rub the chicken all over with a combination of chili flakes, fennel, cumin, salt and pepper before letting it rest in the fridge for a few hours.
When you’re ready to cook, brown the chicken in a saute pan, add water and white wine, sliced dried apricots and currants, sugar, puckery tamarind paste, lemon juice and fresh thyme leaves to the pan. Cover and cook at a gentle simmer for 20-25 minutes. Remove the top, breathe in that exotic aroma and then serve this tender, tasty chicken with plenty of the thickened sweet-and-sour sauce ladled on top. Brown or white rice will allow you to sop up every last drop of that sauce.
The photo of the Red Pepper and Baked Egg Galette stopped me cold the first time I thumbed through the book. This galette, while elegant in appearance, bowled us over with its bold flavors. Flaky, buttery pastry puffs up in the hot oven, turning golden brown as it bakes. As the colorful peppers and sweet onions cook and become tender, their edges curl and the spicy cumin and coriander-infused flavor intensifies. Once you finally pierce the yolk with your fork, prepare for creamy richness spilling across the galette. This show-stopper is destined to become a family favorite.
You could describe Na’ama’s Fattoush, an assertively-flavored, crunchy salad that contains pieces of pita, as the Israeli version of bread salad, but that would be selling this salad short. The torn pieces of pita are combined with sliced tomatoes and crunchy radishes, cucumbers and scallions and then tossed in a buttermilk-lemon-white wine vinegar dressing that feels equal parts healthy and indulgent. Chopped fresh (and dried) mint leaves and parsley add a fresh, herby flavor to the dish, tempering the richness of the dressing. A generous sprinkling of sumac adds a pretty finish. We paired Na’ama’s Fattoush with the galette for a meatless weeknight dinner, but it would be a worthy companion to a comforting soup, too.
As the frantic holiday time gives way to those last few quiet days of the year, I’ll be trying many more of Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s marvelous dishes. In the meantime, I am delighted to share the recipe for my new favorite salad, Na’ama’s Fattoush below. It is reprinted with permission from Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, copyright (c) 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
Food Photography credit: Jonathan Lovekin (c) 2012
Arab salad, chopped salad, Israeli salad—whatever you choose to call it, there is no escaping it. Wherever you go in the city, at any time of the day, a Jerusalemite is most likely to have a plate of freshly chopped vegetables—tomato, cucumber, and onion, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice—served next to whatever else they are having. It’s a local affliction, quite seriously. Friends visiting us in London always complain of feeling they ate “unhealthily” because there wasn’t a fresh salad served with every meal.
There are plenty of unique variations on the chopped salad but one of the most popular is fattoush, an Arab salad that uses grilled or fried leftover pita. Other possible additions include peppers, radishes, lettuce, chile, mint, parsley, cilantro, allspice, cinnamon, and sumac. Each cook, each family, each community has their own variation. A small bone of contention is the size of the dice. Some advocate the tiniest of pieces, only inch / 3 mm wide, others like them coarser, up to ¾ inch / 2 cm wide. The one thing that there is no arguing over is that the key lies in the quality of the vegetables. They must be fresh, ripe, and flavorsome, with many hours in the sun behind them.
This fabulous salad is probably Sami’s mother’s creation; Sami can’t recall anyone else in the neighborhood making it. She called it fattoush, which is only true to the extent that it includes chopped vegetables and bread. She added a kind of homemade buttermilk and didn’t fry her bread, which makes it terribly comforting.
Try to get small cucumbers for this as for any other fresh salad. They are worlds apart from the large ones we normally get in most supermarkets. You can skip the fermentation stage and use only buttermilk instead of the combination of milk and yogurt. For a typical chopped salad, try the Spiced chickpeas and fresh vegetable salad (page 56), omitting the sugar and the chickpeas.
- scant 1 cup / 200 g Greek yogurt and cup plus 2 tbsp / 200 ml whole milk, or 1 cups / 400 ml buttermilk (replacing both yogurt and milk)
- 2 large stale Turkish flatbread or naan (9 oz /250 g in total)
- 3 large tomatoes (13 oz /380 g in total), cut into-inch / 1.5cm dice
- 3 oz / 100 g radishes, thinly sliced
- 3 Lebanese or mini cucumbers (9 oz / 250 g in total), peeled and chopped into ⅔-inch / 1.5cm dice
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced
- ½ oz / 15 g fresh mint
- scant 1 oz / 25 g flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
- 1 tbsp dried mint
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ¼ cup / 60 ml olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
- 2 tbsp cider or white wine vinegar
- ¾ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp sumac or more to taste, to garnish
- If using yogurt and milk, start at least 3 hours and up to a day in advance by placing both in a bowl. Whisk well and leave in a cool place or in the fridge until bubbles form on the surface. What you get is a kind of homemade buttermilk, but less sour.
- Tear the bread into bite-size pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Add your fermented yogurt mixture or commercial buttermilk, followed by the rest of the ingredients, mix well, and leave for 10 minutes for all the flavors to combine.
- Spoon the fattoush into serving bowls, drizzle with some olive oil, and garnish generously with sumac.