Jerusalem: if there is a city with a a more dense and layered history, and a more contested and drama-filled present, it is hard to imagine what city that would be. Symbolic center of Judaism, third holist city of Sunni Islam, and according to Christian belief, the place where Christ died and ascended, it would seem to be almost more than one city can bare. And yet today Jerusalem is a vibrant city with a diverse population of nearly 900,000. And according to Jerusalem A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, it’s a city with a rich and diverse food culture as well. The two authors, business partners in a handful of well-regarded London restaurants, both grew up in Jerusalem. Tamimi is a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, Ottolenghi, an Italian Jew from the western part of the city, but it wasn’t until they were both living in London that they met. And a creative collaboration it has turned out to be. I don’t get excited by many cookbooks, but this one has really captured my imagination. And so, inspired by Jerusalem, the city and the cookbook, I wanted to create a menu for our Monday night dinners which would capture a bit of the flavor of that ancient city. On the plate above, you can see what we came up with. I didn’t get pictures, but there was also a chickpea soup flavored with the spice mixture ras el hanout, and an almond cake over which I poured a syrup made with orange juice concentrate, brown rice syrup and maple syrup. More pictures and a recipe for baba ghanoush after the jump.
Photos: Top–This is the plate we created to celebrate Jerusalem. Clockwise from center top: Whole wheat pita bread, baba ghanoush, chopped salad of cucumber, tomato, green beans and green onion, mixed baby greens and arugula salad with a citrus dressing created by Susanne, roasted sweet potato and red onions, rice with lentils and caramelized onions. Photo above: Susanne prepares the rice and lentil dish for take out volunteers Kate and Judy. In the foreground, other components of the meal in various stages of preparation.
Chefs Gary and Susanne apply the finishing touches to the roasted sweet potatoes and red onions. We drizzled on a layer of tahini cream (tahini and tofu thinned with water and seasoned with lemon juice and salt) and finally, drizzled them with pomegranate syrup.
If there is one food typical of Jerusalem, both for Jews and Moslems, it would be hummus. But for our Monday meal, I wanted to make a soup featuring chick peas (the main ingredient in hummus), so I decided to go with baba ghanoush, another dip which is a staple of middle eastern cuisine, and is based on eggplant, rather than chick peas. Like so much in Jerusalem, what exactly constitutes baba ghanoush is also contested: does it contain tahini or not? Everyone seems to agree, however, that you really must burn the outer skin of the eggplant in order to impart the desired subtle smoky flavor. So, here is my take on baba ghanoush:
One large or two medium eggplants (14-16 ounces in total), 1/4 – 1/2 cup tahini, 2 cloves peeled garlic, 1 or 2 or 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, juice of 1/2 lemon or to taste, salt to taste, an optional tablespoon or two of chopped parsley as garnish.
1. Preheat oven to 425˚ F. Place the eggplant on a cookie sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Roast until the eggplant is collapsed and very tender. Have patience, this could take an hour or more!
2. Remove the eggplant from the oven, and using a long tongs, char the outside over a burner on top of the stove. You want the outside to burn a little, a bit of smoky flavor is crucial to good baba ghanoush.
3. Allow the eggplant to cool slightly before peeling. Careful! You really do want to remove all bits of charred skin!
4. Place the eggplant, along with some tahini, garlic, olive oil, a bit of salt and lemon juice in a food processor. Process until well blended, adding tahini, olive oil, salt, and lemon juice until you achieve a balance of flavors which appeals to you. Variations: add a tiny bit of cayenne, or a little smoked paprika or cumin if you like.
5. Serve, garnished with chopped parsley and a spritz of olive oil, with warm pita bread, or use as a dip for veggies.
Travis and Kate pose with the chopped cucumber and tomato salad.
Yotam Ottolenghi (photo via Wikipedia)