A taste of the Mediterranean came to the Manor earlier this month, in the form of Ottolenghi’s (and Sammi Tamimi’s) Jerusalem book, which has just won best cookbook at the IACP cookbook awards. We ran events on both the Friday and Saturday nights, welcoming in 26 guests, some old, some new to our supperclub, keen to try some Israeli treats.
I think there is a perception that Ottolenghi’s cuisine is complicated, but I think what really puts people off is some of the hard to obtain ingredients – such as preserved lemons, sumac, z’ataar and pomegranate molasses. We got some ingredients online but we did find that supermarkets are getting much better at having diverse ranges for sale. Plus, I always think that cooking is all about making something with what’s locally available, so don’t feel afraid to substitute an ingredients if you need to. For example, maple syrup was used instead of date syrup in one of the recipes, simply because I knew that I probably wouldn’t use date syrup again. Just use what is accessible to you, you never know you might create a new taste sensation!
The Jerusalem book is a good introduction to Israeli food – from the melting pot of Jewish influenced cuisine to more traditional Palestinian fare. This is interspersed with accounts from Ottolenghi about his experiences of growing up in such a beautiful place, but one that is so plagued with political unsettle. It certainly makes it an intriguing place to visit one day.
We tried to pick a good range of morsels that people would expect to find on a middle eastern menu, but also those that may surprise and intrigue. The welcome drink was a vodka spiked pomegranate fizz with rose syrup. This was paired with canapés that included homemade falafel. These were filled with tons of lovely spices and, believe it or not, raw chickpeas. This ensured the texture was moist and light rather than dry and heavy. I love falafel and loved cooking these so may invest in a proper press. Also on offer were crostini with a vividly pink beetroot and zataar dip. This was full of complex flavours – sweetness from the beetroot and maple syrup; saltiness and intense savouriness from the z’ataar. The final canapé was a little lamb and pine nut koftas, seasoned with allspice and cinnamon (amongst other spices) and served it a smooth tahini and garlic sauce.
When I first read the book I was instantly obsessed with the pistachio soup and desperate to make it. It has a base of leeks, shallots and cumin that is then blitzed up with a load of skinned pistachios. I had searched high and low for shelled pistachios to help save some time. I failed to find any and so bought some online, which proceeded to go AWOL! I finally tracked some down and then my parcel arrived. Needless to say we’ll be eating pistachios for a while! Anyway the soup requires each shelled pistachio to be skinned in order for them to best impart their luscious green colour to the soup. I sat down to do this (which involves blanching and then removing the skins, not just the shells!) and two hours later I finished blistered, teary and exhausted! The soup was rich and creamy, surprising given there was no cream in it! I felt the pistachio flavour could be stronger but I was pleased with the velvety result. The soup was served up in little cups for an amouse bouche and came spiked with toasted pistachios, sour cream and saffron water.
For the starter we chose something less predictably middle eastern. This came in the form of a pear barley risotto, full of flavours one would associate more with Spain or Italy – such as rich tomato, lemon and chilli heat. The pearl barley made a much lighter risotto, which I think was a good idea when it featured on such a full menu! It came topped with creamy and salty feta cheese that had been marinated in oil, lemon and toasted caraway seed.
The main event was a gorgeous slow cooked lamb shawarma. We had to buy 3 large legs of lamb to cover both nights. These were marinated in a mixture of over 16 ingredients overnight and then slow roasted for 4-5 hours on a very low heat. The result was extremely juicy lamb full of intense and savoury flavours. It came with its own gravy that could be spooned over. Not all our guests were meat eaters so we offered some alternatives over the two nights. On night one guests had a chermoula marinated aubergine with bulgar salad. The chermoula is a spicy oil that includes preserved lemon. The salad was spiked with tons of mint, coriander, parsley and yogurt. On night two guests were treated to sea bream marinated in harissa and cumin. This was flash fried and then served with a spicy tomato, rosewater and harissa sauce. Again, this was a complex mix of sweet, sour, salty and spicy. All dishes came served with spiced chickpeas and a beautiful and fresh slaw of root veg.
Our sorbet was a tangy summer fruit one, infused with rose water, like the fish dish. The rose water gave it lovely flora aroma. I’ve never been overly keen on rose water but having run this set of events we’ve come to realise that the best way to use it is to pair it with other strong flavours – that way it really complements rather than overpowers.
Dessert was a clementine and almond syrup cake that I’ve perfected over the last month or so. You literally flood the cake with syrup when it comes out of the oven which leads to the moistest, tastiest cake I’ve ever eaten! It’s almost like the filling of frangipane tart – yum! This was served with homemade orange curd and a yoghurt ice cream, which because it wasn’t too sweet cut through the cake nicely.
The meals were then rounded off with teas, coffees and petit fours of sweet filo cigars – a sweetened centre of more pistachios almonds and honey, encased in crispy filo pastry.
Doing the two events back to back was such hard work, but the lovely comments we received from our guests make it all wort while. We hope they loved the evening!
So we enjoyed our foray into middle eastern cuisine, so much so that we’re having a Lebanese night later this year. If you can’t wait til then, why not try our latest discovery at Leeds Market, which is Café Moor. It’s a great new ‘street food’ venture and serves delicious meals and snacks including kebabs, shawarma, tagines and baklava. We wanted to buy everything! It’s great that the market is starting to host places like this, it really makes it a destination. We only popped in to get our bream for the mains but ended up staying for hours!
Next up is our Indian Summer event, until then, Shalom!