Eating Jerusalem

by carlyjunehaase

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There has been a lot of craze out on the blogosphere lately about the newest book to hit the shelves- and the kitchens- of food lovers around the world.  Of course the book I’m talking about is Jerusalem the latest masterpiece from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

Bearing that in mind this post is a little bit after the fact. So many of my favorite bloggers have been cooking and writing from it for months.  After reading so much about it I went into a frenzy once I had my very own copy sitting happily in my kitchen. Any time I’m feeling a little bit bored or uninspired in the kitchen all I have to do is pick up Jerusalem and I’m transported to another place .  Some of my very favorite recipes include Roasted Chicken with Clementines & Arak and Braised Eggs with Lamb, Tahini & Sumac.

Ottolenghi and Tamimi make you think outside the box. If you haven’t cooked Middle Eastern food before don’t be intimidated.  While some of the ingredients are hard to find, I relish hunting down things like preserved lemon and harissa paste, and in Germany we actually have loads of Turkish grocers selling everything from fresh herbs to meat and spices. Jerusalem has certainly influenced the contents of my pantry and if you’re looking for a pick-me-up in the kitchen or really just something new to wake-up your senses, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

I think my favorite thing about Jerusalem (aside from the smashing food) are the stories that are beautifully woven throughout the figurative tapestry of the book. Tales from Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s childhood run rampant; stories that make you laugh and smile and wish you were there too, growing up in a city with so much history and so many different cultures all living side by side- though as we all know, not always in peace. I kept it at my bedside for weeks- to the despair of my boyfriend- and was constantly rifling through its pages, enraptured not only by the stunning photographs and my desire to eat everything, but the story that holds it all together. It makes you nostalgic for your own childhood and that special after-school snack your mom had ready for you when you got home, and all the other memories that are so often associated with food.

I have so much respect for this book because what it does so well is what all bloggers, including myself, try to do each and every time we sit down at the computer and try to put words to that great piece of cake we ate yesterday. It’s an art really and a magnificent example at that.

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My favorite recipe from the book though is without a doubt the baby spinach salad with dates & almonds. Right off the bat I had to make some substitutions because a) tender baby spinach as I know it is not to be found in Germany and b) having made this salad so often I now tend to use whatever I have lying about instead of leaving the cozy confines of my apartment for the chaos at the market.

So instead of using baby spinach I used Feldsalat. Literally translated it means “field salad” but it is tender and mild and a perfect backdrop to the strong flavors of the dish. As you can see I also used pistachios instead of almonds. This is mostly because I had pistachios in the pantry and not almonds, but also because I love seeing the vibrant green nuts nestled amongst the salad. They also taste amazing.

What really makes this dish sing though, and the reason I keep coming back for more, are the pickled dates and red onions.

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If you’re not a fan of all things pickled hang with me a moment longer. I promise you the pickling process (which just involves soaking the red onion and dates in a wee bit of vinegar for approx. 30 minutes) brings around a total change. Dates which can be tooth-achingly sweet become much more manageable. Raw red onions (which I normally avoid like the plague) lose their acrid harshness and lend a nice balancing act to their new best friends (the dates).  Together they are the bread and butter of this salad. Meat? What meat? This is not a salad where you may feel inclined to toss some chicken breast on top. Even my very German sauerkraut and schnitzel loving boyfriend gobbles up this salad with glee. And no, he doesn’t request any extra protein.

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I should also mention the fabulous “croutons”. I used a mixture of day-old Turkish flat bread and a seedy whole-grain number I had on standby in the bread bin. I broke them down into bite sized pieces and cooked them in a pan over medium-high heat with the pistachios and a nice helping of butter and olive oil. In about 5 or 6 minutes they began to crisp up and I took them off the heat and added salt, pepper, chili flakes and sumac.

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Sumac is a necessity here. Don’t skip it! It may take a little leg-work to track it down, depending on your location, but most specialty food stores should carry it. It’s not hot and adds not only great color but a sharp Middle Eastern flavor to the salad.

Salad with dates and pistachios (adapted from Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s recipe in Jerusalem)

Ingredients

big bunch of baby spinach or other tender salad (approx 150 grams)

1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced

100 g pitted Medjool dates, quartered lengthways

a bit of unsalted butter

2 T olive oil

2 small flat breads torn into small pieces (pita or any other day-old bread also works nicely)

75 g unsalted pistachios or almonds

2 tsp sumac

1/2 tsp chili flakes

2 T lemon juice

1 T vinegar (I used white balsamic, white wine would also work here)

salt

Begin by putting the vinegar, red onion and dates in a small bowl. Let sit for around 20-30 minutes. Then drain away any remaining vinegar and set aside.

Heat the butter and olive oil in a small frying pan. Add the bread and pistachios (or almonds) and cook until crunchy (about 5-6 minutes) while constantly stirring. Once the bread is ready remove from heat and add the sumac, chili, and a pinch of salt. Set aside to cool.

When you’re ready to serve toss the spinach leaves with the bread mixture. Add the dates and red onion, the leftover olive oil and a bit more salt. Toss gently with your fingers and serve.

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