Ooooh-weeee, did I love the food and flavors this month! Though I’m still in a grief fog (understandably), I somehow managed to cook more than I anticipated this month. It is sort of a big deal given that all I have actually wanted to eat since about the week before my Dad died is arugula salad**. The fact that I cooked frequently from Jerusalem speaks volumes about the quality of the recipes. I’ve been excited about the September Cook the Books and Jerusalem since Briggs and I hatched this thing and it did not disappoint. Pretty much everything I made turned out fantastic.
**Not just any arugula salad though. It is very particular – arugula with pickled fennel, sliced pepperoncinis, avocado, and parmesan shavings. A bit of olive oil, the pickled pepperoncini juice from the pepperoncinis, and a squirt of lemon juice. I, of course, eat other things. But it is the only thing I want to eat.
- Roasted sweet potatoes & fresh figs (p.26) This was a bit of a departure for me. I don’t love fresh figs like everyone and their brother seem to love them. They are fine, but they rarely cross my mind even when they are in season. I also don’t love sweet potatoes, so I subbed yams. Ok, and one more disclosure. I don’t tend to like anything sweet with my yams. So, the recipe was a bit of a risk for me, but I took it because it called for a bunch of green onions and a red chile and goat cheese (optional, but I used feta) and I imagined all that would contrast well with the added fig sweetness. And you know what? It was fantastic and it grew on me. I really liked the balsamic reduction. The first few bites I thought it was fine, but then noticed I keep going for more and more. It is definitely a unique side dish and a keeper. For my own taste, the feta was key and I’d add a bit more red chili to balance out the sweetness of the fig/yam/balsamic reduction.
- Baby spinach salad with dates & almonds (p.30) This salad is going in rotation. Red onions and dates are briefly marinated in vinegar and salt. Pita and almonds are cooked and then tossed with sumac and chili flakes. It is all tossed with spinach and a bit of olive oil and lemon juice. Simple and perfect. I ended up eating some of the leftover crunchy pita and almonds as a straight up snack. It was the first time I cooked with sumac and I am a fan!
- Roasted eggplant with fried onion & chopped lemon (p.32) This is another dish that I wasn’t sure about because, well, you just never know when it comes to eggplant. Right? The recipe has onions, green chiles, cumin, sumac, and feta all mixed up on top of roasted eggplant, with a chopped lemon and some garlic. It turned out kinda magical. I really loved it!
- Fried tomatoes with garlic (p.50) No mystery here, but fresh picked and fried tomatoes topped with garlic, chiles, and parsley. Served with bread for gobbling it all up with. Perfect.
- Puréed beets with yogurt & za’atar (p.53) An interesting dip of puréed roasted beets mixed with greek yogurt, garlic, red chile, date syrup (I used pomegranate molasses, because it is what I had on hand), and za’atar. It is garnished with green onions, hazelnuts (I used pistachios) and goat cheese (again, with the feta). Now, I’ll say this was my least favorite of the recipes I tried, but even in saying that I would try it again. It certainly wasn’t bad and I really liked the premise. I wanted a bit more ooomph. More za’atar? More chilis? More salt? Something. I’m now wondering re-reading the recipe if I forgot to put in the red chile? (Like I mentioned, grief fog. I’m not to be trusted with directions.) It was so pretty. I’m trying it again!
- A’ja/bread fritters (p.64) Strange lil’ idea, but ultimately a tasty one. Bread is soaked and the water squeezed out. Then crumbled with a bunch of herbs and feta into patties. I thought they were amazing. Oddly delicious.
- Basmati rice & orzo (p.103) This is my new go-with-anything side dish. Simple and turns out perfectly every single time. And, it is effing delicious. I have no idea why it is so good. I mean, it is rice, orzo, and broth. No whoop. But, it is perfect. It might just be the best rice I have ever made. Seriously.
- Conchiglie with yogurt, peas & chile (p.111) I don’t totally get the Jerusalem connection on this dish, other than the use of a hot yogurt sauce, but no matter. It is really good and I now want to eat my pasta with a hot yogurt sauce always. (You know, except for October Cook the Books with Marcella Hazan!) This was not just any ol’ hot yogurt sauce, but rather greek yogurt in the Vitamix with garlic, peas, and olive oil. Mixed slowly with the pasta. Additional peas, basil, feta, are added along with toasted pine nuts and a chili oil (I used aleppo chili pepper). It was perfect. I want more. I can imagine using other vegetables in place of the peas as well. Broccoli and cauliflower would both fare well, I’m sure.
- Basic hummus (p.114) Friends. The best hummus I’ve ever made. So perfect. So smooth (more Vitamix love!) I started making it exactly as directed and then tinkered to perfection. We liked a bit more garlic and lemon juice, for our tastes. I also added a bit of cumin. I don’t know if it was using ice-cold water that helped (and I did use more than called for to get the texture I prefer), but it is hands down the best I’ve made. I’m eating it now. Mmmmm.
- Hummus kawarma (lamb) with lemon sauce (p.118) I used ground lamb for this instead of chopping a neck fillet by myself (I assume people might do this. But I’m not that girl). The flavors for this were absolutely spot-on perfect. The already great hummus, topped with kawarma perfection, and drizzled with a lemon sauce of lemons, green chili, parsley, garlic and vinegar was so, so, so good.
- Kofta b’siniyah (p.195) As I remembered mid-month, I actually do have a limit for eating lamb. It doesn’t skeeve me out the way chicken often does (a combination of the horrid chicken industry and having pet chickens), but it has a flavor that, while I really like it, I can only do in small, pretty infrequent doses. In making the kofta, it called for equal parts lamb and beef but I chose to do about 1/3 lamb and 2/3 beef, because I felt I was at my limit after the kawarma. The meat mixture has onion, garlic, toasted pine nuts, parsley, red chile, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. The cute, oblong meatballs are cooked and placed on a plate with a tahini sauce. Again, a keeper.
- Turkey & zuchhini burgers with green onion & cumin (p.200) The slider-sized turkey and zucchini burgers will be made again again. I imagine they are easily frozen and pulled out for a quick meal, though they actually took no time at all to make on the spot. The lemony sumac sauce was a nice addition and was also great as a veggie dip later on.
- Did the recipes taste good? Yes. Yes, so many times, yes. Which is what I would expect when I see that a cookbook has 366 amazon reviews and a perfect 5-star rating. Seriously mpressive.
- Would I use it again? Yes. I can’t wait. This has been one of my favorites of the year so far. And, I am adding Plenty and Ottolenghi to my list of books to get.
- Is it reliable? Totally. The flavors of everything I made were spot on.
- Does it use real food? Yes
- Can I replicate the recipes and are the results worth the effort? Totally. Nothing I made was difficult and the results far outweighed the effort and time needed. I really can’t recommend the cookbook enough
Aimée from Homemade Trade is also participating in Tasting Jerusalem, so she is no stranger to cooking from the cookbook. Aimée is an avid rice pudding fan so she had to whip up the Cardamom rice pudding with pistachios & rose water (p 270). She tinkered around a bit, but was pleased with the results. I am a big rice pudding fan too, so I’ll give it a try soon! For September she also made Shakshuka (p 66) that she loved. The Wheat berries & Swiss chard with pomegranate molasses (p 100) resulted mixed reviews. They really liked it at first, but they found the leftovers a bit bitter. As part of Tasting Jerusalem, she has also made and discussed (linked up in her review): Roasted Cauliflower Salad (p 62), Baharat spiced grilled eggplant over Mejadra (p 120), Baharat eggs over Mejadra, preserved lemons (p 203), and Lamb Meatballs with Currants, Yogurt & Herbs (p 199). Wow!
Karen from Prospect: The Pantry went all out, as always. Karen was already a fan of Ottolenghi and the cookbook Plenty. She has traveled to Jerusalem, as well as other parts of the Middle East where, as she describes, “histories and cultures compete, clash and co-exist.” Her trip(s) were memorable and moving and led her to an even greater appreciation for the two author’s presentations of their personal recipes. She noted that there were a lot of things she could make seasonally due to overlap of seasons (eggplant and cauliflower, for example). So, what did she make? You better sit down! She made, mastered, and her whole family loved:
- Maqluba (pages 127-8) I am still hoping to get to this in the next week or two. Sounds perfect for the rainy, fall days we’ve been having. And, yours looks gorgeous!
- Chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice (page 184)
- Roasted sweet potatoes & fresh figs (page 26)
- Charred okra with tomato, garlic & preserved lemon (page 74)
- Mixed bean salad (page 42)
- Spiced chickpeas & fresh vegetable salad, page 56)
- Ruth’s stuffed Romano peppers (page 165)
- Baharat (page 299)
- Lemony leek meatballs (page 44)
- Turkey & zucchini burgers with green onion & cumin (page 200) Definitely will be on repeat around here, too!
- Fried cauliflower with tahini (page 60)
- Saffron chicken & herb salad (page 188) I’m so glad you made this! I wanted to try it!
- Salmon steaks in chraimeh sauce (pages 234-5)
- Cod cakes in tomato sauce (page 225)
- Prawns, scallops & clams with tomato & feta (page 233)
Basically, I need to move into Karen’s house. And, clearly, I need to cook a lot more from the book because I didn’t get to some that seem like they will become classics as they did at her home.
Marisa from Marisa Makes busted out some hummus (p.114), Mejadra (pg 120), Musabaha (warm chickpeas with hummus) and toasted pita (pg 119), Burekas (pg 254), Red pepper and baked egg galettes (pg 243). What filling did you use for your burekas? They were on my too-try list as well, so glad they turned out!
Tanja from The Paddington Foodie joined Cook the Books new this month. Welcome! She made several recipes and found them all to be amazing! Burnt eggplant with garlic, lemon, & pomegranate seeds (p.79), Beef and Lamb Meatballs With Broad Beans and Lemon (p.196), Baharat Spice Mix (p. 299), and Chocolate Krantz Cake (p.284). I’m hoping I’m not too late for eggplant this year, because I was eyeing that recipe as well! Impressive job on that Chocolate Krantz Cake! Glad to hear that, while it needs to be planned ahead, wasn’t particularly difficult and that it worked on the first go! Hope to see you back in October!
JK and Angela at Tea Time Adventures made Semolina, coconut & marmalade cake (p. 264), Baby Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds (p.30), Burnt Eggplant salad (p.79), and Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Fresh Figs (p.26). I love hearing about the Tea Time Adventure luncheons – they always sound so fun! And, I’m definitely giving the cake a go – it sounds right up my alley!
So, that wraps up September folks! I hope you’ll join us for October Cook the Books with Marcella Hazan and Essentials of Classic Italian. Sadly, Marcella passed away a few days ago. We couldn’t have foreseen this when we chose it for October, but it seems only right to cook it up right this month in memory of a legend. I noticed yesterday that Cathy at Mrs Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen put out the push for a virtual dinner party of sorts to cook for those we love. Details are on her page, but she set the date as October 26th. I love this idea and hope that some of you do as well! I know I’m in!