Recently something has taken hold of me, I seem powerless to fight it, I find myself preoccupied with it, I am talking to everyone about it all the time, I have even dreamed about it at night! Oh yes, I am smitten, I am…..Yotam Ottolenghi obsessed!
I have not felt this way about a chef or a cookbook for sometime. I was given ‘Jerusalem‘ by Yotam Ottelnghi & Sami Tamimi for Christmas by my Sister-in-law and it has captivated me ever since. Upon receiving it, I thumbed through it as I usually would, making a note of all the recipes that I wanted to try but I soon realised it was a rather silly exercise as I was bookmarking pretty much the entire book!
There is something very grown up about this food. The use of spice in such an exciting way whilst many ingredients are humble and conventional is inspiring and surprising to my palate. The recipes come from the writers childhood memories of Jerusalem, which seems to be a melting pot for Jewish and Middle Eastern cuisine. I had no idea that their food could be so wondrous, I have been blown away.
And then to my delight, there appeared on my television a new cookery show ‘Ottolenghi’s Mediterranean Feast! Well this just cemented my love affair with him and his food. A stunning journey showcasing such fantastic cuisines and recipes, it is compulsory viewing. He also appears to be such a laid back character, gentle and amicable…*note so self: stop gushing!*
Anyway, back to the remarkable food! My aim with this post is to try to convey some of my passion about Jerusalem and to open peoples eyes to this wonderful cuisine and to Yotam Ottolenghi if he is unknown to you before now.
Although I am an avid cookery book collector, I do not often cook more than a handful of recipes from any one book and even then, not in a short space of time. But things have been very different with this book. I have cooked 10 recipes and counting (all the more remarkable as this is week 12 of this year which means that I am almost cooking one a week!).
Highlights include Barley Risotto with Marinated Feta; Basmati & Wild Rice with Chickpeas, Currants & Herbs; Roasted Chicken with Clementines & Arak; Chicken with Caramelized Onion & Cardamom Rice to name but a few. I can tell you that each and every one of them was delicious and provoked much discussion in my house as to how the spicing elicits such extraordinary flavour. I cannot wait to make them all again and my mouth is literally watering at the thought…
I foolishly didn’t take photos of the majority of dishes but last weekend I did when I made Cod Cakes in Tomato Sauce. Unlike any other fishcakes I have ever had, they were amazing. The fish was chopped into little chunks which gave them a really meaty texture. Unusually spiced with lots of cumin and coriander, then simmered in a spicy tomato sauce. They were unforgettable and I look forward to making them for all my friends! Just stunning.
But on to the recipe that I have chosen to share – Mejadra. I have chosen this particular dish as it’s a revelation. I mentioned before that the recipes are ‘grown up’ in this book and it strikes me that this one is particularly so. I would have overlooked this recipe in my youth but nowadays, I get excited by the idea of vegetarian food consisting of mainly lentils and rice!
Mejadra is apparently a popular Arab dish and considered to be comfort food by both Yotam and Sami who both remember it from their youth. Who knew that lentils and rice, simply spiced with cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon and all spice, punctuated with crispy deep fried onions, could taste this complex and flavoursome? It amazed me so much that I just had to write about it!
So, if you fancy making a dish that is remarkable, striking, delectable and thrifty, then be bold and try this! It will not disappoint and you may find yourself enlightened as a result.
Mejadra (recipe taken from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi
250g green lentils
4 medium onions, sliced
3 tbsp plain flour
250ml sunflower oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
200g basmati rice
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp sugar
salt & pepper
Dollops of yoghurt to serve
- Start by boiling your lentils in plenty of water for 12-15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- In a bowl, sprinkle your sliced onions with the plain flour and season with a teaspoon of salt. Mix them up to make sure they are all lightly coated.
- In a wide pan, heat up your sunflower oil ready to deep fry the onions. Once sizzling hot, fry a generous handful of the onions for 7 minutes until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon into a colander lined with kitchen towel. Season them lightly. Then fry another handful of onions and continue the process in batches until all the onions are nice and crunchy.
- Pour off any excess oil left in your pan once you have finished frying your onions and wipe the pan clean. Then gently heat your cumin & coriander seeds for a couple of minutes until they release their aroma. Be careful not to burn them. Then add the rice, olive oil, ground spices, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and some pepper. Stir to coat the rice and then add the lentils and water and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer on low for 15 minutes.
- Take it off the heat and take the lid off and cover with a clean towel and replace the lid to seal. Leave alone for 10 more minutes.
- Lastly, add half the onions to the rice and lentils and mix in. Serve in bowls topped with a dollop of yoghurt. Be prepared to be amazed!
I am entering this recipe into few blogging chllenges. Firstly, Javelin Warriors Made with Love Mondays as it is made from scratch, no shortcuts at all!