Sunday, October 28, 2012

Armenian hot yoghurt and pearl barley soup

The Armenians occupy one of the four quarters of  old Jerusalem and have a very long history of presence in the city. I decided to make this soup because it seemed like a great dish for a cold evening. Needless to say, it was my first introduction to Armenian food, since I snubbed their eateries in Jerusalem and haven't been otherwise to Armenia or other places with lots of Armenians, so I can't say if this recipe felt a little weird because Armenian cuisine's a little weird for my palate, or because something didn't quite go as it should have. Here is my recipe, reproportioned for one:
- 70 g of pearl barley
-half an onion, finely chopped
- mint leaves
- 2 spoonfuls olive oil (the original indicates butter)
- 1 egg
- 3 large spoonfuls of plain yoghurt
- salt and black pepper

Fill a pan with water and put the barley to boil with a teaspoonful of salt, until the barley is cooked but al dente, you need water for the soup so add some if it's evaporating. In the meantime, sauté the onion and mint in olive oil. Whisk the egg and yoghurt in a mixing bowl. Slowly pour in the barley and water, one ladle at the time, so that the yoghurt doesn't split. Then return the soup to the stove and bring to medium eat, stirring continuously. Serve hot.

The main issue I had with the soup is that it was too "eggy", because of problems in reproportioning. The original recipe is for 4 people and includes 2 eggs, and obviously there was no way I could use less than one egg. It felt a bit like some sort of liquid omelet (but maybe that's how the Armenians like it?) Next time, I'm certainly going to use a ton more herbs to temper this, because anything which is yoghurt/herbs is bound to be delicious. I also don't get why Ottolenghi&Tamimi recommend using butter so much in contexts where olive oil would make much more sense to me (after all, this is Mediterranean food we're talking about). Maybe they're adapting the recipes to their intended British audience?
However, it made me think that barley is an ingredient I totally need to use more and it's true that it makes for a very comforting dish.

Clementine and almond syrup cake

I'm aware this looks nowhere as nice as it does in Ottolenghi and Tamimi's book, and not only because I didn't make it in a round spring form... anyway, contrary to what this picture suggests, I didn't carbonize it either. One of the problems I keep having is that the book seems to be targeted at enormous Jewish or Arab extended families and I keep having to reduce and re proportion doses, which isn't always easy. So here's the recipe I followed (the original is meant for 8-10 people. I suggest playing a bit by ear):
90 g butter
40 g sugar
candied orange zest
candied lemon zest (I didn't have organic clementines and lemons)
juice of 2 clementines
One egg
40 gs ground almonds
70 gs sifted flour
a pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 180C. Lightly grease a baking tin (it's supposed to be a spring-form) and line with baking parchment.
Place the butter, 50 g of sugar and both zests in a mixer bowl. Mix with a beater attachment. Do not work the mix too much. Incorporate half of the ground almonds.
I happened to have one egg at home, anyway you're supposed to add them gradually (I would have put 2 otherwise, the original calls for 5) while the machine is running.Add the remaining almonds, flour and salt and mix them until it's smooth. Put the batter in the tin and level it with a palette. Bake for about 50 minutes.
When the cake is almost done, prepare the syrup. Place the remaining sugar and the citrus juices in a small saucepan and bring it to boil. Pour the boiling syrup on the cake as soon as it's out of the oven. Leave the cake to cool down completely before you remove it from the tin.

This cake felt really sweet, which I'm not sure it was supposed to be, though probably yes, considering most Middle Eastern desserts. It also felt quite rich, not at all a "light texture" as the recipe indicated, which is probably due to using the candied zest (I'd love to try making this again with the proper zest, as soon as I have some organic one under my hands). But it does make for a great snack, and goes really well with coffee and tea, especially if, like me, you drink these with no sugar. Plus two of my friends tried it and said it was delicious, and they're nice people and not fussy eaters, but still. This wasn't the first experiment,  actually, since I don't bake very frequently, but I'll have to redo the first couple since I don't remember the modified recipes. Oh, and the book says that if you keep it in a closed container it will last and it's true-I made it 4 days ago and today it still felt fresh and fragrant.

As an intro: O Jerusalem

Jerusalem is a city which, for thousands of years, has inspired extremely strong feelings of all sorts. It is easy to fixate on it in one way or another. I for one,have been a bit resilient to its magnetism in what little time I have spent there. To quote the British Jewish author Linda Grant:"Jerusalem sat, sits on me like a helmet. [...I had the feeling that, if I didn't watch my step I'd fall down a hole any minute into the 4th century and however much I shouted no one would come and rescue me from that crevasse." Obviously, I admired such amazing landmarks such as the Western Wall, the Holy Sepulcher Church, the Golden Dome but what I remember most vividly is being harassed by shopkeepers whose eyes lit with shekel signs when they saw me approach along la Via Dolorosa and risking a heart attack after having climbed a hill in tropical temperatures to get to the Dominus Flevit church (where I almost wept since it was closed).

However, Jerusalem began to work its spell on me too in an unexpected way. I was delighted to come across Yotam Ottolenghi and Sam Tamimi's Jerusalem. I enjoy cooking and buying cookbooks (something I've inherited from my mother, but truth be told I don't always use them), approve of any Israeli-Palestinian collaboration, plus the book is full of gorgeous pictures and bits of the authors' personal histories, plenty of the recipes looked doable and combined different cooking traditions. Eventually, I attempted to carry out one or two of the recipes that looked good and easy to make, and posted pictures of the results on facebook. I realized, as I perused the book, I was developing a mild obsession with culinary Jerusalem and decided to set myself a Julie and Julia kind of challenge, you know, as in the blogger who cooked her way through one of Julia Child's tome. Though the idea came, once again, from Jerusalem itself. While rummaging the drawers for cutlery in the singularly homey kitchen of my Zion Square hostel, I chatted with two American travelers, one of which taught (Italian) cooking. As the conversation touched on the joys of preparing and eating food, the idea of cooking your way through an entire cookbook came up.

Now I don't aim to cook my way through all of Jerusalem. I've no clue where to get some of the ingredients, for one thing (where do Messrs. Ottolenghi and Tamimi expect me to find kohlrabis?) not to mention lack of time, lack of self-discipline, etc. But I'm trying to make my way through as many of the recipes as possible, and use this space to discuss the recipes and their applications.