Archive | Israel

Recipe | Warm Pigeon, persimmon and pomegranate salad with sumac and walnuts

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 A Journey into the Judean desert

No matter what I do it always somehow ends up revolving around food, even a trip into the desert. Imagine the scene, hot bare golden sands as far as the eye can see, a steep climb up to the  ruined Roman fortress of Masada which overlooks the earths lowest elevation on land (some 1,400ft below sea level) and the Dead Sea where almost nothing flourishes. You wouldn’t think this setting could be a chef’s muse and yet this trip provided ample food for thought.

 

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Maybe because the food section of my brain has been on override for the last week as cooking in Israel has been a giant culinary adventure.  Tasting new dishes and simple combinations that are oh so good as well as being firmly reminded that us Europeans have a lot to learn when dabbling with the Middle Eastern cuisine. Take hummus for instance.  Its pretty much everywhere now and people generally don’t get too excited at the sight of it until… you taste a great one.   I ate at an Arabic restaurant in Jaffa, the oldest part of Tel Aviv. Plastic chairs, weird tacky blue lights and TVs in every corner but it was here I wanted to relearn how to make hummus.  The lady boss kindly came over and explained. Soak chickpeas over night, boil them, drain and pat them. Then whizz them with lemon and tahini. ” What no garlic? I asked The picture below relays her response perfectly.

 

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“And no olive oil in the mix?”

Again that same look . (silly me)

“Olive oil only on top”

I thought I would go for my three strikes and so explained that I had a friend who peeled his chickpeas to make hummus, did they peel theirs? … she sighed and gave me that look again.  So now I know.

I also tasted some incredibly light falafel, their secret was that as well as the bicarb they added to the mix ( I knew that one!) the desired consistency is reached  not by blender but  by putting them though a meat grinder. Who would have thought ?

 

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Herbs play the central roll in a lot of salads, I tried one with only whole parsley leaves, roughly chopped mint and coriander, toasted pine nuts and linseeds only dressed in a tiny amount of lemon juice and olive oil – it was surprisingly sensational.  Tabbouleh salad ( bulgur wheat with chopped herbs and veg) came to the table bright green with a substantial amount of herbs in and hardly any wheat,  often the opposite of what we can find in the UK.  Done right this salad is fresh, interesting and super healthy.  Finally, a chopped salad, tiny specks of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, red cabbage, onion and herbs dressed in lemon, olive  oil and sumac ( a dried lemony tasting red berry often used in Middle eastern cookery).  Obviously simple but an enjoyable dish to have as part of your mezze feast.  I have to admit with all those salads I then had a craving for something fried or fatty and so some juicy pine nut, parsley and lamb kofta did the trick.

Back to this postcard’s recipe.   On my scramble over the ruins of Masada we were shown a pigeon tower built by the Romans ( or should I be more accurate and say built by the Jews under Roman rule?). As there was not much local meat, the desert not providing great grazing opportunities, pigeons were used when a feast was required. Mmm pigeon I thought…

 

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Keeping with the Middle Eastern flavours I wanted to use Persimmons also called Sharon fruit. I confess I have always walked past them back in the UK eyeing them sceptically.  Here they were piled high in all the markets and curiosity got the better of me.  There are two main sorts you are likely to find. Hachiya, which are longer in shape and must, I repeat must be eaten when soft and the Fuyu  which looks like a tomato and is eaten when firm.  This recipe also uses sumac, the dried red berry and of course pomegranates which were at every street corner and were round ,big and beautiful.

 

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Warm Pigeon, persimmon and pomegranate salad with sumac and walnuts.

 

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 Serves 4

Dressing

2 tbs pomegranate molases

1 tbs olive oil

2 tsp sumac

juice of 1/2 a lemon

Salad

200 g cooked chickpeas

60 g picked  parsley leaves

2 heads red chicory

seeds from 1/2 a pomegranate

75 g roughly chopped walnuts

4 fuyu persimmons , peeled and sliced

4 pigeon breasts

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Method

1)In a big bowl whack together the dressing ingredients with a little salt and pepper.

2) Toss the chickpeas in the dressing and leave to absorb the flavours while you cook the pigeon.

3) Season the pigeon breasts with salt and pepper and a little olive oil.  Sear them in a frying pan on a medium heat for about 2 minutes on each side.  Leave to rest covered lightly in foil while you finish the salad.

4) To the bowl add the walnuts, parsley, chicory, persimmons, and pomegranates.  Toss well

5) Slice the pigeon breasts and toss in with the salad.

Serve immediately.

 

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This Weeks transport: A tour bus through the west bank, a return El Al flight  to the UK and a wildly unadventurous South West train  from London to Dorset. 

Next I am off to ..Hertford, no.. Hereford ..I meanHampshire and I am sadly probably going to sing the entire score to My Fairy Lady on the way.

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Recipe | Honey date and cardamom ice cream with pistachio praline

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My cold date…

 

With reassuringly high security to board the plane to Tel Aviv I was relieved and delighted to finally arrive in the pleasantly warm evening air of Israel.

 

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My first adventure out was a food tour of Jerusalem.  Taking the road from Tel Aviv we travelled down the same paths that Nebuchadnezzar, the Emperor Constantine and the Crusaders took to give me my first view of this incredible, deeply complex city.  Practically everything ( due to a law) is built from the tawny colored but sometimes verging on dusky pink Jerusalem stone.  We went straight to the markets to buy dates, tahini and nuts for one of the upcoming evening parties.

 

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The gate of Damascus

I am so glad we had a guide.  The markets are more than just a place to shop, they are a huge part of this country’s soul and social scene and it is here that simple purchases, for instance 1 kilo of almonds, can roll out into long drawn out discussions, tastings and banter.  It wasn’t about haggling but more about selecting the best, which be warned isn’t always what‘s on show.  For me, not speaking Hebrew, it was difficult to understand or guess what was being said between the guide, the hostess and stall holder, but it was truly animated and entertaining.

 

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Mostly everything was impressively fresh, from the fish stalls where I saw the St Peter fish  that appeared in the story of Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 to the huge stacks of  pomegranates and the walls of herbs.

 

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At one shop they were selling freshly ground tahini, a sesame seed paste that is used a lot in Middle Eastern cookery,  such as in hummus and babaganoush ( a grilled aubergine dip) . With the mill running in the background you could taste the warm paste literally “hot of the press”.  At one restaurant we visited that day ( we ate at 5 different ones which even by my standards is impressive)  they were serving warm grilled breads with thick tahini sauce as a dip.  An interesting alternative to hummus that certainly engages the taste buds.

( To make this whisk 2 tbsp tahini paste and 1 tbsp lemon juice – it will be thick, slacken off with about 1 tbs water to make a dipping sauce. Season with salt and pepper  you can also add 1 tsp finely chopped parsley.)

 

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We visited a Georgian fast food outlet where they make juicy cheesey breads sometimes with fillings of onions or with different pastry like filo.   My favorite was an oval dough, with an egg baked in the cow cheese and butter filling, the idea being that you tear off bits of bread and dip it into the yolk – lip smackingly exciting.

 

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Top left – Haclapuri, bottom left – Magarloli , Right  – Acharuli

Surprisingly a lot of restaurants and food stalls are keen to show their European cultural side as I found out when visiting the cheese stall.  I of course love good cheese but was desperate not to be plied with roquefort, manchego and somerset cheddar.  I practically had to beg him to let me try some Israeli goats cheese, he said

“It no good”

I gave him my best smile and he eventually complied…

Sadly he was right, although I think it would have been fine for cooking with or stuffed in  that bread.

 

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Kubbeh  – stuffed semolina cakes with meat

 

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Typical table setting and Napkin in Israel

This post card recipe is a dessert I made for one evening that is perfect to celebrate the land of milk and honey…

 

Honey, date and cardamom ice cream with pistachio praline.

 

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A date tree in Jerusalem

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Makes 1 litre

 

500 ml cream

500 ml milk

8 egg yolks

400g pitted chopped dates

10 – 15 cardamom pods cut in half

1 vanilla pod  split length ways and seeds scraped out

 

Swish a saucepan out with water ( I find this somehow helps to stop the milk from scalding the pan)

Pour in the milk and cream and add the cut cardamom and vanilla

Gently heat for ten minutes but do not boil.

Turn off the heat and allow to infuse for at least 20 minutes

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Strain the mix through a sieve into another pan.

Add the chopped dates and gently heat again for 5 minutes – do not let it boil.

Take off the heat and whizz up the mix so the dates are pureed.

Crack the egg yolks into another large bowl

Return the pureed date and milk mix onto the heat and bring to the boil

Quickly pour this onto the egg yolks and immediately whisk.

Let it cool then pour it into a suitable container to cover and freeze.

I didn’t churn mine and the texture was great, it takes about 8 hours to freeze.

 Pistachio Praline

200g caster sugar

1 tbs cold water

140g chopped pistachios

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In a heavy based saucepan add the sugar and water

slowly heat until the sugar melts

Keep a good eye on it and watch for it to start to turn dark golden.

Add the nuts, stir then pour out onto a greased tray.

Leave to cool and harden

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When you want to serve scoop the ice cream into chilled glasses with a shard of praline, a drizzle of really good honey and some curls of dark chocolate  – you need the bitterness as depending on the dates the ice cream can seem quite sweet.

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This week’s transport; the snazzy (but pricey) Heathrow express, El Al airlines and a terrifyingly speedy Israeli taxi.

 

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 Jerusalem at night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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