I am a bit of a control freak in the kitchen. I like to cook alone, to take all the space, to do things my way. But there is one person on God’s green earth whose kitchen rhythms and mine have grown together over the years: my long-time roommate and dear friend Helen. I recently visited her and found that though we no longer live together, our kitchen synchronization remains as good as ever. In just three hours, we conjured up a feast. I think that may be a personal record.
First, a word about the recipes. All of the dishes you’re about to see, except the dessert, come from the exceptional Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Both authors were born in Jerusalem and fill the pages with mouthwatering recipes, photographs, and stories about their beloved home. The recipes reflect the diverse Jewish and Arab communities living in Jerusalem, with flavors from Palestine, the Mediterranean, Sephardic and Ashekenazi Jewish communities of Europe and North Africa, and more. Rarely do I read a cookbook and want to eat something from literally every page.
With great difficulty, we narrowed our choices to just four recipes. We thought we’d have almost a full day to shop and cook, but the kitchen drain decided to belch out a thick layer of tarry soap-grease scum, filling the sink and coating the counters. No problem. We bleached the counters. The plumbers came. We sped to Whole Foods and inhaled some to-go sushi and a granola bar while hurling ingredients into our cart. We rolled up our sleeves. We got to work.
Though the recipes occasionally require multiple steps (e.g. toasting nuts, frying garnishes), each extra step is thoughtfully chosen to build huge flavor. This meal was delicious, nutritious, colorful, varied – simply incredible. If you want to try something before getting the book, the Ottolenghi empire has made some of the recipes available on their website, like the basmati rice below. However, there’s really no reason to wait. I promise you’ll find something you like.
To finish off the meal, we had an original creation. Helen is a particularly good baker; a scientist by training, she has the patience and precision (as well as the yen for formal experimentation) that I lack. So together we schemed a flavor profile we liked, and here is the beautiful result: Pine nut meringue layered with chestnut whipped cream and fresh macerated blackberries. Rich yet light, sweet and creamy, this one is a keeper.
Not only did we make this feast, but we also managed to see three plays (including two different productions of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night), take a couple of long walks, and repeatedly get lost in a grid city with smart phones. Truly a weekend to remember.
UPDATE: After getting home, I have made another Jerusalem recipe: the light but deeply flavorful Herb Pie. Packed with a nutritious filling of chard and aromatics (celery, arugula, mint, dill, parsley), punched up with feta and ricotta, and wrapped in crispy phyllo, every bite is like spring. Just the thing for a vegetarian potluck. I imagine it would be equally good for picnics, fashioned as individual phyllo turnovers.