A couple of months ago I had a delicious dinner at an exciting Israeli restaurant in London’s Soho called Palomar. The amazing vibe transported me right into the Jerusalem party scene.
The intriguing Yiddish, Yemini and Meknes-style dishes whetted my appetite to learn more about this kind of food.
Our friends, Yotam and Sami at Ottolenghi and Itamir and Sarit from Honey and Co in London have also been spreading the word about Israeli and Middle Eastern food for decades.
I arrived into Jerusalem on a Thursday and headed straight for the famous Mahane Yehuda Market, known as the ‘Shuk’, a huge colourful bustling market with over 250 stall holders, selling seasonal vegetables, fruit and fresh herbs.
There are butchers, fish mongers, innumerable bakeries piled high with challah, babka and a tantalising range of filo and kunefe pastries.
Others are crammed with a wide range of zattar, tahini, sumac, fresh spices, nuts and dried fruits, dates, olives, barberries.
Some just sell many variations of halva. Of course there are also little shops selling wines, housewares, clothes, sandals and judaica.
There are street stalls and cafes offering shawarma, falafel, kebabs, kibbah, shasklik, konafe, baklava.
Juice stalls, press and squeeze the freshest juice as you wait - mango, orange, pomegranate, pink grapefruit, carrot, lime.
The vendors vie with each other calling out their prices to passersby.
On Thursdays and Friday morning, there’s an extra frenzy of activity as the Jewish community stocks up with produce for the Sabbath meal.
The bugle is sounded by a couple of Haredi men on Friday afternoon, the market closes and doesn’t reopen until Saturday.
At night when the stalls close the market reinvents itself into the centre of Jerusalem’s hip nightlife scene where foodies, hipsters and tourists hang out.
Table and chairs are set up, suddenly there’s live music, dance, cocktails and great food.
Thursdays and Saturdays are the liveliest nights but every night, the area is a swinging scene.
How about that for an idea for the English Market in Cork city!
It was very tempting to eat in the midst of all the excitement but we’d managed to get a 10.30pm booking at Machneyuda restaurant on the outskirts of the market.
It’s the inspiration for and the mother of the Palomar restaurant in London which had inspired my trip.
It’s the hottest restaurant in Jerusalem right now.
Exuberant head chef Asaf Granet and two friends chop, dice and sauté to the beat of loud zippy music while banging on pots and pans in the open kitchen.
Conversation is impossible but the cacophony and the party scene is enough to keep all the guests entertained as they eat Asaf’s Jerusalem dishes.
I particularly loved the silky polenta with mushrooms, crisp asparagus, slivers of parmesan and truffle oil and of course the shikshukit and hummus with lamb and many toppings.
Dessert can be homemade twix and tonka icecream, pistachio hash cake, cheese cake in a jar — old-school style.
Alternatively, a table of friends could opt for the raucous splashed dessert to be hurled onto their tinfoil covered table top by three exuberant chefs — a great spectacle — not for everyone.
Where better to find the ultimate Jerusalem recipes than in Yottam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s book Jerusalem.
Roasted Chicken with Jerusalem Artichoke and Lemon
Put the artichokes in a medium saucepan, cover with plenty of water and half the lemon juice.
Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until tender but not soft. Drain and leave to cool.
Place the artichokes and all the remaining ingredients, excluding the remaining lemon juice and half of the tarragon in a large mixing bowl and use your hands to mix everything together well.
Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge overnight, or at least for 2 hours.
Heat the oven to 240°C/gas mark 9. Arrange the chicken pieces skin side up in the centre of a roasting tin and spread the remaining ingredients around the chicken.
Roast for 30 minutes. Cover with tin foil and cook for a further 15 minutes.
At this point the chicken should be completely cooked. Remove from the oven and add the reserved tarragon and lemon juice. Stir well, taste and add more salt if needed. Serve at once.
Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Onion with Tahini and Za’atar
Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7.
Put the squash and onion in a large mixing bowl, add 3 tablespoons of oil, 1 teaspoon of salt and some black pepper and toss well.
Spread on a baking sheet with the skin facing down and roast in the oven for 40 minutes until the vegetables have taken on some colour and are cooked through.
Keep an eye on the onions as they might cook faster than the squash and need to be removed earlier. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
To make the sauce place the tahini in a small bowl along with the lemon juice, water, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
Whisk together until the sauce is the consistency of honey, adding more water or tahini if necessary.
Pour the remaining teaspoon of oil into a small frying pan and place on a medium-low heat.
Add the pine nuts, along with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often, until the nuts are golden-brown. Remove from the heat and transfer to a small bowl, along with the oil, to stop the cooking.
To serve, spread the vegetables out on a large serving platter and drizzle over the tahini. Sprinkle the pine nuts and their oil on top, followed by the za’atar and parsley.
Taken from Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi, Jerusalem
Jerusalem’s Basic Hummus
Start a day before by washing the chickpeas well and placing them in a large bowl.
Cover with cold water, at least twice their volume and leave to soak overnight.
The next day, drain the chickpeas. Place in a medium saucepan on a high heat and add the drained chickpeas and the bicarbonate of soda.
Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 1.5 litres of fresh water and bring to a boil.
Cook, skimming off any foam and any skins that float to the surface. The chickpeas can cook for anywhere between 20-40 minutes, depending on the type and freshness, sometimes even longer.
Once done, they should be very tender, breaking up easily when pressed between your thumb and finger, almost but quite mushy.
Drain the chickpeas. You should have roughly 600g now. Place the chickpeas in a food processor.
Process until you get a stiff paste; then with the machine still running, add the tahini paste, lemon juice, garlic and 1½ teaspoons salt.
Finally, slowly drizzle in the iced water and allow it to mix until you get a very smooth and creamy paste, about 5 minutes.
Transfer the hummus into a bowl, cover the surface with cling film and let it rest for 30 minutes. If not using straight away, refrigerate until needed. Make sure to take it out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before serving.
Cardamom Rice Pudding with Pistachios and Rose Water
Put milk, cream, vanilla (pod and seeds) and cardamom in a medium saucepan and place on a high heat.
As soon as the mix is about to reach boiling point, remove from the heat, allow to cool down and leave in the fridge to infuse overnight or at least for a couple of hours.
To prepare the syrup, stir honey, rose water and a teaspoon of water well until the honey dissolves. Set aside.
Add rice to the pan with the infused milk and cream, bring to the boil and simmer on a medium heat, stirring all the time, for 20 minutes.
The rice should cook through but still retain a bite and the pudding should be thick.
You will need to add a little bit of water, up to 50ml, towards the end of the cooking if the pudding becomes too thick before the rice is done.
Remove the pan from the heat and carefully pick out the cardamom pods and vanilla pod.
Stir in the butter, condensed milk, honey and a pinch of salt. You can chill the mix now or serve bowls, sprinkled with pistachios and rose petals and drizzled with the syrup.
Onwards we march
After a short winter break, Good Things at Dillon’s Corner in Skibbereen reopens on March 15.
Carmel Somers writes a beautiful seasonal menu together with a wide range of cookery classes. 028 51948
UCC food conference
Innovation in Irish Food and Drink: Past, Present and Future March 10-12.
A conference organised by food historians Regina Sexton and Chad Ludington will showcase the research work of UCC staff to local and regional food business community.
The first of its kind at UCC, this conference is open to the general public.
Registration is now open and free to all at www.uccconferencing.ie
Just cook It
Join us at the Ballymaloe Cookery School on Monday April 10 for a half day cookery course. We will start with a welcome coffee and a guided tour of the seasonal produce in the garden. Then don an apron and into the kitchen.
You’ll have fun and learn how to cook several delicious dishes under the expert guidance of our supportive tutors.
Afterwards, we’ll sit down together to enjoy a relaxed and informal dinner. You will leave inspired with a selection of superb recipes.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved