Jerusalem: A Cookbook- Eggplants, Fattoush, Zhoug and more.
Since this is part of the cookbook, where the actual cooking begins, I’ll just be taking notes on things that I find interesting.
Figs: Figs are abundant in Jerusalem. To get the perfect fig, look for a plump fruit with an irregular shape and a slightly split bottom. Upon pressing the skin it should result in some resistance but not so much. The smell should be sweet.
Fattoush: popular arab salad with chopped vegetables- tomato, cucumber and onion dressed with olive oil and lemon juice some variations include fried leftover pita.
Eggplant: (Literally one of my favourite things in the planet along with yogurt) Eggplants are made in breakfast, lunch and dinner (same), they are used for pickling, stuffing, cooking, frying, baking, roasting, charring, burning, pureeing and even cooking in sugar and spice to make a festive Moroccan jam or fruit mostorda, a candied fruit conserved in a spicy syrup. Arabs bought eggplants to Italy and Spain but it was the Jews who started cooking and influencing the Arabs and Christians in the 15-16th Century. The Europeans initially called them “mad apples” because they believed that they induced insanity. Good eggplants, are light in weight with not many seeds inside, they should have a tight, shiny skin. If we are roasting them in the oven, put a bowl of water at the bottom of the oven so it desert dry.
Za’atar: This is a sharp, warm and slightly pungent almost at one with the smell of goats dung. The small bushes grow in the mountains and have been used to flavour local bread, it is called hyssop in english. It is used fresh in the spring and early summer and than dried. Za’tar is most commonly known in the form of spice mix consisting of dried za’atar, sumac, sesame seeds and salt. It is eaten with labneh, hummus, chicken, bagels etc.
Kohlabri (Knol kho): It is a texture and flavour similar to radish. This is used in salads and is also cooked in stews and gratins.
Bulgur: Is boiled wheat that has been dried and cracked or ground and is staple in salads and mezes.
Chermoula: North African paste that is brushed over fish and vegetables, that is made of preserved lemon mixed with heat and spice.
A’ja: Bread fritters, is herb based bread fitter. It is ready to be stuffed in a pita and prepared quickly.
Shakshuka: is of Tunisian origin, and it is awesome.
Date Syrup: it is used to add intensity and is a popular natural sweetener.It can be submitted with maple syrup or molasses.
Georgia: Georgian cuisine has been influenced by Russian, Persian and Turkish cultures. There is a legend that saying that when God was handing out land to people around the world, the Georgians were to busy eating and drink so when they went to God it was too late. They had told God they had been toasting to his health and invited him. God had such a good time that he decided to give them the land he had been saving for himself. The Georgian Jews settled in Jerusalem in the late 19th Century, they bough local cuisine and produce, such as Pkhali- crushed walnut sauce, beets salads similar to the ones in Palestine.
Okra: Okra in the Middle East is cooked with tomato, onion, garlic and served with cilantro. Tamarind syrup and lemon are popular (similar to Indian way of making bhindi.) They also hang into in a necklace and dry it. It is later rehydrated while cooking yachne, Palestinian meat and tomato stew.
Baba Ganoush: Burning eggplant and the then cooking it is a common technique (same in India). The pulp is used for stews, soups, roasted meat or fish. This dip may or may not include tahini.
Mafghoussa: popular Palestinian said, vegetables for mafghoussa is traditional grilled on the ambers of a tabun, a clay oven. The original recipe has grilled tomatoes and zucchini, buttermilk, garlic and parsley.
Tabbouleh: This hails from Lebanon and Syria but is essential in Palestinian heritage. Tabbouleh is based on flat leaf parsley, mint, shredded by hand to prevent bruising, seasoned with tomato and al dente bulgur wheat.
Saibh: This was developed by the Iraqi Jews that settled in 1950, near Tel Aviv.It has Fried egg plant, tahini, Zhough (Jewish Yemini Chile paste), mango pickle, hard boiled egg and salad.
Falafel: iconic Israeli falafel includes pita bread, fries, salad, falafel with zhoug. Chickpeas are not boiled before being blitzed. but they are placed in water overnight.
Balilah: This is just boiled chickpeas, with cumin, lemon juice, onions similar to what my mother makes at home sometime.
Hummus: it is agreed that hummus was first made by the Egyptian arabs. There are small hummsias, small eateries that specialises in hummus and open from breakfast till afternoon. (In the last step drizzle iced cold water and blitz it for 5 minutes to get a creamy paste.)
Maqluba: massive savoury cake made with eggplants chicken, onion, caluflower, rice, cloves, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, pepper. Like Tadik but with vegetables on top.
Mehadra: ancient dish that has fried onion on top. It is made of brown lentils and water. (Honestly like masoor daal and rice in a pot)
Conchiglie with yogurt: this is a pasta made of a sauce of yogurt, garlic, peas thats blitezed. and then topped with pine nuts.
Rice: Rice is the basic grain for most Sephardic communities, excluding North Africans. Mixing chickpeas, vermicelli, potatoes, lentils, nuts with rice (or bulgur) is common practice as it makes the rice with stews. Bukharan Jews, a substantial community in Jerusalem, make a pilaf with plenty of spices (ginger, clove, cardamom, cinnamon), lots of mint, raisins, and peas. It is a rich dish, that the Bukharan jews had made after coming to Palestine in the late 19th century but after the Russian revolution lost their wealth.
Couscous: Couscous used to be freshly rolled by women, steamed and served with soup and tanginess and are now sold dried and packaged, they are used to make salads and general side dishes. It is new to Jerusalem since the arrival of North African Jews in the 1950’s from Morocco.
Kibbeh: This means in the shape of a ball in Arabic. Ground meat and bulgur are mixed together to make a shell and stuff with meat, sweet spices and pine nuts then shaped into balls and deep fried.
Sofrito: Originating from the Spanish verb sofreír (to fry lightly), it involves slowly cooking meat in a pot on the stove top for a long time, with only oil and very little liquid. The slow braising and steaming of the meat, in its own juices, results in a very tender texture.
Meatballs: In Palestinian culture, there is a difference between kofta and kebab. Both are meatballs made from ground lamb, beef, veal, or a mixture of them. Kebab is sold on the street and in kebab shops, often served alongside pita, chopped salad, grilled onions, and tahini sauce. Kebab is always cooked on long steel skewers placed over coal. It is usually shaped into thick fingers. Kofta, on the other hand, are normally cooked at home and can be made in any shape: flat patties, thin fingers, or torpedoes. They can be wrapped in vine or other leaves. They can be cooked on the stove top in sauce, grilled, or baked in the oven on a sheet pan (a siniyah in Arabic), often with other elements: tahini, tomato, or potato.
Lamb: Before chicken, lamb and mutton were the key meats in the Palestinian diet. Shepherds were prevalent all around the hills of Jerusalem, lamb is slaughtered on special occasions and is a sign of celebration—births, weddings, return of a family member—and religious holidays.
Fish: Jerusalem is not a city of fish. Situated on the verge of the Judean Desert, and with no substantial water source. Twentieth-century immigration and technology brought fish. In Machne Yehuda market people in charge would lift one out with a small net, hit it on the head, clean it, and wrap it in newspaper.
Cold fish: Cold fish, sweetened or pickled is common in both Ashkenazic and Sephardic cooking. Jews often didn’t have access to fresh fish and needed to cook them in advance for Shabbat, all sorts of preserving methods were developed in order to serve them cold, at the same time satisfying the Jewish love for all things sweet. Apart from salting and pickling, many dishes involve coating fish in egg or batter, frying it, and leaving it to cool down, often dipping it in a sugar-and-vinegar-based marinade. The Sephardic version is normally called escabèche and is popular with North African Jews. The Roman Jews used pine nuts and raisins. These were mixed with olive oil, vinegar, and sugar and spooned over red mullet; it was baked, not fried.
Brick: Brick is the commercial name given to a paper-thin pastry, similar to filo, only sturdier and crunchier (spring-roll wrappers make a good substitute). It gets its name from a popular Tunisian street snack, also called brick.
Sweet cheese: Sweetened young white cheese in desserts is used it for krantz cakes, for a range of baked cheesecakes, and for blintzes, stuffed crepes. Palestinians, however, are the only ones using sweet fresh sheep’s milk cheese in sweets. Traditionally, the cheese is made in spring, when the pastures are lush and the milk is plentiful. Some of the milk is cooked and the cheese is preserved in jars or cans in salted water. It is later hydrated and used for a variety of savory recipes.
Zhoug: Jews arriving from Yemen in the first part of the twentieth century are responsible for zhoug, the Israeli national chile paste. It is an “official” component of the famous pita with falafel and of shawarma.The texture of zhoug is important. It needs to be coarse, as if it were made traditionally with grinding stones. It should also be very hot, so use more chiles if yours aren’t.