Jerusalem: A Cookbook
January 11, 2013
I haven’t posted a recipe on here in quite a while. Or anything really, for that matter. But that’s what happens when you live in a little one room cabin for three months, with no internet or running water, a kitchen the size of that in an RV and nearly non-existent counter space. But as excited as I was to move into our new apartment, to have room to literally stretch my arms out wide, a full size oven in a full size kitchen, a dining room, space for a garden (!) and a basement woodshop for Drew, it was a pretty interesting and enlightening experiment to live completely differently for a little while. Amish lite.
There were times it reminded me of when Drew and I drove from Minneapolis to Seattle a few years back, 26 long hours through some of the least exciting landscape our country has to offer, without any music or radio whatsoever. We didn’t plan on it happening that way, for our stereo to get stolen days before our trip, or for it to be more difficult than we (and by we I mean Drew) anticipated to install a new stereo while driving through Montana (so many wires!), but that’s how it went. After the initial shock of realizing that there were 20 more hours to go of complete silence, we had no other choice but to embrace it, knowing we’d probably never experience another road trip quite like it. And I’ll tell you one thing, landscape that once bored you to tears becomes far more beautiful when you have nothing to do but stare out the window.
I had a similar feeling when cooking in our cabin. Recipes I made in our old place in Nashville that I essentially forgot about the moment after I ate them, suddenly tasted delicious and decadent when cooked on a tiny stove top using the least amount of pots and pans as possible. We ate like kings in that cabin. I made chicken pot pie one night that put the stuff from the ‘80s to shame. One Sunday night Drew made flounder cooked in brown butter and lemon with a side of Sicilian chickpeas and turnip greens, rounded out with éclairs from a local bakery for dessert. I made marinated mushrooms four times, hot spiced bourbon balls for our 12.12.12 holiday party, West African sweet potato peanut soup. On Christmas Eve we had a dinner of peel ‘n eat shrimps, hot vinegar slaw and cornbread, and our dessert was my very first attempt at coconut cream pie that turned out terribly. I have written in my notebook that “it had good flavor but otherwise was gross.” Before I attempt it again I think I need to actually eat a slice of coconut cream pie so I know what I’m aiming for. Cream can take on the consistency of butter real quick.
But now it’s a new year, I am one week into living in our new place, and have two new cookbooks on my shelf in my kitchen that has running water. I tend to add cookbooks slowly and methodically to my collection (I had three cookbooks before, now I have five) and I know I’ve taken the long way to get to my point, but I wanted to tell you about one of them, Jerusalem: A Cookbook.
I am in love with this cookbook. I find myself reading it before bed like a novel then having vivid dreams of bustling markets, bushels of fresh herbs, falafels, sumac. They are the best dreams. And the photography, so rich and vivid and bold, simultaneously intimidates me and takes my breath away. I want to be that good.
I’ve loved Middle Eastern food almost for as long as I can remember. My dad has always loved it, perhaps influenced by a few trips to Jerusalem with my mom when I was young. And sometime during those formative years, long before High School at least, I remember partaking in feasts at his friend George Azrak’s house, who is Lebanese. He’s a fantastic cook. And then working at Zingermans in my late teens, surrounded by kugel, hamantaschen, rugelach, matzo ball soup, well, at that point it was a done deal, I was smitten.
Which brings me back to the start, to the recipe I wanted to share with you. It’s the first and only one I’ve made thus far, and it was so incredibly delicious as well as something I never would have thought to make. It uses hot yogurt sauce which may sound odd but in fact, is utterly divine. I made it on a day that required comfort food, but the beauty of this recipe is that although it’s super creamy and rich, it doesn’t feel heavy, like a lead weight in your stomach. I wish I had a photo of how beautiful it looked, the pale green sauce topped with golden pine nuts and deep red oil, but it was dark by that time and a half assed photo would not do this recipe justice. So you’ll have to use your imagination until I make it again in the daylight, or in the meantime, check it out next time you’re in a bookstore, it’s on page 110.
CONCHIGLIE WITH YOGURT, PEAS & MINT
And if you can find Aleppo pepper, use it. Otherwise use chile flakes with a little bit of smoked paprika. And a nice added bonus, the leftovers taste great the next day not even heated up. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
2 1/2 cups Greek yogurt
2/3 cup olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 lb frozen peas, thawed
1lb conchiglie pasta (I used medium shells)
scant 1/2 cup pine nuts
2 tsp Turkish or Syrian chile flakes (see note above)
1 2/3 cup fresh basil leaves, coarsely torn
8oz feta cheese, broken into chunks
salt and freshly ground pepper, white if you have it.
- Put the yogurt, 6 tablespoons of the olive oil, the garlic, and 2/3 cup of the peas in a food processor. Blitz to a uniform pale green sauce and transfer to a large mixing bowl.
- Cook the pasta in plenty of salted water until al dente. As the pasta cooks, heat the remaining olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and chile flakes and fry for 4 minutes, until the nuts are golden and the oil is deep red. Also, heat the remaining peas in some boiling water, then drain.
- Drain the cooked pasta into a colander, shake well to get rid of the water, and add the pasta gradually to the yogurt sauce; adding it all at once may cause the yogurt to split. Add the warm peas, basil, feta, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Toss gently, transfer to individual bowls, and spoon over the pine nuts and their oil.