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We’ve lived in London for 10 years now, and every time we go back to Israel we get to see things through the eyes of a visitor. This is an amazing experience: with a bit of distance, you can marvel at and savour things you would have taken for granted when you lived there. And having the local know-how and lingo can take you to places most tourists will not reach.
Friends took us to this place down an alley off the Florentine spice market in Tel Aviv. There were five or six tables in a tiny room, most of it a kitchen – a real mom-and-pop operation. Pop’s in the kitchen, mom is on the till, which is covered in mounds of herbs and mountains of Persian flatbreads. A few kids are carrying plates – their children? Nephews? Friday lunch, the place is heaving, the queue as long as the alley, so we decided to take away. In plastic tubs we got khoresht sabzi, fesenjan, gundi, pilau – traditional Persian home cooking, all of it fragrant and fresh. Mom packed it all in a plastic bag, added a handful of herbs – Persians munch on them with the stews – and a huge stack of flatbread and sent us on our way with the blessing she offered everyone: “Shabat shalom, be healthy and make a good living.” Everything you need, and so much more than you expect.
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Mujadra with salad & tahini
This is a perfect dinner and needs nothing else but you could easily add some roasted meat or fish if you wanted to (this works particularly well with lamb chops or kofta).
- Place the tahini, minced garlic, salt and lemon juice in a bowl or food processor, add half the water and mix. It will go thick and pasty but don’t fear – just continue adding water while mixing until it loosens up to a creamy texture. Don’t be tempted to add too much water as the mixture will go runny but, if this happens, you can always bring it back with a little extra tahini paste.
- Taste and adjust the salt and lemon to suit your taste buds. You can keep tahini in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days but it will thicken and the flavour may need adjusting with a little more salt and/or lemon. As a result we think it is best to make it and eat it the same day – fresh is best.
- Put the oil, onions and 1 teaspoon of salt in a small frying pan and fry for about 15-20 minutes on a gentle heat until the onions start to go golden. In the meantime set a saucepan containing the water and lentils on a high heat and bring to the boil. Then set a timer for 10 minutes and leave the lentils to cook – do not turn down the heat.
- Once the onions are caramelised, add the rice, pepper, butter and the additional half-teaspoon of salt to the frying pan and stir to coat the rice all over. Continue frying for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the rice from the heat when it starts to catch on the base of the pan and crisp up.
- By now the lentils should have had 10 minutes. Tip the rice mixture into the lentil pan and bring to the boil. Stir once, then cover, reduce the heat to low and leave to cook for 10 minutes. Check that all the water has been absorbed by pushing the rice aside with a spoon so you can see the bottom of the pot; if there is still liquid there, re-cover and cook for an extra 5 minutes. Once the lentils and rice have absorbed all the water, turn the heat off and leave to rest covered for 10-15 minutes.
- Dice the tomato and cucumber as small as you can, then combine in a bowl with the other salad ingredients.
- Make the tahini. If you are making crispy shallots, pour a thick layer of oil into a frying pan and set over a high heat. Mix the shallot rings, flour, salt and pepper together in a bowl. Once the oil is very hot (if you drop in a pinch of flour, it should fizz up), drop small batches of shallots into it – they should start to bubble up straight away. As soon as each batch has browned, lift it out with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil. Once all the shallots are fried, sprinkle with some sea salt. They will crisp as they cool. We like to bring all the various elements of this dish to the table so that each person can decide how much rice, salad, tahini and shallot they want, but you can, of course, plate it up individually if you prefer.
Pomegranate molasses chicken with bulgar wheat salad
This is a good one to make when people come round, as it is really hard not to like – sweet and sour, plenty of textures, pretty colours and virtually everybody likes chicken. Using chicken thighs here makes it almost impossible to dry the meat out and ensures plenty of chicken flavour to come through the strong marinade.
- Mix the marinade ingredients together and use to coat the chicken all over. Cover and keep in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours to marinate. You can start the meat marinating up to 48 hours in advance – just leave it in the fridge until you are ready to start cooking.
- Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan. Place the bulgar wheat in a bowl with the salt and oil, pour over the boiling water and cover with clingfilm for 5 minutes. Uncover and fluff up the bulgar using a fork. Add all the remaining salad ingredients except those you have reserved to use as garnish, and stir well.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat and place the chicken thighs smooth-side down in it. Season with salt and pepper and fry for 2-3 minutes until the thighs go a lovely dark golden colour, then flip them over and cook for a further 2 minutes. Place the frying pan in the oven for 12 minutes, by which time the chicken should be cooked through.
- Spoon the salad on to individual plates or a large serving platter and top with the chicken and the juices that have accumulated in the frying pan. Sprinkle with the reserved pistachios and pomegranate seeds to garnish.
Cherry, pistachio & coconut cake (pictured top)
This was the first cake I made for the restaurant. We wanted something that would sit on the bar counter and just make people stare. It has been with us from the first day and I have a feeling it will stay there until the end. We do vary the fruit on top, so we use red plums or yellow plums or raspberries but, really, the cherries are the best version. The contrast between the cherries and the green pistachios, and the addition of mahleb spice to the cake batter, together create something electric. It is such an easy recipe to follow, I am sure it will become a huge favourite in any household.
Makes a 22cm diameter ring cake
- Preheat the oven to 190C/170C fan and lightly grease a 22cm diameter ring cake tin with butter.
- Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Pour over the melted butter and mix in the eggs. Spoon the batter into the pre-greased tin and smooth down.
- Remove the stones from the cherries – you can do this with a cherry stoner or by just pulling them apart and popping the stones out with your fingers. I like to do this over the cake tin, so that any juice drips on to the cake and adds colour. Drop the pitted cherries on to the batter and sprinkle the top of the cake with the remaining 20g of sugar and the roughly chopped pistachios. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the cake between the cherries goes all golden.
- Allow the cake to cool in the tin, as it needs time to settle, then gently remove by running a knife around the edges. Covered well, it will keep in the fridge for up to a week (not much chance of that happening) but, for the best flavour, allow it to return to room temperature before eating.
Saffron & lemon syrup cake
The lemon rounds in this cake glow in saffron like little suns, lighting up your palate with their bright flavour.
- This makes a 24cm diameter round cake because I think it looks amazing as a large cake but if you only want to make a few portions, halve the recipe (and the baking time) and bake in 6 muffin tins.
- Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a 24cm diameter cake tin with greaseproof paper.
- Place the lemon slices for the syrup and topping in a small saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil over a high heat. Drain the slices, re-cover with water and bring to the boil again. Drain for a second time (by now all the bitterness should be gone), then cover with 400ml of fresh water. Add the sugar, turmeric and saffron and bring to the boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 6-8 minutes until the peel is soft and the syrup has thickened. Remove from the heat.
- Use a fork to lift the slices of lemon out of the syrup and layer them, just slightly overlapping, all over the base and a little way up the sides of the lined baking tin; the sugar will help them to stick in place. You may not need all of the lemon slices. Pour over 2 tablespoons of the syrup and reserve the rest for later.
- Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixer, or with a wide spoon in a bowl, until well combined but not fluffy, as you do not want to aerate the mixture.
- Stir in the eggs, ground almonds and turmeric, then fold in the semolina, flour, lemon juice and zest, salt and baking powder. Mix well and pour into the cake tin. Bake in the centre of the oven for 15-20 minutes, then turn the cake around to ensure it bakes evenly and bake for a further 10-15 minutes. The cake should be golden and firm. Remove from the oven and pour over remaining syrup. Allow to rest for 20 minutes before turning out.
- The cake needs to be turned on its head to serve, so place a plate on top of the tin and flip it over so the bottom-side is uppermost. Gently remove the tin and the paper. Now, turn off the lights and watch it glow.
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