an adventure into my cookbook collection: soul-searching, doing things differently & the truths I learn along the way...

deseeding pomegranates is feminine & erotic, unless you hit them with a wooden spoon...


Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Baba Ghanoush, my way

Here is another ode to the aubergine. A dip of roasted, smoky aubergine and tahini. When I first came across it, its greyish and lumpy appearance wasn’t the most appealing to be honest, but the taste soon won me over. In The New Book of Middle Eastern Food Claudia Roden describes baba ghanoush as “exciting and vulgarly seductive” – possibly one of the best compliments anything could have. People also make a version with mayonnaise, which I hate with a fiery passion. Somehow it transforms this wonder into a sweet, eggy sort of wallpaper paste.

There are infinite ways to make this, and this one is my favourite. And I really do love it. My flatmate Claudie just asked how long it keeps in the fridge, a perfectly valid question, but the answer is that it never lasts long enough for me to find out. According Jerusalem, there is apparently major disagreement as to whether proper baba should have tahini in it, or just olive oil. I am in the tahini camp.

I wrote in the miso aubergines post that I wasn’t sure how aubergines have become such a symbol of Jewish food – but I have done a tiny bit of research and of course Claudia Roden and Yotam Ottolenghi/ Sami Tamimi provide the answers. Apparently, while aubergines were brought to Spain and Italy by Arabs, Jewish people are credited for introducing them because they took them into the countries when fleeing various aggressors and moving and trading among the Arab Moorish and Christian cultures in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Ottolenghi/Tamimi writes in Jerusalem:

“Few ingredients have reached the level of veneration achieved by the humble aubergine or have found their way to almost every table in Jerusalem. Everybody loved to be associated with the aubergine – it’s like the local celebrity. The number of people who claim to have invented baba ghanoush, or at least elevated it to the level of fine food, is extraordinary.”


2 aubergines
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed – you can either use these raw, or fry them slowly in olive oil until glossy and sweet
olive oil
tahini sauce** 
ground cumin – freshly toasted and ground if you have the time, this is however one of the few recipes where I give you permission to use the ready-ground
smoked paprika
lemon juice
salt and pepper
handful chopped fresh parsley – optional but very tasty

Turn the oven to 190-200C


Prick the aubergines all over with a fork or sharp knife. Put them in the oven and bake for at least 45 mins. You can check on them after this time by pressing them gently with a fork or some other non-finger implement – they should have wrinkled and be soft to the touch. Depending on how hot/pre-heated the oven was, this could take a good hour. This would be a lot more authentic by the way if done on a barbeque. I wouldn’t recommend scorching them over a flame on the hob though – however fun it may be to stick a fork in a pepper and burn it over a flame (terrifying flatmates in the process), aubergines are just a bit too big. And the concept of covering your entire hob in foil and just leaving the aubergines on the rings for half an hour sounds a bit much. Leaving them alone in the oven is just easier.

Once the aubergine is soft and a little collapsed, allow it to cool until it can be handled – this is a hands-on messy bit. Putting the aubergines on a large plate or oven tray, carefully peel away the skin, reserving any flesh that comes away with it. Break the aubergine open a little to allow some of the excess water to drain away – you don’t want a watery baba! At this stage I also remove some of the big clumps of seeds – there is hardly any flesh on them and I just don’t think they are that good. Give whatever flesh is left a squeeze or shake to get rid of any remaining water, and chop the whole thing up – so that it goes a little pulpy in parts.

Add the chopped aubergine flesh to a big bowl with the tahini, garlic and parsley if using. Add about ½ teaspoon of cumin and ¼ teaspoon of the smoked paprika, a few spoons of lemon juice, salt and pepper. Mix well and taste, adjusting the different seasonings to your liking. I like it with a lot of lemon, and sometimes also a little bit of hot chilli powder or cayenne pepper.

I love it with pita, quickly warmed in the toaster – so that the edges are a little charred, but it is warm and soft in the middle. Apparently it goes very well with rye crackers too.

** Tahini: I used to buy this in little jars from health food stores or supermarkets, but over the past few years I have become so addicted to it that I now buy it in 1kilo plastic tubs from local Middle-Eastern stores. I use it whenever I make humous, baba, as a dressing for salads, roasted fish or meat, or as a dip in its own right. I always turn it into a sauce first  – when using the paste ‘neat’ it has too cement-y a texture.

To make tahini sauce, put a few tablespoons of tahini in a bowl and add a little water and lemon juice. When you start stirring, the mixture may seize and become grainy, but don’t worry this is normal. Continue adding water and mixing until the sauce becomes creamy. Add more lemon juice to taste along with a little salt, pepper and some garlic. This makes a good salad dressing with a little honey added too. 

*BREAKING GEFILTEFEST NEWS* For next year's festival, there will be two new awards, 'The Gefiltefest Jewish Cookbook Awards'. One will be a public poll for the best English language cookbook, and there will be a panel of expert judges giving a separate award. Any publisher is welcome to submit books relating to any aspect of Jewish food, as long as they are published between May 2012 and May 2013.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Satay noodles for drunken nights

Peanut butter noodles for when you come home too drunk to function, and too hungry to sleep. Needless to say, this dish was one of my staples when I was at university. They are also very good for hangovers.

For the sauce
1 heaped tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
½ tbsp soy sauce (more can be added later to season)
½ tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp honey
juice of at least ¼ a lime

Noodles –
I would go for medium egg noodles here, but rice noodles work well too. This dish isn’t refined enough for soba or buckwheat, and it would be a little ‘much’ with udon. Spaghetti does not count, under any circumstances.

Additions –
If you are too drunk to be handling sharp objects, go for some frozen veggies – peas, corn or edamame. Asda does a very handy frozen stir-fry mix, which is perfect for drunken cooking. A packet of fresh mangetout/ sugarsnap peas or baby corn would also do nicely. If you feel that you could handle a knife safely, some sliced spring onions, a little sliced carrot, and a wedge of fresh coriander would be good too.

Method –

It couldn’t be simpler. Cook the noodles in boiling water according to the packet instructions. Remember to use a fork to break the block up, so that you don’t get a big solid lump of noodle.

While they are cooking, mix/melt the sauce ingredients together in a mug or bowl, using a little boiling water to melt the peanut butter into a smooth sauce.

If using any veggie additions, add them to the water with the noodles a minute or two before the end of the cooking time.

Drain the noodles, mix with the sauce and serve with extra lime juice, and fresh coriander if you have any. At this point I will usually then write my name on the noodles in siracha. And make sure you drink plenty of water.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Syrian Artichoke and Cheese Casserole

This is a recipe that I tested for the Gefiltefest cookbook. The book is a compilation of recipes from different Jewish chefs from around the world, and I was delighted to be asked to be involved with putting it together. I have written about Gefiltefest and my involvement with it before, in the Aubergines pouched in Miso post.

I think I drove the cookbook organisers a little bit crazy with my pickiness when it came to what recipes I would test – which is all a bit ridiculous seeing as my intention when I started this blog was to stretch myself with my cooking. Sorry about that guys - will be more ambitious in future, and will get over my fear of yeast!

Its funny because I never would have made this of my own volition, but I just love artichokes so much I knew that I needed to give it a go. I was a little hesitant as I usually avoid cooking with so much cheese because, well, so much cheese, and also on a practical level, it tends to split and get all oily and gross. Heston Blumenthal tackled this issue during his TV series ‘How to Cook Like Heston’. Of course I did buy 'Heston at Home' (couldn’t help myself), but haven’t attempted anything from it yet, for obvious reasons. Anyway, you know what? Despite all the so much cheese, and the simplicity of the dish – essentially it’s a big baked frittata/tortilla/Eggah – it was FANTASTIC, and everyone I made it for loved it too. So there.

This recipe is from Gil Marks. He is an award-winning writer, historian, rabbi, and chef, is a leading authority on culinary subjects and Jewish cuisine. His books include Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, Olive Trees and Honey, and The World of Jewish Cooking. I co-own Olive Trees and Honey 
(thanks to Alli), which is a lovely, vegetarian, kosher cookbook. His recipes give an interesting perspective on Sephardic cuisine especially, as I had previously only associated it with non-dairy dishes.

Gil writes:

“Artichokes are popular in various Mediterranean countries, where they are prepared in a wide variety of ways. Among my favorites, is this simple Syrian-Jewish dish. It is both a comfort food, yet capable of serving as an appetizer at parties.”

A note of artichokes: Frozen artichoke bottoms are not the easiest things to get hold of – but certainly so much easier than preparing the artichokes from fresh. I also feel that if you had whole globe artichokes, it would be a bit of a travesty to do anything with them other than eating them whole, leaf by leaf (heaven). After a little bit of research I found that I could buy the frozen bottoms in Yarden – a kosher supermarket in Golders Green. A bag cost about £6.50 and this recipe used about a third of a bag. Very useful if you want to make the stuffed artichokes in Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s new book Jerusalem, or just add them to a simple pasta dish, or whatever else you fancy.

*Update 23.01.13* I just discovered frozen artichoke bottoms in the Arabic supermarket on Willesden Green High Street (next to the bus stop by Dominos) for £1.89!!!

Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons (approx) olive oil

1 large yellow onion, diced
8 - 9 quartered artichoke bottoms, thawed if frozen
6 large eggs, lightly beaten

3 cups (350 grams) grated Cheddar cheese, or similar.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 
(Gil specifies a teaspoon of salt, but this seemed like a little much for me with so much salty cheese).


Preheat the oven to 175 C. Grease a 2-litre casserole.
In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and fry until soft and translucent (5-10 mins). Add the artichokes and sauté until nearly tender (5-10 mins). Remove from the heat.
Combine the eggs, cheese, salt, and pepper. Stir in the artichokes.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared casserole. Bake until golden brown (35 to 40 minutes).

5.  Best served warm, also very good at room temperature. If you run a knife around the sides of the casserole, it will turn out onto a plate very nicely.


1. Reduce the eggs to 3. Combine 1 cup (145g) all-purpose flour and 1 teaspoon (5 ml) baking powder, then stir in 1 cup/240 ml milk. Stir into the egg-cheese mixture.

2. Add 1 teaspoon (5 ml) dried oregano and pinch of red pepper.

3. Substitute 570g blanched chopped broccoli or spinach, excess water drained out.
4. Hannah, who is actually a little bit Syrian, said that you can also make it using some kind of cottage cheese/ ricotta instead of all the cheddar, making the whole thing a lot lighter. Presumably much more subtle a flavour though.

With foodie love and thanks to Gefiltefest for encouraging me in all things foodie and social action-y, for giving me this recipe, and letting me post it.