The 90 year old father of my friend was given a book. He loved it so much that he gifted it to his son and daughter-in-law. When I was in their home recently, they showed me their gift and when I returned home (they live in Toronto), I immediately ordered a copy for myself. Since it has been mine, I have shared it with Sister #3 and more recently J2′s Mom. Treasured books are often shared in this manner, in my circle at least, but rarely is the book a cookbook. Jerusalem -A Cookbook written by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi is an exquisite collection of recipes as mysterious and fascinating as the city itself. Consistent with my premise of food=love and the notion that food is a powerful force that can promote healing, forgiveness and reconciliation, the authors of this recipe collection make this bold statement:
Alas, although Jerusalemites have so much in common, food, at the moment, seems to be the only unifying force in this highly fractured place. The dialogue between Jews and Arabs, and often Jews themselves, is almost nonexistent. It is sad to note how little daily interaction there is between communities, with people sticking together in closed, homogenous groups. Food however, seems to break down those boundaries on occasion. You can see people shop together in food markets, or eat in one another’s restaurants. On rare occasions, they work together in partnership in food establishments. It takes a giant leap of faith, but we are happy to take it-what have we got to lose?-to imagine that hummus will eventually bring Jerusalemites together, if nothing else will.
I witnessed the huddling of persons into compact neighbourhoods myself when I traveled to Jerusalem many years ago.
We had the unique perspective of walking on top of the wall of the old city and could peer over railings and into yards and lanes to see the subtle lines drawn in the sand and the boundaries between “theirs” and “mine”.
In a manner of speaking, the food of Jerusalem has already worked in “unification” (not for the beautiful and complicated country of Israel) but for a group of old friends who spent this past weekend together, celebrating life and friendship surrounded by nature with games, laughter, hikes, sleeps, kayaking
….but most significantly by cooking and eating together.
Our Friday was heralded with welcome drinks and a simple but delicious meal of grilled sausages and a lusty Mixed Bean Salad with capers, cumin and coriander (from the cookbook).
Although the evening and overnight had been warm and humid, the morning was cool enough for us to have our second cup of coffee around the fire (with croissants and muffins from Stella’s).
Before heading out for our hike around the lake, the table was set for eggs.
Of course, they weren’t just any eggs. They were lovingly made by R who is the most patient cook I have encountered. None of the high heat that I am always hurriedly setting under my pan was employed here. With these creamy parmesan eggs, the blueberry pancakes the next morning and the grilling of sausages and chicken, he does everything the “hard” way: constant stirring, live charcoal, timed flips on the grill; while at the same time retaining that unhurried attitude of a confident cook.
After walks and swims we assembled on the dock for Happy Hour (as if we needed to get any happier)!
L had made my favourite dip of baba ganoush and a rich and creamy hummus.
These Feta and Olive Chicken Balls were delectable and I would happily serve them as a healthy main with soft pitas and some greens.
- 1 lb. ground chicken
- ½ c fresh parsley, chopped
- 2 T onion, finely chopped
- ½ c feta cheese, crumbled
- ½ c green olives, chopped
- 2 eggs
- 1 t Italian seasoning
- ¼ c seasoned breadcrumbs
- Preheat oven broiler.
- In a large bowl, mix everything together.
- Shape into approximately 16 meatballs and place two inches apart on a baking sheet.
- Broil about 3 inches away from the heat until browned on top.
- Turn over, and broil on the other side.
As the black silhouettes of the pines were illuminated by the dusky sky, we lit candles and sat down for our “Sabbath” meal together (observed in Israel on the sixth day at sunset). This was anything but a “holy” experience in a religious sense and yet because “holy” also means a time or place deserving of respect or reverence, it was. The setting was special, the time carefully carved out, the moments savoured……
The recipe for the Lebanese chicken was from a friend of R’s. He and M marinated it all afternoon and then R painstakingly waited for the coals to be just right. The tender meat was seasoned with fresh oregano and squeeze after squeeze of fresh lemon.
Tabbouleh, we learned, probably hails from Lebanon and Syria and is primarily a parsley salad sparsely dotted with al dente bulgar wheat.
This dish of Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Fresh Figs is the reason why I was so anxious to buy the cookbook and even if for no other reason, I am so glad I did. We were concerned that the sweet potatoes were white and not orange and we think that they were a Caribbean style of sweet potato (that is, reminiscent of a plantain). They were delicious in a subtle way allowing the fresh figs to shine.
The figs were so exquisite that we enjoyed more dessert of them with honey cake, philo pastries, grapes, apricots and figs. The ones in the dish were perfection with a drizzle of balsamic and pungent shards of cheese.
The next morning we were up and cooking and eating again.
But who wouldn’t want to spend time in the kitchen, with granite and the forest as your backdrop.
We eventually hit the road back to the city but not without pledging to be together again-hopefully in a more unified and peaceful world.
Kath’s quote: “If you want to find a good husband, you’d better learn how to chop your parsley properly.”-the mother of cookbook writer Sami Tamimi to his sister.
Love-that is all.