For me, September is a time of transition – changes to daily routines, weather, and wardrobe. Summer warmth seems to slip away in an instant and then reappear in brief spurts just to tease us. With the departure of my son to college, if I’m not careful, my mood morphs from merry to melancholy as I consider another summer gone by, shorter days, colder weather, and a quieter house. So instead I’m focusing on new beginnings. The promise of a new school year, a new daily routine, new finds at the farmer’s market and if you celebrate the Jewish holidays, a brand new year!
This past weekend, I found many items at the farmer’s market hinting of the changing season including pomegranates, which are abundant in the fall, loaded with healthy antioxidants, and, it turns out, symbolic for the Jewish New Year. The many seeds inside symbolize the goods deeds performed during the previous year. While pomegranates may be available fresh only for a short while, you can enjoy their essence all year long by using pomegranate molasses. So this month for Tasting Jerusalem, we will explore the many ways you can incorporate this versatile ingredient in your cooking including several intriguing recipes from the cookbook.
A Beautiful Blend of Flavors, TJ Does the “Baharat”
Before we move on to fall, here’s a brief recap of our group’s tango with the spice baharat. Though some of the recipes for baharat seem a bit more apropos for autumn’s call for comfort food, the group dove in with exuberance, including several who conquered the masterpiece that is maqluba – a stunning composition of tasty ingredients that impresses, whether it holds its form or not. After inspiration from our lunch together at a Turkish Mediterranean restaurant in Mountain View, CA called Epheseus,
Sue of the blog Couscous and Consciousness went back to New Zealand and created this beauty:
And a member from our Google Plus community, shared this maqluba masterpiece with us:
Ruth’s Stuffed Romano Peppers, the striking dish of Ottolenghi’s mom inspired Michelle from Daily Waffle blog to write about one-dish wonders while I was motivated to stuff a pepper for (gasp) the very first time! (Michelle's photo is on the left) And our member Maria from Hong Kong, created her own version of the spice blend and then prepared the peppers as well, which she shared with us via Twitter!
And those lemony meatballs with favas – I urge you to give them a try. The baharat is the perfect undertone to carry the surprising citrusy sauce. I made them last spring and my family inhaled this palate-pleasing dish. Amanda of the blog Sercocinera, who won a packet of baharat in our couscous contest last May, created her version of the meatballs using turkey and edamame. What a lovely variation, in which she nominated the baharat the star. (Amanda's photo on the right)
Emily, from the blog West of the Loop made the baharat spice mix herself last February, when she reviewed the cookbook. Our member, Karen from Australia, reminded us that the Turnip and Veal cake, pg 156 also uses baharat – another homey recipe that would be lovely this fall. And finally, Aimee from the blog HomeMade Trade pointed out that the iconic dish known as “Jerusalem mixed grill” also uses baharat, pg 174-175. But even more exciting is what Aimee did on her own with the spice – making the much-lauded mejadra and topping it with baharat-spiced grilled eggplant, seen in this beautiful photo on Instagram. Not to be wasted, the next morning she topped the leftover mejadra with a baharat spiced egg (yum!). Finally, she created a baharat-spiced burger stuffed with goat cheese that she described as “crazy yum”!
And our fearless co-leader Sarene experimented using the spice with olive oil on fresh corn on the cob, and raved about the combination. She also prepared the tabbouleh, which surprises with the hint of baharat. Through a conversation with a couple of TJ members, we also discovered many of the similarities and subtle differences between baharat and the Indian spice blend garam masala. So if you have yet to tinker with the baharat spice mix, try it out as you seek out fall comfort food. It will be the perfect ingredient.
Pomegranate Molasses – Our Pucker-Worthy September Ingredient
Intensely sweet-tart pomegranate molasses is one of the must-have ingredients for Middle Eastern cuisine, where it’s called dibs rumman in Arabic and rob-e anar in Persian. Its complex fruity flavor enlivens muhammara (roasted red pepper spread with walnuts) fesenjan, an Iranian chicken stew served at weddings and special occasions, and bademjan (eggplant-tomato stew), among many others.
Its use in Iran stems from Iranians having a passion for tart flavors, says Louisa Shafia, author of “The New Persian Kitchen” (Ten Speed Press, 2013) “Unlike in the West, where lemon juice or vinegar are the usual souring agents, Persians call on many different ingredients to make a dish pucker-worthy, and it’s rare to have a meal that doesn’t include at least one of these,” she says of pomegranate molasses and other tart ingredients.
According to cookbook author Paula Wolfert, doyenne of Mediterranean cuisine, “The uses for this thick, tangy, piquant syrup are many. It blends well with walnuts, adds a tart and pungent flavor to beans, sharpens the taste of poultry, gives a clean, tart taste to fish, gives an astringent edge to salads and vegetables, and is a great tenderizer for lamb and pork. It can also be diluted and used for sharp drinks and tart sorbets.” (As quoted in the blog Cooking from Afar by Catherine Shteynberg.
But the beauty of the thick syrup is that it’s so versatile—beyond the Middle East’s borders. It’s often compared to aged balsamic and can be used in some of the same recipes. Think vinaigrette with arugula and soft goat cheese or with figs. It can be used to add a sweet-tang to grilling sauces with chicken or mild fish. We’ve also seen mention of pouring it over vanilla ice cream.
Pomegranate molasses is readily found at Middle Eastern grocers. Some brands contain lemon and sugar, but we prefer the ones from 100% pomegranate juice. Home cooks can also make their own by reducing pomegranate juice over high heat until it’s thick and coats the back of the spoon, notes Shafia.
September Recipes Include:
Fried cauliflower w tahini: pg 60 – This dish is described in the context of communal eating – something woven into the fabric of Jerusalem life. The headnote alone makes the recipe worthy of trying.
Lamb-stuffed quince w pomegranate & cilantro: pg 154-55 – Pears can be subbed for the quince, if you can’t find them – Ottolenghi also teaches a simplified version where the quince are diced, rather than stuffed. Sounds like a springboard for creativity.
Wheat berries and swiss chard w pomegranate molasses: pg 100 – A great light meal or accompaniment for simply-cooked chicken or burgers, according to the book. Also, check out this lovely salad that Cheryl Sternman Rule created for a cooking class we taught together last January – it uses fig balsamic but I bet you could sub in the pomegranate molasses and add a bit of honey if it's a bit too tart. The roasted grapes are fantastic!
Here are our “rules” for the group (there really aren’t any except to cook and share your experiences.)
- How often will we cook: We’ll pick a new set of recipes monthly to allow us all to fit in the cooking when we can and to find any ingredients that might not be available at your typical grocery store stop.
- Do I need to cook all the recipes?: We offer up several recipes to fit your taste buds, menus, schedules – cook as many or as few as you desire. But once you start cooking from this book, you probably won’t stop!
- What do I need to participate: The cookbook! Plus an interest in cooking, willingness to try new flavors, and an electronic device that communicates via the Internet. We will always post the month’s information in a blog post via omgyummy.com so you can subscribe to Beth’s blog to be guaranteed to receive it or just check in frequently via the Facebook page or Twitter hashtag #TastingJrslm
- How to share what you cook: Tasting Jerusalem is open to anyone. You do not have to be a blogger or food professional of any sort. But if you have a camera, we encourage you to share photos of your dishes on Twitter or the Facebook page or Instagram, using the hashtag #TastingJrslm – we all love to see the results of your kitchen adventures. New to these types of social media? Just drop me an email beth (at) omgyummy (dot) com – I’ll be glad to help you get started.
- What recipes can be published and how to publish: We expect to cook through most, if not all, of the recipes in the cookbook over time. As such, for those of us blogging or writing about our experiences in any way, it’s important that we don’t include the recipe in our blog posts, unless Ten Speed Press has approved its use. The goal of the group is to learn together and enrich our experience using this cookbook, not create an online version of it. We are in touch with Ten Speed Press to find out which recipes we can post. For an example of another group that writes about their cooking but doesn’t post each recipe, please visit French Fridays with Dorie. If you legitimately change a recipe, rewrite the headnote and instructions, and choose to share it, please say you’ve adapted it, giving credit to the source including a link to purchase the cookbook.
- What if I have questions? Sarene and I will be monitoring the Facebook page and Twitter hashtag #TastingJrslm almost continuously so just leave us a note there. If you see a question and know the answer, jump on in before us. Part of the fun of the group will be each of us sharing our own knowledge, perspectives and ideas.
- What to include if you write a blog post: If you do post about what you cook, please let us know – we will link to it. And feel free to post it on the Facebook page and Twitter with the #TastingJrslm hashtag. We’d also appreciate it if you would include this verbiage in the context of your post:
“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of “Jerusalem: A Cookbook” by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ten Speed Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to omgyummy.com, following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups' dishes on Pinterest."