Food 2020 – The Great British Chefs Cookbook Club (Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley)

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July 2020 – Recipes (Rice with Yogurt, Roasted Cauliflower and Fried Garlic; Sfiha; Za’atar Rolls; Batata Bil Filfil; Prawn and Tomato Stew with Coriander Pesto; Red Shakshuka)

Another month, another cookbook (I really hope they’re going to choose one I really don’t want to buy one of these months) from the people at The Great British Chefs website. The deal is you get the book, you cook from it and you report back on your experiences with the recipes. Sometimes, as with a couple of recent books, you find that the author engages with the community, which can be both a lot of fun and very useful if the odd error has crept in to the text or something doesn’t make sense for some reason. This was not one of those books, but it was very enjoyable to cook from. I just wish I’d had a bit more time to dig around in it. As it was, I’d happily cook any of the recipes I tried again – and in fact have with the potatoes.

So the book in question? “Falastin: A Cookbook” by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, a wonderful introduction to the cuisine of Palastine (there’s apparently no letter “p” in Arabic, hence the “f”).  The blurb calls it: “A love letter to Palestine, the land and its people, Falastin is a journey through Sami’s homeland. Get an unparalleled view into this beautiful country and its food, with recipes that have been handed down through the generations.”

I started with an entirely vegetable-based meal after we’d had a run of rather too much red meat. The dishes that caught my eye were the rice with yogurt and roasted cauliflower with fried garlic offering. The first run made it obvious that there might be a slight issue with quantities. The recipe supposedly served 4 as a main. Maybe, if those 4 were Palastinian manual workers. Not if they were 60+ year old office working women. It took us three meals to work through most of it and I still had a large quantity of rice left after that (it fried up as a sort of squishy arancini and was tasty), but by then we were both a bit bored with it, and ideally you don’t want to reheat it because what you end up with will become mushy with a second heating. Look closely at the quantities is my warning to you!

Rice with Yogurt, Roasted Cauliflower and Fried Garlic

Ingredients:

  • 1 large cauliflower, cut into roughly 6cm florets (650g)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 400g Greek-style yoghurt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1½ tsp cornflour
  • 700ml whole milk
  • 200g pudding (or risotto) rice, washed and drained
  • About 5g picked parsley leaves, to garnish (optional)
  • salt and white pepper
For the adha:
  • 5 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 60ml olive oil
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed in a pestle and mortar

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C fan.
  2. Put the cauliflower into a large bowl with the oil and . teaspoon of salt. Mix well to combine, then spread out on a large parchment-lined baking tray. Roast for 25–27 minutes, until golden brown and tender.
  3. While the cauliflower is cooking, place the yoghurt, egg yolk and cornflour in a free-standing blender and work on a medium speed for a minute, until the mixture is smooth and runny. You can also do this by hand but, if you do, mix it really well to prevent the sauce splitting when cooked. Set aside.
  4. Put the milk and rice into a large saucepan, for which you have a lid, along with 1 teaspoon of salt and a pinch of white pepper. Bring to the boil on a high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for 20 minutes, covered, stirring from time to time, until the rice is almost cooked. Add the yoghurt mixture and cook for another 7 minutes, until the rice is tender.
  5. Put all the ingredients for the adha into a small saucepan and place on a medium-low heat. Cook for 2 minutes, until the garlic is golden, then remove from the heat and set aside.
  6. When ready to serve, spoon the rice into a shallow serving dish or individual bowls. Arrange the cauliflower pieces randomly on top and spoon over the adha. Garnish with the parsley, if using, and serve at once.

The next thing I made was the Sfiha, a sort of middle-Eastern pizza, if you like. They are described in the book as an open meat pie, with a lovely doughy base. There’s a vegetarian version made with cauliflower, but I had some leftover mince from another dish and decided I would go with the meat version. There’s a generous amount of turmeric in the dough which makes it a glorious shade of yellow, and the mince is spiced and studded with pine nuts. The dough was quick and easy to make and the whole thing came together really easily. Again, I would make these again, especially as a handy quick lunch dish.

Still in a baking mood I next tried the za’atar rolls, which are stuffed with little cubes of feta cheese and topped with sesame seeds and nigella seeds (the other ingredients are fast-action dried yeast, Greek yoghurt, plain flour, milk powder, sunflower oil, fresh oregano and dried za’atar – and yes I did use my own). Once again the dough is coloured (and flavoured) with turmeric. Once again they were so easy to make. They also warmed up nicely on other days which was just as well because I had 12 of them once I’d finished the recipe and although they were small, they were very substantial!

Some of the rolls were served with batatas bil filfil (a dish of new potatoes roasted with tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, cumin seeds, coriander seeds and dressed with lemon juice, lemon zest, dill and coriander – it’s a lively mouthful that makes the potatoes sing) and a thoroughly mind-blowing and delicious prawn and tomato stew with coriander pesto. The pesto was more of a sauce, but that aside it’s a recipe that works well and the result is massively tasty.

Prawn & Tomato Stew with Coriander Pesto

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • cherry tomatoes 250g
  • olive oil 60ml
  • onion 1 large, finely chopped (180g)
  • garlic 4 cloves, crushed
  • ginger 2cm piece, peeled and finely grated (15g)
  • green chilli 1, finely chopped
  • coriander seeds 2 tsp, lightly crushed in a pestle and mortar
  • cumin seeds 1½ tsp, lightly crushed in a pestle and mortar
  • cardamom pods 8, lightly bashed in a pestle and mortar
  • dill 20g, finely chopped
  • tomato puree 2 tsp
  • plum tomatoes 6, roughly chopped (500g)
  • salt and black pepper
  • raw king prawns 600g, peeled
For the coriander pesto
  • coriander 30g, roughly chopped
  • green chilli 1, finely chopped
  • pine nuts 50g, lightly toasted
  • lemon 1, finely grate the zest to get 1½ tsp, then cut into wedges, to serve
  • olive oil 80ml

Method:

  1. Place a large sauté pan on a high heat. Toss the cherry tomatoes with 1 teaspoon of oil and, once the pan is very hot, add the tomatoes. Cook for about 5 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice, until blistered and heavily charred on all sides. Remove the tomatoes from the pan and set them aside.
  2. Wipe the pan clean, add 2 tablespoons of oil and replace it on the stove on a medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned. Add the garlic, ginger, chilli, spices, dill and tomato puree and cook for another 2 minutes, until fragrant. Add the plum tomatoes, 300ml of water, 1½ teaspoons of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat to medium and cook for about 25 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and the tomatoes have completely broken down.
  3. While the sauce is cooking, make the coriander pesto. Put the coriander, chilli and pine nuts into a food processor and pulse a few times until the pine nuts are roughly crumbled. Transfer to a bowl and add the lemon zest, oil, ¼ teaspoon of salt and a grind of black pepper. Mix to combine, then set aside.
  4. Pat the prawns dry and mix them in a bowl with ¼ teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of oil and a good grind of black pepper.
  5. Put 2 teaspoons of oil into a large frying pan and place on a high heat. Once hot, add the prawns in batches and fry for a minute on each side, until cooked through and nicely browned. Set each batch aside while you continue with the remaining prawns. When the sauce is ready, stir in the prawns and charred tomatoes and cook on a medium heat for about another 3 minutes, to heat through. Serve either straight from the pan or spoon into wide shallow bowls. Scoop out the cardamom pods before serving, if you like: they are there to flavour the dish rather than to be eaten. Dot with about half of the pesto and serve at once, with the lemon and remaining pesto in a bowl alongside.

My final shot that month was to make Red Shakshuka for breakfast one Sunday morning. Again it was a very large dish when completed and more than comfortably fed two of us. I had planned to make it the weekend before but was stymied by the need to first make up the required shatta. This comes in either red or green depending on the colour of chillis you opt to use. I went for green. The book informs me: “This fiery condiment is as easy to make as it is to become addicted to. Shatta is there on every Palestinian table, cutting through rich foods or pepping up others. Eggs, fish, meat, vegetables: they all love it. Our recommendation is to keep a jar in your fridge or cupboard at all times.”

Shatta

Makes 1 medium jar

Ingredients:

  • red or green chillies 250g, stems trimmed and then very thinly sliced (with seeds)
  • salt 1 tbsp
  • cider vinegar 3 tbsp
  • lemon juice 1 tbsp
  • olive oil to cover and seal

Method:

  1. Place the chillies and salt in a medium sterilised jar and mix well.
  2. Seal the jar and store in the fridge for 3 days.
  3. On the third day, drain the chillies, transfer them to a food processor and blitz: you can either blitz well to form a fine paste or roughly blitz so that some texture remains.
  4. Add the vinegar and lemon juice, mix to combine, then return the mixture to the same jar.
  5. Pour enough olive oil on top to seal, and keep in the fridge.

That completed, it was time to make the shakshuka. This too comes in a red and a green version. I used the green method, but the red ingredients, because it kept the eggs whole, while in the green one they were scrambled. Lynne doesn’t like scrambled eggs much so it was a good compromise.

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