Sunday, 2 December 2012

Jerusalem, and lamb meatballs with quince

I’m very late in joining the Yotam Ottolenghi bandwagon, having been vaguely aware of his Guardian columns, cookbooks and beautiful, vegetable-driven cafes for years without feeling any particular interest in exploring further. It all seemed a bit too pretty, precious even. But a one-off TV programme he did last year, entitled Jerusalem on a Plate, suggested that I had been far too quick to dismiss him. In championing the food of his native city, he came across as fiercely smart, inquisitive and with an intuitive feel for food that was not just pretty to look at, but seriously tasty.

His new cookbook, Jerusalem, co-written with his business partner, Sami Tamimi, explores the city’s polyglot cuisine, taking in its Palestinian, North African, Central Asian, Levantine and Central European influences, amongst others. They highlight iconic local dishes like kubbeh (semolina dumplings stuffed with meat and poached in soup, served in luncheonettes in the Machane Yehuda market), Jerusalem mixed grill and chocolate kranz cake, while also playing with regional staples like topped flatbreads, dips and chopped vegetable salads, making them sharper and more interesting.

The cookbook is beautifully photographed and gently informative about Jerusalem’s culinary, social and political history.  Almost all instinctively appealing, the recipes consistently deliver. From long peppers stuffed with herbed rice and lamb mince, to fish cakes poached in a spicy tomato sauce, a distinctively upgraded spanakopita and hummus made far creamier and airy than I thought possible (the trick is to blend it in a heavy-duty food processor for a full 5 minutes), the book is delivering winner after winner. Even a simple-sounding carrot salad well exceeds any I’ve made before. Although we’ve only had it for two months, Jerusalem is already becoming one of the most-used on our cookbook shelves, as well as the holiday gift of choice.

If only he did weddings.

Lamb meatballs with quince, pomegranate and coriander
adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem
Total time: 60-70 minutes; Active time: 30 minutes
Serves 4
Special equipment: large, lidded frying pan

400g minced lamb
1 garlic clove
Small bunch coriander
Small pinch Turkish chilli flakes
50g breadcrumbs (ideally soft and fresh)
1 tsp allspice
1 egg
Small knob fresh ginger
1 lemon
4 medium quince (about 1.3 kg)
2 onions
3 tbsp olive oil
8 cardamom pods
2 tsp pomegranate molasses
2 tsp sugar
500 ml chicken stock
Seeds of ½ a pomegranate
Additional coriander (optional)

Place the mince in a large mixing bowl. Mince the garlic and coriander add, along with the chilli flakes, breadcrumbs, allspice and egg. Finely chop about a tablespoon of ginger and add as well. Season well with salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Roll the mixture into balls about the size of a squash ball and set aside.

Squeeze a bit of the lemon into a bowl of water. Peel the quince, core and chop into small cubes, placing them into the acidulated water as ready. Chop the onion finely, along with the remaining ginger.

Heat the olive oil on a medium flame. Add the onion and ginger, along with the cardamom, and sauté for 10-12 minutes, until the onion has softened and begun to change colour. Add the molasses, a good squeeze of lemon juice, sugar and stock. Season well. Add the meatballs and pieces of quince and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the meat is fully cooked, the quince soft and beginning to turn a peachy-pink, and the sauce is well thickened.

Serve over couscous, bulgur or rice, sprinkled with the pomegranate seeds and, if desired, more coriander.

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