Full of Eastern promise
Middle Eastern food is exotic, but can be easy to prepare as these two recipes show
THERE’S SOMETHING VERY intoxicating about Middle Eastern cooking. It’s exotic in a way that Chinese or Indian food will never be. Arabian nights, souks, spices galore. Maybe it’s the classical romance of it all, or maybe I’m losing the plot entirely.
One of everyone’s favourite cookery writers – Yotam Ottolenghi – has a new book out called Jerusalem. It’s full of gorgeously rustic shots depicting street life, cafes and all sorts of culinary endeavours.
It is one of those books – not unlike the River Café books or anything from Claudia Roden – in which you have to dig a little and read through recipes, as opposed to just writing them off. Sometimes the recipes look either a little dull, or just too simple to be at all interesting. Sometimes they seem far too ambitious. But there are a bunch of interesting things to cook in here and lots of them are quite light and healthy.
We tried out this pearl barley salad and not only did it look fantastic, it was also zingy and fresh in that special way that using lots of herbs in salad brings.
We rarely think of herbs as having anything nutritional up their sleeves and they tend to be the glitter or perfume of dishes. But, in fact, parsley packs some serious nutritional punch. It’s high in folic acid, vitamin C and, because of its particular qualities and volatile oils, it is an anti-inflammatory food. We tend to think of it only in garnish terms, but in fact, it is much much more than that.
You will also see za’atar mentioned a lot through this book. It’s a spice blend made up of equal quantities of toasted sesame seeds, dried oregano, dried marjoram, ground sumac and a good pinch of salt. You can buy it in some speciality shops, but failing that, make you own by just add a good pinch of whatever of the above list you have, and don’t fret. There are plenty of good flavours here even if you just add a pinch or two of any of the above in lieu of store bought za’atar.
The flatbreads were from a Gordon Ramsay recipe. I am not much of a bread baker, so anything that doesn’t require lots of rising and proving is good in my books. This is just flour-based, no yeast is involved, so it’s a very quick undertaking and also deeply satisfying to produce. It is fried in a pan until lovely and brown and charred in places.
I could happily eat this type of meal every night: warm bread, simple salad and marinated cheese and can imagine this as part of a larger meal that would be ideal for a party.
The ricotta topping is fine if you aren’t serving the flatbreads with the barley salad. But if you were, then I would leave it off and serve the flatbreads on their own, as it would be cheese overkill.
Pearl barley salad
40g pearl barley