Oh the relief of Autumn! Some like it hot, and I am one of them, but this summer was a scorcher and autumn ushers in a few weeks of live-able weather before winter. And this is the perfect autumn. The days are getting shorter, but they remain brilliant and warm. The hot sun and cool air are a magic combination, helping to overcome the pang of sadness at seeing the leaves change colour and fall.
The sky is blue and the breeze reminds you that life is full of possibilities. You can still swim in the sea, at its warmest now, or go for long walks without having to lay in tanks of water, and without the danger of humans or dogs collapsing.
One place I did have to take large quantities of water to was the dessert by the Dead Sea. It was very, very hot – the memo about autumn hasn't reached there, plus since I was working, there was lots of running around.
I was reporting about Women Wage Peace, a group of Israeli and Palestinian women who've joined together to campaign to put peace back on the political agenda. The story is below, after the recipes. This amazing photo taken from Aviad Bar’s drone is a taster.
And although it is still as warm here as summer in the UK - no, strike that, with cloudless skies and temperatures in the high 20s it's warmer than any summer I remember there - nevertheless my thoughts turn to cooking grains. Perhaps because the night draws in early, I find myself standing in front of jars of grains and legumes, a vegan's delight, choosing happily between them.
LENTIL + BARLEY
It'st not a grandmother's recipe this week. It's another discovery in my own handwriting, from the old cookbook I’ve been carrying all round the world with me, from Australia to the UK to Russia and back to Australia before carting it to Jerusalem.
Last week thumbing through it led to finding a hummus recipe from my cousin Elly, may he rest in peace, that his daughters didn’t have – cue tears from us all.
This week it’s a recipe from one of my dearest friends Karen Coleman. This dish was something she used to cook when her eldest son Matthew was a toddler – in fact, the recipe came from his nanny. He is now at university, finishing his legal studies. And there it is, in my old cookbook!
OLD + NEW
Karen’s recipe is for a casserole of lentils, zucchini, celery and peas, which is light, easy, and really tasty. And with red lentils, which don't need soaking, it's also pretty quick.
It's flavoured with my new favourite herb, thyme.
Thyme is another of the local tastes, like pomegranates that now that I’ve finally come round to them, I can’t get enough of. It grows in the wadi beneath my house, alongside zaatar, which has a stronger (more Middle Eastern?) taste.
Thyme’s flavour is delicate, but not namby-pamby. It makes its presence felt. It is another of the herbs which is much better fresh than dried, where in my experience it has almost no taste, more of a scent, wistful and nostalgic in the jar, and making no discernable difference in the pot. If you buy a bunch at the markets, you won’t regret it, the taste is wonderful and it’s also long lasting.
I have changed Karen’s recipe slightly, adding turmeric, which I add to everything since I’ve come round to this now too and it’s available fresh. Well, fresh is a relative term. These are the last bulbs of the year, and they are dense and deep orange now, as well as being round and fat. In fact, they look like something a hobbit might grow in his garden. At the Jerusalem markets they told me we are waiting for the rains for the new season’s turmeric. Till then, the hobbit turmeric will have to do.
Turmeric is a superfood, or superspice, to be precise, good for just about everything, from reducing inflammation to improving your memory. When you eat it fresh it doesn’t have that dusty yellow taste of the bottled spice, though it does turn everything yellow, including your hands and the knife, so best to wash up quickly after peeling and chopping it.
We get the best uptake when its cooked with pepper or chili so I’ve also added some chili to the recipe too. The original recipe called for flour, which you don’t need, and lemon juice, which I'm leaving in as an option even though I’ve never felt the need for it.
Karen's Herbed Zucchini and Lentil Casserole
- ¾ cup / 185 g red lentils
- 1 large onion chopped
- 2-3 cm piece fresh turmeric, peeled and chopped fine
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- 1 fresh chili, chopped or half a teaspoon dried chili or black pepper
- 1 teaspoon aniseed
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 125 g peas (frozen is fine)
- 250 g zucchini, sliced – 3 medium sized zucchini
- 6 tablespoon freshly chopped herbs eg parsley or basil
- Salt and pepper
- Optional: 2 tablespoons lemon juice, fresh thyme to serve
1. Rinse lentils in cold water. Bring to boil in pot with plenty of water to cover. Simmer till tender – 15 -20 minutes. Set aside to cool. Drain and reserve stock.
2. In a casserole pan, fry onion, garlic and turmeric in a little olive oil for 5 minutes till onion is translucent – and everything is yellow! Add celery and cook for another 5 minutes. If it’s getting dry, add some of the lentil stock.
3. Add zucchini, peas and lentils and stir till everything is covered in oil and spices. Pour in 300 ml (1 large cup) of lentil stock. Top up with water if you haven’t enough, but I like to do it in 2 lots, as you may not need the second half. Cook over a moderate heat, covered, till vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes or so.
4. Add chopped herbs, mix in, season to taste with salt and pepper. Add lemon juice, if using, and serve sprinkled with fresh thyme.
JERUSALEM TEST KITCHEN
I have made this a number of times now, with turmeric and chili and without; with a lot of stock from the lentils and with only a little, and it’s great every way. Flavourful, and always sweet somehow, from the onions and peas, even when you add lots of salt and chili. It’s also good whether it’s dry or more soupy. The batch I photographed for you here is on the soupier end, and I think I prefer it slightly dryer; but if you add less stock/water you have to really watch it while cooking and especially re-heating, as it can easily catch.
VERDICT: Make this! Healthy, tasty and easy. Serve with a carb like rice, couscous or barley or without if you prefer, just with a large salad.
This recipe is for pearl barley came about from a mistake, which is how the best things sometimes happen, as anyone who's eaten Tarte Tartin knows.
I like pearl barley because it is quick cooking and stays chewy and nuggetty. At least that’s what it does when you cook it with a cup of water – or slightly less – per cup of grain. But when you make a mistake as I did last week and cook it with 2 cups of water per cup of grain, the grains expand and become soft, round and fluffy, more like pasta. Who knew? And what do with these large soft mushy grains? The Warm Barley and Rocket salad was born!
Warm Barley salad with Rocket and Parmesan
- I cup pearl barley
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
- Grated rind of half a lemon
- Salt and pepper
- 2-3 handfuls bitter leaves eg rocket, chopped very fine
- 2-3 tablespoons parmesan, pecorino, kashkaval or any yellow sheep cheese
- 6 capers in salt
- Nigella seeds to sprinkle
NOTE: The best capers are Italian ones, preserved in salt. Shake the salt off, rinse if you like, and throw into the salad. Or you can leave the salt on and adjust your seasoning.
1. Rinse barley to remove any dirt. No need to soak. Put it into a small pot to steam with 1 cup water. The proper ratio of grain to water is 1:1 but if you add more water you will get a softer fluffier grain.
2. I like the immersion method. Add cold water, cover, and cook over a high heat. When it starts boiling, after about 5 minutes, turn down to low and simmer till all the water is used up – usually between 10-15 minutes. When little holes form in the grain, like sand after the sea recedes, it’s ready. Remove lid and cover pot with a tea towel. Replace lid and let sit for 5 minutes.
3. While the barley's cooking, chop the rocket and grate the cheese. Don’t make too much effort, large holes on the grater is fine.
4. Tip grain into a bowl. While hot, add the olive oil, lemon juice, lemon rind and salt and pepper. (If you are using capers preserved in salt you can add less salt here!) Mix. Add the cheese, mix, it will melt into the barley, and then add the chopped rocket and capers.
5. It’s ready to eat now or you can let it cool to room temperature. Sprinkle with nigella seeds before serving.
VERDICT: This is a winner. The result is creamy, salty with bitter notes. Completely delicious! I could eat it every night. And recently, I have been…
WOMEN WAGE PEACE
So, after the food, a story.
I went to report on the tens of thousands of Israeli and Palestinian women who've been gathering at rallies this autumn in an effort to bring an end to the Mideast conflict. You can't accuse them of aiming low! But they argue that peace has stopped being urgent for their leaders and it's now up to women to show them the way.
I attended 2 rallies, the first in Jaffa, part of the seaside town of Tel Aviv (yes, back to Jafffa, for those who read last week's post.)
Some 3,000 women took part. Women Wage Peace seeks to appeal to all women — Palestinian and Israeli, old and young, Muslim, Christian and Jewish, and also left and right insdie Israel's political spectrum.
Canadian-Israeli musician and activist Yael Deckelbaum was at the rallies in Jaffa and near the Dead Sea. She is the founder of the Prayer of the Mothers Ensemble, a musical group with Arab and Israeli women.
The group's name is taken from the song, Prayer of the Mothers, which Deckelbaum wrote for the Women Wage Peace movement. It's become their anthem. The song's music video has gone viral, with more than four million views on YouTube. Marching in Jaffa, the women sang it in Arabic, Hebrew and English.
Women Wage Peace was founded after the 2014 war in Gaza by Israeli mothers and now has more than 25,000 members, about 20 per cent of whom are men. "It's an inclusive feminism," says Lili Weisberger, one of the organisers. She says the movement's main goal is to pressure the Israeli government to reach a political agreement to end the conflict with the Palestinians by 2018.
"It's time for healing," says Weisberger. "That's the reason that, after 4,000 years, we are saying enough is enough. Now is the time for peace and reconciliation. It's time to create a new story."
The marchers, with guitars, drums and flutes, invited other women to dance, sing and ponder the group's political message.
For Palestinian women, joining in is a challenge. They can't just come from the West Bank to participate. And under Israeli government rules, Israelis can't go to the main West Bank towns. One of the only places Israelis and Palestinians can meet without permits is in a part of the West Bank known as Area C. That's where Women Wage Peace held its main rally, in a stretch of desert near the Dead Sea. About 10,000 Israeli and Palestinian women marched there together through the desert.
"The message is enough violence, enough with hatred, enough with blood, enough with war," says Lama Abu Arqoub, a Palestinian teacher and mother of five from Hebron, in the West Bank. "We need to work for peace."
Abu Arqoub says she has to keep her participation in the rallies from some of the people she knows and works with in Hebron because some Hebron residents condemn any joint activities with Israelis, claiming they "beautify Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories."
Despite this, Abu Arqoub remains optimistic.
"I am optimistic because, if we're not, it means we get frustrated, and frustration leads to dangerous consequences. Women can, and women will make the difference," she says as she marches.
Their destination is a tent named for Hagar and Sarah, the biblical mothers of the Muslim and Jewish peoples. There, they meet up with old friends and make new ones.
All the women I interview say it's a wonderful feeling to mingle freely with one another and I can confirm that it was incredibly moving. You can watch the TV story I did here
Critics say this is idealistic, not realistic. And there is something to that. But women involved in the movement believe it can lead to real results that will benefit both sides. Their challenge, they say, will be channeling the groundswell of hope into tangible political change.