Have had a New Year visitor - Ace Food is Love photographer David Mane has been in Jerusalem! I dragged him up the Ein Kerem hills with the dogs (and saw wild iris and cyclamen poking their heads up too early this winter!)
There wasn't time for elaborate foodie expeditions, since it's been a very busy holiday period. Too many people have been “committing news” as a funny American friend puts it, and I've been working.
But we did make it to Jerusalem’s fabled market, the Mahane Yehuda Shuk – on a day so cold we had the whole place to ourselves.
There we discovered that tahini’s had a make-over. Well, actually to give credit where it's due, it was Dave who did the discovering, heading straight for the "Tahini of Kings" stall, which I'd been walking past for months.
There are dozens of flavours - savoury and sweet (!) We bought the one called Nougat. It tastes like liquid halva. Or a sesame version of Nutella.
Sweetened with silan (date honey), it’s a winner, and would make a great addition to a vegan cook’s larder. Will play around with it and try using it in baking and let you know how I go.
An Australian friend who spent part of her childhood in Lebanon says they used to eat tahini sweetened with carob around Ramadan, and they would eat it from a bowl, dipping pita into it. 'There is nothing new under the sun' as King Solomon says in Kohelet...
This week's recipe is wonderful. Our Lentil and Pomegranate soup is a healthy, tasty meal-in-a- bowl which is full of flavour, for remarkably little effort.
And with lentils, rice, spinach and pomegranates, what’s not to like?
I’m trying to get this to you quickly since I posted a photo on FB and it’s broken the record for the number of recipe requests. That’ll teach me to put a photo up before the post is ready...
The soup comes from the rich kitchen of Central Asia.
This soup is a less daunting option, since you don’t have to make dumpling pastry from first principles, as Marta does, armed with nothing more than a rolling pin and a curtain rod.
central asia - jews
Many Russian and European Jews were in Central Asia during World War Two, in cities including Almaty, Bishkek and Tashkent. The Soviets transported Jews from Moscow there, along with other Russian civilians, when it looked like the German army might conquer Moscow in 1941.
But there were also locals, Jews who’d lived for centuries along the Silk Road,the main trading route between Asia, Russia and Europe, in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and even Afghanistan. As far back as the 1300s, when legendary Italian explorer Marco Polo travelled the Silk Road, he met Jewish traders who spoke Aramaic and had settled there, building synagogues.
This is one of their recipes.
Bukhara is an ancient walled town in what is today Uzbekistan, and “Bukharan” is the umbrella name for Central Asian Jews, whichever of the 'Stans' they come from – whether they are actually from Uzbekistan, like Marta Pinhasov, or from Kazakhstan, like her husband Ilya.
CENTRAL ASIAN FOOD
Dumplings have a starring role in the bursting-with-flavour Central Asian cuisine. They are often a whole meal, or a first course, followed by grilled meat and chicken and accompanied by wonderful round flatbread loaves, dense and chewy, sprinkled with black sesame seeds.Chickpeas, carrots, tomatoes and coriander (cilantro) also feature strongly, as well as lentils and pomegranates.
I discovered this cuisine when I was a correspondent in Moscow.
I remember that when tomatoes from Tashkent began appearing in the markets in May, it was a sign that the long, fierce Russian winter was finally coming to an end. Fruits from the region - apricots, melons, watermelon, grapes and the famous pomegranates - are eaten across Russia.
CHICKEN OR VEGAN?
Like most soups, this one is especially tasty if you use home-made chicken stock, as it provides a wonderful balance to the sour-sweet pomegranate juice. But the soup is also good if you make it with vegetable stock, in which case it’s a vegan delight.
I always have vegetable stock on hand, as I boil up the off-cuts after I make a salad. The bottom of the parsley bunches. The sad looking outside of the shallots. Any bits you carve off a cauliflower – into the pot they all go. Cook, strain and into the freezer, so it's ready to make soup when you are.
Central Asian Lentil and Pomegranate Soup
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
- 2-3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup brown lentils
- 1/2 cup basmati rice
- 1/3 cup yellow or green split peas (I didn’t have any and used ½ cup quinoa instead)
- 6 cups stock, either chicken or vegetable
- 4 cups pomegranate juice – look for 100% juice, with no added sugar
- 400 g bag fresh spinach (or 400 g frozen spinach, if you’re stuck)
- 1 cup freshly chopped parsley
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp of salt
- 1 fresh chopped chili or 1 tsp of black pepper
- Optional: 1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate, or 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
- Pomgranate seeds
- Chopped mint
- Yoghurt or soft goats cheese
1. In your soup pot, fry fennel and cumin seeds for one minute in some olive oil, just till you hear them pop. Add onions and garlic.
2. While that’s cooking rinse your lentils, peas and rice. When the onions are transparent, add the rinsed grains, mix till they are coated in the onions and spices and then pour in the stock and pomegranate juice.
3. Add salt, cinnamon and spices, including tamarind concentrate or pomegranate molasses, if using.
4. Cook until split peas are just soft – everything is quick cooking, so it should ready in 20 minutes.
5. When your hardest bean is soft, add the spinach, fresh or frozen, and the chopped greens. Cook 3- 5 minutes more, or till the spinach is just wilted.
6. Serve garnished with whole pomegranate seeds, chopped fresh mint and yogurt or a mild goat cheese.
JERUSALEM TEST KITCHEN
This is an outstanding soup. The ingredients combine together exceptionally well, even though I wasn’t certain as I poured in the pomegranate juice. But just have faith and go with it, the juice gives the flavour great depth, a rich sour-sweet undertone. It also doesn’t take long, since the rice and lentils are ready in about the same time.
I didn’t have split peas and used quinoa, and it was fine, but a tad mushy. I think the split peas would be better since they would stay more chewy. Am thinking that next time, I might substitute brown rice of barley for the white rice. I have a feeling it’s very forgiving in terms of the legumes/rice/peas or beans combinations.
We ate the soup on its own, plain, and with the fresh mint, pomegranate seeds and yoghurt and they definitely add to it, pulling all the flavours together.
VERDICT: Make this soup! It's become an instant favourite.
MADRID TEST KITCHEN
Candice Hughes made this soup in her home in Madrid, where it was a hit too.
“The flavour was so interesting. The pomegranate juice gave it a sweet undertone that was unique.”
Candice also found it easy to make.
“If only onions were self-mincing, you could virtually toss it all in a pot and it would cook itself,” she observes.
Candice played to one of the great strengths of this recipe, using what was on hand in the pantry. That meant urid beans and puy lentils, instead of split peas and brown lentils. She says that the urid beans retained their shape a bit more than lentils, providing a nice anchor for the whole dish.
So that’s another option that would work better than quinoa!
Candice says that Richard, her 'trusty taster', also loved it describing it as perfect winter comfort food. She agrees.
“True. We ate big bowls with warm olive bread, a nice Spanish wine and some tart Greek yogurt. Delish.”
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
And finally just want to say Happy New Year, to all our wonderful grandmothers, and also to all you out there, reading and following in the Food is Love 'family'. Hope this year is better than last!