Jonathan Lovekin Photo
On a cold winter day, warm up with a hearty dish of eggplant and lamb. The photo and recipe are from “Jerusalem: A Cookbook” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.
When you live in northern New England in the dead of winter, reading cookbooks is a form of escapism, especially when their recipes call for sun-warmed tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, brightly colored fruits and fragrant fresh herbs. That may explain why “Jerusalem: A Cookbook,” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ten Speed Press, 2012), seems to have taken my small snowbound community by storm.
Aside from combating seasonal affective disorder, the appeal of “Jerusalem” lies in its exploration of what the authors characterize as “an immense tapestry of cuisines” that flavor the storied city.
“Consider this,” the authors write. “There are Greek Orthodox monks in this city; Russian Orthodox priests; Hasidic Jews originating from Poland; non-Orthodox Jews from Tunisia, from Libya, from France or from Britain; Sephardic Jews who have been here for generations; there are Palestinian Muslims from the West Bank and many others from the city and well beyond; there are secular Ashkenazic Jews from Romania, Germany and Lithuania and more recently arrived Sephardim from Morocco, Iraq, Iran or Turkey; there are Christian Arabs and Armenian Orthodox; there are Yemeni Jews and Ethiopian Jews but there are also Ethiopian Copts; there are Jews from Argentina and others from southern India. There are Russian nuns looking after monasteries and a whole neighborhood of Jews from ... Uzbekistan.”
Citizens, the authors write, are often isolated in their neighborhoods, and the fight among various factions to protect their piece of land/cultural heritage/way of life can get “pretty ugly.”“Food, at the moment, seems to be the one unifying force in this highly fractured place,” they say.
The authors should know. Both were born in Jerusalem in 1968, and both were raised there — Ottolenghi in a Jewish sector, Tamimi in an Arab neighborhood. Thirty years later they met for the first time in London, where they learned they shared a language, a history and a passion for food. They became partners in a restaurant business.
“It takes a giant leap of faith, but we are happy to take it — what have we got to lose? — to imagine that hummus will eventually bring Jerusalemites together, if nothing else will,” they write.
Here you will find not a recipe for hummus but one for stuffed eggplant. It takes no leap at all to enjoy this delectable dish from a storied city.
Stuffed eggplant with lamb and pine nuts
Yield: 4 generous servings
4 medium eggplants (about 2 pounds), halved lengthwise
6 tablespoons olive oil
2˝ teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 pound ground lamb
7 tablespoons pine nuts
Handful of flatleaf parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons tomato paste
3 teaspoons superfine sugar
2/3 cup water
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon tamarind paste (see note)
4 cinnamon sticks
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place the eggplant halves, skinside down, in a roasting pan large enough to accommodate them snugly. Brush the flesh with 4 tablespoons oil and season with 1 teaspoon salt and plenty of black pepper. Roast about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
While the eggplants are cooking, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large frying pan. Mix together cumin, paprika and cinnamon and add half of this spice mix to the pan, along with the onions. Cook over medium-high heat about 8 minutes, stirring often. Add lamb, pine nuts, parsley, tomato paste, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and some black pepper. Continue to cook and stir another 8 minutes, until the meat is no longer pink.
Place remaining spice mix in a bowl and add water, lemon juice, tamarind paste, the remaining 2 teaspoons sugar, cinnamon sticks and ˝ teaspoon salt; mix well.
Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. Scrape the spice-lemon juice mixture into the bottom of the roasting pan. Spoon lamb mixture on top of each eggplant half. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil, return to the oven and roast 1˝ hours, at which point the eggplants should be completely soft and the sauce thick. Twice during the cooking, remove the foil and baste eggplants with the sauce on the bottom of the pan, adding water if the sauce dries out. Serve warm, not hot, or at room temperature.
Note: Tamarind paste is sold in some supermarkets with the Mexican or international foods. If you can’t find it, you can substitute pomegranate molasses. If you can’t find either, substitute Worcestershire sauce and a squeeze more lemon juice.
Reprinted with permission from “Jerusalem: A Cookbook”ťby Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ten Speed Press, 2012)
Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.
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