Say it out loud.
Doesn’t that sound exotic? Evoking warm places that we might visit in our dreams? Rare flavors to savor? Particularly in sub-Siberian Green Bay, Wisconsin in winter.
Yotam Ottolenghi is a person; an Israeli with Italian/German roots. His business partner Sami Tamimi is a Palestinian/Arab. Both grew up in that soup of a city, Jerusalem, and now hold forth in London where their delis and restaurant, Ottolenghi and NOPI, have set a new standard for innovative Middle-Eastern inflected cooking.
Back here in Wisconsin, we have a dinner gathering coming up and while casting about for a menu I stumbled upon Yotam and Sami’s cookbook, Jerusalem (they also have two other books, Plenty and Ottolenghi). A casual flip through the book yielded quite a number of possible recipes (note the slips bookmarking possibilities in the photo below) that could work for a small dinner party.
Surprisingly, there were few ingredients that were totally unfamiliar. What sets this cookbook apart, in my mind, are the combinations and approaches that take the familiar into uncharted territory. As a trial, in advance of our dinner, I tried one of the simpler ones to see if things tasted as good as the pictures promised; Saffron Chicken & Herb Salad.
Saffron Chicken & Herb Salad
1 orange, seedless or with seeds removed
2-1/2 Tbs honey
1.2 tsp saffron
1 Tbs white wine vinegar
1-1/4 C. water
Take a 3/8″ slice off the top and bottom of the orange. Cut the remainder, leaving the peel on, into 12 wedges. Put the orange wedges and all other ingredients into a non-reactive sauce pan, bring to a boil then reduce heat to a low simmer and cook gently for about 1 hour. Towards the end of the cooking time, the liquid will reduce to a near syrup – watch carefully to avoid burning – add a tablespoon or two of water if it seems to be getting too dry. When done, the orange wedges will be quite soft and you should have about 3 Tbs. of syrup. Set aside to cool. In a blender, puree the orange wedges and syrup into a smooth, runny paste; if needed, adding a little water to loosen it up.
4 Tbs. olive oil
2-1/4 lb. chicken breast, skinless and boneless
2 small fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
1 C. cilantro leaves
2/3 C. basil leaves, torn
15 mint leaves, torn
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 red chile, seeded, thinly sliced (adjust quantity to suit your spicy meter)
1 clove garlic, crushed
Preheat oven to 400˚F. Salt and pepper the chicken breasts. Drizzle with half the olive oil. Sear the breasts in a very hot grill pan, preferably iron. After about 2 minutes, turn the breasts then put into the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until just done. Let the chicken cool enough to handle then tear into rough, fairly large shreds.
In a large bowl, combine the chicken and the remaining ingredients including the rest of the olive oil. Add half of the orange paste (reserve the rest to use in other salads or as a sauce with fish). Toss gently. Adjust salt and pepper to taste and, if needed, additional olive oil and lemon juice.
This salad was great and will be a regular on our table, especially in summer where the fresh herbs and fennel will make for a refreshing lunch or light dinner. The chile I used turned out to quite hot! So the end salad came off as somewhere between a Thai Larb Gai and a middle-Eastern Meze salad. We served the salad with another recipe from Jerusalem for Pepper and Baked Egg Galettes. I over-cooked the peppers, hence the richly colored char visible in the photo. They tasted fine though.
So the trial run was a success but we won’t be cooking these at our dinner. A note to any of our diners who may read this, “You’re in for a delicious adventure.”