‘Jerusalem’ authors put their own twist on traditional couscous dish, fattoush

In “Jerusalem: A Cookbook,” authors Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi explore the tastes and sights of their hometown. They offer readers “a glimpse into a hidden treasure, and at the same time explore our own culinary DNA, unravel the sensations and the alphabet of the city that made us the food creatures that we are.”

Here are two recipes from their book. The authors have given both of them a twist.

Couscous With Tomato and Onion

This wonderfully comforting couscous is based on a dish Sami Tamimi’s mother cooked for him when he was a child. The authors added a crust, similar to Iranian tadik, a rice dish cooked in such a way that a crispy crust forms at the bottom of the pot; this crunchy bit is everybody’s favourite, they write.

Use good-quality stock. Serve with grilled fish skewers, turkey and zucchini burgers with green onion and cumin, or with salad as a light vegetarian meal.

45 ml (3 tbsp) olive oil, divided

1 medium onion, finely chopped (250 ml/1 cup)

15 ml (1 tbsp) tomato paste

2 ml (1/2 tsp) sugar

2 very ripe tomatoes, cut into 5-mm (1/4-inch) dice (425 ml/1 3/4 cups)

2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Scant 250 ml (1 cup) couscous

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Scant 250 ml (1 cup) boiling chicken or vegetable stock

37 ml (2 1/2 tbsp) unsalted butter

Pour 30 ml (2 tbsp) of the olive oil into a non-stick pan about 22 cm (8 1/2 inches) in diameter and place over medium heat. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, until softened but not coloured. Stir in tomato paste and sugar and cook for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper and cook for 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, place couscous in a shallow bowl, pour boiling stock over it and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside for 10 minutes, then remove cover and fluff couscous with a fork. Add tomato sauce and stir well.

Wipe pan clean and heat butter and remaining 15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil over medium heat. When butter has melted, spoon couscous into pan and use the back of a spoon to pat it down gently so it is packed in snugly. Cover pan, reduce heat to lowest setting and let couscous steam for 10 to 12 minutes, until you can see a light brown colour around the edges.

Use an offset spatula or a knife to help you peer between the edge of the couscous and the side of the pan: you want a really crisp edge all over the base and sides.

Invert a large plate on top of the pan and quickly invert the pan and plate together, releasing the couscous onto the plate. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 4 servings.

Na’ama’s Fattoush

“There are plenty of unique variations on the chopped salad, but one of the most popular is fattoush, an Arab salad that uses grilled or fried leftover pita,” Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi write in the introduction to this recipe.

This fattoush is Sami Tamimi’s mother’s variation on the traditional bread salad. “She makes her own quick buttermilk by mixing milk and yogurt. The bread soaks up the buttermilk and becomes really spongy and delicious,” Ottolenghi said in an interview. “So that’s quite different from the traditional way of making bread salad.”

Scant 250 ml (1 cup) Greek yogurt and 200 ml (3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp) whole milk or 400 ml (1 2/3 cups buttermilk (replacing both yogurt and milk)

2 large stale Turkish flatbread or naan (260 g/9 oz total)

3 large tomatoes, cut into 1.5-cm (2/3-inch) dice

3 or 4 radishes, thinly sliced

3 Lebanese or mini cucumbers, peeled and chopped into 1.5-cm (2/3-inch) dice

2 green onions, thinly sliced

125 ml (1/2 cup) fresh mint

250 ml (1 cup) coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

15 ml (1 tbsp) dried mint

2 cloves garlic, crushed

45 ml (3 tbsp) freshly squeezed lemon juice

50 ml (1/4 cup) olive oil, plus extra to drizzle

30 ml (2 tbsp) cider or white wine vinegar

4 ml (3/4 tsp) freshly ground black pepper

7 ml (1 1/2 tsp) salt

15 ml (1 tbsp) sumac or more to taste, to garnish

Try to get small cucumbers for this as for any other fresh salad. They are worlds apart from the large ones we normally get in most supermarkets. You can skip the fermentation stage and use only buttermilk instead of the combination of milk and yogurt.

If using yogurt and milk, start at least 3 hours and up to a day in advance by placing both in a bowl. Whisk well and leave in a cool place or in the fridge until bubbles form on the surface. What you get is a kind of homemade buttermilk, but less sour.

Tear bread into bite-size pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Add fermented yogurt mixture or commercial buttermilk, followed by remaining ingredients, mix well and let stand for 10 minutes to allow flavours to combine.

Spoon fattoush into serving bowls, drizzle with olive oil and garnish generously with sumac.

Makes 6 servings.

Source: “Jerusalem: A Cookbook” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Appetite by Random House Canada, 2012).