Chicken meatballs with lemon Harissa relish
Grilled seabass with herb & raisin salsa and Chermoulah marinade
Broad bean burger
Poached asparagus & carrots with caper mayonnaise
Jersey Royal salad
Vine leaf, herb & yoghurt pie
Bulghur wheat Kisir
Roast rhubarb with sweet labneh
Time to celebrate Ottolenghi’s recipes again. His ‘Plenty’ is one of my favourite cookery books, and after it good damaged in the fire a customer gave me a fresh new copy, hoping that I would use it as often.
Most of the recipes have got a modern Middle Eastern flair – Ottolenghi is originally from Jerusalem. Reading his recipes it strikes me that the love for fresh ingredients almost jumps of the page. Images of a Middle Eastern Kasbah come to mind, with piles of watermelons, tomatoes, aubergines, the scent of fresh coriander & mint, and a spice bazaar full of yellow & red and all the colours between them.
I’ve never been to such a place, but reading the words ‘pomegranate molasses’, ‘zumac’ and ‘za’atar’ brings me back to the Kanaalstraat in Utrecht, where I lived close by for years. It is in a multicultural neighbourhood, which is regarded as an example of integration. You’ll find an abundance of Halal butchers, Moroccan greengrocers, Turkish bakeries, Iranian supermarkets next to a an excellent wine shop, a Dutch cheese specialist and a well stocked fresh fish monger. A couple of Surinamese shops selling a unique mix of Oriental & Caribbean ingredients make it complete.
I know realise how fortunate I have been to have all this on my doorstep in my beginning years as a chef. Still remember that I first discovered a bottle of pomegranate molasses and asking the shopkeeper what to do with it. And after reading about it in some cookery books, spotting a vegetable like cardoons (blanched thistle) a couple of months later.
Being able to do all the shopping in one street was perfect– on the bike of course! It is not only the variety of produce that drove me there time and time again, but also the cheap prices and certainly the quality of the products. Whatever fruit I would buy, it would be ripe and sweet & juicy. I am always disappointed if I buy fruit in the supermarket now – never really right. Maybe that is because it’s all part of one big logistic nightmare process. Fruit is grown industrially to an order placed months before, then picked way before it is ripe because it will take a long time (travelling, being packaged) before it ends up in the supermarkets where it has to have a bit of a shelf life.
No, I’d rather have the piles of darkest red cherries which I remember from the Kanaalstraat. Ripe & ready, yes some a bit blemished, but they need to go, so are flogged at low prices. And of course I realise that they might have been picked under not very nice circumstances in Turkey, and brought to Holland overnight in the back of an old lorry.
Here in Wales the situation is dire. No greengrocer or fish shop in Caernarfon, or in even within miles from it. A couple of good local butchers, selling Welsh beef & lamb. Bangor, a university town, has a couple of ethnic shops, an oriental supermarket and a place with Middle Eastern goods – where I hope to find my special ingredients for this menu.
But better than buying it from the shop is buying it straight from the farm. Luckily there is quite a few of those around! I might not be able to do my shopping on the bike anymore, but driving through the beautifl Welsh countryside and see your vegetables grow and the hens who lay your eggs potter about, is an experience I wish every chef could have.