Sometimes we cook for necessity, sometimes we cook for hunger but today I cooked for love. I bought a new cookbook this week and a love affair has begun. It is Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.
It’s the kind of book that when you hold it in your hand your heart skips a beat and once you open the pages, smell the newness and see the pictures unfold you know that this is the one you have waited a long time for. I feel a whole new world of food about to open up before my eyes. I am obsessed with food, I know quiet a bit but still have a lot to learn and Middle Eastern cuisine is one that I’ve only touched on lately. I love the use of spices, the various dips, the simplicity of the ingredients, the wholesome freshness and the earthiness of the food.
Today is Mother’s Day, for many that means lunch or dinner out but for me my ideal day is to cook something myself, something special, something exciting but it has to be easy giving me time to relax with a glass of wine. This I found in Lamb Shawarma from ‘Jerusalem’. It is leg of lamb marinated over night in a heady blend of spices and cooked low and slow…so most of the work is done a day in advance. Once the toasting and grinding of the spices began yesterday I got excited, I knew some of my favourites were on the list like cardamon, fenugreek and fennel. Today when it went into the oven everything I had dreamt of began to come true. Within minutes the smell took hold of the kitchen and we could have been transported to some exotic land. I basted the lamb on the hour and each time I peeled back the tin foil my mouth watered. I made flatbreads…something which was a first for me and worth every bit of the effort. The book recommends serving with Tahini sauce which really enhances the dish, I also made tzaziki and a tomato & cucumber salad. I spooned the pan juices over the carved lamb in it’s serving bowl and let everybody tuck in.
It was a resounding success.
I am my second recipe into ‘Jerusalem’ and I am totally hooked. It is a book that makes sense, it tells a story about the place, the people and the food but I feel it is most of all a book that is loved by the people behind it and now…very much loved by me.
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
5 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon cardamom pods
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 star anise
1/2 cinnamon stick
1/2 whole nutmeg, grated
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon sumac
3/4 tbsp Maldon sea salt
25g fresh ginger, grated
3 garlic cloves, crushed
40g chopped coriander, stems and leaves
60 ml fresh lemon juice
120ml groundnut oil
1 leg of lamb on the bone about 2.5-3kg
1 cup boiling water
1. Put the first 8 ingredients in a cast-iron pan and dry-roast on medium-high heat for a minute or two, until the spices begin to pop and release their aromas. Take care not to burn them. Add the nutmeg, ginger, and paprika, toss for a few more seconds, just to heat them, then transfer to a spice grinder. Process the spices to a uniform powder. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in all the remaining ingredients, apart from the lamb.
2. Use a small sharp knife to score the leg of lamb in a few places, making 2/3-inch-deep slits through the fat and meat to allow the marinade to seep in. Place in a large roasting tin and rub the marinade all over the lamb; use your hands to massage the meat well. Cover the tin with foil and leave aside for at least a couple of hours or, preferably, chill overnight.
3. Preheat the oven to 170degs. Put the lamb in the oven with its fatty side facing up and roast for a total of about 41/2 hours, until the meat is completely tender. After 30 minutes of roasting add about a cup of boiling water to the pan and use this liquid to baste the meat every hour or so. Add more water, as needed, making sure there is always a little in the bottom of the pan. For the last 3 hours, cover the lamb with foil to prevent the spices from burning.
4. Once done, remove the lamb from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before carving and serving.
Note: Best served in warm pita pockets with fresh cucumber and tomato salad, dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and chopped parsley or cilantro.