As we start to near the end of our incredible journey with Yotam Ottolenghi, our theme this week at I Heart Cooking Clubs is "New to Me" - an opportunity to explore ingredients, cooking techniques or cuisines which are new or relatively unfamiliar to us.
This happily coincided with our Tasting Jerusalem challenge to use the spice blend known as baharat, which is definitely a new to me ingredient. According to several sources I found, baharat is a blend of several spices, very common in Middle Eastern cooking, for flavouring fish, meat and stews, as well as grains and pulses.. The spices which are included will vary geographically, and no doubt from one household to another as well, but you will most likely find a combination of the following spices: black pepper, coriander, paprika, cardamom, nutmeg, cumin, cloves, and cinnamon. Some of you maybe be able to find baharat at your local Middle Eastern store, but I had to make my own. I found numerous recipes (I'm sure there are a gazillion out there), but since I was going to use it in an Ottolenghi dish, I used Ottolenghi's version from "Jerusalem: A Cookbook". This version didn't include paprika as I had seen in some other versions, and I also found that many of the other versions I check out had considerably more pepper than Ottolenghi's. I think next time I would definitely like to try the inclusion of paprika, and probably double the amount of black peppercorns. I would probably also increase the cinnamon slightly and reduce the cloves a bit. But that's just me.
The Maqluba is a sensational dish - definitely what I would call family celebration fare. There's a little bit of effort involved in prepping this dish, so it's not a mid-week throw it together in 15 minutes kind of dinner. But I did take a couple of little shortcuts to make life easier, and to also make a slightly healthier version. The essence of the dish is layers of tomatoes, fried aubergine, fried cauliflower, poached chicken, rice and spices all cooked in a stock made from the chicken, until the rice has absorbed all the liquid and you can turn the dish out like a giant "cake".
Turned out it looks pretty impressive, if not exactly "beautiful" - certainly not the most photogenic dish I've produced. Like every Ottolenghi dish I've tried so far though it is a triumph of taste and textures, and delicious on its own (even better the second day), and a side of yoghurt and cucumber sauce turns it into sublime. I hope you can find the time and occasion to make this dish - it's definitely worth the effort.
Some changes I made to the original recipe: Fresh tomatoes are not a happening thing in these parts right now, so I used some slow-roasted tomatoes from my freezer, along with a couple of tinned tomatoes, torn into pieces. Aubergine are not exactly seasonal here right now either, and worth a king's ransom, but I did push the boat out to splurge on one of these beauties instead of the two called for in the recipe - the one I had was largish (that is, bigger than what I would call medium, but smaller than what I would call large - can you tell I'm not a black or white person), and I think it was enough. Instead of frying the aubergine in oil, I brushed with a little oil and baked the slices in the oven until golden - less oil, less mess, and less of my time standing over a frypan! The recipe also called for frying the cauliflower, but I blanched it instead - once again, less mess, no standing over a frypan, and healthier. No doubt, there is an extra dimension of flavour that comes from frying these ingredients that I would have lost (of course fried food tastes better!), and if you feel inclined to stand around over pots of hot oil, flipping and turning, then knock yourself out - personally, it was a small sacrifice I was prepared to make for a healthier, more fuss-free version, and there is so much going on in this dish that I don't think I missed out on much. I also used a bit less chicken than called for in the original recipe, simply because that was what I had on hand, and I didn't find that the extra was needed. Another observation I did have ... you may have seen my recent post, in which I enjoyed this dish at a delicious lunch I shared at Ephesus Restaurant with Beth Lee. That was my first experience of this dish and, as such, became my benchmark for it. In that version, cinnamon was definitely a dominant flavour, and I found that was less so in Ottolenghi's version - I missed that, and I would definitely increase the amount of cinnamon next time.
Adapted from recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi
from Jerusalem: A Cookbook
Makes 4 to 6 generous servings
Makes 4 to 6 generous servings
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe
1x large or 2x medium aubergine, cut crosswise into 0.5cm (1/4") slices
1-1/2 cups basmati rice
500g (1 lb) skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 leek, halved lengthwise, washed, and cut into chunks
10 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 medium cauliflower, cut into medium sized florets
8x slow-roasted tomato halves, plus 3x whole canned tomatoes roughly torn,
or substitute 3-4 medium fresh tomatoes, cut into 0.5cm (1/4") slices
4x large garlic cloves, halved
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (next time I would double this amount)
1 teaspoon ground allspice (next time I would halve this amount)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon baharat spice mix (store-bought, or see recipe page 299 of Jerusalem: A Cookbook)
generous handful of walnuts sauteed in butter until golden
1 cup natural Greek style yoghurt
1/2 telegraph cucumber, peeled, deseeded & finely chopped
large handful fresh coriander, finely chopped
generous pinch of salt
Wash the rice thoroughly and soak in cold water with 1 teaspoon of salt for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 220 degrees C (425 degrees F).
Spread aubergine slices out, in a single layer, on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper. Brush aubergine slices with olive oil on both sides, and put tray into the preheated oven. Bake until the aubergine is golden, turning them over half way through. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat a small amount of olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the chicken to the pan and sear until golden brown on both sides. Add the chopped leek, bay leaves, peppercorns and 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes.
Remove chicken from the liquid and set aside. Strain the stock and reserve for later.
While the chicken is cooking, bring a medium sized pot of lightly salted water to the boil, add the cauliflower, and cook until only just fork tender. Remove from heat and drain.
Lightly oil the base and sides of a saucepan or casserole dish that is 24-26cm (9-10") in diameter and 12cm (5") deep (I used a cast iron Dutch oven). Line the base with a circle of non-stick baking paper, and then begin to layer up the dish.
To begin with, arrange tomatoes in a single layer over the base of the casserole, and top with the aubergine slices. Arrange the cauliflower florets over the aubergines, and top with the chicken thighs (roughly sliced). Drain the rice, spread over the chicken, and top with the garlic halves. Add all the spices and 1 teaspoon of salt into 3 cups of the reserved stock, whisk to mix well, and pour over the rice. Press firmly down with your hands to make sure all the rice is submerged in the stock, adding a little more stock or water if necessary to cover everything.
Set the casserole over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmering, cover the casserole, and cook over low heat for 30 minutes (don't be tempted to lift the lid during that time). At the end of the cooking time, remove the pan from the heat, take off the lid, put a clean tea towel over the top, and quickly return the lid. Allow to rest for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix yoghurt, cucumber, coriander and salt together, and set aside.
Remove the lid of the casserole, place a large serving plate over the top, and quickly invert the dish onto the plate. Leave the casserole dish there for a couple of minutes, before slowly lifting off. Sprinkle the buttered walnuts over the top, and serve with the yoghurt and cucumber on the side.
If you would like to get to know Yotam Ottolenghi a little better, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and see what they've all cooked up ...
... or check out Jerusalem and Ottolenghi's other great titles available from Amazon USA, Amazon UK or Fishpond NZ.
Have a look also at what my "Tasting Jerusalem" friends have been doing - you'll find plenty of other great uses for the baharat you now have in your spice cupboard, along with other interesting ingredients as well. (“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of “Jerusalem: A Cookbook” by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ten Speed Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to omgyummy.com, following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest.”)
I'll also be sharing this post at See Ya In the Gumbo hosted by the lovely, and very amusing, Michelle at Ms. enPlace, at Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads, at Foodie Friday hosted by Designs by Gollam.