Angela Clutton reflects on the latest gathering of the Cookbook Club which this month focused on Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem
How do you feel about aubergines? Judging by the proportion of aubergine-related dishes brought along by Cookbook Club members to November’s Jerusalem event I’m going to go out on a pretty secure limb and speculate that Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, the book’s writing partnership, are big fans. Now on her way to feeling the same is the Cookbook Club member who overcame her “fear” (her word not mine) of aubergines by facing it head on with the dish she chose to cook and share. But then such achievements are all in a night’s work for the Cookbook Club.
Out of the comfort zone
I love that so often so many members use the club as an opportunity to push themselves out of their culinary comfort zone and try things they either wouldn’t usually cook or are somewhat wary of. At the Jerusalem event there was also the dish of marinated sweet and sour fish whose cook started off uncertain about fish served cold. I hope she was won round not just by how good she thought it was but how good we all did. The helbeh fenugreek cake was another which I think quite a few of those there—me included—are now tempted to make, but only after having loved it so much that night.
Such universally adored Jerusalem dishes are testament to the widespread popularity of the Ottolenghi / Tamimi books. Popularity I’d had no reason to doubt in the build-up to the event. It was one of the hottest Cookbook Club tickets so far, with a waiting list approaching 50—quite a few of whom did manage to bag a place in the end (the waiting list really is worth signing up to!). Then in the week just prior to our event Yotam was featured on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. An honour for him; and great timing for Cookbook Club members in the midst of planning what to cook to hear him talk first-hand about the cultural grounding behind Jerusalem.
As Yotam was choosing his desert island choices, Kirsty Young even managed to gently take him to task over his long ingredients lists. His answer was, of course, that those are the ingredients of the place and time he is writing and cooking about, so it is hard to do it without them. Yes, you need a core of ingredients; but once you have them, the range of what you can do with them is inspiring. I can vouch for the diversity of dishes and flavours on the Cookbook Club’s menu despite the seeming repetition of some ingredients, and I think that says so much about the Ottolenghi approach.
Scraping the plates
On our Jerusalem evening’s menu, the mejadra of crisply cooked spiced onions and lentils was one of the dishes of the night. As was the cardamom rice pudding with pistachios and rose water which had members scraping their plates and wanting more. Special mention is also due to the broad bean kuku (think frittata) which not only looked and tasted outstanding but gets extra credit as its cook only got a last-minute place the day before the event.
You see—the waiting lists really are worth signing up to! Please remember that when we announce more Cookbook Club dates for 2017—there are some really terrific books being planned. News coming soon…
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21st January: How to Eat by Nigella Lawson