Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Jerusalem in Jerusalem (Winter Version)

It started with rain. No, let's go back some- it started a few weeks ago when a friend of mine invited me to a screening of the BBC's "The Food of Jerusalem" with a panel at the end featuring, among others, Yotam Ottolenghi himself. Well. I spent about 45 minutes trying to decide to wear and then another 45 minutes trying to decide if I should bring my book(s)-guache? cliche? totally worth it? I didn't bring my books. I regret that. "The Food of Jerusalem" is a lovely little feature and in film and in person, Yotam Ottolenghi reveals himself to be intelligent, witty and warm. It was a great night. (Though at a certain point both my friend and I felt compelled to stand up for our Ashkenazi, Hungarian culinary roots-there was a distinct lack of Ashkenazi representation both in the film and the book- and we all know that cocosh is where it's at.)

In an extended scene in the film Yotam cooks a dish of wheat berries, Swiss chard and pomegranate molasses with a friend of his. Watching the scene, I realized that I recognized the recipe from his cookbook, Jerusalem, and it was one of the few recipes Naomi and I had not yet cooked (we've been doing this weekly for almost a year- we're running out of recipes). The time had come.

Then came the weather. In the past week Jerusalem has been hit with about 50 cm of snow. It snowed- on and off- for three days straight in a city that very rarely even gets one snowfall a year. To say that it brought the city to a standstill is an understatement. I lost electricity (and heat, since I heat my apt with electric radiators) for about 7 hours and I was one of the lucky ones- there were quite a few people who didn't have electricity for days. As of now, almost a week later, we are still dealing with burst pipes and leaks, icy sidewalks and downed trees. The snow was fun, the rest, not so much. But before the snow, there was rain. Cold, gross, blowing rain and it was in that element that I walked to Naomi's to cook. Never have I been so happy to cook a dish. The wheat berries were perfect for the cold, miserable night- warm and soft and comforting, but still bright and flavorful. I wish I could have carried that dish with me into the coming week- into the snowstorm. Sure, I ate pretty well during the course of the last week-brownies and pancakes and stew and acorn squash risotto-winter foods all- but nothing quite measured up to the Ottolenghi dish.

Wheat berries and Swiss Chard with Pomegranate Molasses for a Jerusalem Winter that Exceeds Expectations

 Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

1 1/2 lb (600 g) Swiss chard or beet greens
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 large leeks, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 tablespoons (more or less) pomegranate molasses
1 1/4 cups wheat berries
2 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
salt and pepper
yogurt, to serve (optional)

1. Separate the chard leaves from their stalks. Chop the stalks into 1cm slices and the leaves into 2 cm slices.

2. Heat the oil and butter in a large pan with a heavy bottom. Add the leeks, cook for 3-4 minutes and then add the chard stalks. Cook for another 3 minutes, then add the chard leaves and cook for yet another 3 minutes. Add the sugar, pomegranate molasses and wheat berries. Mix. Add the stock, slat and some pepper. Cover, bring to a boil and then simmer gently for 60-70 minutes.

3. When the wheat is cooked through, but still al dente, uncover and raise the heat a bit. Boil off any remaining  liquid until the bottom of the pan is dry and the bottom layer of wheat is lovely and caramelized. This may seem like overkill, but really, it makes the dish.

4. Taste. The berries should be sweet and tart and very bright. Add some more pomegranate molasses if you feel it needs more flavor. Serve with a dollop of yogurt, if so desired.

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