On a sunny day last weekend, I joined a group of women for my first cookbook club potluck. What a fine concept for food lovers! I know lots of people who are in book clubs, but when my friend Christina who writes East Bay Dish, mentioned that she started a Cookbook Club, I was very intrigued. What began as a book club with a focus on food-related books, or chef memoirs, has evolved over the years to include potlucks with recipes from the books. I was in the moment I heard the book was Jerusalem: a cookbook, full of gorgeous photos of delicious looking food that I have perused time and again, but had yet to cook a single recipe. What better opportunity to sample the dishes than at a potluck!
Have you heard of Yotam Ottolenghi? He is an international culinary sensation, known as the philosopher chef because he studied philosophy and literature before attending Le Cordon Bleu. Since then, he opened four Ottolenghi deli-cafés in London that are constantly packed, he writes a weekly column called the New Vegetarian for The Guardian (UK), and his gorgeous restaurant NOPI (for North of Picadilly) opened recently to great acclaim. He and business partner Sami Tamimi (and co-chef at the restaurant) have written two bestselling cookbooks, Plenty and most recently Jerusalem, which won the best cookbook award at the 2013 IACP awards. I made two dishes that looked do-able for which I had most of the ingredients at hand: Couscous with Tomato and Onion and Turkey Zucchini meatballs with lemon-sumac sauce. Okay now, here is the amazing spread, clockwise from the top left: Spicy Carrot Salad, Naama’s Fattoush, Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds, Caramelized Garlic Tart, Mejadra, Roasted Eggplant Tricolor salad, Couscous, Roasted Butternut Squash Hummus, Turkey Zucchini meatballs.
Tess and her roommate Lauren brought this refreshing lemonade with fresh raspberries and mint.
Kealoha who I met at a recent Dishcrawl, made a Spicy carrot salad, which was quite zingy and spicy from the addition of harissa. It made my lips burn but I loved the vivid flavors and crunchy bite of the arugula.
Sophie made Na’ama’s Fattoush, an Arab salad that uses leftover pita bread. The bowl was full of refreshing chopped cucumber, radish, and onion tossed with home-made fermented buttermilk/yogurt, garlic, fresh herbs and liberally sprinkled with tart sumac.
Lauren made a vatful of Aubergine Tricolor, wonderful thick slices of roasted eggplant with the delectably caramelized skin left on, mixed with fresh bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, cilantro, pieces of fresh mozzarella and capers tossed in a vibrant vinaigrette.
She brought another dish, Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds, which was also full of compelling flavors from dates marinated with onions and vinegar, mixed together with almonds that had been pan-toasted in butter and olive oil with pieces of pita then tossed with lemon juice and a spicy sumac mixture
Christina our host, made the Mejadra, spicy lentils with basmati rice topped with a tangle of intoxicating fried onions. This dish was so gorgeous, full of incredible flavors and complex textures, bits of the fried onion perfumed each bite.
Tess made the Caramelized Garlic Tart from another fabulous book, Plenty. You can get the recipe here, but be warned that those lovely caramelized garlic nuggets are transformed by hard work that involves boiling, then pan frying, simmering in water and vinegar, then slowly cooking down in a mixture of sugar, water, rosemary, thyme and salt. The tender sauteed garlic cloves stud the rich flavorful quiche-like tart made with flaky puff pastry. She said it was quite labor intensive, but it was my favorite dish, the star of the lot and so totally and utterly delicious.
My contribution was the Couscous with tomato and onion, which had a simple preparation, but took much longer than the recipe stated in order for the crispy crust to develop. But I was determined not to burn it and so cooked it on a very low heat. It was total comfort food that I’d make again.
I also brought Turkey and Zucchini Meatballs with Sumac Lemon Yogurt Sauce. The recipe said burgers, but meatballs seemed a more portable proposition for a potluck picnic. The shredded zucchini lends moisture and a velvety texture to the meatballs, which developed a nicely caramelized crust and were flavorful from garlic, mint, cumin and green onion.
Jame made the Butternut squash tahini dip which was rich and creamy, slightly sweet and addictive as all get out, I dunked everything into it!
For dessert, Sophie also brought Tahini Cookies, which were crumbly and nutty and quite delicious.
My plate, second round. I might mention here that there are very few recipes for sweets in either cookbook, and that most of the recipes are vegetarian except for the ones I made and probably a few others… All of the recipes for the dishes we made can be found online, but I suggest getting the book for the rich personal narrative and stunning photography of the food, people as well as the location.
Every single dish was awesome, full of bold and exciting flavors that really beguiled our tastebuds, but the we agreed that the recipes were very time consuming with a long list of ingredients. Definitely not the kind of dishes you could throw together at the last minute. Even the carrot salad which is a straightforward recipe, required boiling whole carrots for 20 minutes then letting them cool before mixing them with the rest of the ingredients and then letting them rest for half an hour to let the flavors develop. We agreed that shortcuts could be made, but felt that the flavors were so stunning that sometimes the end result is worth the extra effort, especially given that Chef Ottolenghi does not have a restaurant here in the states.
After the intimidating recipes of Jerusalem, our next potluck will be based on Ruta Kahate’s book 5 Ingredients, 50 Dishes Simple Indian Recipes Using Five Common Spices, which I already own and love….