Spring has arrived early this year. The lovely weather was enjoyed first when we went to the south of France to get things ready for the season in our little house. I was hoping to get some food ideas, eating out while we were there but, unfortunately, we went too early and there were few good eating places yet open. We did have to compromise on some and to our delight, found one, quite a gem, run by a young couple who had opened the restaurant only a month earlier.
Back in England, encouraged by our visit to the Mediterranean and the warm weather here, I decided to cook dishes from Ottolenghi’s first book to celebrate our daughter’s 18th birthday for family and godparents. His cookery books are full of inspirational recipes.
I love the way the dishes are served and put together in abundance which always brings back memories of how my mother used to cater for family gatherings. My father, being the oldest in the clan in Jakarta (his family mostly live in East Java), hosts Ramadan (Eid-al-Fitr) every year and all the younger relatives pay their respects by visiting him. Nowadays, it’s not as big an event as it used to be as my mother (who will be 80 years old this year) finds it hard and tiring to cook for up to 100 people who would start arriving from 8am through to 4pm at the earliest.
The ingredients of different dishes would be bought a week before the event and made into sauces and paste, ready to be cooked with chicken, beef or mutton, eggs, vegetables, rice or rice cakes a day or two before. As far as I can remember, no relatives of my parents would miss this occasion to celebrate the Eid together and enjoy my mum’s sensational food.
The dining table would be covered with my mum’s best table cloth and laden with scrumptious food you would see only once a year. The guests would arrive soon after they finished early prayers. We, the children and grandchildren, on one hand loved to see everybody, but the thought of doing the washing up, cleaning and clearing the house after all the guests had left, was one we were not looking forward to (all my parents’ house staff would be on their yearly holiday at this time of the year). Nobody could disappear and make feeble excuses, to see friends or get something from the shops. (No shop would be open and all friends would be busy with their own family gatherings!)
Nowadays, there are fewer and simpler dishes being served, but the number of visitors keeps going up. Like the rest of the world, food prices, especially chicken, beef and mutton, are expensive. My mother, who has the ability to create amazing dishes based on vegetables (agreed, there seems to be more variety of edible plants in Asia), eggs and soya-based produce, would still make the food the highlight of Eid, even though her budget is a fraction of what it was once. She will carry on providing lovely dishes as long as she is able to, as without food, she feels she’s letting down the family tradition. But I know the truth: she just loves seeing her family and relatives enjoying her food and eventually, once food is consumed, they are all relaxed and feeling good to have had yet another memorable feast!
Back to Ottolenghi. The dishes I served for my own gathering were;
a rice dish, Kosheri (page 85), a vegetable dish (page 36), a fish dish (mackerel, page 136) and a turkey dish (page 126). I’ve decided to write about these dishes, even though they are not my own, because they are lovely, tasty dishes and you wouldn’t feel poor when you come home after buying the ingredients. I spent around £40 for 2 meals for 15 people in total. My mum would approve!
I would recommend this book to those who like to add to their food repertoire as most of his recipes are simple and easy to follow and ingredients can be substituted with other similar ingredients with still delicious results.
This is my version of the French beans dish:
serves 4 people (with other dishes)
1 bag of extra fine French beans –
1 bag of frozen baby broad beans
1 small bag of frozen garden peas
1 large orange
1 large garlic clove, crushed with some coarse sea salt
100g unskinned hazelnuts
3 tablespoon olive oil
Blanch the French beans for approx 4 minutes, then run under cold water to retain the colour. Drain them well
Pour boiling hot water over the garden peas and leave for 20 seconds then drain. Reserve the still hot water and use it to pour over the broad beans. Leave the beans in the water for 30 seconds then drain. When slightly cool, peel the outer skin and then mix with the French beans and the peas.
Heat up a small frying pan. When hot, dry fry the hazelnuts until slightly charred. When done, put in a small sandwich bag and bash roughly. Don’t overdo this as we want some whole, some halves and some bits.
Grate the skin of the orange and squeeze the juice straight into the vegetable mixture. Add and mix the skin and the olive oil.
Before serving, mix in the hazelnut bits.