I own a lot of cookbooks and for the most part, my collection is comprised of ones of other countries’ cuisines. I have and always will love ethnic cooking the most. It’s the fastest (well, it is when compared to plane travel), cheapest (usually save for the random obscure pricey ingredient or two), and most fulfilling way of experiencing another culture from the confines of one’s own home.
I’m not going to lie when I say that I often get disappointed when I find a recipe that sounds amazing only to have to substitute half a dozen ingredients since nowhere in a 600 mile radius could I find such items. It’s not that adapting a recipe to make it work for you is a bad thing. It’s more that I love to stay true to the recipe and have what I make be as authentic as possible (even if it doesn’t always look the way it does in the picture, you know the images that put the “porn” in food porn).
A new travel dream of mine is to one day, actually travel with one of my beloved ethnic cookbooks to the country of that cuisine. I’d rent an apartment (one complete with an actual full kitchen, two burners and a mini fridge simply won’t do), and everyday make a new recipe from the cookbook. I would live like a local and that would include shopping like one too. No one, big weekly trip to the supermarket for me-each day (or maybe every other day), I would simply go to the market for the ingredients I needed. It’s what they do in numerous locations around the world and I think that has a sort of timeless beauty to it. I know a certain Madame Child would approve.
Which leads me to where I would head first with a cookbook-Israel. Although I have no doubt I would be captivated for weeks (months) by the country’s rich historical past, I’m pretty sure my attention would also be greatly held by the food, as in non-stop. Middle Eastern food is some of the best in the world and any cuisine in which spices and phyllo pastry play a big role, well, I’m game.
I’ve (still) only made a few things from the cookbook Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, but I was really pleased with my most recent endeavor even if I had to do a lot of ingredient substituting. The peppers turned out great and since I only made four peppers, I had a ton of stuffing leftover for a dinner the following week.
Ruth’s Stuffed Romano Peppers-Israel
Recipe adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem: a cookbook
8 medium Romano or other sweet peppers (I used bell peppers and Anaheim chilies)
1 large tomato, coarsely chopped (1 cup in total)
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
about 2 cups vegetable stock
3/4 cup jasmine rice
Pinch of each of the following spices-freshly ground black pepper, coriander seeds, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, cumin, and nutmeg (combine together)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
14 oz ground beef or lamb
2 1/2 tbsp chopped cilantro
2 tbsp chopped dill
1 1/2 tbsp mint
1 1/2 tsp sugar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
-Start with the stuffing. Place the rice in a saucepan and cover with lightly salted water. Bring to a boil and then cook for 4 minutes. Drain, refresh under cold water, and set aside.
-Dry-fry the spices in a frying pan. Add the olive oil and onion and fry for about 7 minutes, stirring often, until the onion is soft. Pour this, along with the rice, meat, herbs, sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt into a large mixing bowl. Use your hands to mix everything together well.
-Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds. Fill each pepper half with an equal amount of the mixture.
-Place the chopped tomato and onion in a very large frying pan for which you have a tight fitting lid. Arrange the peppers on top, close together, and pour in just enough stock so that it comes 1/8 inch up the sides of the peppers. Season with a pinch of salt and some black pepper. Cover the pan with a lid and simmer over the lowest possible heat for an hour. It is important that the filling is just steamed, so the lid must fit tightly; make sure there is always a little bit of liquid at the bottom of the pan. Serve the peppers warm, not hot, or at room temperature.