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R is for Recipes
Customers in a restaurant at the Mahne Yehuda Market in Jerusalem. Photograph: Getty Images
Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi write: In the part of the world we are dealing with everybody wants to own everything. Existence feels so uncertain and so fragile that people fight fiercely and with great passion to hold on to things. Land, culture, religious symbols, food – everything is in danger of being snatched away or of disappearing. The result is fiery arguments about ownership, about provenance, about who and what came first.
As we have seen through our own investigations, these arguments are futile. First, they are futile because it doesn’t really matter. Looking back in time or far afield into distant lands is simply distracting.
The beauty of food and eating is that they are rooted in the now. Food is a basic, hedonistic pleasure, a sensual instinct that we all share and in which we all revel. It is a shame to spoil it.
Second, you can always search further back in time. For instance, hummus, a highly explosive subject, is undeniably a staple of the local Palestinian population but it was also a permanent feature on dinner tables of Aleppian Jews, who have lived in Syria for millennia and then arrived in Jerusalem in the 1950s and 1960s (see M for Mizrahim). Who is more deserving of calling hummus their own? Neither. Nobody “owns” a dish, because it is very likely that someone else cooked it before them and another person before that.
Third, and this is the most crucial point, in the soup of a city such as Jerusalem, for example, it is completely impossible to find out who invented this delicacy and who brought that one with them. The food cultures are mashed and fused together in a way that is impossible to unravel. They interact all the time and influence each other constantly so nothing is pure any more. In fact, nothing ever was.
As a result, as much as we try to attribute foods to nations to ascertain the origin of a dish, we often end up discovering a dozen other dishes that are extremely similar, that work with the same ingredients and the same principles to make a final result that is just ever so slightly different, a variation on the theme.
From Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s “Jerusalem”, published by Ebury Press (£27)
Stuffed aubergine with lamb and pine nuts
4 medium aubergines (about 1.2kg),
6 tbsp olive oil
1½tsp ground cumin
1½tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 medium onions (340g in total), finely chopped
500g minced lamb
50g pine nuts
20g flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 tsp tomato purée
3 tsp caster sugar
1½tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp tamarind paste
4 cinnamon sticks
salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas mark 7. Place the aubergine halves, skin-side down, in a roasting tin large enough to accommodate them snugly. Brush the flesh with four tablespoons of the olive oil and season with one teaspoon of salt and plenty of black pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
While the aubergines are cooking, you can start making the stuffing by heating the remaining olive oil in a large frying pan. Mix together the cumin, paprika and ground cinnamon; add half of this spice mix to the pan, along with the onion. Cook on a mediumhigh heat for about eight minutes, stirring often, before adding the lamb, pine nuts, parsley, tomato purée, one teaspoon of the sugar, one teaspoon of salt and some black pepper. Continue to cook and stir for another eight minutes, until the meat is cooked.
Place the remaining spice mix in a bowl and add the water, lemon juice, tamarind, remaining sugar, cinnamon sticks and ½teaspoon of salt. Mix well.
Reduce the oven temperature to 195°C/ 175°C fan/gas mark 5½.
Pour the spice mix into the bottom of the aubergine roasting tin. Spoon the lamb mixture on top of each aubergine. Cover the tin tightly with foil, return to the oven and roast for an hour and 30 minutes, by which point the aubergines should be completely soft and the sauce thick. Twice through the cooking, remove the foil and baste the aubergines with the sauce, adding water as needed if the sauce dries out.
Serve warm, hot, or at room temperature.
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