Our food impulse
We wanted to start this book with the quip, “If you don’t like lemon or garlic … skip to the last page.” This might not be the funniest of jokes, but, considering lemon and garlic’s prevalence in our recipes, it is as good a place as any to start looking for a portrait of our food. Regional descriptions just don’t seem to work; there are too many influences and our food histories are long and diverse. True, we both come from a very particular part of the world—Israel/Palestine—with a unique culinary tradition. We adore the foods of our childhood: oranges from Jericho, used only to make the sweetest fresh juice; crunchy little cucumbers, full of the soil’s flavors; heavy pomegranates tumbling from trees that can no longer support their weight; figs, walnuts, wild herbs.... The list is endless.
We both ate a lot of street food—literally, what the name suggests. Vendors selling their produce on pavements were not restricted to “farmers’ markets.” There was nothing embarrassing or uncouth about eating on the way to somewhere. Sami remembers frequently sitting bored in front of his dinner plate, having downed a few grilled ears of corn and a couple of busbusa (coconut and semolina) cakes bought at street stalls while out with friends.
However, what makes lemon and garlic such a great metaphor for our cooking is the boldness, the zest, the strong, sometimes controversial flavors of our childhood. The flavors and colors that shout at you, that grip you, that make everything else taste bland, pale, ordinary, and insipid. Cakes drenched with rose-water-scented sugar syrup; piles of raw green almonds on ice in the market; punchy tea in a small glass with handfuls of mint and sugar; the intense smell of charred mutton cooked on an open fire; a little shop selling twenty types of crumbly sheep and goat’s milk cheeses, kept fresh in water; apricot season, when there is enough of the fruit lying around each tree to gorge yourself, the jam pot, and the neighborhood birds.
These are the sources of our impulse. It is this profusion of overwhelming sensations that inspires our desire to stun with our food, to make you say “wow!” even if you’re not the expressive type. The colors, the textures, and finally the flavors that are unapologetically striking.
Sweet potato galettes \ makes 4
Spicy, sweet, and punchy, baked fresh and served warm, this is the sort of starter that can precede almost anything. The generous sour cream base and the lightness of the puff pastry carry the sweet potato easily without the risk of a carb overdose. Serve with a plain green salad.
3 sweet potatoes, about 12 oz / 350 g each
9 oz / 250 g puff pastry or ½ recipe Rough puff pastry page 280
1 free-range egg, lightly beaten
6½ tbsp / 100 ml sour cream
3½ tbsp / 100 g aged goat cheese
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 medium-hot chile, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C. Bake the sweet potatoes in their skins for 35 to 45 minutes, until they soften up but are still slightly raw in the center (check by inserting a small knife). Leave until cool enough to handle, then peel and cut into slices 1⁄8 inch / 3 mm thick.
2 While the sweet potatoes are in the oven, roll out the puff pastry to about 1⁄16 inch / 2 mm thick on a lightly floured work surface. Cut out four 2¾ by 5½-inch / 7 by 14-cm rectangles and prick them all over with a fork. Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper, place the pastry rectangles on it, well spaced apart, and leave to rest in the fridge for at least half an hour.
3 Remove the pastry from the fridge and brush lightly with the beaten egg. Using an icing spatula, spread a thin layer of sour cream on the pastries, leaving a ¼-inch / 5-mm border all round. Arrange the potato slices on the pastry, slightly overlapping, keeping the border clear. Season with salt and pepper, crumble the goat cheese on top, and sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds and chile. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the pastry is cooked through. Check underneath; it should be golden brown.
4 While the galettes are cooking, stir together the olive oil, garlic, parsley, and a pinch of salt. As soon as the pastries come out of the oven, brush them with this mixture. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Copyright © 2013 by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.