Sunday, 30 November 2008

Some Hamisha nosh

Image from Global rhythm , book ; New Wave Kosher: Jewish Food From Near And Far

There seemed to be a hamisha, (cozy & familiar in Yiddish) , theme to last week. On Friday I had a lovely afternoon with our group of little girls at a friends house as they were preparing an old Jewish dish from Tunisia called Pikayla for their Friday night meal . "Pikayla" being my only spelling of it so far, as no one will spell it out , I feel , for fear of finding out its many wonderful secrets! It combines burnt spinach , beans and lamb in one pot. I think they may have preferred me being blindfold and led to another room , and the lid of the pot being tightly secured but I just love finding out new and different ways to cook. It really makes food seem exciting and on a cold dark winter night , to eat something different , as its so easy just to buy the same and make the same week in and week out , makes life , well just a lot more varied!

It seems several families, (only 15 I was told), have this spinach dish but are loathe to share it with anyone!! I had it once at a friends house as part of a wonderful middle eastern kosher buffet and her sister in law gave me part of the recipe but not all of it- oh the secretiveness of it all- so to this day (until fri) , I didn't have a clue how to make it , or what it was called. For several years after this party I also had a scribbled and incomplete version of Tbit recipe, but could never find the real recipe as again no one would spell it for me. Ive had it written down as Tbeet, for some years and didn't get anywhere with it on google or anyone else! Ive also never attempted to make either of them , for fear of getting it horribly wrong , especially as they may have omitted some secret part!

Many of these one pot dishes whether created in Libya , Tunisia, Israel or Iraq were created in a similar vein to Choulent , as it could be left in a low oven all night from Thursday to serve Friday night as part of the sabbath meal.

Last week I went to Sami's in Brent street , (the review linked here being the very few I found), for a mums night out. I was hoping for a yummy comforting Kosher meal, and I don't like to be down on restaurants , but disappointingly not all of it worked. The small salad starters were quite good and served on lovely small square plates and the portions plenty. Their Tabouleh was quite savoury and moreish , but it seemed to be made with cous cous rather than the bulgarwheat its more familiar for. My friend and I shared a Tbit (and I finally learnt of the correct Iraqi spelling) and a Shwarma , but both were like eating flavoured cardboard and even then it wasn't the flavours associated with either!!! Red Chinese five spice just doesn't belong on a shwarma , NOT EVER!!!! I also miss the Tahini sauce and harissa that just makes shwarma pop when served with all the salad trimmings and the very best is Sollys for that! The Tbit I'm led to believe after partaking several years ago should be a slow cooked warming spicy dish of chicken mixed with rice , all moreish and moist and deeply flavoured. There was a distinct lack of that with this as it consisted of three tomatoey dry chicken legs served separately from the flavoured rice. The nicest warming and cosy dish was chosen by another of our group , that being Memouleh - basically meaning stuffed - and we all wanted to try it, poor women!!! It consisted of meat packed with rice , wrapped in 2 pillow shaped cabbage packages and served smothered with a tomato spice sauce, heaven for me!! It just looked like you could go to sleep on it! The combination of soft cabbage and savoury rice meat filling worked really well with its differing textures and is what a wet winter night is all about. The sauce had enough spice for flavour but wasn't overpowering. It was definitely for the books and I will go to great pains now to find a good recipe. Apart from that I think that may be it would have been safer to stick to lots of grilled meats , which is their speciality.

However on the plus side were the girls who served us , as they stayed as patient as they could be with nearly 30 loud Jewish mums!!!

On my travels around I'm finding some really great dishes , but many are kept under wraps or just passed down between the generations , never to be seen outside that particular family. Ive been told I'm not allowed to experiment with the Pikayla until my friends have made it for me , and I will hold them to that, but until then I cant help but do some research and find its history, in fact I'm itching to right now. I believe that wonderful recipes and foods need to be shared and enjoyed. There is nothing more enriching and restorative than these kinds of foods. They are deep in memories of family and togetherness, its more than food , its a whole heartfelt sensory experience. To me they embody the very meaning of Hamisha : even if you haven't tasted them before, they feel recognizable!

I read in the Jewish Chronicle last week that a women Carol Savage has started the very web site , My dish, that would be a good place to find some of these hidden gems. It provides a space to share and publish recipes online. Apart from that it might take some chutzpah to make several surreptitious calls to various restaurants around to garner these recipes. Or just find a way of making best friends with some of the waiters on the night!

Happy food hunting
Let me know if anyone finds some of the recipes above!