Sunday, 23 August 2015

Tasting Jerusalem #20 – Dinner Parties

Late Summer Vegetarian Meze

Dee - August 2015’s Tasting Jerusalem theme was all about dinner parties.  The number of dishes on the menu and the numbers of guests involved were limited only by the source of the recipes, yet it turned out to be much more difficult than I imagined.
I’ve written about possible combinations of recipes into themed menus in previous blog entries, but when it came down to organising a dinner party I struggled.  Why? Well, I’ve never hosted one before.  Sure, I’ve organised food and drink for friends after returning from a night out, and I’ve made lunch for visiting family, but there has never been any formality attached to any of it.  Some careful thought and planning was clearly needed.
To cut a long story short, the ‘guests’ at our dinner party ended up being just Jay and me, but we tailored the menu towards what we would have prepared if we’d had guests round.  By doing this we were able to work without time constraints, allowing us to enjoy the meal at our leisure.  That, for me at least, made for an ideal dinner party.
After perusing the book for recipe ideas, we settled on a vegetarian meze affair which was simple to put together without the stress of co-ordinating too many different cooking times.  It was also convenient, as a small menu was suggested in the commentary accompanying one of our chosen recipes.
The menu centred on the Spiced Chickpeas with Fresh Vegetable Salad on page 56, with the Cauliflower with Tahini on page 60, the Hummus on page 114 and thick fresh pita breads being the suggested accompaniments.

Spiced Chickpeas & Fresh Vegetable Salad
The central dish for the menu was also the simplest to prepare.  The chopped salad contained fresh vegetables and herbs with a dressing made from olive oil, lemon juice and sherry vinegar.  It was paired on the plate with the chickpeas which were coated in a spice mix before being fried.  The idea was to marry up the cold, fresh and tangy salad with the warm spiced chickpeas, and this worked well, though the spice mix was a little heavy on the allspice for my taste.  I would have preferred pepper, paprika or cumin in its place.  We added a small amount of yoghurt as a garnish to add another texture.  As well as its great taste, we were very happy with how it appeared on the plate.  The colours of the salad contrasted nicely with the earthy tones of the chickpeas, giving it a particularly photogenic quality.  This was the recipe which contained the suggestions of

Sesame and Za’atar Flatbreads
The recipe for these flatbreads was one that I devised myself as the book does not include a recipe for pitas.  The dough was made from a mix of white and wholemeal flour, with the za’atar added just before I rolled the flatbreads out.  They were cooked on the hob and when done they were coated with olive oil then sprinkled with sesame seeds before being left to cool.  I was very pleased with how they turned out, as they had the soft texture that I was looking for, with the za’atar adding a small amount of spiciness with each bite.

Fried Cauliflower with Tahini
The recipe for this dish called for the cauliflower to be deep fried, but we went for the slightly healthier option and fried it in just a small amount of oil in the frying pan.  This allowed it to retain its crunchy texture, which is how we both prefer it, with pleasantly caramelised edges.  The cauliflower was joined by spring onions which were also fried in the same way, and the mixture was then coated in a sauce made from tahini, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice and herbs, and mixed together.  We would have been quite happy to eat this as it was, but the garnish of additional pomegranate molasses and chopped fresh mint elevated it even further.  We were lucky to be able to use the last of this season’s mint from the garden, and I managed to gather enough leaves before the plants went to flower.
Cauliflower always tastes good with a nice sauce or spicy coating and this dish was certainly no exception.  It was a delicious mix of crunchiness and crispness from the fried cauliflower, creaminess from the tahini and a rich sweetness from the pomegranate molasses which was complimented well with the strong taste of the mint.  After we had eaten the cauliflower and spring onions, there was enough sauce left to dip our bread into.  Lovely.

This was the first time we’d made hummus using the method suggested in the book.  Previously we’d just added all the ingredients to a blender and blitzed them all together, but this method, blending them in stages, produced a fabulously smooth result.  We both loved it and would probably go so far as to say that we preferred it to how we used to make it.  The only straying from the recipe that we did was to use canned chickpeas rather than dried ones, but they still produced a fantastic result.
I have a fabulous set of garnishes for hummus which I will cover in a future post as it really deserves its own write-up, but for this evening’s meal we kept it simple and used a pitted black olive and a drizzle of olive oil.

This is how it all looked when it was served;

What we came up with might have stretched the brief somewhat, and might even be considered overly cautious for a food blog, but we decided to stick with it for several reasons:  First, we didn’t want to risk our evening ending in disaster.  I know these happen from time to time and much can be learned from what goes wrong, but I just preferred to play it safe this time.  Second, it had two key elements which, it could be argued, made it highly suitable for the blog:  It looked great and tasted fabulous.  We were glad we chose it.

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest

(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the web site)


  1. What a perfect menu for an intimate dinner party for 2, or even 4, 6, 8 people... Great menu and it looks absolutely delicious! So wish @omgyummy and I could have joined you! Would you share the pita recipe with us?

    1. Thanks Sarene. We were pleased with how it turned out and it will definitely go on the list of menus.
      It would be really nice to enjoy a Jerusalem themed meal with you and Beth one day.
      I'm happy to share the bread recipe, but I'll need to get it written up first. Watch this space :-)

  2. Great menu and I love that you decided to practice on yourselves. The fact that you respect that when a dinner party appears effortless, it is actually through much effort that it looks so is really quite insightful. Having said that, based on the thoughfulness of your write-ups and detailed palates, I bet you would do a fabulous job entertaining. I had 11 for brunch/lunch yesterday and decided to cook three different things over 2 days. Spreading it out made it do-able. I think a bit of planning and forethought goes a long towards successful entertaining. I'm with Sarene - wish we could have been there with you and we would LOVE your flatbread recipe if you want to share. Just love that you put in za'atar before you roll it out! brilliant!

    1. Thanks Beth. I hope your dinner party went well.
      I will keep matching up recipes from the book to devise some more menus.
      I may do a blog entry focusing on bread in Jerusalem, so will include the flatbread recipe as part of that.