Lamb with Chestnuts
Chickpeas and Salad
Rice Pudding and Rhubarb
Tortas de aceite (made by Lindsay – & btw she is working in the kitchen at Darsham Nurseries)
This weekend I cooked for Lindsay. Every intermittent contact I’ve had with her since I was 16 has convinced me that she is full of magic. We talked about magic after lunch, the amulets she has, but also doing it. When she catches your eye you know. Lindsay had been thinking about how to formulate in words what she felt about magic and cooking. As a wedding present gave us a tin box containing two large walnuts that had tiny metal ships hanging from ribbons to pin onto coats, and silver-leafed gingerbreads, for example.
I wanted to make a recipe in which the hidden potency of the ingredients would be felt strongly. I turned to Claudia Roden, from whom I always learn important lessons about the behaviour of the things I cook with, and not to be so impatient.
I made Hamim de Kastanya, Lamb with Chestnuts, a Judeo-Spanish stew from Turkey, on p. 342 of The Book of Jewish Food. Diced lamb shoulder, an onion, cinnamon, allspice and water, then chestnuts. 5 ingredients – 6 if you count water. I cooked the pot of meat, onion and water with 1 teaspoon each of the spices for 2 hours on Saturday. I let it cool overnight and then added chestnuts (frozen, already peeled from the supermarket!) and barely simmered for another hour or so on Sunday, until we ate. I added chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon to serve (optional), as instructed by Roden. No technique was required of me other than patience and faith in very few ingredients. And of course: sweet chestnuts, meltingly soft lamb, and the mean quantities of spices flavoured the water richly – though no taste spoke over another. Hard won knowledge and geopolitical cross-pollination, this Judeo-Spanish stew from Turkey.
Once I spoke to Claudia Roden after seeing her speak at an event.
I said: How long did it take to write The Book of Jewish Food?
“Sixteen years”, she answered.
This seems like a long time, until you read what’s inside – a transcription of gestures that have circumnavigated the globe and sustained through centuries – the diverse Jewish culinary traditions.
We ate it with chickpeas, a spoon of thick yogurt and green salad. For pudding I made one of the many rice pudding recipes in the same book by Roden, Reiz Kugel. A method I had not tried – thickening the cooling sweet milky rice with egg yolks, stirring until it becomes custard-like. Oh boy! Lindsay brought Tortas de aceite, which I had never tasted : yeasted biscuits with scant fennel seeds and a crystalline sheen of sugar on top. We scooped up lukewarm pudding and rhubarb with the biscuits, occasional bursts of aniseed numbing our tongues.