Who Are the Radanites and What Have They Done to My Kitchen?
While we reflect on the words of Isaiah and his message of hope and consolation (how many of us are praying for just a slight breeze and some cross ventilation right now? – raise your hand if that’s you), here’s a stunning time and space travel adventure for you – let’s go back to ancient Babylon for a delectable cold salad that has tons of flavor and a lot of memories. With the destruction of Aleppo and the loss of its impact on world Jewry, I recommend for you two wonderful books, “Aromas of Aleppo” by Poopa Dweck and “Mama Nazima’s Jewish-Iraqi Cuisine” by Rivka Goldman. For those of you who weren’t there, the exiled Jewish community in Bablyon became the center of religious and spiritual life after the destruction of the Temple in 586 BCE and in fact, remained a powerful force in world Jewry even while a large portion of the community returned to Judea under the protection of Cyrus and the “new” kids in town, the Persians and the Greeks. Aleppo was the center of Jewish trade and economic, social and cultural life until the opening of the Suez Canal sounded its death knell. Every time I make Salajahn I think of what used to be a thriving Jewish community and my heart grows sad.
Bazargan – Cracked Wheat and Nut Salad
Some sources claim this recipe is 2500 years old, dating back to the original Jewish community in what would eventually become Iraq. “Bazargan” is loosely translated as “from the Bazaar,” a reference to what I would now call “raiding the refrigerator.” That is, one went to the market, bought some stuff and mixed it all together just before dinner. It’s a great story and if you put on a pair of flip-flops, sit in the afternoon heat and close your eyes, you can just imagine schlepping to the bazaar to get a few things for dinner. Pomegranate syrup is available at Big John’s in Seattle and at Saars and other international markets. The great thing about bulgur is that it is already cooked and you only have to soak it in water to reconstitute it.
Plan on making this at least 4 hours before serving, so the wheat can absorb the dressing
2 ¼ Cups (350g) Coarse Bulgur
6-8 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3Tbsp pomegranate molasses, OR 2Tbsp tamarind paste dissolved in 4Tbsp water
Juice of 1 lemon
5Tbsp tomato paste
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp cayenne (or more if you want) – start with 1 tsp and go from there – trust me
1 ¼ C (150g) coarsely chopped walnuts (or pecans, if you hate walnuts, like I do)
1 C coarsely chopped hazelnuts
¼ C pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
Put the cracked wheat in a bowl and cover with cold, lightly salted, water – you will need a lot – the bulgur will absorb water, so go heavy on the water. After 20 minutes or so, check the water level – add more if the bulgur is soaking it up really fast. You want to keep the wheat covered totally. Soak until it is tender, like an hour, maybe more. Drain and press the excess water out. In a serving bowl, beat the olive oil with the pomegranatemolasses or tamarind paste mixture. Add the lemon juice, tomato paste, cumin, coriander, allspice, and cayenne and beat well. Pour over the bulgur and mix well. Taste before adding more salt, if necessary. Add the nuts and parsley and mix well.
Make Ahead Note: Put in everything except the parsley, and this will keep in the fridge for several days. When ready to serve, remove from fridge, allow to stand for an hour or so, toss with the parsley to combine all ingredients. It can also be frozen – Store in freezer-grade ziploc bags. To thaw, put in the fridge a couple of days before serving. Remove from fridge and let stand for an hour, then toss in the chopped parsley.
Salajahn – Spiced Lamb Skewers
Aleppo Pepper is a sweet and mild version of the crushed red pepper you are thinking of. It is available in bulk at Big John’s and other middle eastern stores. It has a wonderful earthy overtone and sweet flavor, with just a bit of heat. If you don’t have any, a tablespoon of paprika and a teaspoon of cayenne mixed together will come close.
1 Lb Ground Lamb
1 Small Onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp Chopped Fresh Parsley
1Tbsp Aleppo Pepper
1 tsp Allspice
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Kosher Salt
Mix all the ingredients and divide into 12 – 16 portions. Form each portion into a cylinder around a skewer and put in the fridge for about a half hour. Fire up the barby or your table top griller and cook for about 4 minutes, then turn and cook for another 4 minutes or so. You can also use the broiler – watch out for charring. Serve with tzatziki or a yogurt salad dressing