I’m not well adapted to hot weather. I’ve been soldiering on, trying to get on with things as the temperature soars, but on Friday I gave up and decided to aestivate (the summer version of hibernation) on the sofa. Mostly I watched endless episodes of Bones, but I also flipped through a new recipe book I’d been given to review, Fress, bold flavour from a Jewish kitchen. According to the front cover, Fress means “to eat copiously and without restraint.”
I like cookbooks that pertain to geographical regions – the ethnobotanist in me enjoys seeing how different cultures make use of their edible plants. Fress is different, in that the Jewish culture expands across multiple regions; it includes recipes from across Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. As I went through I put in sticky notes for meals I’d like to try making, and (unusually) there are quite a few.
Even more unusually, on Saturday morning we went to a supermarket (blissfully air conditioned) to buy a few necessary ingredients, and I attempted two of the recipes. The only other time I can remember really doing this was with a book of cakes!
For lunch I attempted the Cumin Potato and Harissa Boureka Sandwich, which uses puff pastry instead of bread buns. I had to improvise a ketchup-based alternative to harissa (it being to hot to grind spices in my pestle and mortar), and it turned out that the 7 mins recommended boiling time didn’t hard boil my eggs. Assembling the sandwiches got a bit messy, what with the runny yolks. I also found that I don’t like tahini very much, for the same reason I don’t like peanut butter very much – I don’t like it sticking to the roof of my mouth. But we enjoyed the puff pastry sandwich concept (and ate the leftovers with baked feta cheese on Sunday).
Ryan spent Saturday afternoon outside in the baking sunshine, putting together my new bike (I am hoping that adding some cycling into my life will allow me to fress more rather than worry about calories), so I made a second recipe for dinner – Za’atar-crusted Halloumi Salad with a Lime and Mint Dressing.
I replaced the fennel salad with some fresh leaves from the garden, and the pomegranate seeds with the red fruits of strawberry blite. It turns out that the olive oil I used was too heavy for the salad dressing – it overwhelmed the rest of the flavours (even the fresh, really minty mint from the garden) and made the salad greasy – so that’s something to work on in the future. But the crusted halloumi got a big thumbs up from Ryan, so we’ll have that again.
I’m looking forward to making some more of the recipes when the right harvests come in from the garden, including Caramelized Onion and Potato Pierogi, Amba-spiced Courgettes with Barberries and Labneh and Chard, Ricotta and Parmesan Bourekas (although in this house they’ll have to be Chard, Goat’s Cheese and Pecorino Bourekas). I loved that there’s a recipe for Schmear, which is flavoured cream cheese, perfect for smearing on a bagel, and one for a classic Jewish cure-all chicken soup. Some of the recipes will require online ordering of spices which aren’t easy to come by in my little corner of Oxfordshire.
You get the full gamut of recipes, from starters and sides to main courses and puddings (apparently leftover Challah – the ‘C’ being silent – makes kick-ass French toast), and the main spice blends if you want to put together your own.
All-in-all, I enjoyed my weekend with Fress, even though it didn’t have any magical powers to change the weather. I’m still too hot, but the forecast is for rain tomorrow….
Fress is by Emma Spitzer, published in hardback by Mitchell Beazley. RRP is £25, but you can currently order a copy (e.g.) via Hive for £18.65, and there’s a £7.99 ebook version.