"I think it's nice that there are all different kinds of lunches and breakfasts and dinners and snacks. I think eating is nice." – Albert from Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell C. Hoban
This post was written by Naomi Berger, from Brooklyn. Thanks, Naomi!
I recently returned from a trip to Israel — my first trip in fact. It was somewhat of an usual adventure. For the bulk of that trip the weather was cold and wet. In fact, there was so much rain that the Kinneret rose an unprecedented 70+ centimeters while I was there. And, then there was the 7½” of snow in Jerusalem.
Although I got to view Israel through a somewhat soggier lens than most, one of the things that remained in clear focus was the food. And, I have a feeling that no matter what the weather, the beauty of the orchards, freshness of the produce, and the smell of the spices in the shuk remains an enthralling constant.
As fortune would have it, the new Ottolenghi/Tamimi cookbook, Jerusalem, hit the shelves while I was away. I ordered it from Amazon and it was waiting for me when I got home. (There’s something quite special about the instant gratification Amazon can provide.) It’s a beautiful book, with gorgeous photos and fascinating text. Even if you don’t cook, it makes for good reading.
I found myself scouring the pages for recipes that brought me back to the sights and smells of the food I was so taken by. It certainly fit the bill. I have since made several of the recipes — Roasted Butternut Squash & Red Onion with Tahini & Zatar; Roasted Cauliflower & Hazelnut Salad; Maqluba; Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb & Pine Nuts; Roasted Chicken with Clementines & Arak — and all have worked well and been quite tasty. I would certainly recommend giving them a try.
However, the most surprising was Pistachio Soup. It was one of those things that I could just not resist. And, as the recipe says “Don’t be too quick to judge.” This soup’s flavors come together at the very end and, I found, get better with age.
This is the recipe as it appears and serves 4:
2 tbsp boiling water
¼ tsp saffron threads
1 2/3 cups / 200 g shelled unsalted pistachios
2 tbsp / 30 g unsalted butter
4 shallots, finely chopped (3½ oz / 100 g)
Scant 1 oz / 25 g ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 leek, finely chopped (1¼ cup / 150 g)
2 tsp ground cumin
Scant 3 cups / 700 ml chicken stock
1/3 cup / 80 ml freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Sour cream to serve
1. Preheat the oven to 350° F / 180° C. Pour the boiling water over the saffron threads in a small cup and leave to infuse for 30 minutes.
2. To remove the pistachio skins, blanch the nuts in boiling water for 1 minute, drain, and while still hot, remove the skins by pressing the nuts between yours fingers. Not all the skins will come off; this is fine and will not affect the taste of the soup. Getting rid of the skins will improve the color, making it a brighter green. Spread the pistachios out on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 8 minutes. Remove and leave to cool.
3. Heat the butter in a large saucepan and add the shallot, ginger, leek, cumin, ½ tsp salt, and some black pepper. Sauté over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring often, until the shallots are completely soft. Add the stock and half of the saffron liquid. Cover the pan, lower the heat, and let the soup simmer for 20 minutes.
4. Place all but 1 tbsp of the pistachios in a large bowl along with half of the soup. Use a handheld blender to blitz until smooth and then return this to the saucepan. Add the orange and lemon juice, reheat, and taste to adjust the seasoning.
5. To serve, coarsely chop up the reserved pistachios. Transfer the hot soup into bowls and top with a spoonful of sour cream. Sprinkle with pistachios and drizzle with the remaining saffron liquid.
Of course I made a few adjustments as I went along. Firstly, I tripled the recipe to serve 12. Secondly, in order to keep the soup pareve, I replaced the butter with Earth Balance (you could use olive oil or whatever substitute you prefer), replaced the chicken stock with vegetable stock, and used tofu sour cream instead of dairy sour cream to serve. In order to save time, I used shelled, roasted, unsalted pistachio nuts; eliminating step 2 altogether. If you have time, I would follow the recipe, as I’m sure this gives a slightly more intense flavor.
Disappointingly, after the soup was done, I was not thrilled with either the flavor or texture. I decided to stick it in the refrigerator for a day or two and then see what it needed. Much to my surprise, when I tasted it the next day, it was quite delicious. The flavors had come together to form a lovely mellow, nutty, rich soup. I reheated it to see if the flavors would hold when the soup was warmed, and indeed they did.
However, I still found the texture too grainy and, in addition, it had thickened after sitting for a day. I added about another 4-6 cups of vegetable broth and ran all of the soup through the blender again. This worked and, as a bonus, I had lots of extra soup. I froze about half of it, with hopes that it would hold. And, again, much to my surprise it reheated beautifully.
Much like my time in Israel, this soup was surprising and unusual — all in a good way. Enjoy!