My lovely friend Dr Hart (she is Rachel Bilson cute) has invited me round for dinner tonight. All credibility will go out the window for both of us (at least her identity is safe) when I tell you the reason for our getting-together is that we’re both fans of the TV show Hart of Dixie. If you’ve never heard of it, think Dawsons Creek meets Gossip Girl. It’s rubbish really, but we love it.
So while her hubby is away, we’re watching the latest episode – she’s cooking and I’ve offered to bring dessert. Things get even better when Dr Hart emails me that week to say she’s cooking from my (and her) new favourite cook book, Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi. So I’m sticking with the theme and making one of their desserts.
Dinner is a Saffron chicken and herb salad, created by the chefs at Ottolenghi in Belgravia. Dr Hart shows me the reduced orange in the saucepan when I arrive – a little unsure about how it’s going to taste. I’d never have thought about cooking down and blitzing an orange to make a dressing. But it’s what makes this salad so vibrant, moist and refreshing.
These are the two terrors running a muck at our feet. Chow Chow and the latest addition to the family, Winnie (left). Way too cute.
All I need to do is finish off the sugar syrup for our Muhallabieh dessert – super easy, and made the day before.
“Muhallabieh, malabi, ksab, sutlaj, sahleb – these are all names for set puddings or thick sweet drinks that are dear to Jerusalemites, almost as much as the sacred stone of the old city. Well, not quite but it is fair to say that Arabs and Jews share a real fascination with milky desserts.
In Jerusalem, before the days of coke and lattes, tamarind drink and soo (made from liquorice twig) were typical refreshing summer beverages (wandering vendors would carry them in ornamental vats from glass, clay or metal, attached to their backs with leather straps); their winter counterpart was sahleb”.
Such a lovely and simple dessert. A light milky pudding with crunchy pistachios and coconut and just enough sweetness from the warm vanilla and bay spiced syrup. The perfect mid-week treat that felt completely guilt-free!
Saffron chicken and herb salad
Serves: 6; Prep time: 15 minutes ; Cook time: 1 hour
1/2 tsp saffron threads
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
Approx 300ml water
1kg skinless chicken breast
4 Tbsp olive oil
2 small fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
15g picked coriander leaves
15g basil leaves, torn
15 picked mint leaves, torn
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 red chilli, thinly sliced
I garlic clove, crushed
Salt & black pepper
– Preheat to 180’C. Trim and discard 1cm off the top and tail of the orange and cut in to 12 wedges, keeping the skin on. Remove any pips
– Place the wedges in a small saucepan with the honey, saffron and vinegar and just enough water to cover the orange wedges. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about an hour. At the end you should be left with soft orange and about 5 tablespoons of thick syrup; add water during the cooking if the liquid get very low. Use a food processor to blitz the oranges and syrup into a smooth, runny paste; again, add a little water if needed.
– Mix the chicken breast with half the olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper, and place on a very hot, ridged griddle pan. Sear for about 2 minutes on each side to get char marks all over. Transfer to a roasting tin and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until just cooked.
– Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, but still warm, tear it with your hands into rough and quite large pieces. Place in a large mixing bowl, pour over half the orange paste and stir well (the other half you can keep in the fridge for a few days and would make a good addition for herb salsa to serve with any fish like mackerel or salmon). Add the remaining ingredients to the salad, including the rest of the olive oil, and toss gently. Taste, add salt and pepper and, if needed, some more olive oil and lemon juice.
Serves: 6; Prep time: 10 minutes; Cool time: 3 hours minimum
500ml full-fat milk
80g caster sugar
25g desiccated coconut, to garnish
25g chopped unsalted pistachios, to garnish
60g caster sugar
1 bay leaf, fresh or dry
¼ vanilla pod, seeds scraped
– Start with the pudding. Whisk the cornflour with 100ml of the milk to make a smooth past. Pour the remaining milk, along with the water and sugar, into a medium saucepan and heat gently so that the sugar dissolves.
– When the milk mixture begins to release steam, whisk in the cornflour paste so that it resembles thick custard.
– Remove from the heat and pour into six individual bowls or wine glasses. Cover the top of each pudding with cling film to prevent a skin forming (the cling film should touch the surface) and place in the fridge for at least 3 hours or until set
– For the syrup, place the sugar, water, bay leaf and vanilla pod and seeds in a small saucepan and heat gently just until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
– To serve, top each milk pudding with coconut, pistachios and about a tablespoon of syrup.