Two Fridays ago Mr BT and I went on a lovely nature walk near Uriah (from the sordid tale of King David, Uriah the Hittite and his wife Bathsheva) with Sarah from Foodbridge and Mimi from Israeli Kitchen. I learned that you can stuff cyclamen leaves just like grape leaves. I saw wild asparagus, zaatar, fennel, borage, a mastic bush, which is used to make chewing gum and is also used in ice cream, and navel wort, which Mimi uses as an ingredient in the amazing moisturizer that she makes. We did not pick any of these plants because most of them are protected by law, but it was fun learning about them. I can’t wait to go on another walk with them.
After the walk, Mr BT, Mimi, and I went to the town of Ramle (derived from the Arabic word Raml, meaning Sand), founded around 716AD.
A geographer, el-Muqadasi (“the Jerusalemite”), describes Ramla at the peak of its prosperity: “It is a fine city, and well built; its water is good and plentiful; it fruits are abundant. It combines manifold advantages, situated as it is in the midst of beautiful villages and lordly towns, near to holy places and pleasant hamlets. Commerce here is prosperous, and the markets excellent…The bread is of the best and the whitest. The lands are well favoured above all others, and the fruits are the most luscious. This capital stands among fruitful fields, walled towns and serviceable hospices…”
Ramle is no longer at the peak of its prosperity, and in fact is now one of the poorer cities in Israel, but it should be proud of its ancient architecture, such as the Pool of Arches, pictured above, which is an underground water cistern, currently under restoration. Also known as St. Helen’s Pool and Bīr al-Anezīya, it was built during the reign of the caliph Haroun al-Rashid in 789 AD (the early Islamic period) to provide Ramle with a steady supply of water.
The shuk is rich and vibrant showing off our beautiful produce and the multi-cultural diversity of the city.
The stalls are full of interesting vegetables and greens that grace local kitchens. The purplish root vegetables, on the left in the picture above, are purple carrots. When carrots were originally brought to Europe from Central Asia, they were in fact purple and yellow, not the bright orange color we know nowadays, which was developed in the Netherlands in the 17th century. The green-eyed Arab woman selling them, who must have been a great beauty when she was younger, was so happy that we knew what they were. She also sold beautiful fresh peas that I have not seen since I moved here. I bought some and we savored every morsel.
Mimi and Sarah had told me about the Bukharan baker who sold traditional Uzbeki flatbread. I had seen a travelogue a couple of years ago about Uzbekistan, which showed a local baker making flatbread stamped with beautiful geometric designs. Apparently, women used to bring their loaves to the local baker and put their own unique design on the bread so that he would know who to give them back to.
The baker in Ramle puts lovely floral and Star of David designs on his bread. We bought a couple of steaming hot ones to take home.
They also make lovely round challot.
Ever since Mr BT and I ate at Ezba in Kfar Rama, I have wanted to make a dish with freekeh and I had the great fortune to find some at a Halal butcher shop in Ramle. The shop was very nice and sold all sorts of interesting items to cook with. I thought about recreating the dish we had at Ezba, but I decided instead to stuff a chicken with freekeh. To offset the smokiness of the wheat, I added dried sour apricots that I soaked for 20 minutes in hot water and also added toasted pumpkin seeds for a little added crunch. The dish was delicious and the dried apricots really went well with the freekeh. I will definitely make this again. You could use cornish hens instead of a chicken for a more elegant meal.
I served the chicken with the purple carrots that I tucked in under the chicken. The roasted carrots were sweet and delicious with more carrot flavour that their orange cousins. I thought the carrots were going to be solid purple, but when I cut into them, a beautiful yellow and orange sunburst revealed itself.
1 roasting chicken, 2kg (4lbs)
1-1/4 cups freekeh
1-1/2 cups finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup dried apricots, soaked in warm water
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
Soak the freekeh in a bowl of cold water for 20 minutes, skimming off any debris that floats to the surface. Change the water twice and drain well in a colander.
Cook the freekeh, uncovered, in a medium sized pot of salted boiling water, stirring and skimming occasionally, until tender, 12 to 15 minutes; drain well in a colander and transfer to a bowl.
While the freekeh is cooking, heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat and add the onions, stirring frequently, until softened and translucent. Add the coriander, ginger, cinnamon, and pepper. Cook stirring for a minute more and add the onion, dried apricots, and pumpkin seeds to the freekeh. Set aside until the mixture has cooled completely.
Stuff the chicken cavity with as much stuffing as you can and tie the legs together with string. Sprinkle freshly ground pepper over the chicken. Place the remaining stuffing in the bottom of a small roasting pan and place the stuffed chicken on top. Brush the chicken with olive oil and bake 180C (350F) oven for 1 hour or until the chicken is completely cooked and is a nice golden brown.