February was all about roses – cooking with them! Rose water and dried petals were the ingredients of choice as I virtually cooked along with others in our Tasting Jerusalem group. It is truly a pleasure to learn, share and discover together. Hopefully some of us will be able to cook in person together, or maybe even meet in Jerusalem (I’ll be there in August!) ... one can dream.
In the past, I’ve been rather timid to cook with rose water, preferring to use it as a perfume or skin tonic. Perhaps I’ve used too much, leading to a soapy flavor. But as I’ve said before, I appreciate being challenged and discovering something new.
Several months ago I made the harissa recipe in Jerusalem: A Cookbook and was immediately hooked. I look for any opportunity to open the jar so had already marked the Panfried Sea Bass with Harissa and Rose. The halibut at our fish counter looked beautiful, so I used it in place of the sea bass. A myriad of flavors mingled delightfully in the finished dish, with spicy harissa, sweet honey and currants, onions, the acidity of vinegar and a hint of rose water. A scattering of rose petals on top is pretty, too!
Cardamom Rice Pudding with Pistachios and Rose Water was my next foray into rose water. For the pudding, I used half and half since I already had some on hand (in place of whole milk and cream), and skipped the condensed milk since I did not have any on hand. I also used short grain brown rice, and upon reflection should have known to cook it a bit longer since it was rather too al dente. The rose water added a delicate note, and the honey and rose syrup to drizzle is quite nice. Needless to say, it was all eaten! I pulled out my grandmother’s china cups to serve it in, since I think a pudding with rose petals warrants fancy tea cups.
My friends Debbie and Margot each made the Watercress and Chickpea Soup with Rose Water and Ras el Hanout and quite enjoyed it, so based on their recommendation I knew I would, too. This is a marvelous bowl of green! Fresh spinach and watercress are briefly cooked and whirled together with chickpeas, onions, ginger and a few drops of rose water and topped with chickpeas and carrots roasted with a spice blend called ras el hanout. I’ve already made the soup two times. The second time I left out the ginger as my family felt it overwhelmed the other flavors, and as much as I like ginger I found I preferred it this way myself. If you make this, do yourself a favor and just double or triple the carrots and chickpeas from the start since you’ll be nibbling away on them. The rose water subtly perfumed the soup in a pleasing way.
At Margot’s suggestion, I made my own ras el hanout spice mix. Ras el hanout is Moroccan in origin and is Arabic for “head of the shop.” There are many variations of this mix, sometimes using up to twenty spices, and each spice shop has its own version. I decided to be like the spice vendors and create my own blend. Plus, I love any opportunity to use my mortar and pestle! I toasted some cumin seeds and coriander seeds until they were fragrant, then pounded them together with cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, pepper and paprika. Earthy and warm, this is a mix I’ll be reaching for many times.
This next dish does not involve roses in any way, but it was my husband and sons’ favorite snack that I made from Jerusalem in February (other than copious amounts of hummus) so I recommend it. Chopped liver! This was my first time making anything with chicken livers, but one of the goals of Tasting Jerusalem is to try new ingredients and I am doing just that. Bob, Sam and Isaac loved it. I served it during the Super Bowl with homemade sourdough rye bread and it disappeared. It is rich, filled with onions and eggs, and I’ll be making it again for my men.
Ras el Hanout Spice Blend
Makes 1/2 cup
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup paprika
In a small pan, toast the cumin seeds over high heat until they become fragrant, about a minute or two (take care not to burn them). Grind with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Pour the ground seeds into a small bowl. Next toast the coriander seeds in the same pan over high heat until they, too, become fragrant. Grind the seeds and add to the cumin seeds.
Add the rest of the spices and stir gently to combine. Store the spice blend in a covered jar for several months. Use it to jazz up roasted veggies, stews, flavor meat or season legumes.