The Palomar Cookbook, Mitchell Beazley, London, 2016
On Monday July 7th, 2014, I had dinner with Peter, Phoebe and Max at the Palomar in London, 24 Rupert Street, Soho. I wrote in my diary, “this may have been the best restaurant meal I have ever eaten”. I had read about this restaurant in the Time Out magazine earlier in the day. They were of course fully booked, but do retain a few places at the bar for walk-ins. We hot-footed it up there for six p.m. and were fortunate to get a space. I didn’t note what we ate and I didn’t take any photos, but in my mind it is still one of the best meals I have ever eaten. A few years later, Phoebe gave Peter this book for his birthday and we pored over it remembering that wonderful meal. I read much of the book but neither of us quite got round to cooking anything. Will it live up to our expectations?
The book is organised into five sections, the Middle Eastern pantry, mezze, raw starters, main dishes – mostly meat, pudding, plus an insert of cocktail recipes. The book is interspersed with stories of the Palomar people and their homelands in the middle east.
We started with the ribeye with harissa, French mash and Middle Eastern chimichurri p151. The ingredients are arranged by component in boxes on the side and the method is broken down by component and listed in suggested order of preparation. As I skim over the method I read the headings – 1. Start with the chimichurri, 2. For the harissa mash, 3. For the braised sweetheart cabbage! There was no mention of braised sweetheart cabbage! What is sweetheart cabbage? I look at the photo. There is indeed cabbage. I reread the introduction. “The braised sweetheart (also known as pointed or hispi) cabbage is a great British ingredient to which I’ve added a Middle Eastern twist.” I visit the ultimate guide to cabbage. I have never seen a sweetheart cabbage at my market so settle for Savoy. Back to the recipe. These aren’t quick worknight suppers to cheerfully get on the table in under ½ an hour. These delicious recipes require some thought and time and should be enjoyed at the weekend with good friends and a glass of wine. The recipes aren’t really complicated but it can take a bit of time. The chimichurri needs to be made a good two hours ahead and chilled but just involves mixing all the ingredients together. There are 16 ingredients.
The harissa mash requires one recipe of creamy mash p186 combined with one tbsp harissa p27. There is quite a bit of flipping backwards and forwards. This is where I like a book with ribbons which this book does not have. Creamy mash is potatoes mashed with milk, cream and butter. Very creamy. The main ingredient for the harissa is dried sweet Moroccan peppers which I couldn’t easily source. I have a harissa spice mix in a jar which I had made for another meal, and it just needed to be stirred through the mash, so we used that.
On to the surprise braised cabbage. Cut the cabbage into portion-sized wedges. With the sweetheart, that is probably a quarter per portion, however for the larger savoy you may want to use a sixth per portion. Put the cabbage portions on a baking tray just deep enough to hold them and season with salt, sugar, cumin, chilli flakes, and coriander. Add 50 ml aniseed-flavoured spirit to the baking tray. We used arak. Cover with foil and bake at 200° for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to stand for ten minutes, covered.
There is a lot going on at this point, however I discover, nestled between p 152 and 153, an insert containing a selection of Palomar signature cocktails. Time for a wee sit down with a Drunken Botanist.
Then on to the steak. We pan fried two rib eye steaks, considerably smaller than the 250g per portion suggested. While the steaks were resting we grilled the cabbage for a few minutes until slightly charred. The steak and vegetables were served with chimichurri on the side.
This meal was delicious, a real Saturday evening treat. Might have been more relaxing if I had been chatting with friends over the Drunken Botanist while someone else was slaving in the kitchen. Actually, Peter did most of the cooking for this one. After all it is his book. It still felt as if there were a lot of things to do.
We made chicken thighs in green olive and tomato sauce, p164. The recipe suggested 8 chicken thighs for four, or four Maryland pieces. It wasn’t clear whether the thighs should be bone in or out. I prefer boneless, skinless if they are cooking in sauce and they will cook more quickly. For two I had four thighs, and one became my lunch for the next day.
Start by rubbing the chicken with two spice mixes, Baharat, p20 and Ras el Hanout p18. l already have jars of both on my spice shelf, that I have made up earlier. Saves time. It’s really best to do this the night before and leave covered overnight in the fridge. How often do you get out a recipe and discover that you needed to have started preparation “the day before…”? I do try these days to read a new recipe the night before, especially if guests are involved. I don’t always succeed.
The next day, or at least an hour later, brown the chicken in a pan until golden on both sides and set aside. The recipe suggests browning the chicken in a separate pan, but I do not have a kitchen hand nor possible enough pans, so I went on to make the sauce in the same pan. Sauté a finely chopped onion in olive oil, with a pinch of salt and chilli flakes. When the onions have caramelised, add a couple of garlic cloves finely sliced and sauté a couple more minutes. Add 500 ml stock, I used chicken, but vegetable would also be good. When the stock has reduced by half add a tin of chopped tomatoes, 2 tbsp each of the spice mixes, a handful of pitted green olives and a pinch of sugar. I note that the recipe suggests blanching and rinsing the olives in water and lemon juice three times. I did not do this. Simmer the sauce for 10 minutes then add the browned chicken and simmer a further twenty minutes. The recipe also suggests turning off the heat and resting the dish for a further 45 minutes. I did not do this either. I served with couscous and lost of fresh herbs. It was delicious in spite of my rebellious shortcuts.
The next meal was lamb cutlets w festive freekeh and cauliflower cream, p175. There is a cauliflower cream, fancy freekeh, and pan-fried lamb cutlets. The recipe is broken down into components which I find really useful, as you can mix and match the components of different meals.
To make the cauliflower cream for two, sweat half a leek in some butter with a sprig of thyme. Add half a cauliflower, broken into florets, and sweat a further 7 minutes, checking that it doesn’t catch. Season with a little salt and add 25 mls white wine. Cook 3-4 minutes then stir in 125 mls stock and simmer 15-20 minutes until the cauliflower is soft. Add 75 mls cream and simmer a further five minutes.
Strain off the liquid into a jug and transfer the solids to a blender. Blitz, adding the liquid as you go, until you have a smooth creamy mixture. Make sure it is super smooth. Strain the creamy cauliflower through a fine sieve, season, and set aside in a saucepan to reheat later. I always season cauliflower with white pepper to avoid black specks in my creamy puree.
For the freekeh, sweat a finely diced small leek and onion in a little butter and olive oil for ten minutes. Add 100g rinsed freekeh and stir for a few minutes until well coated with the butter and oil. Add 200 ml water and simmer 15-20 minutes until freekeh is just cooked and liquid has evaporated. You may need a little more time and a little more liquid so test as you go. For the “festive” component add a handful each of toasted, roughly chopped pistachios, blanched almonds and pine nuts plus a handful each of chopped parsley and mint. Set aside.
A number of options were given for cooking the cutlets. We seasoned with salt and pepper and chopped thyme then pan fried in a little olive oil 2-3 minutes each side, then rested while we reheated the cauliflower and got everything else on the plates. The recipe suggested serving with watercress pesto p 31, which is regular pesto with the addition of watercress. There was no energy for that on this occasion, although I love watercress and might make this on another occasion. Everything else about this dish was truly delicious.
We had a special visitor in April and for Saturday breakfast we made the traditional shakshuka, p118. This was straightforward if you had already made the matbucha p52 or chraymeh sauce, p145. We had neither but substituted a tin of tomatoes, roasted red peppers from a jar, (always keep some on hand), and a chilli which had recently been delivered from the garden of my green-fingered sister – a very basic matbucha. Now roughly chop everything and simmer slowly until it’s thick and saucy, season and add an egg per person. Simmer another 10-15 minutes until the eggs are cooked how you like them. I like my white set and my yolk runny. Sprinkle with parsley and a little sumac to serve.
We were having friends for dinner and I was tempted by the pulled lamb shoulder kubaneh burgers p173. This is a beautifully spiced lamb shoulder served in a home made kubaneh bun, p230. It sounded delicious. I turned to p230 – after making and resting the dough for 10 minutes the instructions said to knead for a minute and rest for 10 three times. Then leave the dough for an hour to rise. Then the fun part, divide the dough into six balls, and with well buttered hands spread one of the balls into a parchment-thin sheet, roll the sheet into a tight tube, spiral the tube into a coil and place in a baking ring. Repeat five times and don’t forget to keep those hands well buttered. By this time, I was thinking about the Drunken Botanist and decided instead to make lamb backstraps w capers and olives, couscous and a fresh tomato salad.
I love this book and will definitely return to it but it is definitely for days when we have plenty of time.