Six or seven years ago I discovered, by chance, what later became my favorite cookbook ever and a big source of inspiration: Ottolenghi. It was because of this book that I learnt to know a whole different style of cooking, so new to me and yet so familiar. Their creators: Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi are both original from Jerusalem and their cuisine is strongly Middle Eastern style with a mix of Mediterranean. Not long after I got the book, and having done every single recipe of it, (all of them wonderful and mouthwatering) I moved to London. During those years, I visited ALL of their Ottolenghi cafe's quite often, even their restaurant Nopi. They never ceased to amaze me. Every time I went in I just couldnt help myself. Every lunch was perfect, every pastry was oh so good, and the whole ambiance so inspiring. I must admit that my last years of cuisine have been deeply influenced by them and for that I am very grateful. Ok, I think Im blushing now!
Later on, Yotam Ottolenghi released a vegetarian book called Plenty, fabulous too. And last year, while in London, on the day of the release, my husband gave me as a surprise their latest book: Jerusalem.
Middle Eastern 100%, yeah! Going through the pages you can feel the flavors and smell the vibrant city of Jerusalem, fresh pittas, herbs, black figs, chopped cucumbers, sheep roaming the hills, syrupy cakes,mmm.
Today I will share the recipe of a fenugreek cake called Helbeh. Fenugreek, an aromatic bittersweet spice, has quite a strong flavor. It's a small seed, that is actually a legume that grows in India and in some places of the mediterranean. Mostly dry roasted and used in currys, dals and pickles. This little seed contains proteins, fibre and Vitamin C, niacin, potassium, iron and alkaloids. Among some of their benefits are : it increases milk production among nursing mothers, helps reduce symptoms of PMS, reduce cholesterol, increases the libido, reduces heartburn, you can loose weight by reducing the appetite, and cure skin inflammations. Wow!
Fenugreek has a strong savory association, reminding as of curries, etc; but I invite you to give it a try as this cake is absolutely amazing and full of exoticism.
I've adapted the recipe from Jerusalem, just slightly. Always make helbeh at least a day before you want to serve it, as the flavors need time to come together.
HELBEH (FENUGREEK CAKE)
500g fine semolina
75g whole wheat flour
70g pine nuts, blitzed into large crumbs
80ml olive oil
80ml sunflower oil
40g melted ghee
1 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 1/2 tsp fast action dried yeast
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
25g whole almonds, blanched and peeled
300g cane sugar
2 tbps lemon juice
1 1/ tbsp orange blossom water
Mix the semolina, flour and pine nuts in a large bowl. Add the oils and the melted ghee and mix well. Set aside.
Put the fenugreek seeds and 500 ml of water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, then simmer on a low heat for about 25 minutes. Drain the seeds, reserving the cooking water, and add them to the semolina mix. Add the yeast, baking poweder and salt, then gradually stir in 180ml of the hot fenugreek water; if you dont have enough liquid make it up with water. Knead the dough on a clean surface until is completely smooth.
Grease a 24 cm round cake tin with butter and line it with baking paper so that the paper comes three quarters up the sides of the tin. Pour in the semolina mixture and press it down with your hand si its levelled and smooth. Use a sharp knife to score the surface of the cake with parallel lines 5 cm apart, followed by another set of lines at a 45-degree angle, creating a diamond pattern. Place one almond in the center of each diamond. Cover the cake tin with a towel and set aside somewhere warm for about 1 hour. Towards the end of the resting time, preheat oven to 220* C degrees, allowing plenty of time for your oven to heat fully.
Put the cake on the lower shelf of the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 200*C degrees and bake for further 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Prepare the syrup while the cake is in the oven. Place sugar and water in a small saucepan and mix well. Heat up and once it boils add the lemon juice and simmer for 4 more minutes. Take the syrup off the heat, allow it to cool down just a little and then add the orange blossom water.
Once the cake is cooked, remove it from the oven and immediately drizzle the syrup all over it. Let the cake cool completely before covering it well with foil. Serve the next day.
Hope you have a wonderful weekend. See you next time,