Sunday, 17 July 2011

Day 17: Flavours from the Near East

A couple of months ago now, I spent a working week in and round about Jerusalem.  It was an amazing week, an amazing city, and amazing land.  But I am not here to rhapsodise about that, although I certainly could.  I am here to rhapsodise about its food.

Everywhere we went, we ate pretty much the same thing: hummus, falafel, baba ghanoush, pitta breads, and all sorts of little dishes of this and that.  I lived on this stuff for a week,  and I never once got sick of it.  Even more importantly for present purposes, it was most wonderfully cheap. 

So what to do upon my return but try to recreate some of these dishes?  Hummus, for example.  It is ruinously expensive in the supermarkets - at least £1 for one little tub.  There has to be a cheaper way.

Now, I have actually made hummus before.  It was for a church social to which I had to bring along a savoury dish designed to feed four.  I followed a Jamie Oliver recipe that time, loading the required amount of dried chickpeas into my slow cooker and soaking them over night.

Disaster!  There must have been something wrong with the quantities listed, because the chickpeas swelled and overflowed (overflew??) my little slow cooker.  Twice.  The mass of them just kept swelling and growing and oozing across the kitchen counter like a monster from a 1950s horror movie.  I did finally succeed in cooking the chickpeas in a very large pot, after which I whizzed them (in about 10 batches) in the food processor, and then added the tahini, lemon juice, and garlic.  The result was unutterably bland.  At this point I knew for sure that the quantites were all messed up, and emptied an entire bottle of lemon juice into the mixture along with a full bulb of crushed garlic.  This resulted in a dish that was faintly flavoursome.  But it had to do.  Off to the church social I went with a portion that would have fed 12 hearty eaters, leaving at least the same proportion behind in my fridge.  It took me a fortnight to work my way through it.

This time I am hoping for a more limited success, but tahini is proving difficult to find, and so the hummus is on hold until I track some down.  However, I did turn an aubergine into baba ghanoush this evening.  Ideally it should contain tahini too, but the BBC recipe didn't list it.  It should have.  The end result was passable, but nothing like the wonderful delicacy I ate in Jerusalem - so I think I will have to keep experimenting there.  Once I perfect the recipe, I will post it.  I am also soaking a small quantity of chickpeas, with the aim of trying my hand tomorrow at falafel.

In terms of cost, I spent a half hour in Tesco's recently, darting excitedly around their World Foods aisle.  For this is what I discovered:

That there are in this world people like me who dabble in a little Indian or Middle Eastern cooking here and there.  They can pick up a Tesco's own 500g bag of dried chick peas for 78p.  But if you actually are Indian or Middle Eastern, then chances are that a wee 500g bag of chick peas isn't going to take you very far.  So Tesco has introduced in its World Foods aisle a whopping great 2kg bag of chickpeas for only £2.39.  That is a saving of 73p!  Granted, it will probably keep me in falafels for an entire year, but that's okay.  What's more, the World Food aisle also has massive bags of spices, such as a 400g bag of paprika for only £1.69.  You would have to buy 8 jars of Tescos own paprika to equal that, at a total cost of £5.52.  I am not sure that I would ever use such a quantity of paprika, but it might be worth sharing out among friends, for example.  Because I resent these wee jars! 

So anyway, there's my frugal tip for the day: check out Tesco's World Food aisle.  And maybe other World Food aisles in other supermarkets.  While chickpeas take over my kitchen.

Total Expenditure: £12.21 (on enough food to last me for a fortnight or, in the case of the chickpeas, for a year.)


Julie said...

strangely enough I made baba ghanosh myslef the other week - as I was having a "Taste of Israel" eveing. I madeup the recipe - it tends to be easier - and was well pleased with the result:
first, halve two or three aubergines (I used the Tesco Saver ones) drizzle with olive oil and then add lots of cruched garlic and a little sea salt; roast in a hot oven - cut side down(190 C) for about 30 - 40 mins until the skin has changed colour (not burnt just turned)
take them out turn over, and while still hot scrape the softened flesh including the now softly roast garlic into a large bowl.
mash thoroughly with a masher, add more salt if you feel the need.... it was yummy with warm pitta bread
I suspect the real recipe would include other things - but the garlic did its job very well indeed
and I didn't have anything else to add that I knew for sure I was ok to eat!!

Sharon said...

Tahini is often available in health food shops and Asda at the Jewel also have it in their monster (and!) world foods aisle. It's quite pricey though - so you have to want to make a lot of things with it. A (small) dash of sesame oil (v.useful for all manner of oriental cooking) adds the sesame taste quite well. Nigella Lawson adds Peanut Butter to her Hummus...not tried this but sounds yummy. Also check out the Nigel Slater recipe for Baba Ghanoush which mentions the importance of charring the aubergines for that full on smoky flavour.

Angus Mathieson said...

Try Martin Lewis's website; He says the two questions to ask:if you're skint,do I need it, can I afford it; and if you aren't skint, will I use it and is it worth it.

Jillian said...

Hey Fran,

I just discovered your blog today and I absolutely love it. As a person who tries to live frugally I can totally empathize.

Incidentally, as fate would have it, I'm moving to Jerusalem for 2 years (to study an MA in Bible) in a little over a week... I'm glad to know the food will be cheap. Also, I am also beginning a blog:, though I'm still not really sure what I'm doing - it's a major work in progress. If you're still confused about the blogging concept, you're certainly not alone.

Anyway, I look forward to reading about your cheap/skint year as it unfolds...

Alison said...

We have a wee independent health food shop which refills herb and spice jars very cheaply; I can't remember what the last one I had refilled was, but it cost about 23p. Of course, this means I have a shelf of jars which all have labels on saying "Best before 2002" - I live in dread of my mother visiting, not realising they've been refilled, and binning the lot.

It refills Ecover washing up liquid bottles etc too, but there doesn't seem to be much of a price saving there.

Fran said...

Thank you all for your suggestions and advice. Angus, you are totally right! Julie, the recipe sounds great. I will try that next time.

Thanks to your suggestion, Alison, I've been googling independent health food shops, and have found a couple locally that also seem to do the Ecover refill scheme. They don't seem to do refills of spice jars, though. I would also love to find one of these shops that sells loose dry goods, but so far have turned up nothing. So if anyone knows of such a place in Edinburgh, please let me know.

Jillian, great to hear from you. You will love Jerusalem. I will certainly check out your blog. :)

JohnO said...

Advice from my student daughter - buy from the various ethnic supermarkets rather than the chains. Often lots cheaper, better quality and better tasting (maybe more authentic).

Fran said...

Your daughter is quite right, John. However, this is a whole new area for me, so it is going to take a while to explore all the various small shops around here and work out what they have on offer. But a friend and I have agreed to make an afternoon of it sometime soon!