Seven Things to Do When Exploring Jerusalem

Jerusalem is an absolutely fascinating city on many levels. I loved it. Whether you are religious or not, you can’t help but be hypnotised under it’s spell. My advice is to give the city time. Don’t do a whistle stop tour ticking off the usual suspects and leaving within 24 hours. We stayed for three days and to be honest I would have loved a couple more to explore further and just watch the world go by. People watching in this city is something else.

  1. Hire a Guide

Whilst we did a lot of exploring on our own, we did book an excellent ‘Three Religions Holy City Walking Tour’ of the old city via Viator. We lucked out massively on a hugely knowledgable guide called Joshua Levinson. He was absolutely brilliant. Our tour was a group tour and he kept our attention for 7 hours, both my daughters (12 and 9 years old) were absolutely entranced by all his stories and did not once say they were bored.

If you want to book him directly you can contact him via his facebook. You’ll need a comfortable pair of shoes – be warned that the narrow streets in the old city can be slippery if the shopkeepers have washed their steps outside their shops, and a big bottle of water. I also found an umbrella a great way to keep out of the sun.

The old city is divided up into four uneven quarters – Armenian, Jewish, Christian and Muslim and within these quarters there are subdivisions; for example in the Christian quarter you will also find Ethiopian Orthodox Christians living in an area with their own Ethiopian Monastery Church and dwellings.

 

2. Tea at the Austrian Hospice

Take some time out from the hustle and bustle whilst exploring the old city and go to the Austrian Hospice for tea, sachertorte and apple strudel.  Seriously. Sure it’s surreal eating these Austrian fancies in Israel, but I think it’s these things that adds to its charm. It’s based directly on the Via Dolorosa (the road that Jesus walked on carrying the cross to his crucification).  Built in the style of Vienna’s Ringstrasse palaces, once you’ve found the buzzer to open its large looming doors you’ll be greeted by a peaceful oasis. You can also stay here as well – it’s perfectly located in the middle of all the action, but peaceful at the same time. As a visitor you can also go on to the roof, which affords beautiful views across the old city.

3. Try some Middle Eastern Jewish Food at Azura

Modern Jerusalem is culturally rich with a wide range of ethnic backgrounds living together. The food at family-run Azura, located in the middle of the Machine Yehuda Market, or shuk, is an unforgettable experience. It has Iraqi, Kurdish, Turkish and Tunisian influences and the result is sublime. On our first visit (yes we returned it was so good) we felt the best way to experience the menu was to try the tasting menu – obviously! The portions are still large, not your usual tasting menu size, so we ended up taking a doggie bag of goodies home to have for supper.

Highlights from the menu were Azura – Turkish eggplant filled with group beef and pine nuts in a special sauce with cinnamon, okra with tomatoes, Mejadara – a rice and lentil combo, beet kubbeh, a glorious soup made with beet, celery and swiss chard, the meatballs in a tomato sauce, beef sofrito and of course the hummus to kick off the proceedings.

The staff were great, the owner – Moshe – incredibly affable and warm and the food delicious. If you aim for a late lunch getting a table won’t be tricky. It’s closed for supper, but lunch goes on until 4pm. Also don’t go on a Saturday as you’ll find it closed.

4. Linger in Machane Yehuda Market

Since you’ll be going there anyway to visit Azura, make sure you leave time to properly explore the Machane Yehuda Market. It’s the largest in Jerusalem with over 250 vendors selling a wide range of food and clothes. There are also a number of bars within the market, which even at 5pm were pretty buzzing. The sights, sounds and smells are hypnotic and its a great place to feel the vibe of a Middle Eastern style market. If you are staying in an Airbnb and want to cook at home then it’s also a great place to pick up some delicacies.

 

There are a number of food tours available, but it just so happened that the lovely lady, Aliza Press, who welcomed us at our Airbnb (who was a friend of the owners who were away), was a chef and she offered food tours as well as being a private chef. If you drop her an email to AlizaPress@gmail.com she can arrange a time to show her beloved city from a food perspective. Sadly due to timing I could not take her up on her offer, but when I return, I will be certainly be getting in touch. Mention my name and my blog if you get in touch with her.

5. Go eat Pizza and Panzanella at P2

Yes….. seriously….. you read correctly. P2 on Keren HaYesod Street is a small (max 20 covers), unassuming little restaurant where most of seating is up at the bar watching the chefs make the pasta and pizza from scratch – literally. The menu is short, as all good menus should be, but the quality of the food was spot on. We were in awe at the one waiter who served out the tiramisu, made the lettuce salads, served and cleared plates like a whirling dervish, took orders and settled bills for the whole restaurant; it certainly created a buzz. The panzanella salad was the best I’ve eaten – so make sure to order one to share before your pizza. Photo of said salad below.

Below is my take on the wonderful salad that we ate at P2 and the recipe to follow. The combination of the crunchy old toasted baguette, onion rings, cucumber, the creamy mozzarella, salty black olives, fleshy tomatoes, work so well with the sherry vinegar dressing.

 

 

Panzanella Salad

serves 4

4 medium tomatoes, quartered

1 cucumber, cut at diagonal angles

1 small/medium white or red onion, finely sliced

3 tbsp black stoneless olives

2 mozzarella, broken up into bite size chunks

12 small pieces of day or two old baguette, cut into bite sized pieces (I used white petite ficelle hand cut bread that I found at Waitrose)

1 tbsp olive oil

handful or two of fresh basil leaves

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vinaigrette 

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp sherry vinegar

1/4 tsp dijon mustard (optional)

1 tbsp lemon juice

salt and pepper

 

  1. This recipe is mostly a case of compiling ingredients. Make sure you cut the cucumber into diagonal bite sized chunks. The different shapes of the ingredients really makes this dish. Place all the ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Using a pan, dip both ends of the bread in the olive oil and heat in the pan so that it begins to bronze and slightly char, turn over to bronze the other side and then remove. Place into the bowl with all the other ingredients.
  3. Prepare the vinaigrette in a separate small bowl.
  4. When ready to serve gently toss the vinaigrette over the salad and place in a large bowl for people to serve themselves.

Delicious hey!

6. Deciding Where to Stay

There are lots of options on where to stay in Jerusalem. For us it made sense to book an Airbnb and I found a beautiful apartment in Talbiyeh, a good 15 minutes walk to the Jaffa Gate. The area is safe, quiet, with tree lined roads with beautiful grand houses. Below is a photo of the outside of our apartment.

If a hotel is what you are after and perhaps one with a pool, then The American Colony might be a stylish option. The Austrian Hospice, that I spoke about earlier in this post, looked lovely and might be a good option if you are travelling as a couple or solo traveller. This article by Vogue also has a few other good options.
7. Sunset at the Mount of Olives
Walk up to the Mount of Olives just before dusk to watch the setting sun over the old city. Yes it’s a step – ish climb, but you will be rewarded with a truly beautiful sight. It’s a 15/20 minute walk from Lions Gate in the old city. The walk takes you pass the Garden of Gethsemane as well as the Russian Orthodox church and convent (photo above). It’s a great way to work up an appetite before supper.
There are taxi’s at the top, if you don’t want to walk down, but the evening was so balmy when we were there that we continued down on foot to walk through the old city once the crowds had made their way home.
Jerusalem really is an extraordinary city that I would urge you to visit if you get the opportunity, but don’t get too carried away. I will leave you with these words below written by Lonely Planet about  ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’.
Jerusalem syndrome
Each year tens of thousands of tourists descend on Jerusalem to walk in the footsteps of the prophets – and a handful come away thinking they are the prophets. Jerusalem Syndrome is a medically recognised ailment that occurs when visitors become overwhelmed by the metaphysical significance of the Holy City and reach the conclusion that they are biblical characters or the Apocalypse is drawing near. Doctors estimate the syndrome affects between 50 and 200 people per year, and although many have a recorded history of mental health issues, about a quarter of recorded cases have no previous psychiatric record.
Source: Lonely Planet

Mini Post – 24 hour Guide to Christmas Past in London

For the Christmas season I have written a short – 24 hour (or possibly 48 hours if you don’t want to overindulge too much in one day) guide to Christmas Past in London for the virtual food journalism magazine ‘Binge’

Photograph by Addie Chinn

It is suited for all ages and one thing it will guarantee is that by the end of the day you will be feeling very festive. All the places I have chosen for the guide can be done on foot as they are in walking distance from one another, albeit over a mile or so. It concentrates on the areas of Clerkenwell, Shoreditch and Spitalfields, with its cobbled streets and ghosts of Christmas past. One of the events I mention is taking place THIS Friday and the good news is that it is totally free to attend. Indeed a couple of the suggestions I have made are free, which is always a bonus. The guide costs £3 and you can sign up here. 

If you do decide to purchase a guide I would love to hear what you end up doing, so either leave a message below or you can leave a comment on my instagram page @chilliandmint

I have a lovely recipe for you which I plan to post in the next few days, so will be back soon.

Merry Christmas

 

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How to Make Sri Lankan/ Southern Indian Sambar

So how have you been getting on with making ‘hoppers/appam’ at home? Has anyone been brave enough to give them a whirl? I would love to hear how you got on. You do need a special pan mind you, but they are easy to source on the web – I think this is the one that I bought. Perfect christmas gift for anyone with a keen interest in cooking? If you do give them a go PLEASE can you post it up on Instagram and tag me @chilliandmint and #chilliandminthoppers. Thank you.

As promised todays post is all about the sambar. Sambar is very similar to a dal, the main difference is that it is more of a lentil based vegetable stew, whereas dals tend to be more of a lentil soup with maybe one of two vegetables incorporated within it. Sambar often has a tamarind broth as its base note, which can also be found in dal – for example toor dal – but not exclusively. It is eaten in both Southern Indian and Sri Lanka and once you have made the spice blend you can keep making it in a relatively short space of time. I hosted a Sri Lankan lunch recently where I basically fed my pals a typical Sri Lankan breakfast…but I gave it to them for lunch (they weren’t to know). Egg hoppers, sambar, pol sambol (similar to a dry coconut chutney) and an onion relish. I think it was a hit.

When you make sambar you can use any vegetable that needs using up. Unless you live near an Asian grocers you are unlikely to come across ‘drumstick’ which is fairly typical to see in a sambar. Don’t worry, just pop in marrow, courgette, pumpkin, squash, green beans – anything that needs using up will work a treat.

Sambar Powder

50g chana dal (split husked Bengal gram)

50g urid dal (split husked black gram)

30g coriander seeds

2 tbsp cumin seeds

1 tsp fenugreek seeds

1 tsp black peppercorns

10 dry red chillies

12 fresh curry leaves

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1/2 tsp asafoetida/hing powder

1 tbsp desiccated coconut (or fresh of course!)

  1. Heat a dry frying pan over a low heat and dry roast both dals until they turn bronze slightly – a couple of minutes max. Place in a bowl to one side.
  2. Using the same pan add the coriander, cumin, fenugreek, black peppercorns and dried chillies and move them around the pan for 30 seconds. A wonderful aroma will be released.
  3. Add the fresh curry leaves, asafoetida, turmeric and desiccated coconut and mix it all around the pan for another 20 seconds and then place in the bowl with the dals.
  4. Let it all cool and then whizz it up in a spice grinder. I have this one and it works a treat.
  5. Store in an airtight container and use as and when you need it.

 

Sambar

You can make it with a range of different lentils but I find that red lentils work really well as they take the least amount of time to cook.

200g red split lentils, washed under cold water for a couple of rinses

water to cover the lentils about an inch above (you can always add more if it dries out)

2 green chillies, sliced lengthways and seeds kept in

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

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250ml tamarind water (use a walnut size piece of tamarind – see notes below)

2 tbsp oil (rapeseed/vegetable)

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

7 fresh curry leaves

2 dried chillies (split in two)

1 medium onion, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

80g of pumpkin/squash, cut into 1 cm pieces

80g carrots, cut into 1 cm pieces

80g aubergine/green/runner beans, cut into 1 cm pieces

1 large drum stick, washed and part of the outer green skin removed, chopped into 1 inch pieces, optional

250ml tamarind water (use a walnut size piece of tamarind – see notes below)

1 tbsp sambar powder

salt to taste

  1. In a deep pan add the lentils, chillies and turmeric powder and cover with water. Simmer gently, removing any scum that may form, for 10-15 minutes, by which time the lentils will have completely softened. Do not drain, instead leave to one side whilst you work through the following steps.
  2. Take a generous walnut size piece of tamarind and place in a bowl and add boiling water to cover it. Leave to rest for 20-30 minutes then strain. Using the back of a spoon push through any of the tamarind pulp. Discard the stones. Place the liquid in a measuring jug and leave to one side.
  3. In a large frying pan/skillet heat the oil and then add the mustard seeds and allow them to gently pop before adding the cumin seeds, curry leaves and dried chillies. Move around the pan for 10 seconds and then add the onion and garlic. Leave to soften, stirring occasionally for around 7 minutes.
  4. Add all the vegetable pieces (they should all be around the same size, other than the drumstick) and mix in with the spices and onions.
  5. Add the sambar powder, salt and tamarind water and bring to the boil.
  6. Lower the heat and place a lid on the pan and allow the vegetables to soften completely – this will take  around 12 minutes. Check that they have softened completely before adding the lentils.
  7. Add the lentils and stir in well to the spices and vegetables. Add more salt if necessary and allow to simmer further for another 5 minutes.

It makes a wonderful ‘soup/stew’ as the days get shorter and the weather colder. If you are living in a warmer climate then sambar is equally good for you all year around.

Have a good week folks.

 

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Mexican Slow Cooked Pork Cheeks With Chipotle, Polenta and Fino

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With the clocks having gone back last weekend, the nights are drawing in earlier and winter seems almost knocking at our door. With the colder months set out before us, hearty food comes into its own. It’s with this in mind that I came up with this wintery of dishes. The type of meal that you can only really do justice to after a long bracing walk. Pork cheeks, if you have never tried them before, are flakey, succulent and a real treat to have now and again. I cook them at a low temperature (130 degrees) for 3 hours, which gives a similar texture to pulled pork. I have combined them with a Mexican influenced sauce, which envelopes the pork cheeks making them irresistibly tasty.

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I have paired the dish with a glass of Fino, which cuts through the sweet, sticky richness of the pig cheeks sauce. I ordered both the pork cheeks and Fino from Basco Fine Foods, which are Spanish food importers and supplies based in Yorkshire. They have won many gourmet food accolades and have a wide selection of really tasty food and drink, perfect for the Christmas season. They are well priced and even do next day deliver, which is a real bonus.

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I have paired the pork cheeks with creamy polenta, which is the perfect partner to soak up all the tasty sauce. I know polenta divides people but please trust me when I say it really comes into its own in this dish.

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So I hope you get to give this one a go over the winter months. Let me know how you get on and if you are on instagram take a photo of it and use the #chilliandmint and tag me @chilliandmint so I can see. It comfortably feeds 6 people as you’ll find that two pig cheeks are very filling.

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Mexican Slow Cooked Pork Cheeks With Chipotle 

serves 6

3 whole dried chipotle chillies, seeds removed if you prefer it less hot

1.2 kg pork cheeks

flour for dusting

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tsp cumin seeds

350g red onion, finely chopped

1 tsp salt

3 carrots, finely chopped

5 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 cinnamon stick

2 bay leaves

2 tbsp tomato puree

3 tbsp white wine vinegar

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 handful of fresh oregano

2 tbsp demerara sugar

700ml vegetable stock

50ml Fino En Rama

1/2 juice of an orange

  1. Preheat an oven to 130 degrees.
  2. Place the dried chipotle chillies in a pan of boiling water so that they are covered and simmer for 30 mins.
  3. Place some plain flour on a plate and then dust all the pigs cheeks. Heat a large pan and add a little vegetable oil and bronze the pigs cheeks in batches. This will take a couple of minutes on each side. Place to one side to rest.
  4. In the same pan add a little more vegetable oil and add the cumin seeds followed after 20 seconds by the red onions and salt. After 5 minutes add the carrots and garlic and simmer gently for a further 5 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile drain the chipotle and remove any seeds. Using a blender, blend them into a smooth paste.
  6. Add the cinnamon stock, bay leaves, tomato puree, chipotle paste, both vinegars, the Fino En Rama, fresh oregano and demerara sugar.
  7. Return the pig cheeks to the pan and coat them in the sauce.
  8. Add the vegetable stock so that the pig cheeks are submerged and place them in the oven for 3 hours.

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Perfect Polenta

200ml milk

600ml water

1/2 tsp salt

150g powdered coarse polenta/cornmeal

1 heaped tbsp butter

  1. Heat the milk and water in a pan and add the salt.
  2. When the milk/water has boiled add the powdered polenta and whisk so that it become smooth and mixes completely with the water/milk.
  3. Whisk every few minutes, on a low heat, for 10-15 minutes so that the polenta remains smooth. Add a little more milk if you feel it is a little too thick. It will begin to come away from the sides. Taste to see if it is done and serve immediately.

Note: This post was kindly sponsored by Basco Fine Foods.

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