Life

Melding of two Jewish traditions in the mix with Anne Shooter's new book

Home cook Anne Shooter talks to Ella Walker about her recipes' family roots and how Jewish food is changing

Anne Shooter's cookbook Cherish reflects her East End Jewish background

ANNE Shooter's cookbook career was triggered by her having to dress up as bona fide cookbook legend. The former journalist had to pose as Nigella Lawson for a feature, "which was hideously embarrassing – I had to wear loads of control underwear and a wig", she recalls.

Shooter ended up bumping into the real Nigella at a party ("She was fabulous") and thought to herself: "If I was Nigella, maybe I'd write a Jewish cookbook next."

Having trained at London's Leiths Cookery School, she was already considering setting up her own pickle company and had noticed a real revival in newish-Jewish food ("People were starting to do slightly trendier things with old-school Jewish recipes, like putting wasabi in their cream cheese"). So her next logical thought was, of course, "Hang on, I could write that book!"

Cherish is her second cookbook, following her 2015 debut, Sesame & Spice, but this is the one her 12 and 14-year-old daughters wanted her to write – so they'd have all their mum's recipes on file when the grow into adults with their own kitchens.

"It's the kind of food I cook all the time," says Shooter, flicking through pages of crisp chicken thighs baked with walnuts and pomegranate, roasted aubergines drizzled with tahini, and fried pitta pockets bursting with lamb mince. "It's just really nice, homely food – some of it isn't even particularly Jewish."

Shooter's own childhood food memories are largely of spending time at her maternal grandparents' house in Elm Park, where Essex borders the East End of London, very much eating traditional Jewish food.

"My grandma was amazing and could do anything with a chicken," she remembers. "The house always smelt of chicken soup, and she'd mince the livers by hand."

Her granddad ran a kosher chicken shop, or poulterers, where live chickens clucked away out the back until they were slaughtered, plucked and brought straight through to customers – some of whom were rather well known, including the Krays (there was once a misunderstanding over a chicken), and actress Miriam Margolyes, who'd trade theatre tickets for wurst, a beef salami ("We called them our 'wurst tickets'").

Shooter's paternal grandmother, meanwhile, taught her to make calf's foot jelly, "a really old school Ashkenazy delicacy" that she hasn't made sense but says was delicious. "I don't know if you can buy a calf's foot now – let alone a kosher one."

Cuisine-wise, Jewish families were traditionally Ashkenazi – eastern European Jewish, with foods including bagels, cheesecake, salt beef and chicken soup; or Sephardic – more Middle Eastern and Spanish, with food that's packed with herbs, spices, tahini and Mediterranean flavours.

Shooter's own style of cooking, reflected in Cherish, is "more of a mish-mash", especially when it comes to her family's traditional Friday night dinner – where having 15 people round the table is "quite standard".

"It's noisy, warm, there's lots of chat, lots of eating – there's always a lot of talk of diets within the Jewish community, and I think that's possibly because we have Christmas dinner pretty much every week," she says with a laugh.

While Shooter will still start Friday night dinner with the same appetisers as her mum – grated hard-boiled eggs bound together with chopped spring onion and mayonnaise, and a coarse pate of chopped chicken livers – she'll also do hummus, an aubergine salad and some tabbouleh salad. A roast chicken might come out doused in pomegranate molasses or paprika too – but, she promises, "without it feeling like a 70s buffet".

The jumbling of flavours from Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewish origins, Shooter reckons, is in part down to tastes changing and the availability of ingredients evolving, but also due to the fact the traditional role of the Jewish matriarch is different now.

"All my friends are working mums, so a lot of this food doesn't take very long to make and doesn't insist on everything being made from scratch," says the food writer, who was the first woman in her family to go to university, and have a career and raise a family. "I do love a short cut. I might buy a pre-diced butternut squash, and I'll buy jars of passata that have a sofrito in it already.

"You don't generally get me bashing a pomegranate – I buy those seeds in a pot, thank you very much."

:: Cherish: Food To Make For The People You Love by Anne Shooter, photography by Emma Lee, is published by Headline, priced £28. Below are three recipes from the book.

SYRIAN COURGETTE AND CHEESE PIES

(Makes 16-24 depending on size)

For the dough:

350g plain flour

7g sachet instant yeast

2tsp granulated sugar

1/2tsp salt

200ml lukewarm milk or water

75ml olive oil, plus extra for oiling and brushing

For the filling:

3 courgettes, coarsely grated

200g feta, drained and crumbled

1tbsp sumac

A small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1 egg, beaten

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mix together the flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a bowl. Add the milk or water and olive oil. Knead by hand or in a free-standing mixer fitted with a dough hook until the dough is soft and no longer sticky. Coat a bowl with a little olive oil, form the dough into a neat ball and place in the bowl. Cover with lightly greased cling film and leave to rise somewhere warm until it doubles in size, about 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6. Place the grated courgettes in a colander to drain over a sink. When you are ready to make the filling, squeeze them with a clean tea towel to remove as much moisture as possible. Add the squeezed courgette to a bowl with the other filling ingredients and mix gently to combine.

Form the dough into 16 balls (or 24 smaller balls) and roll each ball into a long oval shape about 5mm thick. Place around one to two tablespoons of filling in the centre of each oval. Fold one long edge a little bit over the filling, forming a frame for it but leaving some filling exposed. Press down to seal at each end of the folded edge. Do the same on the other side, forming a petal or boat shape. Pinch the edges well to seal.

Repeat with the remaining dough pieces and place them on lightly oiled baking sheets. (You need to work quickly as the dough will continue to rise and the pies may open.) Brush the edges with olive oil; bake for about 15 minutes until the dough has turned golden brown and the cheese mixture has melted.

MIDDLE EASTERN MESS

(Serves 6)

300g mascarpone

150g Greek yoghurt

75g icing sugar, sifted

1tbsp rose water

3 meringue nests, roughly smashed into pieces

6 plump figs, quartered

450g raspberries

2tbsp date syrup (silan)

Around 8 pieces of baklava, smashed with a rolling pin (optional)

100g pomegranate seeds

A small bunch of mint leaves, shredded

Stir together the mascarpone, Greek yoghurt, icing sugar and rose water in a bowl, until well combined and creamy. Fold in the smashed meringue nests, figs and raspberries. Drizzle over the date syrup and broken baklava pieces, if using, and fold again. Cover and chill in the fridge until ready to serve. Serve chilled sprinkled with the pomegranate seeds and mint leaves.

LAMB IN CORIANDER SAUCE FROM COCHIN

(Serves 4)

2tbsp coconut oil or sunflower oil

500g cubed lamb shoulder

2 onions, chopped

Large bunch of coriander leaves, chopped

1 mild green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped

5cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

2tbsp ground coriander

1tsp ground turmeric

1/2tsp fennel seeds

Seeds from 2 cardamom pods

Pinch of ground cloves

Pinch of ground cinnamon

2tsp mild chilli powder

4 curry leaves

1 tomato, chopped

Pinch of salt

200ml water

2tbsp toasted flaked almonds, to garnish (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pan or deep-sided frying pan over a medium heat. Add the lamb cubes and fry until the lamb is brown on all sides, then add the onion and fry until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the chopped coriander, chilli, garlic and ginger and cook for a further two minutes. Add the remaining spices, the curry leaves, chopped tomato and salt and cook for a further two to three minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the water and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer very gently for one hour, uncovered. Keep an eye on it and add a little more water if it dries out. Garnish with toasted flaked almonds, if using, and serve with rice.

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