It’s bitingly cold. And it’s just going to get colder as we head into Christmas and trudge through the bleakness of January and February. Remarkably, there’s a huge group of Brits who relish this change of weather: the crisp morning air, numb and tingly fingers, early evenings and long, dark nights.
And then there’s everyone else. Those who pore over the travel pages in the weekend supplements, dreaming of warmer climes. They initiate hunkered discussions of immigration to Andalucia and Catalonia. Come November they’ve borrowed the entire Learn Spanish cassette collection from the local library, cracked open a bottle of Rioja and are deep into their fantasy escape route from the relentless cold.
Well, tonight at 9pm on More4 the fantasy reaches fever pitch with the first episode of Ottolenghi’s Mediterranean Feast. The celebrated Israeli chef, restaurateur and cookbook writer is embarking upon a four-part television series which follows a culinary tour through the countries that inspire some of his distinctive dishes.
Tonight’s episode sees Ottolenghi making couscous with Berber women in Morocco and guiding viewers through a cumin and saffron scented tagine. As the series continues, he travels through Turkey, Tunisia and Israel – all the time basking in sunshine, and indulging in the culinary spoils produced in these sun-blessed countries.
But don’t feel glum. There’s no need to sit watching Ottolenghi’s Mediterranean Feast in the cold, sniffing into a mug of Heinz tomato soup. Rack up the heating, brew some mint tea, and cook a Mediterranean feast of your own.
Recipe: Dolmades (Stuffed Vine Leaves) Serves 4
Many dolmades recipes encourage you to cook the rice first, and then wrap in vine leaves. We prefer to wrap up the uncooked rice, and then simmer the whole parcel together, to produce a better flavour. Make more than you think you might need as they are also delicious served cold.
1 onion, peeled and finely diced 6 tbsp olive oil 250g Greek vine leaves (half a pack) 2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped 250g long grain rice 2 tbsp sumac 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses ½ tsp fine salt ½ tsp finely ground black pepper 600ml hot water
To serve Slice of lemon Greek yoghurt (optional)
First soak the vine leaves to remove the preserving brine. Gently pull apart the leaves, and place in a large bowl. Pour over boiling water to cover, and leave for 15 minutes. Drain and repeat.
While the vine leaves soak, start to prepare the other ingredients. Fry the onion over a low heat in 2/3 of the olive oil (4tbsp), until soft. Tip into a mixing bowl.
Finely chop the fresh dill and parsley, and wash the uncooked rice. Add to the cooked onions, along with the sumac, pomegranate molasses, fine salt and pepper. Mix.
Take one vine leaf at a time, and lay it smooth-side down on a board, with the stem facing towards you. Trim off the stem using scissors. Place a teaspoon of rice mixture in the centre of the leaf. Fold in the sides, and roll away from you to form a little cigar-shaped parcel. Place in large non-stick frying pan. Repeat until all the mixture is used up, and the pan is tightly packed.
Pour 600ml hot water over the parcels, and rest a small plate on top to prevent the dolma from floating. Cook over a low heat for 30 minutes until all the water is absorbed, and the rice is tender.
Serve hot with a slice of lemon, and a spoon of Greek yoghurt.
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news