One of the most difficult things to get used to here in Jordan is that Sunday is, well, it’s like Monday. Friday and Saturday (and much of Thursday afternoon) are the weekend, with Friday being the more tranquil and religious day and Saturday, well, it’s like the Saturday I’m accustomed to. But come Sunday morning, the buzz of the city is back, banking hours start up again and we’ve got to get back to work. You see, in my head, they’ve got it backwards by having their “Sunday” on Friday, It makes for an abrupt stop to the work week, a screeching halt to the chaotic day-to-day.I’m surprised at how much this seemingly small shift has thrown me, but there’s something sacred about Sunday mornings to me, a reboot before the start of the new work week, the trip to the farmers’ market, the lazy brunch with friends, the newspapers, that just doesn’t exist here. And even when I’ve worked on Sundays it’s never really bothered me in the same way because Sunday was still Sunday going on around me, if you know what I mean. Really, none of this should matter as I still get two days off, and who am I kidding, I keep my own hours anyway, but still, I find myself peevish, unsettled, each Sunday.
Peevish or not, there’s been a lot to do over the past few days, and little of it involved food. Our shipment from London arrived Thursday evening and we’ve spent the days since putting away and sorting and fixing. Nothing broken but one lamp bizarrely missing and one of my shoes? But knowing it would all get done and a week’s worth of fun in the kitchen with ALL of my equipment awaited, I made time to head over to Al Salleh Farms market on Saturday morning and pick up some goodies. Each week I go to this little vegetable haven in Iyad’s (one of the owners of the farms) carport located just behind the Chinese embassy, it seems to get busier. The crowd is diverse and demanding! Let’s just say, it’s best to arrive early to avoid disappointment.
I’ve been thinking about the organic food movement here and while I’ve never been someone who demands all of my ingredients be purely organic, I do think that some fruits and vegetables are certainly better off being so, and I always try to buy meat and I fish that I know has been raised and killed humanely. Here in Jordan though, these issues get even murkier, as I’m sure the pesticides used on local farms are more toxic than those used in traditional farming in the West. There just isn’t the oversight or even the rules to make sure that what and how many chemicals are used on crops are relatively safe. Now I know this might seem like a First World Problem when there are refugee camps full of Syrians who have fled the chaos of their homeland just a hundred miles away, but I think there’s certainly evidence that we pay the price on down the line if we’re lax about what we put in our bodies now.
So as I move forward with the culinary business in mind, one of my first priorities is to find delicious, healthy, safe ingredients and Iyad’s Al Salleh is my answer for my vegetable needs. Joining him in the carpark this week was Luma Khalaf who runs Juthour Foods (and I’ll be ordering from her too). She imports all of the healthy ingredients this little chef’s heart could desire and is working to teach people about the vast world of healthy ingredients. And there’s some talk that my favorite Mistaka lady, Nasreen, might sell her goods here too. I think we should all find an empty space to share and put up little tents and get a proper one-stop farmers’ market going! Anyway, I picked up some tenderstem broccoli, some more of Iyad’s delicious asparagus, a flat of free-range eggs (they’re like gold with people writing to reserve them ahead of time because they’re so much more delicious than the grocery store variety here), a bunch of swiss chard, fresh Spring garlic, and six gorgeous artichokes.
I must admit that I don’t cook with artichokes very often as they often cost a fortune back in London and they’re a pain to prepare. I remember walking around Istanbul’s streets last May and watching the green grocers turn artichoke after artichoke with their pairing knives, quickly revealing the heart without any fuss, slipping it into lemon water so they didn’t brown. I remember thinking I’d eat artichokes every day during the season if I could buy them prepared like that already! But I couldn’t resist Iyad’s gorgeous thistles and today I decided to pare them down and prepare a special lunch.
In addition to the artichokes, I used the fresh garlic and defrosted a quarter loaf of the whole wheat sourdough I buy up at Joz Hind (I’ve become much thriftier about my ingredients in these past two months – you never know when you’ll find something again and you certainly don’t want to risk it spoiling, so yes, my bread is portioned out and frozen). I think of this lunch as being my ultimate go local, go organic lunch!
1 1/2 cups spinach
1 cup flat leaf parsley
juice of half a lemon
2 cloves fresh Spring garlic
2 tablespoons almonds, toasted
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil (plus more for brushing)
1 shallot, thinly sliced
pinch red pepper flakes
6 artichokes, instructions on how to prep here
2 thyme sprigs
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup lebneh (creme fraiche would work)
4 thick slices sourdough bread
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1/2 lemon, zested
First prepare the pesto by placing the spinach, parsley, lemon juice, garlic and almonds in a food processor and blend. With the motor running add the olive oil until the pesto is lovely and runny. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.
Slice the artichoke hearts very thinly. Now in a large sautee pan, heat olive oil and add the shallots and red pepper flakes. When they’re soft and golden add the artichokes, thyme and white wine. Allow this to cook for about 6 minutes – if the pan gets too dry add a splash of water – just make sure the artichokes are soft. Off the heat, add the lebneh and stir until creamy, remove the thyme sprigs.
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Place the slices of sourdough on a baking tray and toast for 5 minutes in the oven. Rub a garlic clove all over the toasted bread and then pile the artichoke mixture on top. Grate the parmesan cheese over the toasts and put back in the oven for 5 more minutes, until golden brown. Once out of oven grate lemon zest on the toasts and serve with the spinach pesto so it can be slathered on top.