From Grill House to Kebab Joint

Feeling as if you’ve been let out of a cage? While the pandemic is far from over, many of us are itching to travel again after our year-long-plus confinement. Even bears hibernate for only six months!
   If economics or merely an abundance of caution are thwarting your travel plans, embark on a five-city tour to Alexandria, Egypt; Amman, Jordan; Acre, Israel; Izmir, Turkey; and Thessaloniki, Greece, with London-based wife and husband team Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich whose new, beautifully photographed cookbook “Chasing Smoke: Cooking Over Fire Around the Levant” (Pavilion Books, $35) captures the flavors of the best fire-fueled eateries in the area, from the greatest grill houses to the humblest roadside kebob joints.
    From their travels you get not only the recipes they’ve collected, but the stories of their meanderings through the cities’ markets, their adventurous taxi rides and their visits to restaurants and back street stalls as well as their observations about the culinary culture of these Middle Eastern destinations.
   Keep your notes handy; whether you’re cooking a weekday dinner or company feast, you’ll be flagging many flavor-packed recipes, such as grilled peaches with almond tahini and charred endive, whole burnt chicken kofta with tzatziki and flatbread, Aubergine with charred egg yolk, tahini and chili sauce, and, just in time for summer, grilled stone fruits with rosemary and rose syrup.
    Afraid of fire? Almost every recipe is accompanied by directions for recreating it indoors. 
   For the Tahini BBQ Lamb Chops, the pair recommends purchasing well-trimmed racks of lamb without much fat. “Be forewarned, though: there will be a fair amount of smoke while cooking these, so they are best grilled outside,” they advise.
    “We use tahini in a few different versions of BBQ sauce, as the sesame paste lends itself so well to roasted meats, adding a rich, nutty note. Here we include anchovies for a savory touch and pomegranate molasses for sweetness. The accompanying plum sauce is like a chutney or Chinese plum sauce, with its sweet, sour and spicy flavors. It partners perfectly with these rich BBQ chops, and also works amazingly with a simple roast chicken or duck.”
   Why “fly” home nonstop when we can layover in Paris where renowned cookbook author and baker Dorie Greenspan makes her part-time home? The recipes in her 10th cookbook, “Baking Chez Moi” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40) come from several different regions in France along with the chic patisseries of Paris, but have no fear: “As much as the haute couture side of French pastry fascinates me, it’s the simple sweets I long for,” she writes. “They’re the ones I bake almost every day, whether I’m in my kitchen in New York or Paris. Many of them have roots as deep as those of the pastries once made for royalty, but their recipes are the stuff of daily life, their ingredients are at hand, and the skills needed to make them are within the reach of all home bakers, even beginners.” 
    Molten chocolate or lava cakes became popular in the 1980s and are still much loved. But did you know they have French roots?
    “As near as I can tell, the first cake of this kind was created by Michel Bras, an extraordinary chef from the central region of France,” Greenspan notes. “The original Bras cake – beautifully diagrammed in his published notebooks – was made with a thoroughly frozen small chocolate truffle in its middle. The cake baked, but the truffle didn’t have enough time in the oven to melt and then re-solidify, so it created the ‘molten lava’ that flowed from the cake at first cut. These little cakes use a similar technique to achieve their molten-ness: they have chunks of chocolate in their centers, which melt while the batter bakes itself into a cake. The success of the recipe depends on the chocolate: choose one that makes you happy when you eat it straight up.”
   For variety, Greenspan suggests using white or milk chocolate chunks in the center or even fruit: “Berries are perfect here – mash them, freeze them and add a spoonful to each cake, or use frozen berry coulies. Or return to chef Bras’ original idea: put a small frozen chocolate truffle in each cake.”

Tahini BBQ Lamb Chops with Fresh Plums and Spiced Plum Sauce

A feast for 4–6

2 racks of lamb, divided into 12 to 14 single chops 

3½ ounces baby red chard (or lamb’s lettuce) 

4 plums, halved and stones removed 

For the tahini BBQ sauce: 

5¼ ounces tahini paste

1 clove garlic, peeled and minced

2 salted anchovies, chopped

1 teaspoon pul biber chili flakes (or Allepo)

2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

3½ fluid ounces water, plus more if needed 

1 teaspoon flaky sea salt 

For the spiced plum sauce: 

6 plums, cut into 8ths and stones removed

1¾ ounces sugar

1 clove garlic

1 whole dried chili, cracked in half and seeds shaken out 

1 teaspoon Szechuan pepper 

1 bay leaf

3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses 

½ teaspoon flaky sea salt

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar 

  Use a stick blender or small food processor to blitz BBQ sauce ingredients to a smooth, thick paste. You may need to add a little more water to reach the desired custard-like consistency, depending on the variety of tahini.

 Put plum wedges, sugar, garlic, spices, bay leaf and pomegranate molasses in small frying pan, place over high heat and bring to a boil. Cook 5 minutes until plums soften and start falling apart, then remove from heat and stir in salt and vinegar.
 When ready to cook, brush half the BBQ sauce over chops, coating both sides. You will need remainder to brush on chops as they grill. Place chops on rack above a hot BBQ. Grill 2 minutes, turn them over, and brush with more sauce. Grill another 2 minutes before turning them back over and basting again. Repeat the grill-turn-baste process until chops have cooked a total of 6 minutes on each side. Remove to serving platter with baby chard spread over it.
 Pop plum halves on BBQ, cut-side down. Grill a minute or so just to warm them a little, then add to platter with chops. Serve with plum sauce on the side.

Soft-Centered Chocolate Teacup Cakes

Sugar, for dusting (optional)

½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into chunks

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped, + 2 ounces bittersweet or milk chocolate, cut into 8 pieces

3 large eggs, at room temperature

½ cup confectioners sugar, sifted

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour or
1 tablespoon cornstarch

  Center rack in oven and preheat to 400°F. Butter four 6-ounce oven proof teacups or coffee cups, or use ramekins or custard cups. If you’d like a teensy bit of crunch, dust interior of cups with granulated sugar. Place cups on baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silicone baking mat.

 Put butter and the 5 ounces chopped chocolate in heatproof bowl set over pan of simmering water, and heat, stirring occasionally, until butter and chocolate are melted but not so hot that they separate. When stirred together, mixture should be thick, smooth and shiny. Remove bowl from heat and set aside.

 Working in bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, or in large bowl with hand mixer, whip eggs and confectioners’ sugar at medium-high speed about 5 minutes until eggs are pale and have increased in volume. Reduce speed to low and blend in flour. Switch to flexible spatula and gently blend in melted chocolate mixture, stirring until completely incorporated.
 Divide half the batter among the cups. Drop in chocolate chunks (2 pieces in each cup) and top with remaining batter.
  Bake cakes 10 to 12 minutes. At 10 minutes, edges, tops and a thin section of bottoms of cakes will be set and centers will be super runny. At 12 minutes, set sections will be thicker and centers will be just a tad less runny. The cakes are wonderful either way. Transfer cups to rack and let cakes rest 5 to 10 minutes. You want them hot but not dangerous to eat.

Jlife Food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at



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