I have been a fan of Chef Yotam Ottolenghi ever since I ate in his eponymous London restaurant. I marveled at the freshness, colors and fusion of flavors in every vegetarian salad. It is one of the trendiest spots in London and yet all the dishes were familiar; we have eaten his style of food before, on trips to Israel.
The award-winning Jerusalem: A Cookbook is by restaurant partners Ottolenghi, of Israeli and Italian descent, and Sami Tamimi, a Palestinian, who first met in London. Both were born and grew up in Jerusalem—Sami in the Muslim east, Yotam in the Jewish west—and both left the city, having never met there, over 20 years ago. Yet, they “still think of Jerusalem as our home,” as they say in the book’s introduction.
With 120 recipes, the cookbook explores the authors’ “culinary DNA” and brings the food of Jerusalem’s past and present to life for the home cook. Yotam and Sami’s hope is that food will unify a diverse, contentious and politically charged city.
The flavors of this book are as strong, bold and passionate as the residents of Jerusalem. You will savor the stories and photographs of Jerusalem and its people as well as the food.
The book features traditional recipes such as matzoh ball soup, stuffed vegetables and ma’amul cookies. At the same time, the book offers updated classics like a spread of roasted butternut squash, tahini and date syrup.
While some recipes are easy, many require a commitment. You may have to search for ingredients (good market options include Yekta in Rockville and Shemali’s in DC) and some dishes will demand multiple steps and saucepans. Notwithstanding, every recipe I prepared came out perfectly, had deep flavors and looked exactly like the photos in the book.
One easy recipe is Na’ama’s Fattoush Salad from Sami’s Palestinian mother, which is similar to Israeli salads. The Roasted Cauliflower and Hazelnut Salad is a unique side dish. I also enjoyed the Basmati and Wild Rice with Chickpeas, Currants and Herbs. A London friend shortcut the recipe by cooking the two types of rice together rather than separately, as the recipe calls for.
I had to adapt some recipes to make them kosher. I omitted the yogurt sauce for the Turkey and Zucchini Burgers, which my family wants among our regular dinner rotations. The Fish and Caper Kebabs were tasty, but I would implore you to use a non-stick pan. I made additional recipes, including desserts, and all were hits.
As a baking teacher, I have always emboldened people to bake outside of their comfort zones. Whenever I, a professional chef, cook from this book, I acquire new skills while also pushing the family’s palate forward.
Every time I return from a trip to Israel, I immediately start planning my next trip; I just cannot stay away for too long. Similarly, I keep going back to the Jerusalem cookbook.
Available from Amazon. Food Photography credit: Jonathan Lovekin © 2012
Join the Jewish Food Experience for cooking demonstrations, tastings, book signings and more at Israel@65 Food, Wine and Music Festival on Sunday, June 9, at DC’s Union Market.