Four on food—briefly noted

by | Oct 25, 2013 | Book Reviews

Jerusalem, a Cookbook
Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, 2013
320 pages, $35
ISBN 978-1-60774-394-1

For months this at once beautiful and practical cookbook (covered in plastic so food and liquid stains can be easily wiped off) was among this year’s best kept publishing secrets. Virtually unreviewed, it was talked about and passed on by word of mouth to friends and relatives, its recipes traded online. Finally, it was picked up by the major food book critics and is now a best seller. And it should be.

Chefs Ottolenghi (author of Plenty) and Tamimi, partners in the eponymous London restaurant chain and the high-end restaurant Nopi, “return” to the Jerusalem of their youth to explore the distinctive foods of its diverse Jewish, Muslim, and Christian populations. Their selections include traditional, age-old dishes, cooked traditionally, just as they should be. Others benefit from the authors’ poetic license, updated to suit current times and sensibilities.

Shakshuka, for example, is Tunisian in origin, but everywhere I have eaten this hugely popular dish claims to have invented it. In Israel it is claimed by Iraqis, Yemenites, and Moroccans. My Persian machatunim are masters of the dish: a rich tomato, onion and sweet pepper-based sauce (ideally cooked in a paella pan) in which eggs are poached. I haven’t made Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s version yet, but it looks fantastic—the alpha and omega of Shakshuka.

One wishes these recipes had been around years ago, as the upscale thinking of the authors might have taught us what we have learned the hard way. For example, I have probably read at least 50 recipes for Latkes over the years and so have myriad other cooks. So why do so many good cooks make bad latkes? Wrong ingredients? Poor technique? How many decades did it take me to discover Yukon Gold potatoes that don’t discolor as you prepare the latkes?

Jerusalem, the Cookbook does not attempt to offer recipes from every diverse culture in Jerusalem, but those it does offer are superb. We have made the Roast Chicken with Clementines, Fennel, & Arak and taken pleasure in the cries of “encore.”

Not just a collection of recipes; there are valuable cooking lessons here.

—Hal Sacks is a retired Jewish communal worker who has reviewed books for Jewish News for more than 30 years.