Both men were born the same year in Jerusalem; Ottolenghi in the western Jewish side and Tamimi in Arab east Jerusalem. They never met until they were in their 30s, in London. Now business partners and cooking together, they’ve grown nostalgic over the foods they knew as boys. Jerusalem: A Cookbook is the result – 120 recipes based on the big flavors and incredibly diverse cuisines that Jerusalemites love.
“It is impossible to count the number of cultures and subcultures residing in this city,” write the authors. “However, if you take a step back and look at the greater picture, there are some typical elements that are easily identifiable in most local cuisines and crop up throughout the city. Everybody, absolutely everybody, uses chopped cucumber and tomatoes to create an Arab salad or an Israeli salad, depending on point of view….”
The recipes are true to the Jerusalem palate, and authentically Jerusalemite in their demand for fresh ingredients and color. It’s like strolling through Machaneh Yehudah market, where you go from one attractive pile of produce to another display of spices in burlap bags kept invitingly open. You can almost inhale cumin, paprika, and za’atar; almost touch that day’s vegetables. The text has a warm, friendly tone and the gorgeous photographs are intimate, funky, majestic or simply mouthwatering.
“It is more than 20 years since we left the city. Yet we still think of Jerusalem as our home because it defines us, whether we like it or not. Everything we taste and everything we cook is filtered through the prism of our childhood experiences: foods our mothers fed us, wild herbs picked on school trips, days spent in markets, the smell of the dry soil on a summer’s day, goats and sheep roaming the hills, fresh pittas with minced lamb, parsley, chopped liver, black figs, smoky chops, syrupy cakes, crumbly cookies. The list is endless.”
Vegetables and legumes figure larger than on meat in this cookbook. Jerusalem’s cuisine evolves out of poverty and the daily need to make the most of foods from field, dairy, and orchard. To illustrate, there’s a sophisticated salad of baby spinach with dates and almonds – a modern spin-off from traditional fatoush salad that thriftily uses leftover pita. The hearty dish of wheat berries and Swiss chard with pomegranate molasses recalls the combination of earthiness with sharp/sweet that’s so characteristic of Middle Eastern food. See our recipe for home-made pomegranate molasses here.
But yes, there is meat. Meatballs, lamb, chicken and beef figure in traditional and modern form. Among the recipes there are two variations of kibbeh and a beautiful-looking roast chicken with clementines and arak. Going in the other direction, there’s traditional Ashkenazic chopped chicken liver.
Some recipes seem startlingly innovative, like the pan-fried sea bass with harissa and rose petals. But reading the introduction, we discover that it’s originally a North African dish. The book is a lively combination of traditional dishes and the writers’ free interpretations of them. To wind up, there’s a section on condiments like preserved lemons, labneh and all kinds of pickles.
Jerusalem, the city, is said to be the navel of the world. Jerusalem, the book, reflects the city’s people and history through its food.
Here’s a video showing the luscious Mutabbaq dessert recipe from Jerusalem: A Cookbook.
Jerusalem: A Cookbook
Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Ten Speed Press
320 pages. $35 hardcover. ISBN 978-1-60774-394-1
More luscious recipes from the Middle East:
- Fesenjan, Persian Chicken in Walnut Sauce
- Almond Torte With Pomegranate Molasses
- Baba Ganoush
- Iraqi Stuffed Grape Leaves