Jerusalem: A Cookbook
By Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi
It’s safe to say that while politics may divide Israel, it is the food that brings it together. That theme pervades Jerusalem: A Cookbook, which won international cookbook of the year in 2012. The richly illustrated book, written by Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi and Palestinian chef Sami Tamimi, celebrates the delicious collision of cultures found in the kitchens of Jerusalem.
The cookbook partners are the same age, but never knew each other growing up in the biblical city. Thirty years later they met in London England, and began their food collaboration, fusing their rich memories in a series of restaurants, delis and an award-winning cookbook. Colourful street food inspired by the great Suk (market) jumps off the page in this gorgeous ode to Jerusalem, like the Tunisian inspired Shakshuka, a breakfast staple made with ripe tomatoes and eggs — delicious with fresh pita bread. There’s a spin on risotto, a lower fat and healthier version of the Arborio rice version, made with barley. This one features diced tomatoes, marinated feta cheese and vegetable stock, a flavourful twist on a traditional meal found in many Jerusalem restaurants. Jerusalem, both the book and the city, celebrates the bounty of the area: figs, pomegranates, dates and award winning olive oil, thanks to the rich soil and temperate climate.
The key to hummus, according to Canadian chef Bonnie Stern, is at least 10 minutes of pureeing in the food processor. Ottolenghi concurs in Jerusalem; the goal is a thick, creamy paste, rich in tahini and an “exciting centerpiece” in many Jerusalem restaurants. Everyone in the Middle East lays claim to hummus. Ottolenghi says hummus wars have caused “even the best of friends to turn against each other if they find themselves in opposite hummus camps.” But there’s love amongst competitors, ensuring some of the best hummus joints in the world. Jerusalem’s no-fail recipe uses chickpeas sautéed in baking soda, a trick to penetrate the skins. This traditional Palestinian recipe was handed down from Sami Tamimi’s grandmother. Make this version and you’ll never buy the plastic tub, grocery store hummus again.
Yotam’s mother Ruth can also claim a few pages of recipes including Romano peppers stuffed with Basmati rice, tomatoes, ground lamb, dill, mint and cardamom. Mouth-watering roasted red pepper and baked egg galette garnished with cumin and cilantro are stunning staples in Arab restaurants in Jerusalem; the cookbook’s illustration will make you want to drop everything and cook.
The French may be known for baguettes but in Jerusalem it’s the challah that people line up for on Fridays. The Shabbat braided bread is a bakery favourite that arrived from Eastern Europe. The photograph of a typical Jerusalem bakery is enticing enough to make you want to book a trip to Israel. Here’s another reason to go, from Ottolenghi and Tamimi: the bureka. The stuffed filo pastry came to Israel via Turkey and Greece. The cookbook partners provide a delicious recipe for bite-size burekas filled with ricotta and pecorino, made famous by a bureka joint on Jaffa Street.
A standout experience in many Jerusalem restaurants is the Israeli version of tapas, known as meze. As many as a dozen salads and dips are set out in the middle of the table, fuelling the communal, sharing food experience celebrated by both Jewish and Arab cultures. Jerusalem includes recipes for the ubiquitous hummus, beet dip with yogurt and Zatar, and many more delicious dishes that are part of this hospitality tradition. As London Ontario chef Sagi Yaakov says, “The only thing that unites Arabs and Israelis in Israel is the food.” You can watch Sagi cook Barley risotto with marinated feta, and Burnt eggplant with lemon and pomegranate seeds from the Jerusalem cookbook. Visit the website below and experience some of the culinary spirit of this wonderful cookbook in the hands of an expert Israeli chef.
Recipes courtesy Jerusalem: A Cookbook, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, Random House, 2012.
Burnt eggplant with garlic, lemon & pomegranate seeds
Serves 4 as part of a meze plate
This salad has the most wonderful smoky aroma and works well with grilled meat or fish, as well as with other dips and salads to kick-start a passionate Levantine feast. But in order to get the full smoky flavour, you really need to stick to the instructions and allow the eggplants to burn well. If you want to turn it into a “real” baba ghanoush, whatever that may be (see page 76 in the book), drizzle on some light tahini paste at the end.
4 large eggplants (3¼ lb / 1.5 kg before cooking; 2½ cups /550 g after burning and draining the flesh)
grated zest of 1 lemon and 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp chopped mint
seeds of ½ large pomegranate (scant cup / 80 g in total)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 If you have a gas range, line the base with aluminum foil to protect it, keeping only the burners exposed. Place the eggplants directly on four separate gas burners with medium flames and roast for 15 to 18 minutes, until the skin is burnt and flaky and the flesh is soft. Use metal tongs to turn them around occasionally. Alternatively, score the eggplants with a knife in a few places, about ¼-inch / 2 cm deep, and place on a baking sheet under a hot broiler for about an hour. Turn them around every 20 minutes or so and continue to cook even if they burst and break.
2 Remove the eggplants from the heat and allow them to cool down slightly. Once cool enough to handle, cut an opening along each eggplant and scoop out the soft flesh, dividing it with your hands into long thin strips. Discard the skin. Drain the flesh in a colander for at least an hour, preferably longer, to get rid of as much water as possible.
3 Place the eggplant pulp in a medium bowl and add the garlic, lemon zest and juice, olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and a good grind of black pepper. Stir and allow the eggplant to marinate at room temperature for at least an hour.
4 When you are ready to serve, mix in most of the herbs and taste for seasoning. Pile high on a serving plate, scatter on the pomegranate seeds, and garnish with the remaining herbs/veg on our plates is delicious and good for us too.
Barley risotto with marinated feta
This vegetarian main course is a dish everybody loves, particularly children. Unlike the proper Italian risotto, ours does not require the exact precision and meticulous preparation, but still tastes sensational.
1 cup / 200 g pearl barley
6 tbsp / 90 ml olive oil
2 small celery stalks, cut into ¼-inch / 0.5cm dice
2 small shallots, cut into ¼-inch / 0.5cm dice
4 cloves garlic, cut into 1/16 -inch / 2mm dice
4 thyme sprigs
½ tsp smoked paprika
1 bay leaf
4 strips lemon peel
¼ tsp chile flakes
one 14-oz / 400g can chopped tomatoes
scant 3 cups / 700 ml vegetable stock
1 ¼ cups / 300 ml passata (sieved crushed tomatoes)
1 tbsp caraway seeds
10½ oz / 300 g feta cheese, broken into roughly ¾-inch / 2cm pieces
1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves
1 Rinse the pearl barley well under cold water and leave to drain.
2 Melt the butter and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a very large frying pan and cook the celery, shallots, and garlic over gentle heat for 5 minutes, until soft. Add the barley, thyme, paprika, bay leaf, lemon peel, chile flakes, tomatoes, stock, passata, and salt. Stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a very gentle simmer and cook for 45 minutes, stirring frequently to make sure the risotto does not catch on the bottom of the pan. When ready, the barley should be tender and most of the liquid absorbed.
3 Meanwhile, toast the caraway seeds in a dry pan for a couple of minutes. Then lightly crush them so that some whole seeds remain. Add them to the feta with the remaining 4 tablespoons / 60 ml olive oil and gently mix to combine.
4 Once the risotto is ready, check the seasoning and then divide it among four shallow bowls. Top each with the marinated feta, including the oil, and a sprinkling of oregano leaves.