Jerusalem: A Cookbook
Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi
Ten Speed Press
This cookbook wooed me. I first saw it in Barnes & Noble, a gorgeous standout from all the other formulaic Food Network cookbooks. I picked it off the easel and flipped through page after page of things I’d never made before, beautiful grains and greens. Bright, rich, and salty looking things. I began to read the recipe for “Braised Eggs with Lamb, Tahini, and Sumac.” It’s the recipe that enticingly adorns the cover. Ingredients like sumac, pistachios, harissa paste, Zhoug…daunting, unfamiliar, and curious. What really piqued my pickles though, was the intro to the recipe:
“This concoction is Jerusalem fusion food at its very best. It incorporates traditional elements that are purely Palestinian with ingredients characteristic of various jewish cultures, and puts them all together in a completely nontraditional way.”
What the hell is Palestinian food? I was enchanted by my own ignorance. I flipped to the beginning of the book to see if there was any kind of introduction. I discovered that Jerusalem: A Cookbook is also Jerusalem: A History Lesson. Jerusalem, a city rich with 4,000 years of tumultuous human history, with culinary influences bearing such diversity, “It puts the old tower of Babylon to shame.” But as I was about find a place to park my biscuits and get down to that business which must irritate every Barnes & Noble employee to no end – reading an expensive book in a chair – my family came bounding up to inform me that they wanted to eat. So I set down my cookbook and left.
One week later…
I was wandering around Lyon Books, looking for brand new freshies to review for my column when I saw Jerusalem again. It had a 20% off sticker. I was wooed again. We sealed the deal and now we’re in love, together forever. Each recipe is prefaced with notes about the dish’s provenance, and the pictures are festive and alive. Throughout the book there are warm stories about the authors’ childhood experiences as they both grew up on opposite sides of Jerusalem.
My first test recipe was “Roasted Chicken with Clementines and Arak.” I didn’t have any arak so I used ouzo. Which I didn’t have either, but I found at Mangrove Bottle Shop. I marinated the chicken in ouzo, mustard, quartered fennel, clementines, and brown sugar overnight and then roasted it up in a big clay pot the next day.
All of those bold, lavish flavors came together creating a delicious, comforting dish that everybody in my family adored. The leftovers were just as amazing. It was sweet and savory and simple. If you could roast history and eat it, that’s what I’d imagine all the recipes in this beautiful book would taste like. Rich, vibrant cultures blending together, fusing traditional and contemporary, all in one…everything. The holy grail of yum.