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Jerusalem: A Cookbook Hardcover – October 16, 2012
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*Starred Review* The true definition of a melting pot, it seems, can be found through foods, or so Ottolenghi and Tamimi contend. As former residents of Jerusalem and now well-acclaimed London restaurateurs, they have compiled a luscious, photographic collection of 120 recipes with origins encompassing various religions, countries, and, occasionally, continents. The history of the city and of foods found there are sprinkled throughout the text, as are visuals not only of recipes but also of the people who inhabit Jerusalem and beyond. Expect discourses on the humble aubergine (eggplant); za’atar, a native herb; hummus wars; and even Georgian cuisine. The book’s leisurely pace picks up with the introduction of dishes, some familiar but many not, that include fattoush, latkes, mejadra, clear chicken soup with knaidlach, pan-fried mackerel with golden beetroot and orange salsa, and helbeh (fenugreek cake). Measurements are computed in grams, and, unfortunately, the more exotic ingredients, such as arak and zhoug, might prove elusive to all but the most avid chefs. Yet the passion and skill evident in this collection of Mediterranean cuisine are contagious. --Barbara Jacobs
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****Edit****I would just like to say, that one of the reasons, I think, that this is so doable for a Middle Eastern cookbook, is these are the recipes that regular people make. This is what the moms and grandmas make. That's the kind of food I want to make as well, good home cooking.
The first recipes I made from this book were the roasted cauliflower salad with celery, hazelnuts and pomegranate and the sofrito chicken. I figured there was no way the cauliflower salad could be anything but delicious, and it was. But I had my doubts about the chicken--the recipe involved several steps (browning the chicken, seasoning the chicken, steam-roasting the chicken, frying potatoes and garlic and then adding them to the chicken and its juices). I didn't think it would be any better than a simple roast chicken and vegetables (which is hard to improve on when done well). But it was unbelievably delicious! And had a texture and subtlety of flavor I had never tasted before.
It's true that some of these dishes are not week-night fare--as one reviewer mentioned, you can't throw them all on the table in under an hour. But many of them are. A quick read-through of the recipe should let you know which are quicker and which take an hour or more of prep and cooking.
I am adding this cookbook to my top 10 list because a) it's a beautiful, well-written book, b) the recipes work very well when followed to the letter, but there's lots of room for improvisation, c) the flavor and texture combinations are complex, subtle and well-balanced, and d) the dishes are delicious.