A review of Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi’s cookbook Jerusalem. Outlining the authors’ culinary influence, navigational clarity, and quality of recipes.
Yotam Ottolenghi is Israeli and Sami Tamimi is Palestinian. They both grew up in Jerusalem, Ottolenghi in the Jewish west while Tamimi not far in the Muslim East. These two established chefs came together to create a delectable, diverse ode to their shared hometown. The intellectual ownership of different foods in Israel and the surrounding countries is a much-disputed topic which the two chefs marry in their cookbook Jerusalem.
Jerusalem starts out with several pages of poetically compiled text giving readers insight into their own backgrounds, Jerusalem as a city, and the politics surrounding it. Ottolenghi eloquently states:
“The energy of Jerusalem is introspective, it is born out of an interplay between the peoples that have been coming and going for millennia, and the spirit that seems to hover among the olive trees, over the hills, and in the valleys.”
The two Jerusalemites share fond culinary memories from this multicultural, wildly eclectic city, and both say that their foundations in cooking are strongly influenced by their childhoods spent in Jerusalem. The cookbook is filled with an array of recipes, and though their origins span over several continents, all the dishes have found a home in the Jerusalem streets. Jerusalem has been put together in a way that takes the readers on a journey, it’s more than just a cookbook. Emphasis is put on context and the potential of sharing and accepting within it. The pages are filled with tantalizing recipes which evoke emotion, cultural heritage, and Middle Eastern hospitality.
The book starts the reader off with a lengthy introduction to the city from which it draws its inspiration and pokes thoughts at both the historical and philosophical climate of the city and its relation to food. The recipes are separated into categories: Vegetables, Pulses and Grain, Soups, Stuffed, Meat, Fish, Savory Pastries, Sweets and Dessert, and Condiments adorned with the occasional one or two pages of text focusing on an element of the following recipes, the historical context of the ingredients or traditions surrounding the food, or an anecdotal side note. This is the kind of cookbook you can read just as you would read a novel, it lures you in with vibrant stories of tradition, laced with a hungry stomach.
Alongside these stories, you’ll find beautiful photos capturing the essence of the city; of men playing backgammon on the plastic chairs in the alleys of the Old City and of lush, overflowing market displays of vegetables, herbs, and baked goods.
Most of the recipes are paired with a photo of the dish itself. Many of the photos are rustic, simple, and look as though they were taken right outside in the crannies of the market place or on the table at a grandmother’s home. Perfectly suited to the atmosphere the book captures in its entirety. Each recipe has its own short introduction in which possible meal pairings are mentioned and a little background on the ingredients or the dish as a whole. The measurements are computed in grams, which is a downside for those who feel comfortable using US Standard (cup) measurements, but nevertheless doesn’t take away from the quality of the cookbook. Today, it’s quite easy to convert measurements using online calculators. Overall, the ingredients within the book are accessible and you’ll find a lot of the same ingredients used across the board. The instructions are told in paragraph format, without being unclear. I always find that the paragraph format actually aids the home cook in creating the recipe more naturally and intuitively, rather than somewhat robotically following bullet points (but that’s just my opinion)!
My loosely adapted version of Jerusalem’s Fish and Cape Kebabs, you won’t miss the fish!
I have tried a number of recipes in Jerusalem, some examples being the Kohlrabi Salad, Mejadra, Cod Cakes in Tomato Sauce, Stuffed Aubergine with Lamb and Pine Nuts, Fish and Caper Kebabs with Burnt Aubergine and Lemon Pickle, Salmon Steaks in Chraimeh Sauce just to name a few. All of them turned out well and the processes aren’t meticulous. Many of them do take some time, think grandmother style cooking, but overall, you’ll need about an hour to make most of the dishes in this book. Another big plus is how easily adaptable the recipes are, so not only can it be used as a step by step tutorial to making dishes but it can also serve as an inspiration to creating your own using the middle eastern flavor palate presented in Jerusalem. A meal made from this book is going to be hearty, healthy, and filling. Perfect for a family meal or a casual dinner party.
“Food is a basic, hedonistic pleasure, a sensual instinct we all share and revel in. It’s a shame to spoil it.”