The Austin Chronicle

Jerusalem: A Cookbook

By Kate Thornberry, January 22, 2013, 12:00pm, On the Range

I love Middle Eastern food, so this cookbook caught my eye immediately. To start with, it is utterly gorgeous. Not only are there high quality photographs of every dish, but the book is filled with stunning photos of the city of Jerusalem and its people.

It is the kind of book that could just as easily be a coffee-table book as a kitchen standby. But after cooking recipe after recipe from its pages, in my house it is destined to be a standby, because the recipes are amazing.

Yotam Ottolenghi is a quite famous British chef, with five outrageously successful restaurants and a New York Times best-selling cookbook, Plenty, under his belt. Sami Tamimi, his partner, is the head chef at Ottolenghi's restaurants. Both men are natives of the city of Jerusalem. Ottolenghi is of Jewish descent; Tamimi's family is Arabian. Between the two of them, there probably couldn't be a duo more expert on the topic of Jerusalem's cuisine. The first recipe I tried was the unforgettable Sweet Potatoes with Fresh Figs. In it, roasted wedges of sweet potato are combined with chopped green onions, fresh figs, and sliced red chiles in a balsamic glaze. The flavors were amazing together, and worked well both hot at dinner, and chilled the next day. Next, I made Roasted Butternut squash with Red Onion and Tahini, which, if anything, was even better. The combination of tahini with butternut squash is inspired (in fact, there is also a recipe for butternut squash and tahini dip), the complex, nutty tahini bringing out the butternut's richness. By the time I made the Latkes, I was more than sold. It my pursuit of the perfect potato latkes, I have never been satisfied. Typically, the latkes come out too pancake-like, soft and dull. But the recipe given here yields the most perfect, crunchy and tender latkes I have ever made at home. They resembled crispy hash brown discs, shot through with oniony chives. If there were a restaurant in Austin that made latkes like these, they would be packed 24 hours a day.

Unlike many chef-written cookbooks, this one is not terribly persnickety, nor are the recipes written for restaurant use. The methods and the flavors are designed for home cooking. Most of the recipes are simple and easy to make, yet the flavors are astounding. Ample attention is given to not only the Jewish, but also the Muslim and Christian culinary traditions of the great city. Anyone who loves Middle Eastern cuisine (and especially folks who would like to expand their knowledge of it!) or anyone who plans to visit the Holy Land at some point in their lives owes it to themselves to get this book. It is a genuine tour-de-force.

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