Flavours of an ancient city (+recipes)

A new cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi unites their culinary memories from their shared historic home city of Jerusalem.

Na'ama's Fattoush from Jerusalem by Yotem Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Photo / Jonathan Lovekin
Na'ama's Fattoush from Jerusalem by Yotem Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Photo / Jonathan Lovekin

When our esteemed food writer, Peter Gordon, told us the best cookbook of the year was Jerusalem, by his friends Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, we had to take a look. Obviously British readers agree, as the cookbook was one of the top-sellers in bookstores this Christmas. Although they didn't meet until they worked in London together, the restaurant owners shared the same home city, Jerusalem.

Despite its fractured history, the town had a common food DNA, even though Sami's experience was on the Arab side and Yotam's on the Jewish. While the recipes are gorgeous - and comfortingly do-able, no fancy restaurant presentations here - you can read this as much for the stories behind the dishes.

With culinary influences from its Muslim, Jewish, Arab, Christian and Armenian communities (and even a dash of Italian/Tripolian, in Sami's case) and a Mediterranean climate, the book is as much a loving reflection on the town the pair have not lived in for 20 years, as a recipe book.

The pair take their food extremely seriously, making dishes from scratch from local produce, food that is closer to the source and uncomplicated.

Read this and learn something about the city that is in many people's hearts.

Na'ama's fattoush

Arab salad, chopped salad, Israeli salad - whatever you choose to call it, there is no escaping it. Wherever you go in the city, at any time of the day, a Jerusalemite is most likely to have a plate of freshly chopped vegetables - tomato, cucumber and onion, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice - served next to whatever else they are having.

There are plenty of unique variations on the chopped salad but one of the most popular is fattoush, an Arab salad that uses grilled or fried leftover pita. Other possible additions include peppers, radishes, lettuce, chilli, mint, parsley, coriander, allspice, cinnamon and sumac. Each cook, each family, each community has their own variation.

A small bone of contention is the size of the dice. Some advocate the tiniest of pieces, only a few millimetres wide, others like them coarser, up to 2cm wide. The vegetables must be fresh, ripe and flavoursome, with many hours in the sun behind them.

Couscous with tomato and onion

This wonderfully comforting couscous is one of our favourite recipes in this collection. Sami's mum, Na'ama, used to cook it for him when he was a child in Muslim east Jerusalem. At the same time, in the Jewish west of the city, Yotam's dad, Michael, used to make a very similar dish. All we did was add a crust, similar to Iranian tadik, which is a famous rice dish cooked in such a way that a crispy crust forms at the bottom of the pot; this crunchy bit is everybody's favourite. Good-quality stock is important here. Serve with grilled fish skewers or a salad.

* Weekend Life has one copy of Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, published by Random House to give away.

To enter, go to nzherald.co.nz/weekend, enter your details and the keywords "Jerusalem cookbook" by midnight, January 9.

Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, is published by Ebury Press, distributed by Random House. RRP $64.99.

- NZ Herald

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