Tag Archives: Yotam Ottolenghi

Read All About It: Israel’s Emerging Food Scene

9 Oct

cookbooks2Now that Jerusalem has become one of the best selling cookbooks in recent years, it may be time to look at it in context. The recipes are wonderful, the photographs are mouthwatering, the narrative is compelling and democratic. Beyond food, the book has touched something deeper in all of us. Jerusalem, home to more than 60 religious and ethnic communities, is a lodestar for spirituality, sharing and healing, along with a full measure of continuing strife. So beyond the book’s virtues of history combined with recipes, unusual ingredients and flavors, it allows us to hold in our hands a gastronomic overlay to the region’s millennial conflicts, through a universal experience that connotes peace and above all, pleasure.

I had the rare opportunity last year to interview authors Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, the former is Israeli, the latter Palestinian, when they came to New York on a book tour. We three sat on the bima in a huge Park Slope synagogue, and gazed upon hundreds of fans who came to listen to their stories and then hungered for more. It was clear to all of us assembled there that their Jerusalem penetrated into a realm far deeper than cooking. The cuisine that the authors express speaks to ancient realities and present truths: The kitchen table knows no boundaries; and no wall, however high and long, can ever be so impermeable to prevent the vapors of the collective culinary consciousness waft through.

Just this weekend, I had pleasure of a parallel experience. This time, the talented and ebullient chef, Einat Admony, owner of New York City restaurants Balaboosta, Taim and Bar Bolonat, expressed the food of another diaspora. Vivid dishes — cooked and served in her Brooklyn loft to a handful of journalists and friends – blended the recipes of her native Iran with Arabic verve, and Israeli cunning. Pomegranate mimosas, spicy Yemenite s’chug, brown-boiled eggs, delectable fried eggplant, osovo (an overnight peasant dish with myriad variations – ours included rice and marrow bones), kubaneh (a slow-cooked Yemenite bread), and malabi (a traditional milk custard) with red fruit conserve for dessert made an emphatically evocative case for “new Israeli cuisine.” Best of all, the recipes are easily found in Ms. Admony’s beautiful new book Balaboosta published this week by Artisan.

If asked who I’d have come to a last dinner, Yotam, Sami and Einat would certainly be among my guests. But so too would be the five journalists who graced the stage of the
Museum of Jewish Heritage on October 6th for an event entitled “Frothed Milk and Truffled Honey.” It was a nod to the ebullient creativity that’s fermenting in the kitchens of Israel’s best chefs. Janna Gur, food writer and publisher of Israel’s most prestigious culinary magazine Al Hashulchan, said that the best word to describe the new Israeli cuisine is “fresh.” Fresh referring to the abundance of Israel’s technicolor produce, fresh referring to the culture’s rampant innovation, and fresh also referring to the sassy ingenuity with which chefs there have absorbed culinary influences from the entire region and integrated them into a new, electrifying cuisine.

In 1996, I was one of four “Women Chefs for Peace” on a mission to Israel. Upon my return I wrote an article for the New York Times called “A Region’s Taste Commingles in Israel.” I predicted then that it was the trend to watch. And now, it’s here.

Two Radically Simple Recipes from JERUSALEM: A Cookbook

21 Oct

Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

There isn’t a recipe in Jerusalem, the new cookbook from London (by way of Jerusalem) writers Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi that doesn’t intrigue me. Each speaks volumes about the flavors, tastes and foodways of this ancient city.  Some recipes are demanding and worthy of an afternoon of cooking, others are radically simple in the parlance I speak:  boasting an ineffable balance of ease, number of ingredients and time required.  Here are two of my favorites:

Swiss chard fritters with feta
According to Yotam and Sami, “The intense green color of these fritters, originally Turkish, is paralleled by a wonderfully concentrated “green flavor” of chard and herbs.  They are a truly marvelous way to start a meal.  Spinach makes a good substitute for the chard; increase the quantity by 50% and just wilt it in a pan instead of boiling it.

14 ounces Swiss chard leaves, white stalks removed
1 ounce flat-leaf parsley
2/3 ounce cilantro
2/3 ounce dill
1-1/2 teaspoons grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 large free-range eggs
3 ounces feta cheese, in small pieces
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil, add the chard and simmer for 5 minutes.  Drain the leaves and squeeze until completely dry.  Place in a food processor with the herbs, nutmeg, sugar, flour, garlic, eggs, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and black pepper.  Blitz until smooth and then fold in the feta by hand.  Pour 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium frying pan. Place over medium-high heat and spoon in a heaping tablespoon of the mixture. Press down to get make each fritter about 2-3/4 inches in diameter and 3/8 inch thick.  You should be able to fit about 3 fritters at a time.  Cook for 3 to 4 minutes in total, turning once, until they have taken on some color.  Transfer to paper towels, then keep each batch warm while you cook the remaining mixture, adding oil as needed.  Serve at once with the lemon wedges.  Serves 4 as a starter

Butternut squash & tahini spread
According to Yotam and Sami, “This dip seems to be fantastically popular with anyone who tries it. There is something about the magical combination of tahini and pumpkin or squash that we always tend to come back to.  Serve as a starter with bread or as part of a meze selection.  Date syrup can be found in health food stores and Middle Eastern markets.

1 very large butternut squash (almost 2-1/2 pounds) and cut into large chunks (7 cups)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons light tahini paste
2 small cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon mixed black and white sesame seeds
1-1/2 teaspoons date syrup
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Spread the squash out in a medium roasting pan.  Pour over the olive oil and sprinkle on the cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix together well and cover pan tightly with foil.  Roast for 70 minutes, stirring once during cooking.  Remove from the oven and let cool.  Transfer the squash to a food processor, along with the tahini, yogurt and garlic.  Roughly pulse until combined into a rough paste, without the spread becoming smooth.  This can be done by hand using a fork or potato masher.  Spread the paste in a wavy pattern on a large flat plate.  Sprinkle with the sesame seeds, drizzle over the syrup and sprinkle with cilantro.  Serves 6 to 8

Come meet Yotam and Sami at Congregation Beth Elohim on Wednesday, October 24th.  I will be the host for the evening — the interview begins at 7:30 p.m.  You can register here. Autographed books will be for sale.

%d bloggers like this: