Jerusalem: A Cookbook

Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
  • Review
By – January 21, 2013

With an unusu­al cush­iony cov­er and gor­geous mouth­wa­ter­ing pho­tos of metic­u­lous­ly detailed recipes, Jerusalem: A Cook­book fea­tures the recipes and sto­ries of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tami­mi. The two chefs grew up in Jerusalem, Yotam in Jew­ish West Jerusalem, Sami in Mus­lim East Jerusalem.

Yotam owns an epony­mous restau­rant with four branch­es in Lon­don and a high-end restau­rant called Nopi, also in Lon­don. Sami is his restau­rant part­ner and head chef. Togeth­er, the two chefs have cre­at­ed a most­ly-veg­e­tar­i­an cook­book that rais­es veg­eta­bles to an exquis­ite lev­el, show­cas­ing them beau­ti­ful­ly in recipes that even a car­ni­vore could­n’t resist.

The cookbook’s intro­duc­tion explains the com­plex­i­ties of Jerusalem’s culi­nary tra­di­tions,” where many dish­es do not belong to one spe­cif­ic cul­ture alone, but rather, in this city of an intri­cate, con­vo­lut­ed mosa­ic of peo­ples,” to ev­eryone. Chopped cucum­ber and toma­to are known as either Arab or Israeli sal­ad and are eat­en through­out the city. Stuffed veg­eta­bles with rice and pick­led veg­eta­bles are ubiq­ui­tous, as well as olive oil, lemon juice, and olives. Not to men­tion the recent hum­mus wars,” in which Israelis and Arabs vie for who invent­ed the dish and who makes it best.

The chefs recent­ly spoke at the Strand Book­store in Man­hat­tan with Jonathan Safran Foer lead­ing the dis­cus­sion. Foer, a cel­e­brat­ed author and a veg­e­tar­i­an who wrote Eat­ing Ani­mals, began by assur­ing the audi­ence that, while the recipes seemed dif­fi­cult, they weren’t and joked about the unique ingre­di­ents called for in some of recipes. When Foer asked about their favorite meal, Yotam and Sami both expressed pre­fer­ring homey rather than fan­cy food. To the ques­tion what’s excit­ing you now?,” Sami imme­di­ate­ly answered Tokyo, while Yotam said tapas bars in Lon­don, and ground car­damom was his spice of the month.”

Foer spoke about culi­nary tourism, eat­ing as a way of expe­ri­enc­ing a cul­ture or place. The chefs explained that some of their dish­es are formed from Sami’s mem­o­ry, recre­at­ed from his child­hood impres­sions. He lost his moth­er when he was young so there’s nowhere else he could sam­ple them today. He spends much of his time mak­ing sure each ingre­di­ent is used in the right amount, tweak­ing until it tastes as he remem­bers it.

Yotam said he nev­er signs off on a recipe that’s good enough; it has to be mar­velous and dou­ble test­ed. Their book was going to have 200 recipes — that was culled to 120 — and took two years to write. They are per­fec­tion­ists who take their food seri­ous­ly, mak­ing every­thing from scratch and using only nat­ur­al ingre­di­ents.

The chefs also believe that food gives hope for peace and view food as ambas­sadors. Leav­ing the audi­ence with an image of peo­ple rub­bing shoul­ders in the mar­ket, they view food and as a vehi­cle toward a more har­mo­nious future.

To cre­ate the sto­ry for their cook­book, Yotam and Sami used their per­son­al memo­ries and biogra­phies, and, like most books about Israel, they said they couldn’t entire­ly avoid pol­i­tics; by sim­ply nam­ing a recipe’s ingre­di­ents, or where to pur­chase them, it became polit­i­cal. While Foer says it’s explic­it­ly polit­i­cal but not provoca­tive,” I agree, adding that some right-wingers may pos­si­bly be offend­ed by the authors’ sen­ti­ments. (I offer this as a warn­ing to know your recip­i­ent before gift­ing this book!)

Foer con­tin­ued by ask­ing the chefs about the per­cep­tion of Mid­dle East­ern food in world cui­sine; there are no Miche­lin stars to date. Yotam’s feel­ing is that the cui­sine hasn’t yet been prop­er­ly explored and hopes the time has come for Mid­dle East­ern food to get the respect it deserves.

When asked to define Israel food, Yotam explained that mod­ern Israel is still a young soci­ety which start­ed with Dias­po­ran food, and has been chang­ing over the last fif­teen years. Ashke­naz food was con­sid­ered Jew­ish” food, while Sephardic food was eth­nic.” Sephar­di food is quite com­plex, sim­i­lar to Arab food. How­ev­er, today in Israel the bound­aries of these labels have begun to shift, as both Ashke­nazi and Sephardic meals use the same fresh, local sea­son­al ingre­di­ents. Yotam said it’s too ear­ly to say where Israeli food is going; Israeli cui­sine is still in for­ma­tion.

Are they plan­ning to open a restau­rant in Jerusalem or New York? Yotam said he’s asked this often but, at the moment, he’s busy every sin­gle day at their restau­rants in Lon­don. His pri­or­i­ty is to cre­ate a sense of com­mu­ni­ty, mak­ing it fun for his staff to come to work in their tiny kitchens, and cre­at­ing a sense of fam­i­ly. He added that atten­tion to detail and dis­play is extreme­ly impor­tant when cook­ing or pre­sent­ing. If the food doesn’t smile, we send it back.” From the com­fort­ably flow­ing conversa­tion I observed between the two charm­ing chefs, I can eas­i­ly imag­ine them run­ning a har­mo­nious kitchen.

What­ev­er you may think defines Jerusalem’s cui­sine, you will sure­ly be impressed by the array of recipes and pho­tos of the peo­ple and food of the city. Whether it’s pur­chased as a cof­fee table ­book, a gift for your­self, or for a veg­gie-lov­ing friend, this book is bound to please the lucky recip­i­ent. We can dream that the authors’ vision of food as an ambas­sador of peace could be true, with this cook­book a step along that noble path. Acknowl­edg­ments, index, introduction.

Recipe: Na’a­ma’s Fattoush


  • scant 1 cup / 200 g Greek yogurt and ¾ cup plus 2 tbsp / 200 ml whole milk, or 1 2/3 cups / 400 ml but­ter­milk (replac­ing both yogurt and milk)
  • 2 large stale Turk­ish flat­bread or naan (9 oz / 250 g in total)
  • 3 large toma­toes (13 oz / 380 g in total), cut into 2/​3‑inch / 1.5cm dice
  • 3 ½ oz / 100 g radish­es, thin­ly sliced
  • 3 Lebanese or mini cucum­bers (9 oz / 250 g in total), peeled and chopped into −2÷3 inch / 1.5cm dice
  • 2 green onions, thin­ly sliced
  • 1/2 oz / 15 g fresh mint
  • scant 1 oz / 25 g flat-leaf pars­ley, coarse­ly chopped
  • 1 tbsp dried mint
  • 2 cloves gar­lic, crushed
  • 3 tbsp fresh­ly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup / 60 ml olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
  • 2 tbsp cider or white wine vinegar
  • ¾ tsp fresh­ly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sumac or more to taste, to garnish

If using yogurt and milk, start at least 3 hours and up to a day in advance by plac­ing both in a bowl. Whisk well and leave in a cool place or in the fridge until bub­bles form on the sur­face. What you get is a kind of home­made but­ter­milk, but less sour.

Tear the bread into bite-size pieces and place in a large mix­ing bowl. Add your fer­ment­ed yogurt mix­ture or com­mer­cial but­ter­milk, fol­lowed by the rest of the ingre­di­ents, mix well, and leave for 10 min­utes for all the fla­vors to combine.

Spoon the fat­toush into serv­ing bowls, driz­zle with some olive oil, and gar­nish gen­er­ous­ly with sumac.

Reprint­ed with per­mis­sion from Jerusalem: A Cook­book by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tami­mi, copy­right © 2012. Pub­lished by Ten Speed Press, a divi­sion of Ran­dom House, Inc.

Food Pho­tog­ra­phy cred­it: Jonathan Lovekin © 2012

Miri­am Brad­man Abra­hams, mom, grand­mom, avid read­er, some­time writer, born in Havana, raised in Brook­lyn, resid­ing in Long Beach on Long Island. Long­time for­mer One Region One Book chair and JBC liai­son for Nas­sau Hadas­sah, cur­rent­ly pre­sent­ing Inci­dent at San Miguel with author AJ Sidran­sky who wrote the his­tor­i­cal fic­tion based on her Cuban Jew­ish refugee family’s expe­ri­ences dur­ing the rev­o­lu­tion. Flu­ent in Span­ish and Hebrew, cer­ti­fied hatha yoga instructor.

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