When some of us think about Israeli food, the first dishes that come to mind are probably hummus, falafel, and shakshuka — but that is only scratching the surface. Chef Einat Admony and Israeli food writer and expert Janna Gur, teamed up to show readers delicious and authentic multicultural Israeli cuisine in their cookbook, Shuk, by focusing on buying ingredients from the nation’s outdoor markets, or shuks.
Before the book delves into its colorful and mouth-watering recipes, Admony and Gur provide thoughtful forewords in which they define Israeli cuisine. In “The Spirit of Shuk,” Admony gives us a glimpse into her origin story as a Mizrahi Jew growing up in Israel — cooking Persian dishes with her Iranian mother and shopping for ingredients with her father in the shuk’s Yemenite quarter. Admony’s Mizrahi background is inextricably tied to her culinary expertise, which brings some essential Israeli diversity to the dinner table, from the Jews of Morocco to those of Central Asia.
In “A Short Story of Israeli Food,” Gur explains how Israeli cuisine is not so straightforward. Since Israel is a small country rich with many Jewish and Middle Eastern ethnic groups and cultures, the culinary scene is “a multicultural mosaic of traditions from literally all over the globe.” These two women make sure Shuk accurately represents the range of food that falls under the umbrella of Israeli cuisine.
Admony and Gur do a wonderful job of not only incorporating diverse dishes, like “Yemenite Curry Shakshuka,” “Doro Wot (Ethiopian chicken),” and “Aruk (Iraqi Herb and Potato Patties)” but also elaborating on the nation’s staples. They dedicate pages to the rules of making Israeli salad, some “tomato wisdom,” and guides like “Hummus for Beginners” and “Mastering Schnitzel.”
Rather than dividing the chapters by courses, each section revolves either around an Israeli staple ingredient, like dairy and couscous, or classic Israeli cooking methods, such as grilling (“The Flavor of Fire”) and stuffing (“Deliciously Stuffed”). The chapter “Cauliflower and Eggplant: Our Vegetable Heroes,” includes recipes like, “Crispy Cauliflower with Bamba and Peanut Tahini Sauce,” and “The Couscous Table” provides recipes for delicious mains to serve with couscous, such as the Morrocan dish, “Red Wine Lamb Tagine with Dried Fruit.” Since many of these chapters work around a chief ingredient or cooking method, they get their own special introductions, such as a guide for making homemade couscous and an explanation of an Israeli style cookout.
What sets Shuk apart from other Israeli cookbooks are the interludes between most of the sections called, “Our Favorite Shuk.” Eight shuks across Israel, from Tel Aviv to the Old City of Akko, get their own vibrant photo spread of their produce and atmosphere, and a personal guide that tells us “The Story,” “The Vibe,” and “When to come.” We also get to read about Admony and Gur’s favorite spots within each shuk, with brief but thoughtful descriptions of what delicacies are offered.
While Shuk masters the art of multicultural Israeli cuisine and cooking, it is also filled with fascinating food history, guides for cooking and travel, and an important message about how Israeli cuisine is influenced by all walks-of-life.
Michelle Zaurov is Jewish Book Council’s program associate. She graduated from Binghamton University in New York, where she studied English and literature. She has worked as a journalist writing for the Home Reporter, a local Brooklyn publication. She enjoys reading realistic fiction and fantasy novels, especially with a strong female lead.