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Contents

Cover

List of Recipes

About the Book

About the Authors

Title Page

Introduction

Jerusalem food

The passion in the air

The recipes

A comment about ownership

History

Vegetables

Pulses & Grains

Soups

Stuffed

Meat

Fish

Savoury Pastries

Sweets & Desserts

Condiments

Acknowledgements

Copyright

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List of Recipes

A’ja (bread fritters)

Acharuli khachapuri

Baby spinach salad with dates & almonds

Baharat

Balilah

Barley risotto with marinated feta

Basic hummus

Basmati & wild rice with chickpeas, currants & herbs

Basmati rice & orzo

Beef meatballs with broad beans & lemon

Braised eggs with lamb, tahini & sumac

Braised quail with apricots, currants & tamarind

Brick

Broad bean kuku

Burekas

Burnt aubergine & mograbieh soup

Burnt aubergine with garlic, lemon & pomegranate seeds

Butternut squash & tahini spread

Cannellini bean & lamb soup

Cardamom rice pudding with pistachios & rose water

Charred okra with tomato, garlic & preserved lemon

Chermoula aubergine with bulgar & yoghurt

Chicken sofrito

Chicken with caramelized onion & cardamom rice

Chocolate krantz cakes

Chopped liver

Chunky courgette & tomato salad

Clear chicken soup with knaidlach

Clementine & almond syrup cake

Cod cakes in tomato sauce

Conchiglie with yoghurt, peas & chilli

Couscous with tomato and onion

Dukkah

Falafel

Fish & caper kebabs with burnt aubergine & lemon pickle

Fricassee salad

Fried cauliflower with tahini

Fried tomatoes with garlic

Ghraybeh

Grilled fish skewers with hawayej & parsley

Harissa

Helbeh (fenugreek cake)

Herb pie

Hot yoghurt & barley soup

Hummus kawarma (lamb) with lemon sauce

Jerusalem mixed grill

Ka’ach bilmalch

Kofta b’siniyah

Kohlrabi salad

Kubbeh hamusta

Labneh

Lamb meatballs with barberries, yoghurt & herbs

Lamb shawarma

Lamb-stuffed quince with pomegranate & coriander

Latkes

Lemony leek meatballs

Ma’amul

Maqluba

Marinated sweet & sour fish

Mejadra

Mixed bean salad

Muhallabieh

Musabaha (warm chickpeas with hummus) & toasted pita

Mutabbaq

Na’ama’s Fattoush

Open kibbeh

Pan-fried mackerel with golden beetroot & orange salsa

Pan-fried sea bream with harissa & rose

Parsley & barley salad

Pickled cucumbers with dill

Pickled mixed vegetables with curry

Pickled turnip and beetroot

Pilpelchuma

Pistachio soup

Poached chicken with sweet spiced freekeh

Poached pears in white wine & cardamom

Polpettone

Prawns, scallops & clams with tomato & feta

Preserved lemons

Puréed beetroot with yoghurt & za’atar

Quick pickled lemons

Raw artichoke & herb salad

Red pepper & baked egg galettes

Roasted aubergine with fried onion & chopped lemon

Roasted butternut squash & red onion with tahini & za’atar

Roasted cauliflower & hazelnut salad

Roasted chicken with clementines & arak

Roasted chicken with Jerusalem artichoke & lemon

Roasted potatoes with caramel & prunes

Roasted sweet potatoes & fresh figs

Root vegetable slaw with labneh

Ruth’s stuffed Romano peppers

Sabih

Saffron chicken & herb salad

Saffron rice with barberries, pistachio & mixed herbs

Salmon steaks in chraimeh sauce

Seafood & fennel soup

Semolina, coconut & marmalade cake

Set yoghurt pudding with poached peaches

Sfiha or Lahm Bi’ajeen

Shakshuka

Slow cooked veal with prunes & leek

Spice cookies

Spiced chickpeas & fresh vegetable salad

Spicy beetroot, leek & walnut salad

Spicy carrot salad

Spicy freekeh soup with meatballs

Split wheat & Swiss chard with pomegranate molasses

Stuffed artichokes with peas & dill

Stuffed aubergine with lamb & pine nuts

Stuffed onions

Stuffed potatoes

Sweet filo cigars

Swiss chard fritters

Swiss chard with tahini, yoghurt & buttered pine nuts

Tabbouleh

Tahini cookies

Tahini sauce

Tomato & sourdough soup

Turkey & courgette burgers with spring onion & cumin

Turnip & veal ‘cake’

Walnut & fruit crumble cream

Watercress & chickpea soup with rose water & ras el hanout

Yoghurt with cucumber

Zhoug

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Additional text by Nomi Abeliovich and Noam Bar

Food photography by Jonathan Lovekin

Location photography by Adam Hinton

Introduction

One of our favourite recipes in this collection, a simple couscous with tomato and onion, is based on a dish Sami’s mum, Na’ama, used to cook for him when he was a child in Muslim east Jerusalem. At around the same time, in the Jewish west of the city, Yotam’s dad, Michael, used to make a very similar dish. Being Italian, Michael’s dish was made with small pasta balls called ptitim. Both versions were beautifully comforting and delicious.

A dish just like Michael’s is part of the Jewish Tripolitan (Libyan) cuisine. It is called shorba, and is a result of the Italian influence on Libyan food during the years of Italian rule of the country, in the early twentieth century. So Michael’s ptitim was possibly inspired by Tripolitan cooking in Jerusalem, which in turn was influenced by Michael’s original Italian culture. The anecdotal icing on this cross-cultural cake is that Michael’s great uncle, Aldo Ascoli, was an admiral in the colonial Italian navy that raided Tripoli and occupied Libya in 1911.

Confusing? This is Jerusalem in a nutshell: very personal, private stories immersed in great culinary traditions that often overlap and interact in unpredictable ways, creating food mixes and culinary combinations that belong to specific groups but also belong to everybody else. Many of the city’s best-loved foods have just as complicated a pedigree as this one.

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This book and this journey into the food of Jerusalem form part of a private odyssey. We both grew up in the city, Sami in the Muslim east and Yotam in the Jewish west, but never knew each other. We lived there as children in the 1970s and 1980s and then left in the 1990s, first to Tel Aviv and then to London. Only there did we meet and discover our parallel histories; we became close friends and then business partners, alongside others in Ottolenghi.

Although we often spoke about Jerusalem, our hometown, we never focused much on the city’s food. Recently, however — is it age? — we have begun to reminisce over old food haunts and forgotten treats. Hummus — which we hardly ever talked about before — has become an obsession.

It is more than 20 years since we both left the city. This is a serious chunk of time, longer than the years we spent living there. Yet we still think of Jerusalem as our home. Not home in the sense of the place you conduct your daily life, or constantly return to. In fact, Jerusalem is our home almost against our wills. It is our home because it defines us, whether we like it or not.

The flavours and smells of this city are our mother tongue. We imagine them and dream in them, even though we’ve adopted some new, perhaps more sophisticated languages. They define comfort for us, excitement, joy, serene bliss. Everything we taste and everything we cook is filtered through the prism of our childhood experiences: foods our mothers fed us, wild herbs picked on school trips, days spent in markets, the smell of the dry soil on a summer’s day, goat and sheep roaming the hills, fresh pitas with minced lamb, chopped parsley, chopped liver, black figs, smoky chops, syrupy cakes, crumbly cookies. The list is endless — too long to recall and too complex to describe. Most of our food images lie well beyond our consciousness: we just cook and eat, relying on our impulses for what feels right, looks beautiful and tastes delicious to us.

And this is what we set out to explore in this book. We want to offer our readers a glimpse into a hidden treasure, and at the same time explore our own culinary DNA, unravel the sensations and the alphabet of the city that made us the food creatures we are.

In all honesty, this is also a self-indulgent, nostalgic trip into our pasts. We go back, first and foremost, to experience again those magnificent flavours of our childhood, to satisfy the need most grown-ups have to relive those first food experiences to which nothing holds a candle in later life. We want to eat, cook and be inspired by the richness of a city with 4000 years of history, that has changed hands endlessly and that now stands as the centre of three massive faiths and is occupied by residents of such utter diversity it puts the old tower of Babylon to shame.

Jerusalem food

Is there even such a thing as Jerusalem food, though? Consider this: there are Greek Orthodox monks in this city; Russian Orthodox priests; Hasidic Jews originating from Poland; non-Orthodox Jews from Tunisia, from Libya, from France or from Britain; there are Sephardic Jews that have been here for generations; there are Palestinian Muslims from the West Bank and many others from the city and well beyond; there are secular Ashkenazi Jews from Romania, Germany and Lithuania and more recently arrived Sephardim from Morocco, Iraq, Iran or Turkey; there are Christian Arabs and Armenian Orthodox; there are Yemeni Jews and Ethiopian Jews but there are also Ethiopian Copts; there are Jews from Argentina and others from southern India; there are Russian nuns looking after monasteries and a whole neighbourhood of Jews from Bukhara (Uzbekistan).

All of these, and many, many more, create an immense tapestry of cuisines. It is impossible to count the number of cultures and sub-cultures residing in this city. Jerusalem is an intricate, convoluted mosaic of peoples. It is therefore very tempting to say there isn’t such a thing as a local cuisine. And indeed, if you go to the ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood of Me’ah She’arim and compare the prepared food sold in grocery shops there to the selection laid out by a Palestinian mother for her children in the neighbourhood of A-tur in the east of the city — you couldn’t be blamed for assuming these two live on two different culinary planets.

However, if you take a step back and look at the greater picture, there are some typical elements that are easily identifiable in most local cuisines and crop up throughout the city. Everybody, absolutely everybody, uses chopped cucumber and tomatoes to create an Arab salad or an Israeli salad, depending on point of view. Stuffed vegetables with rice or rice and meat also appear on almost every dinner table, as does an array of pickled vegetables. Extensive use of olive oil, lemon juice and olives is also commonplace. Baked pastries stuffed with cheese in all sorts of guises are found in most cultures.

Then there are looser affinities, those shared by a few cuisines but not all of them — bulgar or semolina cases stuffed with meat (kubbeh), burnt aubergine salads, white bean soups, the combination of meat with dried fruits. Eventually, these separate links between the different groups link all of the groups together to one clear and identifiable local cuisine.

Aside from that, there are the local ingredients. Jerusalemites tend to eat seasonally and cook with what grows in the area. The list is endless. It is made up of dozens of vegetables — tomatoes, okra, string beans, cauliflower, artichokes, beets, carrots, peppers, cucumbers, celeriac, kohlrabi, courgettes, aubergines; and fruit — figs, lemons, peaches, pears, strawberries, pomegranates, plums and apricots; herbs, nuts, dairy products, grains and pulses, lamb and chicken.

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The passion in the air

The diversity and richness of Jerusalem, both in terms of the cooks and their disparate backgrounds and the ingredients they use, make it fascinating to any outsider. But what makes it doubly exciting is the emotional and spiritual energy that this city is drenched in. When it comes to people’s emotions it is hard to overstate how unique it is as a city.

Four thousand years of intense political and religious wrangling (see here) are impossible to hide. Wherever you go — in Jewish parts in the city centre or within the walls of the ancient old city — people are zealously fighting to protect and maintain what they see as their piece of land, their endangered culture or their right for a certain way of life. More often than not, this is pretty ugly. Intolerance and trampling over other people’s basic rights are routine in this city. Currently, the Palestinian minority bears the brunt with no sign of it regaining control over its destiny, while the secular Jews are seeing their way of life being gradually marginalized by a growing Orthodox population.

The other, more positive, side of this coin is that the inherent passion and energy that Jerusalemites have in abundance results in some fantastic food and culinary creativity. The best hummus joints, where methods have been perfected over generations, are in the city (and locals are happy to go into some seriously heated debates about the best one), as are some of the country’s most creative modern restaurants. There is something about the heated, highly animated spirit of the city’s residents that creates unparalleled delicious food. It also has a very obvious effect on the flavours, which are strong and bold, with lots of sour and sweet. The Jerusalem Palestinian hummus is patently sharp, as are the Friday night Sephardi soups.

On top of that, there is a spirit of warmth and generosity that is sometimes almost overbearing. Guests are always served mountains of food. Nothing is done sparingly. ‘Eat more’ is a local motto. It is unthinkable not to eat what you are served. Going into a friend’s restaurant, or a friend of a friend, you are never expected to pay. It is a combination of the famous Middle Eastern hospitality that goes back to the days of Abraham and the typical Jewish Ashkenazi way of always showering guests and relatives with delights, lest they ‘go home hungry’. Heaven forbid.

Alas, although Jerusalemites have so much in common, food, at the moment, seems to be the only unifying force in this highly fractured place. The dialogue between Jews and Arabs, and often between Jews themselves, is almost non-existent. It is sad to note how little daily interaction there is between communities, with people sticking together in closed, homogenous groups. Food, however, seems to break down those boundaries on occasion. You can see people shop together in food markets, or eat in each other’s restaurants. On rare occasions, they work together in partnership in food establishments. It takes a giant leap of faith, but we are happy to take it — what have we got to lose? — to imagine that hummus will eventually bring Jerusalemites together, if nothing else will.

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The recipes

Our selection of recipes here includes traditional, age-old dishes, cooked just as they should be, with no change or modern touch. Others are fairly traditional, but we allowed ourselves poetic licence and updated them to suit the times or our sensibilities. And then there are recipes that are just loosely inspired by the flavours of Jerusalem — delicious concoctions that could have easily fitted on many Jerusalem dinner tables but have yet to become local classics.

We don’t mean to cover all of the city’s foods, or even substantial parts of it, nor all of its communities. This is impossible. Smarter people have delved deep into Jewish and Arab cuisines and have documented both extensively. Other communities in the city have also had their foods written about. So a lot is omitted. Some typical local dishes like kugel (slow-cooked noodle cake), bagel (Arab or Jewish), pashtida (savoury flan), pastelikos (little Sephardi meat pies), tchulent or hamin (everything cooked in one pot overnight for Shabbat), strudel, challah (sweet Shabbat bread) — all are left neglected. Ashkenazi foods particularly are under-represented. This has to do with our personal backgrounds and the types of flavours we tend to cook and eat.

As we draw deep inspiration from Jerusalem and its food but are in no way trying to represent its realities, the justification for this collection of recipes is our preferences and cooking habits and those of our readers. The cooks who like our style and flavour combinations lead a (usually) western, modern lifestyle. They have a certain set of ingredients available to them and a 21st-century mindset (use less oil in the food, spend less time in the kitchen…). We can only hope that through our haphazard, often eccentric selective process and through our modifications we have succeeded in distilling the spirit of the place that made us and shaped us.

Finally, a comment about ownership

In the part of the world we are dealing with everybody wants to own everything. Existence feels so uncertain and so fragile that people fight fiercely and with great passion to hold on to things: land, culture, religious symbols, food — everything is in danger of being snatched away or of disappearing. The result is fiery arguments about ownership, about provenance, about who and what came first.

As we have seen through our investigations, and will become blatantly apparent to anyone reading and cooking from this book, these arguments are futile.

Firstly, they are futile because it doesn’t really matter. Looking back in time or far afield into distant lands is simply distracting. The beauty of food and of eating is that they are rooted in the now. Food is a basic, hedonistic pleasure, a sensual instinct we all share and revel in. It is a shame to spoil it.

Secondly, you can always search further back in time. Hummus for example, a highly explosive subject, is undeniably a staple of the local Palestinian population, but it was also a permanent feature on dinner tables of Allepian Jews who have lived in Syria for millennia and then arrived in Jerusalem in the 1950s and 1960s. Who is more deserving of calling hummus their own? Neither. Nobody ‘owns’ a dish because it is very likely that someone else cooked it before them and another person before that.

Thirdly, and this is the most crucial point, in this soup of a city it is completely impossible to find out who invented this delicacy and who brought that one with them. The food cultures are mashed and fused together in a way that is impossible to unravel. They interact all the time and influence each other constantly so nothing is pure any more. In fact, nothing ever was. Jerusalem was never an isolated bastion. Over millennia it has seen countless immigrants, occupiers, visitors and merchants — all bringing foods and recipes from four corners of the earth.

As a result, as much as we try to attribute foods to nations, to ascertain the origin of a dish, we often end up discovering a dozen other dishes that are extremely similar, that work with the same ingredients and the same principles to make a final result that is just ever so slightly different, a variation on a theme.

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History

The complexity and vibrancy of the food in Jerusalem stems from its location as a meeting point between Europe, Asia and Africa and the incredible richness of its history. Jerusalem was traditionally depicted, as in this medieval map (see here), as the centre of the universe, surrounded by three continents. Indeed, there are few places in the world to match its importance. Yet Jerusalem has never been a great metropolis. It has never had temples as big as those of Luxor, art as refined as Greece, or public buildings as magnificent as those of Rome. It didn’t possess large imperial courts like those of China or India, or busy commerce hubs as in central Asia. It has always been a rather small and crowded city, built of the stone of its surrounding hills.

The energy of Jerusalem is introspective. It is born out of an interplay between the peoples that have been coming and going for millennia, and the spirit that seems to hover among the olive trees, over the hills and in the valleys. It is not through anything material but through faith, learning, devotion and, sadly, fanaticism, that Jerusalem gained its importance.

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When King David founded it as his capital, in around 1000 BC, it was, as it is now, a collection of rugged hills with little vegetation or water. David was a warrior, and chose his capital for strategic reasons — it was at the centre of his kingdom. His son, Solomon, the most glorious Jewish king, built the first temple in Jerusalem, and sanctified its place as Temple Mount. Following Solomon’s death the young Jewish kingdom was broken up by squabbling relatives, and often attacked from the north. This culminated in 587 BC, when Babylon attacked Jerusalem, burnt the city and the temple, and dispersed its inhabitants.

It is then that we first see one of the greatest emotions attached to Jerusalem — yearning. We are told of two Jewish leaders, Ezra and Nehemiah, who successfully made it their life mission to restore the temple in Jerusalem and the Jewish nation in its homeland. This yearning will play out again and again, in Jews, Muslims and Christians, from all parts of the world. Indeed it is so strong that psychiatrists have identified the Jerusalem Syndrome — pilgrims who break down when their life goal, the long-anticipated journey to the holy city, is accomplished.

In 332 BC the Persian empire fell to Alexander the Great, and a few centuries of Hellenistic influence followed. A protracted war of cultures took place between the modern, frivolous and inter-marrying Hellenistic Jews, and the more traditional Jews. For a while, a rebellion of Jewish traditionalists — Maccabees — gained the upper hand and managed to control the religious life. This revolt gave us Hanukkah, the festival of lights, based on the story that, upon restoring the temple to its Jewish traditions, a little jug of oil could miraculously feed the sacred light of the temple for eight days.

While for many the Maccabean revolt is a story of liberation and inspiration, some scholars see it as another episode in a centuries-long struggle between traditionalists and cosmopolitan Jews. This is another pattern that is played out in Jerusalem again and again, nowadays manifested as the struggle between the orthodox and the secular Jews in the city.

The Romans — following hot on the heels of the Hellenistic influence — first appeared in Jerusalem in 63 BC, and then gradually asserted their authority against Jewish resistance, which culminated in a failed revolt in 70 AD, when the second, and last temple was destroyed. This event is painfully etched in Jewish history as the onset of a slow process of decline that would not end until the advent of Zionism.

Jesus Christ lived some decades before this momentous event, at a time of great political, military, cultural and spiritual upheaval. His presence is of course still evident in many monuments in the city, first and foremost in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of the resurrection. This is a collection of dimly lit caves, buildings and churches, encompassing 17 centuries, each attributed to a different creed of Christianity but all connected. As usual in Jerusalem, there is no splendour there, but there is, in the crowds of the pilgrims; the secluded little corners where people kneel and pray to the light of a candle; the glimpses of exquisite art; and the meaning loaded onto every stone — a truly moving experience, perhaps even a transcendental one.

Alongside the slow development of the nascent religion, the Roman-Jewish conflict continued to simmer, and came to a head in another revolt, in 132 AD, after which Jews were banned from the city — bar one day a year — for many centuries. The city was renamed Aelia Capitolina, and with the Christianization of the Byzantine Empire it was adorned with Christian churches, and became a veritable Christian city, devoid of any Jewish presence.

This, and similar periods, are considered by Palestinian historians as proof that not only the Jews, but also the Palestinians (many of whom are Christian), have a long-lasting historical claim on the city. In fact, some Palestinians claim that they are descendants of the Jebusites, the original inhabitants of Jerusalem, who were deposed by King David.

Islam was born in the 7th century, and with it came another claim on the city. Jerusalem, or ‘Al-Quds’ in Arabic, meaning ‘The Holy’, is the third holiest site for Sunni Muslims. It is from here, believe Muslims, that the prophet Mohammad ascended to heaven. After the death of the prophet the Muslims went on a conquering spree of a huge scale, Jerusalem included. Temple Mount, the site of the long-demolished Jewish temple, was consecrated by Islam with the building of two large mosques, one of them the golden dome of the rock, which still dominates the skyline of the old city. Temple Mount remains exclusively Muslim, with Jews only using the Western Wall, also called the ‘Wailing Wall’ — remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the Jewish temple’s courtyard and a place where some still weep over the temple lost 2000 years ago.

Over a millennium of Muslim control followed, with different Muslim powers vying for power. Christians staked a new claim for the city in the Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church managed to bring together forces from all around Europe to recapture the Holy Land. It was an ambitious project, with knights coming from as far away as Norway. The crusaders controlled the city from 1099 to 1187, but then lost it again. During the crusaders’ rule a network of markets was built along ancient Roman paths in the old city that survives to this day. In each of the three alleys specific produce was sold: at the herb market you could find fresh produce, malquisinat was the fast food market, offering meals to the many pilgrims that flocked to the city, and ‘the covered market’ was used by cloth vendors.

Jerusalem then became a rather neglected place, changing hands as the (mostly) Muslim rulers came and went. The Muslim authorities were, by and large, quite tolerant, certainly more tolerant than the Christians. Jews were allowed to stay in the city and Christians allowed to worship there. In the 19th century, under Ottoman control, Jerusalem still enjoyed some glory due to the wide, if sparse, international presence. However, it was described by most visitors as a miserable, congested and squalid provincial town.

The British conquered Jerusalem in 1917, during the First World War, and the city became anything but sleepy. The Brits brought a definite push for modernization, and this was intertwined with the growth of the Palestinian national identity and the Zionist reclaim of Israel. Jerusalem has since been at the heart of the struggle between these two fierce nationalistic movements, and when the UN decided in 1947 to divide Palestine between them, Jerusalem was given to international administration. But a war, rather than peaceful division, is what followed. Interestingly, this war has different names: for the Jews it is the War of Independence, an assertive act of bravery after the trauma of the holocaust; for Arabs, however, it is called a nakba — ‘the catastrophe’. The young Israeli state managed to hold on to the western part of the city while losing its eastern, ancient part, which has been densely populated by Arabs. Eastern Jerusalem was controlled by Jordan until the 1967 war, when Israel took over the whole of Jerusalem, along with the surrounding areas.

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The population grew quickly throughout the 20th century. Arabs settled in the city as part of a general urbanization trend, and Jews arrived from around the world to the re-founded national home. Entire communities immigrated and usually settled in particular areas, maintaining their traditions. This insular tendency, combined with the fact that most families — both Jewish and Arab — have many mouths to feed and not a lot to live on, creates a real microcosm of tradition.

Jerusalem is claimed by Israel as the ‘eternal capital of the Jewish people’ and by the Palestinians as the capital of their state. The question of this city is at the heart of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and its resolution is essential for achieving that elusive dream of peace in the Middle East. Perhaps naively, we hope that the city can be acknowledged by all as part of the world heritage — undoubtedly a true reflection of reality — and provide the key for sharing, acceptance and coexistence.

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Vegetables

Roasted sweet potatoes & fresh figs

Na’ama’s Fattoush

Baby spinach salad with dates & almonds

Roasted aubergine with fried onion & chopped lemon

Roasted butternut squash & red onion with tahini & za’atar

Broad bean kuku

Raw artichoke & herb salad

Mixed bean salad

Lemony leek meatballs

Kohlrabi salad

Root vegetable slaw with labneh

Fried tomatoes with garlic

Puréed beetroot with yoghurt & za’atar

Swiss chard fritters

Spiced chickpeas & fresh vegetable salad

Chermoula aubergine with bulgar & yoghurt

Fried cauliflower with tahini

Roasted cauliflower & hazelnut salad

A’ja (bread fritters)

Spicy carrot salad

Shakshuka

Butternut squash & tahini spread

Spicy beetroot, leek & walnut salad

Charred okra with tomato, garlic & preserved lemon

Burnt aubergine with garlic, lemon & pomegranate seeds

Parsley & barley salad

Chunky courgette & tomato salad

Tabbouleh

Roasted potatoes with caramel & prunes

Swiss chard with tahini, yoghurt & buttered pine nuts

Sabih

Latkes

About the Book

The flavours and smells of this city are our mother tongue: wild herbs picked on school trips, days in markets, the smell of the dry soil on a summer’s day, goats and sheep roaming the hills, fresh pitas, chopped parsley, chopped liver, black figs, syrupy cakes, crumbly cookies.

YOTAM OTTOLENGHI and SAMI TAMIMI

About the Authors

Yotam Ottolenghi completed a Masters degree in philosophy and literature whilst working on the news desk of an Israeli daily, before coming to London in 1997. He started as an assistant pastry chef at the Capital and then worked at Kensington Place, Launceston Place, Maison Blanc and Baker and Spice, before starting his own eponymous group of restaurants/food shops, with branches in Notting Hill, Islington, Belgravia and Kensington.

Sami Tamimi became head chef at Lilith in Tel Aviv in 1989, and moved to London in 1997 where he set up the traiteur section at Baker and Spice. It was here that he met Yotam and he has since worked as head chef at Ottolenghi.

Roasted sweet potatoes & fresh figs

Figs are abundant in Jerusalem and many trees, bearing the most delectable fruit, actually belong to no one, so anybody can help themselves. Summer months are always tinted with the smell of wild herbs and ripe figs. The mother of Sami’s childhood neighbour and friend, Jabbar, used her roof to dry the glut of figs (and tomatoes) in the hot summer sun, spending hours cleaning and sorting them meticulously. Poor Um Jabbar — Sami and her son never wasted time and used to sneak up to her roof regularly, stealing her figs at their peak and causing havoc. This wasn’t enough for Jabbar though. The boy had such a sweet tooth that he always carried around with him an old match box full of sugar cubes, just in case. Unfortunately, this habit had clear ramifications, evident in his ‘charming’ smile.


This unusual combination of fresh fruit and roasted vegetables is one of the most popular at Ottolenghi. It wholly depends, though, on the figs being sweet, moist and perfectly ripe. Go for plump fruit with an irregular shape and a slightly split bottom. Pressing against the skin should result in some resistance but not much. Try to smell the sweetness. The balsamic reduction is very effective here, both for the look and for rounding up the flavours. To save you from making it you can look out for products such as balsamic cream or glaze.


SERVES 4

4 small sweet potatoes (1kg in total)

5 tbsp olive oil

40ml balsamic vinegar (you can use a commercial rather than a premium aged grade)

20g caster sugar

12 spring onions, halved lengthways and cut into 4cm segments

1 red chilli, thinly sliced

6 fresh and ripe figs (240g in total), quartered

150g soft goat’s cheese, crumbled (optional)

Maldon sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 240°C/220°C Fan/Gas Mark 9.

Wash the sweet potatoes, halve them lengthways and then cut each again similarly into 3 long wedges. Mix with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, 2 teaspoons of salt and some black pepper. Spread the wedges out on a baking sheet, skin-side down, and cook for about 25 minutes until soft but not mushy. Remove from the oven and leave to cool down.

To make a balsamic reduction, place the balsamic vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 2–4 minutes, or until it thickens. Be sure to remove the pan from the heat when the vinegar is still runnier than honey; it will continue to thicken as it cools. Stir in a drop of water before serving if it does become too thick to drizzle.

Arrange the sweet potatoes on a serving platter. Heat the remaining oil in a medium saucepan and add the spring onions and chilli. Fry on a medium heat for 4–5 minutes, stirring often, making sure not to burn the chilli, and then spoon the oil, onions and chilli over the sweet potatoes. Dot the figs among the wedges and then drizzle over the balsamic reduction. Serve at room temperature with the cheese crumbled over, if using.

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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. It’s a local affliction, quite seriously. Friends visiting us in London always complain of feeling they ate ‘unhealthily’ because there wasn’t a fresh salad served with every meal.

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 one thing that there is no arguing over is that the key lies in the quality of the vegetables. They must be fresh, ripe and flavoursome, with many hours in the sun behind them.

This fabulous salad is probably Sami’s mother’s creation; Sami can’t recall anyone else in the neighbourhood making it. She called it fattoush, which is only true to the extent that it includes chopped vegetables and bread. She added a kind of home-made buttermilk and didn’t fry her bread, which makes it terribly comforting.


Try to get small cucumbers for this as for any other fresh salad. They are worlds apart from the large ones we normally get in most UK supermarkets. You could skip the fermentation stage and use buttermilk instead of the combination of milk and yoghurt. For a typical chopped salad, try the Spiced chickpeas and fresh vegetable salad here, omitting the sugar and the chickpeas.


SERVES 6

200g Greek yoghurt and 200ml full-fat milk or 400ml of buttermilk (replacing both yoghurt and milk)

2 large stale Turkish flatbread or naan (250g in total)

3 large tomatoes (380g in total), cut into 1.5cm dice

100g radishes, thinly sliced

3 Lebanese or mini cucumbers (250g in total), peeled and chopped into 1.5cm dice

2 spring onions, thinly sliced

15g mint

25g flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

1 tbsp dried mint

2 garlic cloves, crushed

3 tbsp lemon juice

60ml olive oil, plus extra to drizzle

2 tbsp cider or white wine vinegar

¾ tsp coarsely ground black pepper

1½ tsp salt

1 tbsp sumac or more according to taste, to garnish

If using yoghurt and milk, start at least three 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 home-made buttermilk, but less sour.

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

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

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Baby spinach salad with dates & almonds

Pitas are allotted the shortest of shelf lives in Jerusalem. Ideally, you’d eat them within a couple of hours of baking. Crunchy pita croutons make good use of leftover pita. We use them for soups and scatter them over salads and other mezzes. They will keep for at least a week in an airtight container. Serve this salad as a starter; its sharp freshness really whets the appetite.


SERVES 4

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

½ medium red onion, thinly sliced

100g pitted Medjool dates, quartered lengthways

30g unsalted butter

2 tbsp olive oil

2 small pitas, about 100g, roughly torn into 4 cm pieces

75g whole unsalted almonds, roughly chopped

2 tsp sumac

½ tsp chilli flakes

150g baby spinach leaves, washed

2 tbsp lemon juice

salt

Put the vinegar, onion and dates in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and mix well with your hands. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes, then drain any residual vinegar and discard.

Meanwhile, heat the butter and half the olive oil in a medium frying pan. Add the pita and almonds and cook them on a medium heat for 4–6 minutes, stirring all the time, until the pita is crunchy and golden brown. Remove from the heat and mix in the sumac, chilli and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Set aside to cool.

When you are ready to serve, toss the spinach leaves with the pita mix in a large mixing bowl. Add the dates and red onion, remaining olive oil, lemon juice and another pinch of salt. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately.

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The humble aubergine

Few ingredients have reached the level of veneration achieved by the humble aubergine or have found their way to almost every table in Jerusalem, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Everybody loves to be associated with the aubergine — it’s like a little local celebrity. The number of people who claim to have invented the baba ghanoush (see here), or at least elevated it to the level of fine food, is extraordinary.

At the markets in the city, the aubergines come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, from the regular kind, elongated and uniform in size; to zebra — streaked on the outside and pure white on the inside; baby aubergines; globe aubergines and the baladi, a local heirloom variety that is wide, flat and resembles the shape of a fan.

Aubergines, depending on variety, lend themselves to pickling, stuffing, cooking in sauce, frying, baking, roasting, charring, burning, puréeing and even cooking in sugar and spice to make a festive jam (Moroccan) or fruit mostarda (Allepian) — a type of candied fruit conserved in a spicy syrup. They also marry beautifully with the flavours so typical of the city: tahini, pine nuts, date syrup, tomatoes, chickpeas, potatoes, lemon, garlic, lamb meat, fresh cheese and yoghurt, olive oil, sumac and cinnamon.

Arabs first brought aubergines to Italy and Spain but it was the Jews who are said to have introduced them to these cuisines when moving and trading among the Arab Moorish culture and the Christian cultures in the 15th and 16th centuries. Sephardi Jews have always been identified with aubergines, as were Arabs, even when Europeans were quite suspicious about them and were reluctant to use them, believing that ‘mad apples’, as they were known, helped induce insanity.


Roasted aubergine with fried onion & chopped lemon

Sharp, salty and mildly sweet all intermingle here to make a wonderfully rich starter that can be followed by a light and simple main course, like Turkey and courgette burgers with spring onion and cumin (see here). Good aubergines should be light in weight, with not many seeds inside, and have a tight, shiny skin. Having some moisture in the oven when roasting them prevents the aubergines from going dry and crisp as they cook and colour. If the oven is pretty full that isn’t a problem because of the natural moisture of food. But if you are roasting a single tray of aubergines we recommend placing a shallow tray with some water at the bottom of the oven.


SERVES 4

2 large aubergines, halved lengthways with the stem on (about 750g in total)

150ml olive oil

4 onions (about 550g in total), peeled and thinly sliced

1½ green chillies

1½ tsp ground cumin

1 tsp sumac

50g feta, broken into large chunks

1 medium lemon

1 garlic clove, crushed

salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C Fan/Gas Mark 7.

Score the cut side of each aubergine with a criss-cross pattern, brush the cut side with 100ml of the oil and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Place on a baking tray, cut-side up, and roast in the oven for about 45 minutes, until the flesh is golden brown and completely cooked.

While the aubergines are roasting, add the remaining oil to a large frying pan and place on a high heat. Add the onions and ½ a teaspoon of salt and cook for 8 minutes, stirring often, so that parts of the onion get really dark and crisp. Deseed and chop the chillies, keeping the whole one separate from the half. Add the ground cumin, sumac and one chilli and cook for a further 2 minutes before adding the feta. Cook for a final minute, not stirring much, then remove from the heat.