Sometimes a book arrives where I have no option to stop, start reading, and not get up until the book is finished.
Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamini was one of those books.
It absorbed me,
The clock had struck midnight when I returned home. I didn't sleep until dawn so avidly did my eyes dance across the pages,and when I did sleep my dreams were vivid with rose water, tahini, fresh vegetables, the history of that ancient city, and the food that joins its peoples.
I first found out about Ottolenghi with my friends Hendrik and Rebecca, when we took a stroll through NottingHill one sharp September afternoon. Looking for somewhere to eat, and not coming to any agreement amongst ourselves - Nottinghill not being their part of London, and me an Irish blowin. I decided to do what the Irish do best, and ask someone. As the others looked at antique maps and prints, I struck up a conversation with the owner, and after a bit of small talk about the weather and such like I cut straight to the chase -
'We are hungry, where do you recommend we eat - somewhere good please?'
Without missing a beat he said,
'Ottolenghi, fresh, delicious and full of flavour.'
It took us a while to find it, but when we got there, I did not know where to look, to smell, to taste, to think about first. I was completely overwhelmed in the most wonderful of ways - food stimulation.
Everywhere I looked there was something I wanted to eat.
Chocolate, gloriously glossy and dark.
Platters with salads piled high upon them.
Brownies. Cake. Meringues swirled with red and green.
There were jars of seeds, jams, honey, granola, oils and herbs, stacks of books, and beautiful things wrapped in cellophane with ribbons.
I was in heaven. As we waited in line, I picked up the first Ottolenghi cookbook, and my already passionate love affair with Middle Eastern food blossomed in a new way.
I quickly discovered that Yotam Ottolenghi was Israeli and Sami Tamimi was Palestinian. As someone who hopes and prays for the peace of Jerusalem reguarly, I was overjoyed to hear and learn about their story. They were both born in the same year in the same place - Jerusalem, although Sami grew up in the East of the city and Yotam on the west. In London, three decades later they met. They discovered they spoke the same language not only physically but in the kitchen, and they had a shared history in their homeland.
There is so much that has been said about Jerusalem as a city, so much that can be said, but much of this is territorial, claiming the city for one or another. Asserting rights and entrenching divisions.
Ottolenghi & Tamini's book Jerusalem does the opposite. Instead it says - lets celebrate our food, something that brings us together on a daily basis, whether it is recognised or not, because the food of Jerusalem is something we share, abet with slightly different methods, or techniques. The principles, the ingredients, the flavours of food, the sense of food and cookery are shared and are worth rejoicing, and sharing with others.
Jerusalem is Tamini & Ottolenghi's cookery language, and their book filled with page upon page of delicious delights, avidly reflects this. Their united love for their city, flows out of the books pages, and relates its food, to the cultures of the city, with snippets of history thrown in.
Jerusalem is not just a book full of recipes to taste & savour but great writing, filled with intersting snippets and personal back story. The photography is reportage, often more akin to what we might see from a photojournalist in a newspaper, sitting comfortably beside images of food, that immediately send me running to the kitchen to cook.
In this whole book I don't think there was one dish that made me think, oh no, I'm not cooking that. Instead I wanted to try everything, and I ran out of postits just highlighting the dishes I wanted to return to. There are recipes here for vegans, carnivorves, fish lovers and vegetarians. No one loses out in this selection of recipes.
The first dish I made from the book was the Roasted Buternut squash and red onion with tahini & za'atar has already become a dinner party staple, served with roasted salt chicken.
Butternut squash was roasted skin on with red onions - I added whole cloves of garlic - then served with a pungent seasame garlicky tahini, chopped parsley and pine nuts. The combination of the sweetness of the butternut, and the caramelised onions, with the bite from the earthy za'atar all doused ina dry tahini works perfectly. I added spinach for colour, and the result is not only great tasting, but lovely to look at.
I have always made a spiced rich pudding, after reading Yotam and Sami's book, I made some additions to my recipe.
I finished this book wishing it had several more hundred pages.
That's it for now...
Salt and Sparkle = Life Remarkable