This year my Christmas present from my Mother-in-law was a copy of the book "Jerusalem", co-authored by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.
This is at first sight a cookbook, but once you get into it you see that there is more to it than that. It is a book about culture, history and inter-personal relationships as well as about food. It explores the many diverse historical and cultural threads that are interwoven in this complex and fascinating city - a city that has great significance for three of the world's greatest religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Yotam and Sami were both born in Jerusalem and lived there as young boys, but there the similarity ends. Yotam's family is Jewish, whereas Sami's is Palestinian, so you can imagine that there are major differences between their backgrounds, but both have a love for food and cookery that transcends this barrier, and they are now business partners. As the book says: "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."
Those of you who are familiar with Yotam Ottolenghi's work will know that he is not a vegetarian, but simply a person who has a particular love of vegetables. It won't surprise you to learn therefore that non-meat dishes are predominant in this book, although meat dishes are also included. I was also struck by the relative simplicity of many of the dishes, and I felt that I would probably be able to make most of them with this book's guidance. There are for instance lots of salads that need little if any cooking - only assembly and presentation. For example this fattoush made to Sami's Mum's recipe:- [A fattoush is a salad that includes bread as an ingredient]
By the way, the photography in this book is stunning. It is of two types - photos of food, by Adam Lovekin; and photos of people / places by Adam Hinton. For me, a book about food or cookery is a let-down if it does NOT have good photos, because I find it hard to visualise recipes through text alone. No concerns on that score here. It's hard to single out out any dishes as "special" in a book like this. There are just too many candidates. So, I have chosen some based on looks alone.
This one is Eggs with Lamb, Tahini and Sumac. How about that for a colourful plateful?
This one is probably very good for you: Watercress and Chickpea soup with Rose Water and Ras al Hanout.
For the meat-lovers I chose this one: Kofta b'sinyah - lamb kofte made with pine-nuts, garlic, parsley, chilli etc, etc.
But for sheer theatre, try this: Maqluba - a very complicated-sounding dish involving rice, chicken, tomatoes, aubergines, cauliflower and a whole mass of flavourings. It is made on what I would call the Tarte Tatin principle - in that it is inverted once cooked. But what a stunner to look at if you get it right! (Which is evidently not easy.)
You know I don't eat fish, but I feel obliged to show you at least one photo to represent the fish section of this book. Even I think this looks "nice", just as long as I don't have to eat it! This is Pan-fried Mackerel with Golden Beetroot and Orange salsa.
And then of course there is a section on sweets and desserts... This is Poached pears in white wine and cardamom.
And then... No, I mustn't show you the whole book. You must go and buy it yoursef. You will enjoy it; it's a very desirable book!
It is a very educational / informative book too. I particularly enjoyed reading about the very different spices and flavourings used in Jerusalemite cuisine, such as za'atar, sumac and chrein. These are not commonly encountered in British cookery and are hard to imagine - though the explanatory text in this book is very helpful in this respect. This is what they say about za'atar: "Za'atar is sharp, warm and slighty pungent, almost at one with the smell of goats' dung, smoke from a far-off fire, soil baked in the sun, and - dare we say it - sweat." Can you imagine it now? In fact the standard of the descriptive writing in this book is what sets it apart from most "cookbooks". Every recipe comes with its own little bit of history or description, or a personal anecdote from one of the authors. It is definitely not just an anthology of recipes! I'm very impressed with this book, and can't recommend it highly enough.