Sunday, 3 February 2013

Jerusalem: A Cookbook

February 3, 2013

SmartCooks here.  Rarely does a book review get me to jump in the car and and search out the book.  That is until I read several reviews of a new cookbook called "Jerusalem: A Cookbook".  I bought the last copy at Chapters in Ottawa (thank goodness for on-line searches of which stores have copies).  I'm still reading it, and intend to cook my way through most of the vegetables and some meat recipes over the next six months or so. 

Jerusalem:  A Cookbook is informative, thoughtful, and accessible for many audiences and cooking levels.  I am learning so much about Middle Eastern cuisine and getting to cook with some of my favourite vegetables and herbs -- za'atar, tahini, fresh lemon juice, plenty of herbs, eggplant.  At the same time, I'm learning tons about the history and culture of Jerusalem.  The pictures of the city, people and the food are simply stunning. 

The cookbook is written by two London-based Israeli chefs  -- Yotam Ottolengthi and Sami Tamimi -- who make it their mission to acquaint readers with the wonderful flavours of Jerusalem’s cuisine and culture.  Reading the cookbook is as much an adventure for me as cooking from it.  Yotam and Sami were both born in the same year (1968) in Jerusalem but grew up in different parts of the city:  Yotam in the Jewish west portion of the city; Sami in the Arab east.  

The two met not in Jerusalem but in London, UK, where a friendship led to a business partnership.  At last count, they now run five take-out restaurants – the famous deli-style Ottolenghi, and one fine-dining UK theatre district restaurant called NOPI.  They have written other cookbooks that celebrate the cuisine of their hometown (e.g., "Plenty: Vigrant Vegetable Recipes" in 2011 and "Ottolenghi: The Cookbook") in 2008.

This current book includes a brief history of Jerusalem, memories of the food cuisine and 120 recipes.  Each recipe starts with notes about the origins of the dish or suggestions for preparation, or background on ingredients like eggplant. 

The authors intersperse recipes with personal memories.  I had to chuckle at their description of playing in the 'rare' (for them) Jerusalem snowfall. (Oh that I could capture their enthusiasm for snow!)  They recognize that some of the ingredients -- like za'atar, saffron, arak, barberries, Jerusalem artichokes -- may be difficult to find in some areas in the western world and therefore offer alternatives.  Personally, my suggestion is to search out the key ingredients on an shopping expedition and it will save time later when cooking some of the recipes. 

Here's one recipe below -- Roasted Chicken with Clementines and Arak -- that has been featured in many of the reviews I read.  I tried it as it seemed a perfect antidote to the Ottawa and Charlottetown weather of late.  It made me think of spring with its fresh ingredients like fennel and citrus (clementines).  

The recipe is an invention of the authors and calls for Arak, an anise-flavoured liqueur that comes from Beirut, Lebanon.  Ouzo or Pernod has can be substituted for Arak.  I opted for Pernod.

Roasted Chicken with Clementines and Arak 
(4 people) 


6 T Arak (or ouzo or Pernod)
4 T olive oil
3 T freshly squeezed orange juice
3 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 T whole-grain mustard
3 T light brown sugar 
1.5 tsp kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 medium fennel bulbs, cut lengthwise and into quarters
1 2 lb organic or free-range chicken, divided into 8 pieces OR a mixture of chicken breasts and thighs, skin on
4 clementines, unpeeled, sliced thin
1 T fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
Parsley, for garnish


In a large bowl, whisk together Arak (or Ouzo or Pernod), olive oil, orange and lemon juices, mustard, brown sugar and salt.  Season with pepper to taste.  

Add fennel, chicken, clementine slices, thyme and crushed fennel seeds.  Turn several times to coat.  If time allows, marinate chicken for a few hours or preferably overnight. If not, at least 30 minutes.  

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Transfer all ingredients, including marinade, to a large roasting pan.  Chicken should be skin-side up.  Roast until chicken is browned and cooked through, 35-45 minutes for a whole chicken (less if pieces).  Remove from the oven.

Lift chicken, fennel and clementines from pan and arrange on a serving platter.  Cover and keep warm.  

Pour cooking liquid into a small saucepan.  Place on medium-high heat, bring to a boil, then simmer until sauce is reduced and it reduces to about 1/3 cup.  Degrease using a spoon if fat rises from top of sauce.

Pour the heated sauce over chicken.  Garnish with parsley and serve.

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