The only book I’m reading with any real focus these days is Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem, a middle-eastern cookbook. My entire family whole-heartedly approves of this reading since it leads to the MOST delicious meals. I’ve inaugurated Ottolenghi Sundays, in which I spend most of my Sunday afternoons making meals my son describes as “a giant patchkorai.” I don’t know how to spell this Yiddish word (and my son doesn’t know how to pronounce it correctly,) but basically it means a meal that is a lot of work.
Tamimi, an Israeli-Arab, and Ottolenghi, a Jewish-Israeli, might have met in London, where they collaborate and cook together, but the recipes of Jerusalem are a cross section of Israeli culture and cuisine: Tunisian, Lebanese, Iranian and Turkish. For me, raised on Ashkenaz cuisine, these adventures into Jewish Sephardi and Mizrahi cooking are an exciting exploration of sumac and za'atar.
I’ve become so obsessed with Jerusalem that we also had an Ottolenghi/Tamami Friday night dinner this week: kubbeh, a kind of lamb and bulghur tart, and a fattoush salad. I’m not sure how long I can keep working my way through the cookbook as my budget for pine nuts is growing thin, and my family is wondering when my obsession with eggplant is going to end. In the meantime, we’re eating well.
So, if you like to cook, and you like Israeli food, get this book. And make the stuffed eggplant, the sweet and sour fish, and the pickled lemon. I also recommend the turkey and zucchini meatballs and the burnt eggplant soup. There’s a sweet section in the book, and a whole new dessert cookbook called Sweet that I haven’t gotten to, but if I ever get back to eating sugar, I’ll be sure to indulge.
If you only have time or energy to cook one recipe, go with the stuffed eggplant. I was watching the new Netflix documentary on Israeli Food and one of the first meals the host eats is stuffed eggplant. Here’s Jerusalem's recipe for it. Leave yourself lots of time to make this one- the eggplants roast in the oven for an hour and a half!
4 medium eggplants, halved lengthwise
6 T olive oil
1 1/2 T cumin
1 1/2 t parprika
2 onions, finely chopped
1 lb ground lamb
7 T pine nuts
handful chopped parsley
2 t tomato paste
3 t sugar
2/3 cup water
1 1/2 lemon juice
1 t tamarind paste (I left this out.)
4 cinnamon sticks
salt and pepper
Put eggplants skin side down in a roasting pan and bush with 4 T oil and season with 1 t salt and plenty of pepper. Roast for twenty minutes until golden and then allow to cool slightly.
Heat the remaining 2 T oil in a large frying pan and add half quantities of the cumin, paprika and cinnamon with the onion. Cook for eight minutes over medium-high heat. Then add the lamb, pine nuts, parsley, tomato paste, 1 t sugar, 1 t salt and some pepper. Cook for eight more minutes, until the meat is cooked.
Put the remaining spices in a bowl with the water, lemon juice, tamarind, the remaining sugar and the cinnamon stick and 1/2 t salt.
Pour the spice mix in to the bottom of the eggplant roasting pan. Spoon the lamb mixture on top of each eggplant. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and roast for 1 1/2 hours at 375 degrees. Serve at room temperature or warm, but not hot.