Well, the new year has arrived, and with it plenty of folks embarking on betterment in 2013. New year self-improvements may come by way of a juice cleanse, a pledge to use that gym membership you’ve been paying for but ignoring or the purchase of one of those ridiculous electronic cigarettes in the hopes of getting rid of that pack-a-day habit. Or maybe this year’s resolution is the more obtainable goal of eating a little bit healthier.
The piles of cookbooks we’ve received over the past few months certainly include their fair share of silly titles like Quinoa Revolution or The 30-Minute Vegan’s Taste of Europe. But those aren’t the books that will entice you into eating more healthfully in 2013. Instead, check out a volume that transports you to a place where healthy eating is an ancient tradition, produce is abundant and meals are centered around fresh vegetables, grains and olive oil. That place is Israel and the cookbook is Jerusalem (Ten Speed, October 2012) by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.
Ottolenghi is the Israeli-born chef behind a mini-chain of eponymous high-end fast-casual spots in London and the author of last year’s absolutely stunning vegetable cookery book, Plenty. Along with partner Tamimi, Ottolenghi has penned a gorgeous tribute to the foods of Jerusalem, taking the time not only to assemble a vibrant collection of recipes but to pay proper respect to the bittersweet nature of the city and its struggles across centuries.
The culinary history of this ancient district is as vast as its population of Greek Orthodox monks, Christian Arabs, Muslim Palestinians, Jews and more, hailing from everywhere from Tunisia to Romania. But there are commonalities in their cuisines: the ubiquitous Israeli (or Arab) salad of chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, a predilection for olive oil and lemon juice, and an affinity for whole grains.
Within the pages of Jerusalem you’ll come across Middle Eastern staples like mejadra, a cinnamon-spiced pilaf of rice and lentils; bright parsley and barley salad; and harissa-spiked shakshuka with tomato-poached eggs. These are the sort of recipes that make it easy to adapt to a vegetable- and grain-centric way of eating. Because when lunchtime rolls around and you’re met with a sabih, a thick pita topped with charred eggplant, chopped salad, mango pickles and cilantro-chile paste, that not-so-hot ham and cheese sandwich becomes less and less appealing.