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Reviewed: Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, Ebury Press

JerusalemIf you’re anywhere near a serious foodie you will have heard of the Ottolenghi deli/restaurants in London, owned by Israeli chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Opening in a tiny space in Notting Hill 10 years ago, the first Ottolenghi piled counters with dazzling, fresh Mediterranean dishes that had, and still does, people queuing down the street. Several more branches followed, and two cookbooks, Plenty and Ottolenghi.

“Fresh” has become such a hackneyed word in food writing. Every restaurant boasts its food is “freshly made” or “made with the freshest ingredients”. The Ottolenghi guys showed what fresh really means, glazing platters of emerald French beans and mangetout with nut oil and strewing them with orange and smoky roasted hazelnuts. They crusted tuna with pistachio nuts and served it up with pawpaw salsa, sent out biting soups of grilled aubergine and lemon, and marinated lamb in coriander and honey.

The outlets became famous for their baking, too, in particular their vast, bloated meringues and both books feature recipes for these and for such delights as parmesan and poppy biscuits and caramel and macadamia cheesecake.

Now this gifted duo has produced a third book: Jerusalem. In it they have gone back to their roots in this ancient, fascinating city, but what makes it especially interesting is that Yotam is Jewish and Sami is Palestinian, growing up on the other side of the city in the Arab quarter. They only met many years later, in London, but the fusion of their different childhoods has resulted in a spectacular collection of recipes. Many feature ingredients readily available here, like Slow Cooked Veal with prunes and leek, Burnt Aubergine with garlic, lemon & pomegranate seeds, or Roasted Sweet Potato with fresh figs. Others will have you hunting down such ingredients as chermoula paste, tahini and za’atar. As always, clear, bold flavours predominate, and mounds of fresh herbs.

The photographs of the food and the city are dazzling, with forays into the complicated history of its myriad communities. As Yotam writes: “It is more than 20 years since we left the city. Yet we still think of Jerusalem as our home because it defines us, whether we like it or not. Everything we taste and everything we cook is filtered through the prism of our childhood experiences: foods our mothers fed us, wild herbs picked on school trips, days spent in markets, the smell of the dry soil on a summer’s day, goats and sheep roaming the hills, fresh pittas with minced lamb, parsley, chopped liver, black figs, smoky chops, syrupy cakes, crumbly cookies. The list is endless.”

There is a South African connection to Ottolenghi: Danielle Postma, the proprietor of the fabulous Moema’s in Johannesburg, worked in the restaurants in London before returning to SA in a fit of homesickness. Reproducing her recipe for a sweet potato gratin in Ottolenghi – The Cookbook, the pair pay tribute to her warmth and her talent as a cook. But we in JHB know that!

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