Like 99.9% of the cookbooks (of the thousand plus we have) that we have, which never go opened, or used - I had thought this one will also be put to rest on a shelf. Waiting to be pulled out by a guest, borrowed and never returned or just there for posterity using space and making a room look rich.
That was not meant to be. Afterall Jerusalem is no ordinary city. Why then should a book with that name be anything expected?
Just back from NYC and still challenged by jet lag and fatigue and endless travels - I had planned a simple menu in my head for our friends Kevin (and his parents), Sue and Eric . A menu that would take me 3-4 hours max on my feet and hopefully leave all sated, inspired and thinking.
Charlie had another plan in his mind.
Life is never anything but full of surprises and discoveries.
Charlie gave me Jerusalem and asked if I could take inspiration from the book and make last nights meal.
Well what I wished to be a short and sweet time in the kitchen (3-4 hours) turned out to be 9 plus hours of great fun.
Did I follow the recipes faithfully? Nope. That I even read each recipe once was a miracle. I have little patience with reading anything other than mostly Non-fiction books. I guess recipes are not fiction, so I should become better at accepting them as reading material.
What most amazed me was how similar Mr. Ottolenghi's approach to food was to my own. His book also reminded me A LOT of my own second cookbook - in fact too familiar and that familiarity had me hooked. I wanted to flip through the entire book. And I did. Nothing I have done before. Never! Not even with the books of my still all time favorite food person, Joyce Goldstein.
As I turned the pages, I found dishes I had made on my own before and that he had added an element to, or subtracted some. I mourned the loss of some ingredients, I was stunned by the omission of some altogether, and I was thrilled to see that he had not added some ingredients I used in my version and with some I was thrilled to find new ingredients that in my head seemed to make sense.
All of these were positive signs. The book had me engaged. So I picked up recipes from it that I knew would be easy to make with ingredients in the pantry and those we could get without having to go too far.
Charlie wanted the meal to be vegetarian. It seems he always wants meals at our table to be vegetarian. Perhaps knowing that most we invite at our table would hardly ever consider a meal to be all vegetarian at their own homes. His way of being preachy perhaps, but without really preaching. Letting the food speak for his sentiments around how people ought to eat more often.
What made me feel most comfortable with this book was how vegetables were celebrated in many recipes and used in intelligent ways and with care. No just a gratuitous indulgence with them that gave one a vegetarian dish that looked and sounded good but certainly did not taste so and did nothing to inspire people to consider vegetables as even more noteworthy players at the table than what they think of animal based foods.
And so began my morning and I cooked all morning and day and took at shower around 6:20 PM and was ready to greet guests at 7 PM.
Nothing too crazy. Nothing difficult. Nothing challenging. Nothing in need of special equipment.
Just cleaning, chopping, roasting, tossing and dressing and garnishing. Nothing more. Nothing less.
I had a good experience cooking from a book (even when in many recipes I did what I wanted to do, with the ingredients he had in a recipe) and I enjoyed tasting what was created.
Two recipes (one I made first) and one in the middle of the day - were the only recipes I followed to the last word. Both failed not in taste or the magic of their brilliance but in the instructions precision and testing. Perhaps Mr. Ottolenghi cooks at the restaurant only and someone else adapted the recipes for the home cook and forgot the equipment used might be different and so cooking times were wrong by A LOT. Over an hour with one recipe. In the other the proportions for the different parts of the dish just did not gel. Too much of something and too little of another.
Such mistakes or rather such deliberate decisions are made in a restaurant kitchen where certain parts of a recipe might be friendly to keeping fresh longer and so made in greater amounts.
For the cooking time error, it could have been that the recipe was first made or always made in a professional kitchen with an oven that was either not calibrated correctly or was a rather efficient convection oven that cooked things through and into great rich color very fast. A tester ought to have caught that.
All cookbooks, including mine have mistakes. Some because of our own mortal nature. Others during copy editing and other during layout and design where reckless designers can sometimes murder a recipe as they cut words to make a page look good. And when a chef/author is unaware of this happening and is unable to correct said mistake for no fault of their own.
Publishing is fraught with challenges unlike ever before. With lagging sales and limited interest by most in printed books - corners are being cut where they ought not to be. Even the most reputed names in publishing are not investing more in the editing process. Authors are leading lives in multiple continents and managing kitchens in many cities in each of those continents... if they can remember their own name and identity - it would be a miracle - if they can find time to proof a recipe - a miracle beyond miracles. Life happens!
And so, I should not let a couple of little skirmishes color my otherwise most wonderful experience with a cookbook, a first time.
Will I cook from this book again? Perhaps not. But as I flipped through each page yesterday, I was thrilled to see what Mr. Ottolenghi does with food that is so in sync with my own way around food - that I certainly absorbed some new ideas by seeing the photographs and reading the titles of his recipes.
Will those ideas come out in my own cooking sometime in my lifetime and in the near future? Surely. I am a sponge and happy to learn each day I live.
But I was thrilled to see Jerusalem, A Cookbook guide me on a journey yesterday that brought hours of joy to my day and also great food at the table last night. If the food of Jerusalem cannot make peace happen in that city - not sure what can. I know Israeli and Palestinian friends from Jerusalem and I love them equally and with great respect. Some even know each other and love the other as much as they do their own city and entity. We all agree that food brings a certain magic to life and also a certain calm and secularism that unfortunately is lost in most other aspects of life.
If we lived a life as varied, rich and ecumenical as the foods we enjoy, Jerusalem could be a city that could take us to new awakening that would inspire generations of people to never allow borders, religions and politicians to create schisms where really none exist.
At the table last night:
Spiced and Crispy Chickpeas and chopped vegetable salad (Spiced chickpeas came from the book. The vegetable salad was as I learned from Mary Ann Joulwan, a friend in NYC)
Fire Roasted Eggplant with cherry tomatoes Slow (recipe made with a very guarded use of spices, knowing that it was the Middle East we were celebrating and not the riches of flavors available just a tad further East)
Roasted Cauliflower with hazelnuts, parsley and pomegranates (most elements made true to recipe from the book. But I must confess I did take liberties in adding spices and aromatics that I knew would life the recipe to yet greater heighs of magical deliciousness)
Hummus with toasted cumin (recipe made last night was from our dear Lebanese friend, Mary Ann Joulwan. The hostess with the mostess!)
Yougurt with garlic, dill and mint (sorry, no photo and I followed my heart, my tastebuds and my experience around eating in the US and the Middle East and restaurants of the Middle East in other nations and cities.
Imm Jadarra (Mujadarra) - Our friend Mary Ann Joulwan has blessed us with countless amazing meals of Rishta (Lentil Soup) and Imm Jadarra - and so I had no reason to worry about the recipe in this book. I can now make it in my sleep. Forever comforting. Forever memorable.
Cognac and Cointreau Stewed Dried Fruits with meyer lemon zest and juice with mascarpone crema and walnut crumble (our version of a recipe made using fresh fruit in the cookbook. we used dried fruits. A mix of figs, apricots, prunes, peaches and pears)
We are lucky to have very kind and generous friends. One brought us wines. The others brought flowers, one was a flowering plant. Both from a local flower shop. I always tell guests to bring just appetites. Some still indulge us and embarass us by this indulgence. For us opening our table is a way of indulging ourselves. A gift we feel is priceless and nothing we can ever thank our friends enough for.