My brother-in-law gave my sister Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook, and my parents saw it while visiting them. Then Ezra and I visted them and loved looking at the recipes – and then my parents gave it to me for my birthday. We decided pretty quickly that we didn’t just want to try some of the recipes, but we wanted to cook through the entire cookbook. So in August 2014 we started cooking through it, taking a break for a bit after S was born and when we first got to Japan. We finished in May 2016 (but if we’re honest there is one pickle recipe in the back we haven’t made because I can’t find turnips out of season).
A large number of the recipes are spectacularly delicious. Quite a few are also rather labor intensive and very few are quick, weeknight meals. Some call for odd ingredients that we had to substitute or order online (especially when we moved to Japan and lost our International Market!). The International Market was a huge help in finding some of the odder ingredients or finding higher quality tahini than the American grocery stores carry and getting a better deal on spices and fresh herbs. But even with the market it wasn’t the most budget-friendly book to cook through, although it made having meatless nights easier because his vegetable, grain, and side recipes are so delicious you can use them as a main and don’t even miss the meat.
There were only one or two recipes did we not like (and those were ones we had expected to not like). Some weren’t spectacular but were delicious for what they were – like wilted chard. Our most common substitutions were using honey instead of sugar and using ground spices instead of whole ones. We couldn’t find quince so used pears, and iinstead of Jerusalem artichokes – which I have never seen – we used water chestnuts. A budget-minded substitution was using canned artichoke hearts instead of 12 artichoke bottoms.
Most of the time the recipes went off perfectly, but the one thing we always had trouble with was the dishes where rice is cooked in with other things. Our guess is that he had a gas stove, but we did have a gas stove for part of the time we had trouble with it. So I’m not entirely sure what was going on. But we usually ended up adding more water and extending the cooking time a bit. Otherwise we didn’t have any trouble with following the directions or recipes flopping. That said, they never looked quite as beautiful as the pictures, but were still usually safe to make for guests even if we hadn’t cooked them before, and it’s still our go-to for guests.
The cookbook itself is gorgeous, and one of my regrets is not having a cookbook stand that would cover it. We did write notes on all the recipes, but I also got a lot of splashes and grease marks on pages.
It really grew my cooking, too. Using allspice as a savory spice was new to me but now something I love with ground beef. There were also a variety of new techniques (like confit) and skills I learned making things, especially working with phyllo dough. We were introduced to some new ingredients and vegetables (like kohlrabi, although I usually couldn’t find it and used jicama), and used cuts of meat we wouldn’t normally use (I never would have purchased lamb neck, nor guessed it would be so tasty!).
He was often very clear about weights and measurements even of produce, which was very helpful, especially as onions come in all sorts of sizes!
For me, having grown up around a lot of these dishes, cooking through was very nostalgic, and there were times I didn’t recognize a recipe but as soon as I bit in memories came flooding back. Some things have a unique twist to them, but some, like his hummus, falafel, baba ghanoush, mejadara – are just like my childhood.
Favorite recipes: (the asterisks are the “best of the best”)
*Roasted sweet potatoes and fresh figs (pg 26). Fresh figs are delicious but not necessary. Oddly enough, they were easier to find *in Japan than in Cali!
Baby spinach salad with dates and almonds (page 30).
Roasted butternut and red onion with tahini and za’atar (page 36) – one we’ve made about 3 times!
Lemony leek meatballs (page 44).
*Pureed beets with yogurt & za’atar (page 53).
Fried cauliflower with tahini (60).
*Roasted cauliflower and hazelnut salad (page 62)
*Butternut squash & tahini spread (page 69).
spicy beet, leek, and walnut salad (73).
roasted potatoes with caramel and prunes (page 86).
sabih (page 91) – but DON’T fry the eggplant! Eggplant just soaks up the oil and it’s gross. Much better grilled!
*balilah (page 102)
basmati and wild rice with chickpeas, currants, and herbs (106)
hummus with lamb neck (page 118)
*burnt eggplant and mograbieh soup (page 141)
spicy freekeh soup with meatballs (page 148)
*lamb stuffed quince with pomegranate (page 155)
*turnip and veal cake (page 156)
*stuffed onions (page 157)
kubbeh hamusta (page 162)
*stuffed eggplant with lamb and pine nuts (page 166)
*chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice (page 184). One of Ezra’s top recipes!
*chicken sofrito (page 190). I think our favorite! We have plans to combine this with the veal cake recipe, using the veal cake one but subbing chicken for veal and adding whole cloves of garlic.
*lamb meatballs with barberries, yogurt, and herbs (page 199)
*turkey and zucchini burgers (page 200) – quick for Ottolenghi!
*slow-cooked veal with prunes and leek (page 206) probably my favorite meat one aside from sofrito.
fricassee salad (page 227).
prawns, scallops, and clams with tomato and feta (page 233).
marinated sweet and sour fish (page 238). I didn’t love this, but Ezra did, mostly for how unique it is.
ka’ach bilmalch (page 248)
burekas (page 254)
And we’ll just say ALL of the desserts because I would be listing practically all of them.
We also did all the condiments, and our only issue there was that we’re not big fans of his pickles. The dukkah (page 300) is absolutely delicious and great on salad with dates.