I love Mediterranean food. It’s so healthy and delicious. So I was intrigued by two cookbooks that came out this past year on Mediterranean/Middle Eastern cuisine, primarily Israeli, Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi and Balaboosta by Einat Admony.
Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Jerusalem is a great cookbook with traditional as well as contemporary dishes from the varied cultures that make up the title city. The authors, who are Israeli and Palestinian, respectively, while sensitive to the tensions in the area, choose to focus on the food–the richness that all those cultures bring to the cuisine. As many writers and chefs would agree, food is a binding agent; however, it can also separate people when cultures disagree on who created a popular dish. Rather than debate issues, Jerusalem celebrates the cuisine. The authors note that there are some food elements that are crosscultural in the area, such as chopped salad, stuffed vegetables with rice, rice and meat, meat and pickled vegetables, olive oil, lemon juice, olives and baked cheese pastries. But they mention that the cuisines of the area are very diverse and different, and their focus in the book is on foods that they grew up with and what they like to cook themselves.
The book has some history on the area and explains in more detail some aspects of cooking like what za’atar is and how it is used. There are recipes for more familiar dishes like fattoush, hummus, tabbouleh and falafel. Some recipes that sound amazing to me are sabih, an eggplant dish brought by Iraqi Jews. The minty kohlrabi salad with Greek yogurt and sumac sounds wonderful. Pureed beets with yogurt and za’atar would be a great dip for some pita bread! There’s a recipe for shakshuka, the poached eggs in tomato sauce dish that reminds me of a similar dish my Italian grandma made. I’m intrigued by the pasta cooked in hot yogurt sauce, as in the conchiglie with yogurt, peas and chile. This book is great for vegetarians as well, as there are so many meat-free dishes.
Balaboosta by Einat Admony
Balaboosta by Einat Admony, on the other hand, isn’t just about food but more about a way of life. A balaboosta is a Yiddish word for a housewife, but not just any housewife. According to Admony, a balaboosta “made sure her table was crowded not just with food but also with laughter.” She was the nurturing woman who cooked, cleaned and cared for her family. Admony is a wife, mother and professional chef with successful restaurants Balaboosta, Taim and Bar Bolonat. Not only is she all of these things, she is one cool lady and as Wendy Williams would say, a friend in my head! Her favorite comfort food is a jelly doughnut. Hello! We would so be BFF.
Her book is divided into chapters that cover all the things a balaboosta needs to know. There are dinner party dishes, recipes for kids, quick meals, romantic foods, comforting dishes, outdoor party recipes and healthier options. She is too funny when she talks about trying to lose weight. She says she took pills, did the cabbage soup diet, the master cleanse, boxing and something called Zerona that she said was like “being fondled by an octopus that shoots fat-melting lasers into your flab.” Ultimately, she says that she doesn’t want to give up her love of cooking and eating. Yay! Enjoying life is part of being a balaboosta. Sign me up!
There are so many wonderful recipes in this book. While Admony’s parents are from Yemen and Iran, she focuses on all Middle Eastern/Mediterranean cuisine. She has her version of shakshuka, which I’ve had at her restaurant Balaboosta. There’s a cauliflower dish called “cauliflower everyone loves” that looks like a delectable crispy fried cauliflower. I have a sweet tooth, so I love her homemade kit kat made with Nutella and corn flakes. OMG. The coconutty milk chocolate popcorn may be in the kids’ section but it’s for kids of all ages! I like the ricotta, pine nut and honey bread pudding with some Italian elements in there. She includes one of her mom’s recipes, rice stew. She says that it represents the changing relationship she and her mother have had. She substitutes chicken neck in her mom’s version with chicken wings. Funny–my mom loves chicken neck too. The Palestinian Arab dish, sinaya, with layered tahini and ground meat, looks and sounds amazing. I love, love, love labne and the fried olives with labne look delish.