In this week's Jewish Journal, Joan Nathan reviewed Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's beautiful cookbook, Jerusalem. When I first got hold of the book last year, I knew the dream reviewer would be Joan. She lived in Jerusalem decades ago, serving as an assistant to then mayor, and now legend, Teddy Kollek. And it was in Jerusalem that she first discovered the variety of dishes and stories that make up Jewish cuisine.
Joan's review focuses in on exactly what makes Jerusalem-the-book as fascinating as Jerusalem-the -city. Ottolenghi is Jewish. His partner, Tamimi, is Palestinian. Here's what Joan has to say:
I was very taken with the whole book, but their text in particular, and especially a section called “A Comment About Ownership.”
“In the part of the world we are dealing with everybody wants to own everything,” they write. “Existence feels so uncertain and so fragile that people fight fiercely and with great passion to hold onto things: land, culture, religious symbols, food — everything is in danger of being snatched away or of disappearing.” The two were describing ownership of recipes, but they might as well have been talking about ownership of the city.
My husband calls this part of the world the “Muddle East,” where discussions of who owns hummus and falafel lead to discussions of who owns streets, neighborhoods, borders. Many, like Ottolenghi and Tamimi, are tired of these discussions; they have gone into the food business in London to get away from fighting.
They, like many Israeli chefs, do not want to even think about these differences, about the conflict. Another Israeli cook in New York said to me just last week that he was a “baker, not a battler.” Ottolenghi and Tamimi use their dishes as a way to bridge these divides. “Food is a basic, hedonistic pleasure, a sensual instinct we all share and revel in. It is a shame to spoil it,” they write.
Speaking of sensual pleasure, put this recipe from Jerusalem on your Passover list, and read the entire story here.
PANFRIED SEA BASS WITH HARISSA AND ROSE
3 tablespoons harissa paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 sea bass fillets, or other white fish, about 1 pound in total, skinned and with pin bones removed
Matzah cake meal or flour for dusting
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
6 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Scant 1 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon rose water (optional for Passover)
Scant 1/2 cup currants (optional)
2 tablespoons cilantro, coarsely chopped (optional)
2 teaspoons small dried edible rose petals, available at Middle Eastern grocery stores and online
Mix together half the harissa, cumin and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Rub the paste all over the fish fillets and leave them to marinate for 2 hours in the fridge.
Dust the fillets with a little matzah cake meal or flour and shake off the excess. Heat the olive oil in a wide frying pan over medium-high heat and fry the fillets for 2 minutes on each side. You may need to do this in two batches.
Set the fish aside, leave the oil in the pan and add the onions. Stir as you cook for about 8 minutes, until the onions are golden. Add the remaining harissa, vinegar, cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon salt and plenty of black pepper. Pour in the water, lower the heat and let the sauce simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes, until quite thick. Add the honey and rose water to the pan along with the currants and simmer gently for a couple more minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings and then return the fish fillets to the pan; you can slightly overlap them if they don’t quite fit.
Spoon the sauce over the fish and leave them to warm up in the simmering sauce for 3 minutes; you may need to add a few tablespoons of water if the sauce is very thick. Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with cilantro and rose petals.
Makes 2 to 4 servings.
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