Could hummus be the dip to Middle East peace? Israeli celebrity chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi would like to think so.
With the publication of their new cookbook, Jerusalem, they offer recipes that celebrate both Israel’s agricultural bounty and its bounty of cultures: Jewish, Muslim & Christian.
I’d invited friends over for dinner whose kitchen is being renovated and they gave me the cookbook, a sumptuous volume of 120 recipes and exquisite photographs and commentary about history of the city, its peoples and foods. The book could easily adorn a coffee table as well as a cookbook shelf.
I don’t buy cookbooks often, using the Internet for recipes if I need one or combing through a file box, folders ragged and recipes worn and mostly untried. I collect recipes the way I collect knitting patterns. To use them all, I’d need a few more lifetimes.
I’m thrilled with this gift. I can’t wait to try the recipes, many which include eggplant and exotic spices.
Reading Jerusalem reminds me of my visits to the city. Looking at the photographs, seeing the familiar sights, I feel a connection. I’ve walked the narrow, stone passageways of the Old City; browsed the shops, savored the sights and smells of the shuk, it’s produce beckoning. Mountains of spices, especially the za’atar, an herb also known as hyssop often mixed with sesame seeds, slowed my stroll; I had to sample everything. Piles of fruits, both fresh and dried, stacks of breads, racks of meats and fish and gorgeous vegetables grown year-round further tempt the palate. Street food abounds: falafel, shawarma (lamb roasted on a rotating spit, served in pita bread), fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice, pastries and ice cream. The city is food heaven.
Then there’s hummus. It’s a national staple, served upon sitting in a restaurant with warm pita bread. When my son Nathan spent part of his year on a farm, he ate it every meal.
The authors, both born in Jerusalem in 1968, Sami in the Muslim east and Yotam in the Jewish West, met while working in London. Jerusalem is home, despite not living there for more than 20 years, and its food the backbone of their culinary arts.
“Hummus… has become an obsession… “ They write in the introduction. The chickpea -based dip has its own discussion, “Hummus wars.” In true Middle Eastern fashion, there’s disagreement about which culture invented the ubiquitous spread. Like New Yorkers arguing about where to find the best pizza, Jerusalemites debate the merits of the hummusia, a simple eatery, usually open from breakfast to late afternoon.
Their basic recipe calls for chickpeas (soaked and cooked with baking soda, chopped in a food processor with tahini (sesame) paste, lemon juice, garlic and salt. I’ve been making homemade hummus for years and usually use canned chickpeas.
The writers acknowledge the fractured politics of the region, and wonder if it will ever be resolved. “It is sad to note how little daily interaction there is between communities, with people sticking together in closed, homogenous groups. … It takes a giant leap of faith, but we are happy to take it- what have we got to lose? – to imagine that hummus will eventually bring Jerusalemites together, if nothing else will.”
Food for thought.