I've had fortunate opportunities to spend time in this indescribably beautiful city, being there for weeks at a time on different occasions over the last few years. The city is continuously growing and transforming yet the palpable aura of spirituality is felt by everyone who visits, the food scene is exploding with influences from around the world, and the streets are pulsating with the bustle of every day life.
What I loved most in the cookbook is, of course, the pictures. They truly represent Jerusalem as the holy, eclectic, vibrant city paved in gold stones, walked by diverse people, and scented by rich spices. The integration of propped food photographs with photo-journalistic shots offers a glimpse into the beautiful foods and unique culture that make up Jerusalem. From the frum man selecting pastries, to the heaps of round, braided, perfectly golden challahs lining the stands at the Machne Yehuda shuk. It's a visual display of the life of Jerusalemites.
Many of the recipes I either grew up eating or have picked up from various family members, like Libyan Chraimeh, Helbeh, Mejadarah, Stuffed artichokes, and so many more. I did find interesting that some of the recipes in the book have gotten a slight makeover, either a change in the spices of or an addition of an unexpected ingredient. Overall though the recipes retain their authentic feel and flavors.
I especially enjoyed the historical background in the introductions of each recipe, describing their hotly-debated origins (Lebanese vs. Syrian vs. Iraqi, etc.), as well as the ceremonial and often emotional connection food has in Israeli culture.
The authors did include seafood in one or two recipes and mix meat and milk in a few others, two things that are permitted for Muslims, I learned, though forbidden for Jews.
Overall, I think this is a beautiful book that belongs both on your kitchen counter and on your nightstand. The text is interesting, it reads comfortably, and paints a picture of the food's role in its culture and society. A true testament that food transcends flavors, and is part of a larger context. The recipes themselves are simple, straightforward, and packed with my favorite flavors: paprika, fennel, cumin, cardamom, and so many more. They're sprinkled with lots of fresh herbs, and are beautiful in their rustic, imperfect presentation.
Now, I get to tell you about what I made that was just so, so delicious: Roasted Chicken with Clementines and Arak.
Ok, I'll admit I skipped the arak, but only because I didn't have any on hand. My daughter apparently thought that the clear bottle that's been sitting in the back of the fridge for the past few years was water. She took a sip, dropped the bottle and as you can imagine it shattered, thereby assuring we will not have any arak on hand for a very long time. How very un-Moroccan of us.
But I wasn't deterred. I skipped the arak, and focused on the citrus, and fennel, and herbs and spices. It came out perfect and I'll admit the photos don't do it justice. I took them hastily amongst very busy Shabbat preparations.
If you have a chance, do take a peak into Jerusalem: the cookbook. Though I do not agree philosophically with all that is written there, I do think the foods and recipes draw you in and reveal the essence of Jerusalem/Middle Eastern cooking. It's a beautiful book, that I look forward to using in my own kitchen.
Roasted Chicken with Clementines and Arak
6 1/2 tbsp arak
4 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp grain mustard
3 tbsp light brown sugar
2 medium fennel bulbs
1 large chicken cut into 8 pieces or a mix of chicken drumcticks and thighs, skin-on
4 clementines, unpeeled cut horizontally into 1/4 inch slices
1 tbsp thyme leaves
2 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
salt and freshly gound black pepper
chopped parsley, for garnish
Put the first 6 ingredients into a large mixing bowl and add 2 1/2 teaspoon2 salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper. Whisk well and set aside.
Trim the fennel and cut each bulb in half lengthwise. Cut each half into 4 wedges. Add the fennel to the liquids along with the chicken pieces, clementine slices, thyme, and fennel seeds. Stir well with your hands, then leave to marinate in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 475F. Transfer the chicken and its marinate to a baking sheet large enough to accomodate everything comfortably in a single layer; the chicken skin should be facing up. Once the oven is hot enough, put the pan in the oven and roast for 35 to 45 minutes*, until the chicken is colored and cooked through. Remove from the oven.
Optional (I did not do this):
Lift the chicken, fennel and clementines from the pan and arrange on a serving plate; cover and keep warm. Pour the cooking liquid into a small saucepan, place over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, and then simmer until the sauce is reduced by one-third, so you are left qith about 1/3 cup. Pour the hot sauce over the chicken, garnish with some parsley and serve,
* I did bake it that way and noticed that the chicken didn't bake long enough. So I baked it at 375 for an hour, covered. Then uncovered it for an additional 30-45 minutes.