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Home > Food > Cookbook is more than just recipes

Cookbook is more than just recipes

by Aaron Leibel
Washington Jewish Week
April 26, 2001

The Food of Israel today
by Joan Nathan. New York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.
400pp. $40.

WASHINGTON-- Joan Nathan is the grande dame of Jewish cooking, and therefore the publication of any of her cookbooks would be an event. But this District resident's latest, The Food of Israel Today, is much more than just a fine collection of recipes although there are more than 300 recipes in this volume. It is a culinary odyssey through Israel, truly an insider's view of the food and the people of the Jewish state.

The book is written by someone who has searched the country for those recipes and eating establishments off the beaten track the places away from the large hotels and expensive restaurants of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv where too many tourists eat and miss, literally and figuratively, the flavor of Israeli life. Even readers who think they understand life and food in the Jewish state will be delightfully surprised by what they can learn here.

Well-known eateries are included such as the Yotvata dairy restaurant on the Tel Aviv tayelet (boardwalk), purveyors of wonderfully imaginative food in gargantuan portions. If you've eaten there if you haven't, don't miss it on your next trip you probably know that it is an outlet of a kibbutz from the Arava region north of Eilat. But did you know Yotvata is an oasis, and that the settlement was founded by German-Jewish Zionists in 1919? (Not only can I wholeheartedly recommend the restaurant but its contribution to the book mushroom casserole was delicious when my wife gave it a try.)

It's not surprising that Nathan has included a recipe from Yotvata. But even most Jerualemites are unaware of Le Tsriff, a small restaurant almost hidden in the warren of small streets between Jaffa Road and Prophet Street.

This pie shop's Mediterranean vegetable and herb pie recipe is featured in the book. (Other delicious dishes found at this nonkosher restaurant include beef and prunes and Greek salad.)

And the inclusion of Pinati's as a place to have good hummus in Jerusalem shows me that Nathan knows what she's doing. (My family and I ate Pinati's scrumptious hummus, whole chickpeas, ful [fava bean] and ground lamb in fresh pitot almost every Friday for lunch for more than 10 years.)

It's not only restaurants but Israelis, of different ethnic groups and persuasions, from whom Nathan gathers recipes and whom she introduces to us. We learn about zatar, that peculiar Middle Eastern spice, from Rabai Ariedi, a woman in the Druze village of Ma'ghar in the Galilee, and Greek oregano chicken with rice from Greek Orthodox Father Erinarchos at his church overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

Varda Shilo, a Jerusalem Jew who was born in Kurdistan in Iraq, offers Kurdish kube, a meat and bulgur mixture. Kube, in its different forms, is a favorite of Israel's Sephardi Jews.

Some well-known people also contribute their recipes and remembrances.

Former Jerusalem Post editor Ari Roth remembers his first years in the country as a refugee in 1938, and how he missed the delicious apricot jam his grandmother made in his native Vienna.

Former prisoner of Zion and current Knesset member Natan Sharansky reminisces about his arrival in Israel. At his first press conference, Sharansky tells Nathan, I was asked if liked falafel. "I asked, 'What is falafel?'

The next day a big bag of falafel appeared at my door from a neighbor who was a falafel man."

Sharansky's mother, Ima, presents recipes for gefilte fish and duck stuffed with prunes and apples.

Lili Sharon, the late wife of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, contributed two recipes roast lamb, and sour cream strudel filled with apricot jam and pecans.

Then there are just plain recipes for delicious (sounding) and exotic dishes. For Pesach, for example, Nathan offers asparagus with Jaffa orange and ginger vinaigrette, chremslach mashed potatoes stuffed with meat and Moroccan fish balls, among others.

The book includes a short history of food and eating in pre-Israel Palestine and Israel, as well as a glossary of terms used in the book in Hebrew, Arabic and other relevant languages. The photos of both people and food often tell their own stories.

If you're going to buy just one cookbook this year, The Foods of Israel Today would be a good choice.

© JTA Inc., 2001. May not be reproduced without written permission

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