You might have seen Plenty in 2011. And surely you saw Jerusalem published in late 2012. Jerusalem has become a cult cookbook akin to Around My French table.
What you probably have not seen before is the first book by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. That book, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, was published in Great Britain in 2008. Now, thanks to Ten Speed Press, that first impressive volume is available to the American audience.
Ottolenghi is as exceptional as its siblings and should be added to your cookbook collection. Most of us do not regularly eat in Middle Eastern restaurants or sample cookbooks from that region. The names of dishes and ingredients alone can be mysterious to us. The combinations can give us pause. You can cook this with that?
Yes, you can. Ottolenghi proves, with every recipe, that culinary surprises and pleasures are just a few steps away. The regional dishes here, often presented with lovely close up shots, are traditional treasures ready for us to incorporate into our lives:
- Cucumber and Poppy Seed Salad
- Grilled Cauliflower with Tomato, Dill and Capers
- Roasted Butternut Squash with Burnt Eggplant and Pomegranate Molasses
- Sardines Stuffed with Bulgur, Currants and Pistachios
Suzen has already prepared two of the dishes here: Koseri a rice and lentil dish and Beef and Lamb Meatballs Cooked in Tahini. We made these two the centerpiece for a dinner party that had everyone returning for seconds. The dishes in Ottolenghi are very likely to become part of your “regular recipe rotation.” You’ll find these recipes in the blogs here on the next two days.
Authors Ottolenghi and Tamimi have an entwined history. Both were born in Jerusalem, one Israeli and one Palestinian. Both migrated to London for education and there to discover their passion for food. They met on a London street, they formed a friendship and then a partnership. The result is history for them and important food contributions for us.
And not just Middle Eastern food. These men are not shy and have embraced the cooking of the Western world just as much as they invite us to their native cuisine. They like sweets. I had to chuckle when I read the half page devoted to how to cook a brownie to achieve that they believe to be the proper texture. Two guys from Jerusalem describing the right level of gooiness and how to measure it? There are, it turns out, real benefits from globalization.
Some of the desserts combine both Western and Middle Eastern flavors into one lovely extravaganza. For example, they offer their Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing. Imagine palm trees growing in Maine.
Perhaps that is the essence of this important book: imagination. Suzen and I are planning much of our Thanksgiving feast from this book. That apple cake, a lovely Sweet Potato Gratin, the grilled cauliflower. And for the day after Thanksgiving, they have Turkey and Corn Meatballs with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce. How can you say no to that?
Whatever your culture. Whatever your food preferences, if you page through Ottolenghi then somewhere you will pause. You will wonder just what that dish must taste like. And probably you’ll be gracefully seduced into cooking from Ottolenghi. I was.
“We need to do it,” I said.
“Leave Manhattan?” Suzen was concerned.
“Yes,” I said and waved the car keys.
Like many New Yorkers, we tend to stay far too close to our local neighborhood and miss the treasures in other parts of the city. We live, work, and stay in Lower Manhattan. Yesterday we ventured to Brooklyn for three reasons.
First, we visited Ann Nurse, a culinary deity who has mentored and mothered Suzen for years. Ann is lovely at slightly beyond 65, and loves to talk about food, people, and places. She treated us to a copy of James Peterson’s new book, Kitchen Simple, which we’ll blog soon.
Second, Suzen needed olive oil. Gallons and gallons of good oil. A mile from Ann is D. Coluccio and Sons, an Italian market and importer of exceptional quality. It’s worth the visit to the Sunset Park store just to walk in and smell the cheese. If you close your eyes, you’ll be convinced that you have flown to Rome. It’s a wonderful store with shelves overflowing with pasta, sauces, condiments, and treats that can be on so hard to find.
Ah, they carry olive oils. With our ten, yes ten, gallons of oil packed in our car, we asked Louie Coluccio where to go to eat. We expected directions to one of the hidden Italian eateries scattered across the borough. We were surprised. Our directions were to a Middle Eastern restaurant we had certainly heard about but never explored: Tanoreen located in Bay Ridge, as lovely a community as you could hope to find. There are side streets filled with lovely homes and apartment buildings solidly standing with brick and stone walls. And there is 3rd Avenue with an awesome array of eating establishments that stand toe-to-toe with Manhattan.
On 75th Street and 3rd is the new version of Tanoreen. Owner Rawai Bishara has expanded to a beautiful new space filled with color, wonderful scents, and a hungry crowd ready to taste Middle Eastern cuisine raised to a superior level. There is a simple way to describe the food here: classy. The names may be the ones you know from local “food stands” — for example falafel. But here at Tanoreen, only the name is the same. The care, the execution, the quality of ingredients, and the perfect cooking give new dimensions to all the dishes. Oh, and the presentation. That picture above shows a typical Tandoreen plate and is a metaphor for the food experience. That circle of parsley is the gateway to dishes that are abundant in flavors, scents, and textures.
The nightly list of specials is almost as long as the regular menu. I had pea-sized handmade pasta balls paired with chicken, onions and pearl cous cous in a broth you wanted to swim in. The pasta and chicken had been cooked to the perfect minute, then plated and rushed to my table with steam still rising. Suzen had shredded lamb mixed with yogurt and vegetables. It was tangy, yet subtle, the kind of comfort food you could not stop eating. Fortunately, the servings are gargantuan. We left with two bags of leftovers to enjoy for today’s lunch. It’s 11:20 as I write this. Lunch will be at 11:25.
The staff at Tandoreen is intelligent, helpful and gracious. If it is your first experience with Middle Eastern food, they will carefully guide you to a delicious start. If you are an experienced foodie, there is always more to learn and experience. At Tandoreen, they can take you for an extended, exceptional journey.