January Cookbook Review: Jerusalem and Family Table

For January, I cooked through both Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi,  and Family Table by Shaye Elliott.

I am not a follower of recipes in general, but when I do follow one, I want to trust that its author knew what he or she was doing. Few cookbooks are written wisely, skillfully, delightfully, and deliver the flavor as advertised – but Jerusalem is one of them.

In the whole of my collection, Jerusalem wins the prize for containing the highest number of captivating and flawless recipes in one binding. It is stellar. The photography was dazzling, and almost every recipe appealed to me in its entirety. There was nothing that I felt needed much modification, and there was no dish that I made which needed to be convert to gluten-free. We have truly garnered some lasting favorites from the handful of recipes I was able to make this month.

The stand-outs were:

Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Fresh Figs
Baby Spinach Salad with Dates & Almonds
Root Vegetable Slaw with Labneh
Spicy Beet, Leek & Walnut Salad
Roasted Chicken with Clementines & Arak
Roasted Chicken with Jerusalem Artichoke & Lemon
Chicken with Caramelized Onion & Cardamom Rice
Lamb Meatballs with Barberries, Yogurt, & Lemon

Excitingly, there are dozens more I plan to tackle in the future, including:

Roasted Butternut Squash & Red Onion with Tahini & Za’atar
Roasted Cauliflower & Hazelnut Salad
Spicy Carrot Salad
Butternut Squash & Tahini Spread
Burnt Eggplant with Garlic, Lemon, & Pomegranate Seeds
Saffron Rice with Barberries, Pistachio, & Mixed Herbs
Basmati & Wild Rice with Chickpeas, Currants, & Herbs
Hummus Kawarma (Lamb) with Lemon Sauce
Lamb-Stuffed Quince with Pomegranate & Cilantro
Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb & Pine Nuts
Beef Meatballs with Fava Beans & Lemon
Turkey and Zucchini Burgers with Green Onion & Cumin
Lamb Shawarma
Poached Pears in White Wine & Cardamom
Cardamom Rice Pudding with Pistachios & Rose Water
Spice Cookies
Clementine & Almond Syrup Cake
Preserved Lemons

Most delightfully, the authors give wonderful histories and vignettes of the city and culture, bringing in personal memories of dishes made by their Jewish or Arab mothers and grandmothers. They explain how these recipes are still used today, how they have been influenced by surrounding countries, and how they can be (or have been) adapted for the restaurant, the street, the market, etc. I feel I received an education in history and geography as well as an aptitude for middle eastern cooking. If any of these recipes appeal to you, you would do well to have this anthology. This cookbook will stand the test of time.



Now, for Shaye Elliott’s Family Table. This humble cookbook actually played the perfect foil to the more sophisticated Jerusalem.  It’s recipes were without fuss – just simple, honest, family food. This was refreshing to me. For example, after Jerusalem’s more involved preparations for Chicken with Caramelized Onions and Cardamom Rice, it was a relief and a joy to swing over and make Family Table’s Creamy Carrot Soup in comparatively no time and effort. The photography was well done, and both Shaye’s (and her husband Stuart’s) vignettes on their budding homestead were not only lovely, but inspiring toward hard work, quality eats, and the premium family mealtime around a table. This cookbook is worth owning.

In terms of the details, I very much appreciated the fact that her sweets were not overly sweet, and she uses mostly honey (from her own bees) or rapadura. I did, however, need to increase the salt on every dish; Elliott evidently prefers less than we do. And on some recipes, I did feel the need to gird a recipe with some basic flavors she omitted – garlic or onion, bouillon or bay leaves, butter, etc. (Though, aside from the salt, her Shredded Barbecue Beef Sandwiches was flawless). She also appears to love vinegar and tomatoes, as many of the recipes, especially main dishes, contained either one or the other. A good half of her recipes also contain wheat and gluten (though much of it is good einkorn or fermented sourdough), so for those whose households need be primarily gluten-free, this cookbook will leave you fewer recipes to work from. On the whole, though, Family Table is a solid family-style cookbook, and her approach to delicious whole foods is restful, which I wholly appreciated.  We have a good handful of repeat favorites from Family Table, including:

Chicken Stock
Chopped Apple Salad with Toasted Coconut and Yogurt
Creamy Carrot Soup
Sesame-Crusted Orange Chicken Salad
Paprika and Rosemary Roasted Chicken
Shredded Barbecue Beef Sandwiches
Roasted Chicken in Milk with Cinnamon and Lemon


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