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Hummus crosses borders

23 November 2012

Helen Saxbee enjoys a celebration of food from a divided city


Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Ebury Press £27
Church Times Bookshop £24.30 (Use code CT517 )

Slow Cooking
James Martin
Quadrille £20
Church Times Bookshop £18 (Use code CT517 )

A WELCOME distraction from political tensions in the Holy Land is the rivalry over who serves the best hummus. Who is most adept at conjuring chick peas, sesame paste, garlic, and lemon juice into far more than the sum of their parts is an argument that stretches beyond the borders of Israel. But

in Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's Jerusalem the debate is said to be at its most vociferous in the city's hummusias (hummus cafes).

"The hummusia fetish is so powerful that even the best of friends may easily turn against each other if they suddenly find themselves in opposite hummus camps," write the London-based chefs and restaurateurs - one from the Jewish west of the city, and his partner from the Arab east.

This passion for food is captured beautifully in this warm and informative homage to the city and its culinary pleasures. Far more than just a book of recipes, chapters on vegetables, pulses, soups, meat, fish, and more are punctuated with asides on the food history of the city and its most prized ingredients.

There are many tempting dishes here, such as the breakfast favourite shakshuka (spicy peppers and tomatoes with eggs cooked on top while the vegetables simmer), and, of course, falafel, another chickpea-based staple (being cooked, right, in a photo from the book). Beef meatballs with broad beans and lemon, served with puréed beet-root with yogurt, and za'atar (a spice mix found in many supermarkets), and potato latkes on the side proved to be a great combination. This is the sort of food where a little preparation the night before leaves not much to do before you eat. Few of the ingredients listed are drastically difficult to track down or replace.

At a whopping £27, though, Jerusalem, with its fabric cover and Adam Hinton's enchanting photographs of the city, is more than a stocking filler. But if you are looking for something to do with your Christmas book tokens, then this would be a rewarding option.

James Martin displays similar reverence for classic British ingredients in Slow Cooking. Roast duck with port and winter spices, served with roast parsnips, was simple to cook, and delicious. With chapters including "one-pots", roasts, and stews and braises, all prefixed by the word "slow", he certainly makes his point: that by taking cheaper cuts of meat and simple produce, and cooking them simply (but slowly), the results can be more rewarding than a visit to a "fine dining" restaurant. 

Helen Saxbee is the News Editor of the Church Times.

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