Middle Eastern cooking is bang on trend.
Chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi and more recently, Eynat Admony (Balaboosta) have worked hard to ensure that the flavours of the shuk are now up there with French, Italian and other popular Mediterranean cuisines.
So much so that visitors to Israel now expect an epicurean adventure as well as the more traditional historical sights and sounds.
Cookery teacher Orly Ziv has led culinary tours educating visitors to her country about their wonderful cuisine since 2009.
She has now self-published Cook in Israel which is full of the now fashionable aubergines, pomegranates and tahini.
But she could not be less concerned with food trends. It has more of an every day home cook’s feel, and less of the dinner party aspirations that have become attached to Ottolenghi’s creations.
“The tours were a way to introduce tourists to Israel. We are excited by the freshness of the vegetables and fruits here so I wanted to create a way to bring visitors closer to our food” she explains.
She would take them to Tel Aviv’s Shuk HaCarmel to buy ingredients before returning to her home where they would cook up a feast with their booty with the help of members of her family.
“We cook, and sit with part of my family and enjoy a big meal together.”
For some of her guests, it was their first taste of the Middle East.
“I always teach students how to make home-made hummus. I had a couple where the husband did not like hummus but the wife still wanted to learn how to make it. After she went back home she wrote an email telling me, I cant stop making hummus, my husband is in love with it” laughs the 51 year old mother of three.
Ziv’s passion for food began when she was a child and would cut out recipes from newspapers and magazines to keep in a book. Her Sephardi parents were influential over her tastes.
“My parents were Greek so I grew up on Sephardic cooking, which meant a lot of tomatoes, eggplant and feta cheese. I have a whole chapter in my book on tomatoes and eggplant.”
The recipes in Ziv’s book lean towards the healthy – not surprising, given Ziv’s background as a trained nutritionist. She says she is always conscious of the nutritious value in her foods.
“Instead of frying, I bake. And I steam. I am always thinking of the health side of food.”
“I use a lot of olive oil and I always tell my guests to season with salt at the end of cooking. Salt has a lot of sodium, which is not healthy for you, and if you season at the beginning you always find you need more for the taste.”
She is a vegetarian, but eats fish so the book tends more to non-meat recipes with a couple of token meat dishes. Ziv does stress that health conscious dishes are not the only foods she makes in her classes and there is an (un)healthy selection of cakes, bakes and puddings — many for festivals.
She is keen to inspire people to play around with her recipes. “At the end of the day we all cook with the same ingredients but we can change spices and techniques,” she said.
She was mindful not to include long lists of difficult to source ingredients.
“I’m happy to cook with ingredients that people will find in their local place. All the ingredients of the recipes in the book are very easy to find. It is not that you need to go and search for something,” she said.
Fortunately, ingredients like pomegranate molasses and date syrup have found their way into supermarkets as a result of the Ottolenghi effect.
Interestingly Orly has chosen to write her book in English not Hebrew - “I only work with tourists. My idea is to introduce real Israeli food to foreigners.”
All the pictures were taken at her home with minimal props and styling so readers know how the finished dish really could look when they prepare it.
It may not have the slick finish of many cookery books, but if you are a fan of Israeli flavours, and a trip out there is not on the cards then Cook in Israel may be that burst of sunshine we are all desperately seeking.
Cook in Israel, $35 available on Amazon.com or www.cookinisrael.com