Israeli food writer Gur's oversize cookbook, with sumptuous photos by Eilon Paz, is as rewarding to page through as to cook from. Gur, the founder of Israel's leading food magazine, sets the scene, placing recipes and ingredients in context with Israeli life and culinary history, which encompasses influences from a worldwide diaspora. Scattered the world over, Jews absorbed local cuisines and adapted them to Jewish law and custom.
The two major divisions in Israeli cooking are the European Ashkenazi (Chopped Liver - Gur offers four versions, Gefilte Fish, Potato Pancakes), and the Middle Eastern and Balkan Sephardic (Bourekas, stuffed vegetables, Kubbe), but Israeli foods also include dishes from North Africa, Iraq, Syria, India and more.
Gur charts the evolution of Israeli cooking through its short history - naturally influenced by local foods and Arab cuisine - and illustrates techniques common in modern Israeli cooking, like flame roasting eggplants, which are then featured in 11 dishes, and choosing and using the versatile ground sesame sauce, tahini.
Gur also includes engaging stories on basics in Israeli culinary life - breakfast, olive oil, bread, cheese and more - and a short chapter describing some of the more prevalent special ingredients and spices.
The book is divided into five main chapters: Salads etc., The street and The Market, Simple Pleasures, Grill, Shabbat and Holidays. The heady flavor of lemon rises from salads like Fennel and Pistachio, Eggplant Carpaccio, or sumptuous Fatoush, a bread salad with garden-ripe tomatoes.
In addition to basic Falafel, Gur offers a fish version with spicy Harissa Mayonnaise. Other street foods include Shawarma, a shaved meat sandwich with hummus or tahini sauce, Shakshuka, with eggs gently poached in tomato sauce, and phyllo or puff pastry Bourekas stuffed with spinach or eggplant and cheese.
Simple Pleasures include breads, stuffed vegetables, rice dishes (Persian Green Rice, Rice with Crispy Noodles), couscous, soups like Creamy Jerusalem Artichoke and Kubbe Hamousta, a lemony broth with bulgar and beef dumplings, and fish dishes like Trout Casserole and Fish Ceviche with Eggplant Cream.
Grilled dishes include a variety of chicken wings in spices like za'atar and sumac, lamb kebabs and Cornish hens. Many of the familiar traditional dishes, like Challah, Chicken Soup (both European and Middle Eastern) and Cholent are found in the Shabbat and holiday dishes include for Gefilte Fish, Lamb and Quince Casserole, Honey Cake, Latkes, Passover Matzo Pie and Labane (yogurt cheese).
Lively, colorful, steeped in history, tradition and the modern melting pot, Gur's book is also well organized, with clear directions and an understanding of the home cook's approach.