When I first moved to Seattle over 5 years ago, I was desperate to meet other bloggers. I didn’t know one person here so I started emailing the bloggers behind my favorite blogs. New friendships blossomed as well as the Seattle Food Blogger Events, my group that brings local bloggers together to talk about food. Michael Natkin of Herbivoracious was one of my first friends here (he came to the first meeting) as well as one of the first blogs that I started to read daily.
I know Michael Natkin from just about the time when he started his blog journey, I remember him staging at Cafe Flora, I remember the day that the restaurant got reviewed and his dish happened to be the one that the reviewer raved about. It gave me hope as a newbie blogger, it was a sign that if you reach for your dreams and you work hard, great things will happen. One of my fondest memories was an underground dinner that Michael invited me to. Michael taught me that vegetarian food can be complex in flavor, he made buckwheat blini topped with asparagus caviar and creme fraiche and a Panko crusted hard-boiled egg with smoked asparagus and sherry gastrique. This was before I was so deeply immersed into food, asparagus caviar was an idea that I had no idea could happen and his menu blew me away.
photo credit: Michael Natkin
photo credit: Michael Natkin
I watched over the years as Michael’s blog grew, his readership grew and now I am holding the galley of his cookbook (it is basically the pre-cookbook, not all the photos are in it but I get to read all the recipes and experiment.)
This book is really amazing. Michael knows how to make vegetarian dishes explode with flavor. I admit that I eat meatless quite a lot, mostly out of convenience. With 3 kids at home, my husband and I tend to divide up the tasks and he does most of the shopping because I do the cooking. I hardly plan my meals in advance so I cook vegetarian because it is convenient and fast. Michael seems to plug the things that I miss into meatless meals in here without missing even a bit of flavor. He gives you that exact ingredient that you need to make a meal pop and that is what it is.
Some of the things that I loved about this book:
– He explains cooking. I am a pretty good home cook but I have to say that sometimes I wonder what I need to add to make my dish pop. He gives explanations about how to add acid, salt and just what would make a difference.
-He doesn’t use fake proteins. There is tofu in it but you won’t find imitation meat or anything of that sort.
– He has some of my favorite Jewish recipes; I am sure that many would have no idea that they are Jewish because they are Sephardic (the polar opposite of blintzes or potato latkes), you will find recipes like Sabich and Mujadara (Middle Eastern rice and lentil pilaf). For me, these recipes
are much more comforting than bagels and lox, which people perceive as Jewish Food.
– There are recipes from all over the world; the recipes are influenced from Morocco to Spain, Italy to Israel, and the Southeast Asian and Indian regions.
– The recipes are tested by a dad of two. They are family- friendly recipes that you can make at home. And there are lots of explanations.
You can pre-order the book here.
Before I end this review, I am going to share his recipe for Sabich. The summer days in Israel (we visit a lot) are often so hot that you feel as though you never want to eat again. On those days, all I can find room for is watermelon and feta or popsicles but suddenly in the deep afternoon, the hunger hits and grabbing a Sabich on the street, a pita full of fried eggplant, egg and lots of vegetables is the best way to hit the spot. Amba, a pickled mango is found in every Sabich but it is indeed an acquired taste, I have always avoided it because it seems to come out of your pores which does not seem the least bit appetizing on a day of sweltering heat (my friend’s swear by it though).
Michael’s Sabich Recipe (with introduction)
Iraqi-Jewish Eggplant Sandwich (Sabich)
MAKES 4 SANDWICHES
Sabich is a popular Sabbath food for Iraqi Jews, who, when they emigrated to Israel and set up a community in Ramat Gan, brought the sandwich with them. It has since gained widespread popularity, and of course, in typical Israeli fashion, there are 100 variations and 200 opinions about which one is best.
There is something about the creaminess of the egg and the fried goodness of the eggplant that works really well together. And the garnishes of Israeli salad (tomatoes and cucumbers with a bit of lemon juice), hummus, onions, pickles, parsley, and amba give your mouth the full workout of sweet, spicy, sour, herbaceous, smooth, and crispy.
Amba is a pickled mango condiment. You may be able to find it at a Middle Eastern grocery, or check the Internet for a recipe and make your own. If you can’t find it or make it, use a little harissa or other hot sauce instead.
2 plum tomatoes, finely diced
Half an English cucumber, finely diced
Juice of 1 lemon
1⁄4 cup vegetable oil
1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into generous 1⁄4-inch slices
4 large eggs, hard-cooked, peeled, and sliced (omit for vegan)
2 cups hummus (store-bought or make your own)
1 cup pre-seasoned tahini (sesame paste, also known as tehina or tahina) or 1 cup plain tahini seasoned with 1 clove minced garlic and lemon juice to taste
1⁄2 cup loosely packed fresh flatleaf parsley leaves
Half a small white onion, minced
1⁄2 cup thinly sliced or diced dill pickle
Amba (pickled mango; more information in the book)
4 pita breads (omit and serve as a salad for gluten-free)
1. In a small bowl, make a simple salad of the tomatoes, cucumber, and lemon juice, adding salt to taste.
2. Put the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the eggplant in batches until completely tender, turning to brown on both sides, about 7 minutes total; drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt. (You can also grill the eggplant instead of frying for a different, lighter taste.) Transfer to a serving dish.
3. While the eggplant is frying, put the eggs, hummus, tahini, parsley, onion, dill pickle, and amba in small bowls so diners can build sandwiches to their own specifications.
4. Toast or grill the pita bread.
5. Serve it forth, preferably with a cold beer, and encourage everyone to make a gigantic sandwich
Recipe© Michael Natkin and used by the permission of The Harvard Common Press.