To accompany our very competitive, NCAA-style tournament of cookbooks, we asked you—our readers!—to get in on the fun and test and review 15 cookbooks dubbed Piglet Community Picks. Read on for some of our community's reactions to Honey & Co. by Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer—and keep up with all the reviews here.
I’ll confess I was a bit nervous to review this book. Being half Egyptian and living in Jordan for two years, I have some rather specific opinions about Middle Eastern food.
But the introduction, written by co-author Itamar Srulovich, provided a strong entry point to understanding the authors’ background and food journeys to Middle Eastern food through deeply personal, engaging writing. The book is the story and recipes of the husband and wife team Srulovich and Sarit Packer and their restaurant, Honey & Co., in London. As Srulovich describes in the introduction:
We were not an obvious match. I was a skinny 23-year-old beach bum. I thought I knew everything there was to know about cooking and food, but I always preferred sleeping or reading to working. She, a plump 24-year-old war machine with a Bolshevik work ethic and a spreadsheet for a brain, intent on a stellar career, had (still has) an endless interest in cooking and food, and a soft spot for beaches.
Our brainchild is now a reality — it is our day-to-day, our family and our job. It’s hard, really hard. We work long, stressful hours and deal with the realities of pipes blocking, council officials visiting, staff getting ill, friends getting angry for being ignored and the constant fear of it all going wrong. But we are having more fun than we would ever have thought possible.
The lively writing continues throughout in the recipe notes, and even somewhat in the recipes, which use descriptive language to help the cook recognize various stages. Even when it becomes obvious that Packer is writing, the voice doesn’t change significantly.
Their recipe for Bukhari bread, for example, opens with a story of the people who created it:
A city on the Silk Road, Bukhara gave its name to all Jewish communities in central Asia, from the Caspian Sea to modern-day Pakistan. The food of these people is an undiscovered treasure, delicious and abundant with stone fruit, nuts, herbs and sweet-scented spice. This is one such food to fill your home with the good smell of nigella seeds and bread baking, and your heart with pride at its outer and inner beauty.
They then instruct the reader to "go all Edward Scissorhands on [the bread dough]...start snipping it every inch or so into little peaks."
They give different takes on some items that honor the various traditions they come from, which I really liked. They also do a wonderful job of setting the reader up to cook, starting with spice mixes, pickles, bread, and simple small plates.
I made dinner for friends using only recipes from the book: short rib with dates, date molasses, and potatoes; the Big Itzik; Israeli couscous, peas, preserved lemon, mint and goat cheese; Zehug; and the chocolate, cardamom, and bitter orange dessert.
The short ribs were simple to make with a little planning and deeply savory in flavor. I couldn’t find date molasses and was hesitant about using regular molasses, but the short ribs were excellent without it.
For an adventure, try the Big Itzik salad. I wound up using multiple burners on my home stove, as I couldn’t crowd the eggplants, peppers, and onions onto one burner. I recommend making it when you have other things going on in the kitchen (dishwashing, slicing vegetables, etc) as it does need tending, but not constant oversight. The procedure is a bit messy (the eggplants leaked and there was ash everywhere), but it was fun! (Use plenty of foil around your burners to make the cleanup easy.) The result was delicious—a mix of textures, deeply smoky flavor set off by the addition of fresh green and vinegar. It was good at room temperature as well as hot.
The Israeli couscous, peas, preserved lemon, mint, and goat cheese was fresh and simple, a nice counterpoint to the richer sofrito and complex salad. I substituted frozen peas as I can’t get fresh at this time of year.
The Zehug, a Yemeni condiment with herbs and chiles, was a hit with my friends! We put it on everything, as per the suggestion, and our only complaint was that we would have preferred it hotter—so next time I will add more chilies.
The chocolate, cardamom, and bitter orange dessert was simple: a chocolate-cardamom cream with a bitter orange syrup drizzled over the top. The chocolate part turned out somewhat grainy in texture, which I didn’t expect and wasn’t sure I liked, but I loved the combination of flavors, so would try it again. The sour cream dollop on top added a piquant note that I really liked and would not have thought of myself; I would probably have used whipped cream if left to my own devices.
Additionally, I made the spice mixes, the turnip pickles, and the Bouikos. The spice mixtures took a bit of effort, but nothing extraordinary, and the best part is I’m really looking forward to trying them in all sorts of dishes.
The pickles took me back to Jordan and Egypt and came out crisp, deeply pink, and refreshing. The Bouikos (little cheese buns) were good but dense because I used whole wheat pastry flour instead of regular pastry flour as it was the only one I could find.
The book could’ve included more information about ingredients and substitutions because some were unusual: namely nigella seeds, date molasses, and mahleb seeds. I think these small problems could easily have been solved with a bit more effort in the ingredient section, but as it is, it makes the book less accessible for the beginning cook and those living outside of cities where these ingredients are regularly available.
That said, the flavors of this book provide a wonderful introduction to the world of Middle Eastern food without a lot of complications. Some of the ideas could even be used to deepen flavor and add texture to other recipes. And, even though I cooked a lot of the book, there are still a number of recipes I can’t wait to try.
“The first thing I noticed when leafing through this book was that it is a labor of love: a romance between the authors; with the food of the Eastern Mediterranean; with their restaurant and its many regulars; and with their staff.”
“The opening pages of this book, ‘Basic Instructions–the way we work’ and ‘Base Recipes,’ are the keys to success. For example, the US equivalents for specific flours are given here and not always in the recipes. Likewise, they use a convection oven, so if you haven't read that note, you need to be a confident cook to let your dishes stay in the oven till they are done. I loved the notes on finding the best tahini, and the homemade baharat mix (a spice mix of cardamom, cumin, turmeric, coriander, and on and on) will be a permanent presence in my pantry.
“The book is divided into chapters according to method of cooking (for example, Rolled and Wrapped, or Slow Roasted). This is coincidentally similar to how Ottolenghi’s books are organized, who’s served as a mentor to these chefs. This organization can either be frustrating or not, depending on how you read your cookbooks.
If you use them as you do textbooks, just looking to learn a new keepsake recipe, how to make some sort of basic chicken recipe, for instance, could be a little irritating. There are recipes for chicken in no less than three chapters: Slow Cooked, Light Dinners, and Rolled and Wrapped. Having said that, this is really the kind of book that invites novel-style reading over studying—indeed, it’s a love story.”
“I tried ten recipes with some help from my daughter and seven of them were rated 10/10 by my family and coworkers.
And lucky for me, the authors have already turned out another book, the Honey and Co. The Baking Book. A restaurant and two cookbooks in twelve months! Seems they can’t be as relaxed as they seem to be in the pages of Honey and Co., but who knows? They are my book friends, anyway, and I feel very welcome in their kitchen.”