Meet the chefs sharing their family’s Mediterranean cooking in new recipe books

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Meet the chefs sharing their family’s Mediterranean cooking in new recipe books

Samantha Ferraro and Limor Chen's dishes are full of flavour

Samantha Ferraro and Limor Chen
Samantha Ferraro and Limor Chen

Call me old fashioned (and my kids often do), but I like my recipes in a book. Over the summer, joyously, I got my hands on two new Mediterranean-style cookery books and had the pleasure of trying out lots of flavour-filled dishes on my family.

Samantha Ferraro, author of One-Pot Mediterranean, was born in New York to a Sephardi mother and an Ashkenazi father. When she was 14 she and her mum moved to Hawaii, which had only a small Jewish population. It was not until she met her Californian husband Joe that she moved back to the Pacific Northwest and wanted to reconnect with her Jewish roots. She did this by asking her family for recipes and making all the things that she’d missed, like her mum’s latkes. Chatting to me over Zoom from Washington where she now lives, she beamed as she reminisced: “Old-school moms, they never measure. They say ‘add a few eggs and some matzo meal and you just feel it.’” Nowadays she takes inspiration from her mum’s recipes and has fun with them, adding dried fruit and lemon to grape leaves previously only stuffed with meat and rice.

amantha, who started her website The Little Ferraro Kitchen in 2011 and published her first book, Weeknight Mediterranean Kitchen in 2018, now also does live events and classes. It is, she says, all about getting excited about new flavours. Indeed, the recipes are approachable, but use really vibrant spices and fresh herbs.

“It’s one-pot, but it’s not throw it all in and walk away. We’re building flavour, you want to sear the chicken and get that flavour and then add the rice and toast it into the fat.” I had to come clean; I confessed that I cut all the corners and throw everything into a tinfoil tray and stick it in the oven. She smiled kindly: “I write recipes that have measurements, but do what feels right to you. If you’re a comfortable cook and know how to play around with it, go for it. My goal is to get you excited about cooking something different.”

For once I’ve had no complaints from my family (not about food, anyway). They demolished the smoky vegetable bean stew with ‘broiled’ halloumi and I’ve got chicken marinating for the Greek chicken and olives recipe tonight.

Limor Chen – artist, cook and owner of Israeli restaurants Delamina and Delamina East in London – grew up in Tel Aviv. Her beautiful book My Tel Aviv Table: A Journey of Flavours and Aromas from a Sun-Soaked City intersperses colourful, mouth-watering recipes with chapters on her childhood and life.

Before our chat I listened to the Tel Aviv playlist on the Delamina website to get in the mood. Speaking from her home in London, Limor reinforced the feeling for me: “I miss Tel Aviv… the sea, the spirit, the vibe, there is something very special about Tel Aviv.” And of course the food:

“I think the food in Tel Aviv is one of the most interesting culinary experiences that people can have.”

With two successful restaurants where she is very involved in the food development, Limor’s experience of compiling her recipe book was nostalgic and thought-provoking for her. She shared with me how interesting it was for her to go back to her roots and how it was more than just taking recipes from Delamina: “Flavours and aromas take you back straight away to your childhood and our memories. Those recipes are more than just food, it’s who you are”.

Not only does her book have stunning photos of Tel Aviv, but the food shots are so inviting and tempting that one wants to get straight in the kitchen and try the recipes out. Indeed, the very first recipe, shakshuka, is one that we all know and love. Limor oozes with passion for this dish: “Shakshuka is my go-to brunch dish. It’s full of flavour and made with my favourite vegetables: tomatoes and red peppers. It’s hearty but not heavy, velvety with a touch of heat and perfect to scoop with pitta bread. Always transports me to Tel Aviv”. Among the other recipes are fig and goats cheese salad, cod chermoula with Israeli cous cous, and a legendary family recipe for vine leaves stuffed with venison and fruit.

Like Samantha, Limor was also very influenced by her family’s cooking. She talks about her father’s big flavours, throwing his passion into his dishes, and her mother’s avant-garde approach to healthy eating – grilled food, lots of vegetables, less frying and using olive oil instead of butter. Her grandma’s kitchen was also very special to her.

I told her that, much to their surprise, I recently made my family her whole sea bass with herbs, lime and orange zest and that I have my eye on a Persian stew next. She said that she also tries out her recipes on her family. I would imagine they get a better deal.

One-Pot Mediterranean is £14.99 on Amazon

My Tel Aviv Table is £28 and is available for pre-order on Amazon (publication November 2023).


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