London based chefs and partners Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer guide readers through the cities and grilling customs of the Levant in their newest cookbook, Chasing Smoke. The book begins in the winding streets of Cairo; Packer and Srulovich clinging to one another for dear life, while their cabbie, Mustafa, offers an expedited tour of Cairo’s many historic sites. They turn onto a street bathed in golden sunlight, lined with smoking grills. This is Hawawshi Street, where Lebanese arayes are made; massive rounds of flatbread stuffed with meat, peppers, cheese and crisped to golden perfection in clarified butter against the searing grates of the grill. Biting into these wedges of meat, bread, and cheese is where Chasing Smoke begins. It’s a heady journey through five Levantine cities — Adana, Acre, Thessaloniki, Amman, and Alexandria – and the food that nourishes them.
Chasing Smoke is broken down into five chapters: Fruit & Vegetables, Fish & Seafood, Birds, Lamb & Other Meats, and Bread & Unmissables. This book is not only a delicious dive into five cities but also a highly accessible and useful guide for readers with dietary restrictions. The chapter on fruits and vegetables was an especial delight, chalked full of both familiar favorites — like smokey eggplants, blistered tomatoes, and honey and urfa chili butter-slathered corn cobs — and lesser known grilling options like grilled cabbage and charred kohlrabi with radishes and sesame. Each recipe guides the reader through the preparation of both the food and the grill with a refreshing lack of pretension or machismo.
In addition to the recipes are Srulovich and Packers stories of meandering through each city’s market. With piquant descriptions and gorgeous photographs, these sections ground the book in its thesis: grilling is about so much more than smoke, coals, wood, or fire. It is about seasonality, community, and respect: respect of the land, of animals, of host cities, and, perhaps most importantly, of those who are responsible for providing your food.
Hannah Kressel is a current fellow at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. She holds a Masters in Art History from the University of Oxford and a Bachelors in Art History and Studio Art from Brandeis University. Her research examines the intersection of contemporary art, food, and religion. She is an avid baker and cook.