The Euca­lyp­tus Cookbook

Moshe Bas­son

  • Review
By – April 28, 2024

In his Jerusalem restau­rant, chef Moshe Bas­son seeks to bring a mod­ern Israeli inter­pre­ta­tion to the Land of Milk and Hon­ey with food from the Bible.” This may be a lofty aim, but it is mag­nif­i­cent­ly achieved.

Bas­son opened his first Euca­lyp­tus restau­rant in 1986, which he named for the tree he plant­ed one Tu B’Shevat near his fam­i­ly home in Jerusalem. Today, the restau­rant is locat­ed out­side Jerusalem’s city walls, in the artists’ colony, and reser­va­tions are essential.

Ingre­di­ents such as egg­plant, pome­gran­ate, za’atar, cous­cous, chick­peas, and local pro­duce and herbs make reg­u­lar appear­ances, as one would expect from a cook­book that skews Mid­dle East­ern. Accom­pa­ny­ing each recipe is a charm­ing sto­ry with details about the dish, why it’s includ­ed, its ori­gins, and the author’s own rela­tion­ship to its ingre­di­ents. Bas­son writes with good humor about his fam­i­ly, his mem­o­ries, and the cre­ation of his recipes. Clear prepa­ra­tion instruc­tions, along with mouth-water­ing pho­tos, invite read­ers to give these dish­es a try. 

If slow-cooked lamb in gold­en crust or Aunt Aliza’s bakla­va sound daunt­ing, there is plen­ty for the less ambi­tious home cook to work with. The key to Basson’s recipes: trust your instincts and your own sense of taste and smell.

Basson’s whole fam­i­ly loves to cook. His moth­er and her fam­i­ly, who were from Iraq, served as ear­ly influ­ences on him. In Israel, his par­ents ran a bak­ery, so food prepa­ra­tion was noth­ing unusu­al for him. 

Bas­son, whose father was reli­gious­ly obser­vant, retells bib­li­cal sto­ries relat­ed to food. Writ­ing about the for­ag­ing he enjoys in the Jerusalem area, he pairs a recipe for purslane leaves with a sto­ry from the Tal­mud about Rab­bi Yehu­da HaNasi. 

Near his recipe for stuffed grape leaves, Bas­son recounts plant­i­ng a vine and a fig tree, inspired by a verse in I Kings: Judah and Israel dwelt safe­ly, every man under his vine and under his fig-tree.” He also offers Jacob and Esau lentil stew, named for the two broth­ers in Genesis.

There is much to enjoy in this cook­book beyond the recipes (although they would have been enough). It is a feast for the eyes and the palate as well as a step back into his­to­ry. It isn’t shy about its appre­ci­a­tion for the flo­ra and fau­na of the Land of Israel and for the cul­tures and tra­di­tions that have become part of Israeli cuisine.

Gila Wertheimer is Asso­ciate Edi­tor of the Chica­go Jew­ish Star. She is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist who has been review­ing books for 35 years.

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