Book: Olives, Lemons & Za’atar: The Best Middle Eastern Home Cooking


“A bible of Middle Eastern food” by Rawia Bishara, the Palestinian (from Nazareth) owner of the very successful Tanoreen Restaurant in Brooklyn, NY.

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by Rawia Bishara

Rawia, in Arabic, means storyteller. And that is what I am. I tell the stories of my life’s journey, culture, and family through my cooking. A delicious meal is the greatest companion to the memories we cherish most. I was born into a food-loving Palestinian-Arab family in Nazareth, a beautiful town in the southern Galilee. Though the words “organic,” “locavore,” and “sustainable” were unknown then, my parents’ approach qualified on all counts. My respect for the sources of food, how it is grown and prepared, originates in my early years at home.

My grandmother had ceramic urns filled with fruity olive oil, pressed from the trees on her family’s land picked by my aunts and uncles. My mother, too, made her own olive oil, and used the remaining “crude” oil to make soap; she also distilled her own vinegar, sun-dried her own herbs and fruits, made fresh batches of goat cheese, as well as sweet wine from our vineyards, and jarred jewel-colored jams from the bounty of the local orchards.

After moving to New York, I opened my restaurant Tanoreen to honor my mother and her imaginative cooking as well as the rich Middle Eastern gastronomic culture that is rarely experienced outside the region. Tanoreen is unique because it showcases Middle Eastern home cooking as I experienced it growing up. The 135 recipes in this book celebrate tradition and embrace change. I cook without rigidly following recipes, though I do respect tradition. My dishes are based on our culture’s recipes that are flexible enough to accommodate both adventurous and conservative contemporary palates.

Organized by Breakfasts, Mezze, Salads, Soups and Stews, Main Courses (including vegetarian, fish, chicken, lamb and beef), Sides, Pickles and Sauces, and Desserts, in each chapter I maintain the authenticity of a dish, re-creating it as it has been made for generations; but sometimes I might opt to experiment a bit, to make the recipe more contemporary, perhaps adding a spice or offering a few shortcuts. My favorite examples of these are my preparation of Brussels Sprouts with Panko (and tahini), Spice Rubbed Braised Lamb Shank (marinated in ginger and rose buds), Tanoreen Kafta Roll, (a reconstructed classic) or Eggplant Napoleon (baba ghanouge layered between crisp eggplant and topped with basil and tomatoes). A dish like Egyptian Rice with Lamb and Pine Nuts shows this cookbook goes beyond Nazareth, and is more of a bible of Middle Eastern food, sharing my culinary journey from Nazareth to New York, with many stops in between.

Bishara’s cooking combines Middle Eastern techniques with Mediterranean flavors. But she takes cues from other cuisines, too. An eggplant napoleon is an ode to its principal ingredient, as well as an inspired marriage of textures: layers of feathery fried eggplant rest daintily between smears of baba ghanoush. Musakhan—flatbread topped with sumac-spiced chicken, slow-cooked onions, and almond slivers piled high, and sliced like a pizza—is a near-perfect harmony of sweetness and pungency. (Katherine Stirling, Tables for Two The New Yorker, 7/5/2010)

Ms. Bishara’s translation of Middle Eastern cooking has Mediterranean accents, and occasional North American ones from her decades in the United States. And so the tang of cilantro enlivens some of her dishes, and the musk of basil, the welcome zing of jalapeño. (Sam Sifton, Tanoreen The New York Times, 2/23/2010)

A strong contender for “Favorite Cookbook of the Season” is Brooklyn Chef Rawia Bishara’s Olives, Lemons & Za’atar: The Best Middle Eastern Home Cooking. Her Bay Ridge restaurant, Tanoreen, has been recognized by critics and media alike as one of the best Middle Eastern restaurants in New York. Update your ‘must-visit’ list and make these vegetarian stuffed eggplants, potatoes, tomatoes and squash for a memorable Meatless Monday. (Food Republic, 2/10/2014)

It’s no big surprise that we’ve been drooling over the pages of Rawia Bishara’s beautiful new cookbook Olives, Lemons and Za’atar. Taking inspiration from her cosmopolitan childhood growing up in New York and holidaying in the Med, Rawia has created a book full of cross-cultural cooking. With chapters dedicated to breakfast, mezze, salads, soups and stews, main courses, sides, pickles and sauces and desserts you’re guaranteed to find something to satisfy your spice craving. For a fresh but filling salad the classic tabbouleh is a must try, packed with fragrant parsley and sweet plum tomatoes, no mezze would be complete without it! Or for the ultimate winter warmer the spiced lamb shanks are perfect. Tender slow cooked meat in a richly spiced sauce, all that’s needed is a crispy warmed flatbread and you have the ultimate comfort food. (Grace Parry Eat. Travel. Live)

This is the first cookbook from Rawia Bishara, whose Brooklyn restaurant Tanoreen serves what she refers to as Middle Eastern home cooking. The book will focus on Bishara’s personal experience with Middle Eastern food growing up in Nazareth, as well as food from across the region. As she calls it, it will be ‘a bible of Middle Eastern food.’ (Paula Forbes, 1/16/2014)

Olives, Lemons and Za’atar [is] the story of how the food of a Nazareth childhood became destination cuisine. [Rawia Bishara’s] food has been called ‘narcotic,’ but now there’s relief for some of the far-flung junkies.(Katherine Lanpher Aljazeera America, 2/14/2014)

For 16 years, Bishara—whose first name means ‘storyteller’ in Arabic—has been telling stories through the recipes she serves up at her popular Bay Ridge restaurant, Tanoreen. Now, Bishara is really living up to her name by putting those dishes down on paper, with her debut cookbook, Olives, Lemons & Za’atar. The book, which Bishara will sign at the BookMark Shoppe on March 4, is comprised of 135 recipes that celebrate her Middle Eastern roots, while also spicing up some old favorites. For Bishara, creating dishes that are delicious is more important than being entirely authentic. A staple in Bay Ridge since 1998, Tanoreen’s menu is inspired by the food that Bishara, a Palestinian, experienced growing up in Nazareth in northern Israel. Fans of the eatery will find many of their favorite dishes in Olives, Lemons & Za’atar—such as Bishara’s knafeh, her take on a sweet cheese-filled pastry, which was featured on the Food Network show “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” But Bishara also concocted many new recipes just for the cookbook. (Sarah Iannone Brooklyn Daily, 3/3/2014)

Why It’s Worthy: ‘Originally when I first came [to this country], everyone had the idea that Middle Eastern food was all about hummus and falafel and shish kebab,’ Bishara told us. ‘People did not know that we really have a healthy, fantastic kitchen.’ Even the book’s most impressive-looking dishes are relatively easy to execute, she stressed. ‘People are always afraid to try and cook new things; it’s really much easier than they think,’ Bishara said. You won’t have to run here, there and everywhere in search of exotic ingredients, either; Bishara said you can find them at any good-sized supermarket. (Rachel Tepper, One for the Library: “Olives, Lemons & Za’atar”Yahoo Food, 2/28/2014)

These recipes from the cookbook Olives, Lemons and Za’atar by Rawia Bishara, owner and chef at Tanoreen, showcase the unique flavor of Middle Eastern cuisine. (Reader’s Digest)

Bishara’s book looks at the foods of her native Nazareth as well as the amped-up riffs that she serves at Tanoreen. Time and again throughout the book, she mentions adding more spice, more herbs, more flavor to a dish than her mother would have. Similarly, vegetarian options are given for many recipes. On a Cauliflower and Lamb Stew, for example, Bishara notes the recipe ‘doesn’t rely on its meat for its flavor; simply use vegetable broth, omit the meat and enjoy it just the same, ladled over fragrant basmati rice.’ (Paula Forbes National, 2/18/2014)

Additional information

Weight 2 lbs
Book Specifications

• Poetry • 95 pages • Published July 2009 • ISBN 9781566567558 • Paperback