Cookbook Review: Olive, Lemons, & Za’Atar by Rawia Bishara



PROS: The recipes are hearty Middle Eastern recipes. The flavors are delicious in the dishes I made. There’s many pictures in the book and interesting stories.

CONS: I did not have luck with all the recipes. The pictures would have looked nicer if they had been glossy. The recipes take a lot of prep time and are time consuming.


Middle Eastern cooking is leading the top of my charts right now. From Jerusalem to Olives, Lemons, & Za’Atar, I’m getting a great variety of wholesome, hearty meals.

Olives, Lemons, & Za’Atar is written by Rawia Bishara, owner of Tanoreen Restaurant in Brooklyn. Bishara hails from Nazareth. The dishes in her cookbook combine traditional Middle Eastern cooking, while also reinterpreting her mother’s cooking. She speaks of her mother in the intro. She was influenced by the foods and dishes of Galilee, but did not rigidly make these dishes authentic. Bishara describes her own cooking as a celebration of tradition that still embraces change.

The book creates a helpful pantry for a cooker of Middle Eastern food, as well. With definitions of the spices and other foods that should be in any kitchen making Middle Eastern food, Bishara describes allspice, ghee, orange blossom water, and sumac – to name a few.

This book has taught me more about Middle Eastern cuisine – such as mezzes. Mezzes are small plates which can either be a snack, an appetizer, or even a full meal (if you have several mezzes of course.) I didn’t end up making any mezzes for this review, but I like the idea of having snacks for your guests when they come over. One of Bishara’s friends always offers hummus, romaine lettuce cups, tabouleh, and roasted nuts when guests come over. Her children serve mhammara (red pepper and walnut spread,) along with Arabic bread, cheese, honey, and crackers when they have guests. I need to initiate mezzes in my own life. Whether I decide to make Middle Eastern dishes or not, I like the concept.

Throughout the book Bishara shares her own story, explaining her own experiences with food both in the Middle East and New York. It’s an interesting read and gave me some cultural insight.

The book itself is full of pictures. Rather than glossy photos, the pictures in this book are matte. I think more could have been brought to the book through glossy photos, because the matte quality makes them lose some sharpness and definition. At the same time though, the matte does tie to some of the simpleness of the tastes and the dishes themselves.

A downside is that everything takes forever to make. Paired with my last review, I’m starting to think this may be true of Middle Eastern food in general. Someone tell me, is that true?

I made several different recipes from this book. Some were great, some I’m not sure about.


Eggs in Purgatory p. 115

All my recipe selections have been random. It’s sort of funny that I made the same recipe here that I made in my Jerusalem review. Though the title of this recipe in the book is Eggs in Purgatory, small underneath it says shakshuka. Sound familiar? Side by side, I think this version was better. The flavors between this recipe and the previous one were the same, this dish was heartier. I mean, it had eggplant in it and the previous did not. I think a version of this will become a staple Sunday breakfast food in my house.

Stuffed Artichoke

Stuffed Artichoke with Meat and Pine Nuts p. 148

Bishara shared this artichoke recipe, which she note is not traditional to Nazareth but something her mom picked up somewhere else. I was most excited about this recipe. Served alongside Rice and Vermicelli Pilaf (on page 182,) the picture of these in the cookbook looked great. I thought I followed all the instructions all the way through, but . . . it doesn’t even compare to the picture in the book. My meat got way too cooked (like, charred?) and the artichoke itself was still hard after the hour of cooking. It was rather disappointing. I ended up pouring my overcooked meat in the pilaf and chucking the artichoke. But undercooked artichokes are sort of impossible. I had used fresh artichokes and while the recipe did tell me how to make it with a fresh artichoke, I’m thinking maybe the instructions for the frozen artichoke might have worked better? I don’t know – but this was a disappointment.


Palestinian Couscous with Chicken, Chickpeas, and Pearl Onions p. 141

The traditional name of this dish is maftool. The page next to this recipe is called The Romance of Maftool. Though the recipe did call for couscous (or.. maftool,) it allowed rice as a substitute. I was running low on couscous, so decided to use rice. Bishara does note that peeling the onion takes an “absurd amount of time,” and man, she’s right! The prep for this dish is extraordinarily long and peeling pearl onions is awful and tedious. But anyway, the flavors of this dish were just as I was thinking they would be. It took awhile, but was very tasty.

Arabic Bread

Arabic Bread p. 57

For breakfast I was going to follow the recipe for Yogurt Tahini with Chickpeas (p. 26.) Turns out though that I didn’t have a crucial ingredient for the dish – chickpeas. Because I had already started the bread to go with it, I mixed up the Yogurt Tahini in the breakfast recipe and used it as a dip for the bread sans chickpeas. I forgot to take a picture of the sauce, but it was great. The bread worried me a bit though when I was making it. It was SO sticky. It was so sticky that I had trouble getting it off of my hands. I was worried that it wouldn’t work, but the came out pretty good. The first batch could have been pulled out further because they ended up being pretty poofy – but the photographed batch came out nice and flat and brown. Bishara shares that when she was younger her mother would make 40 – 50 loaves of this bread at a time. So many recipes in this book call for this bread as a main ingredient, so I’m not too surprised her mom made so many of these. For bread, these weren’t too time consuming.

Overall: I wasn’t successful with all the recipes I made from this book. The dishes that did work though tasted great. The book is filled with recipes that Bishara grew up with and has in some cases elevated to restaurant quality food. I liked the book, but I probably would not be including it in my collection.

weekend cooking

12 responses

  1. I love eating Middle Eastern food, but rarely make it myself. I have to say, I don’t see quick and easy often as labels for recipes I’ve found for that cuisine on the internet! Sounds like this is a great cookbook, though, for when you have some time to devote to preparation and cooking.

  2. I know so little about Middle Eastern cuisine — enjoyed this post and what you shared. I’m not a fan of making complicated, time consuming recipes, but I don’t mind eating them :). The book sounds like it contains some great background information, maybe worth reading even if you don’t make any of the recipes. Will check my library for this one.

  3. I love Middle Eastern food, but I don’t always have a lot of time to put together a meal. It sounds like the recipes were not tested well for a home kitchen. If I decide to give the book a try, I’ll check it out from the library before I buy it.

  4. The Eggs in Purgatory looks delish! I applaud you for trying the artichoke recipe. I’ve given up on cooking them whole, as I can never get them quite right. When you find the perfect recipe for them, please share!

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