Good Food Review: “The Most Important Ingredient In All Food Is Love”
Sina Mizrahi, recipe writer and photographer of the blog Gather a Table and contributor to Mishpacha Magazine, Kosher.com, and Binah Magazine, was born in Israel, grew up in Montreal’s French Moroccan community, and after a short stint in New York, got married and set up a home in Los Angeles and later Jerusalem.
As a newlywed, Sina realized that she had no idea how to cook, but gradually gleaned inspiration from cookbooks, magazines, websites, and the backs of food packages with her mother encouraging her over the phone.
She didn’t just learn how to cook – she became a cook, and the kitchen became her refuge. She began to blog and photograph her recipes, and Gather A Table was born.
Transport your taste buds…
The 160+ dishes in Good Food embrace Sina’s multicultural heritage.
“My parents are Israeli; my mother’s family came from Tripoli in Libya and my father’s family came from Morocco,” Sina shares. “My husband’s family is similar. My in-laws are Israelis. One side is Moroccan and the other is Turkish and Syrian. I learned to cook from all those cultures, and I love the rich culinary history I am privileged to be a part of.”
“I would say a signature dish would be my mother’s Mafrum and Couscous. It’s a Libyan dish of potatoes stuffed with meat in a rich tomato-based sauce. The couscous is steamed and hand rolled in a couscoussier. It’s served with tchirshi, a squash dip that’s sweet, tangy, and spicy. It’s my favorite! There’s also a refreshing salad called mesiyr. It’s a meal that means so much to me,” says Sina.
For those new to Middle Eastern cuisine, Sina recommends starting with Monday’s Grilled Chicken. “It’s familiar to everyone but has that Middle Eastern twist that isn’t too much of an investment of time to achieve. There are three variations so there’s something for every palate.”
In addition to her family’s Middle Eastern and Sephardic dishes, Sina incorporates a wide swath of international kosher cuisine along the way, including pasta, dan dan noodles, veggie lo mein, Cali bowls, and tacos and fajitas.
The building blocks of flavor…
The “Cook Good Food” section offers the home cook helpful guidelines on ingredients, seasoning, blooming spices and the four Ps (presence, passion, practice, and patience make perfect!). “The most important ingredient in all food is love,” Sina explains. “It’s terribly cliché but it’s true. Be patient with yourself. Cooking is a skill that takes time, and if you approach it as a task that allows you to give and nurture those around you then it will be pleasurable and your food will taste delicious. Hot sauce is a good backup!”
When I asked Sina if there was a particular dish, spice, or flavor that says “home” to her, she chose “deep, pungent, scarlet, beautiful paprika in oil. It’s rich and flavorful, and I put it in a lot of things.”
Sina spends plenty of time on the building blocks of flavor (flavor bombs) that add punch to a dish as an ingredient or garnish, including items that can be difficult to source like harissa, amba, toum, schug, techina, hilbeh, yuzu kosho, preserved lemons, pickled vegetables, and veggie dips and spreads. You’ll also find homemade spice blends for dukkah, Baharat, ras el hanout, and shawarma.
You’ll want to cook your way from cover to cover…
When Good Food arrived on my doorstep, I couldn’t put it down, and I had dozens of sticky tabs marking recipes I wanted to try. Many of these recipes are exclusive to the cookbook and haven’t been featured before on Sina’s blog.
I love to put out a spread of colorful veggie-infused dips and spreads, and the many choices in Good Food will be sure to delight, including babaganoush, various eggplant salads, Moroccan carrots, vegetable salads and an eggplant shakshuka.
Poultry and meat offerings include Za’atar Sumac Grilled Chicken, schnitzel, shawarma, tagines, pastilla, bourekas, and brisket. My family loves salmon, so I always appreciate new ways to prepare this protein-packed fish. Here you’ll find a pan-seared salmon, Za’atar Salmon With Pomegranate Gremolata (see recipe below), Fiery Salmon Pappardelle, and Orange Miso Salmon along with other fish ideas like Moroccan fried sole, chraimi, fish tacos, fish keftas, and fricassee.
Image by Sarah Hodge
Having been stationed overseas the last five years, I wasn’t able to source phyllo dough locally, so I’d been dreaming of whipping up crunchy, savory creations like the Charred Eggplant Spiral Bourekas, filled with a mixture of charred eggplant, caramelized onions, feta and mozzarella. These freeze well and reheat in minutes, making a perfect after-school snack or light lunch.
Image by Sarah Hodge
The pashtida is a fluffy, silky blend of potatoes and eggs served in wedges and brought to mind the Spanish omelette sandwiches I would snack on while exploring Spain’s preserved Jewish quarters and synagogues.
Image by Sarah Hodge
As a baker with an extensive collection of baking books, I’m always on the lookout for inspiration, and the Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti, Date Roll Cookies, Worth It Chocolate Chunk Cookies, Chocolate Covered Espresso Marzipan, and Orange Blossom Semolina Cake are now in regular rotation in my kitchen. The Worth It CC Cookies feature bittersweet chocolate chunks, browned butter, and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt that makes it impossible to eat just one! And I loved the nod to Sina’s Moroccan heritage with the Moroccan sweet table spread and mint tea.
The perfect kitchen companion
Sina’s gorgeously plated food photography (she uses only natural light) will inspire you to cook your way through the recipes, and there are plenty of quick, unfussy recipes (including Instant Pot) to get dinner on the table quickly. You’ll also find kid-approved dishes like mac and cheese, pizza, and pretzel chicken strips that even the pickiest eaters will enjoy. Handy notes, tips, and freezing instructions will help even novice cooks feel confident in the kitchen.
Good Food is a beautiful cookbook that fans of Yotam Ottolenghi and Israeli/Middle Eastern cuisine will love; there’s a wide range of international influences as well as kid-friendly and quick weeknight dishes, making this the perfect kitchen companion.
Sina generously shared an exclusive recipe from her book with our readers.
ZA’ATAR SALMON WITH POMEGRANATE GREMOLATA
1- to 2-pound salmon fillet
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon za’atar spice
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
pinch of black pepper
1 cup parsley leaves, finely chopped
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon finely chopped roasted, unsalted pistachios
2 teaspoons lemon zest or chopped preserved lemon rind
1/2 teaspoon flaky salt, such as Maldon
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Place salmon on prepared baking sheet. In a small bowl, combine oil and spices. Pat onto fish; roast for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the edges are browned and crisp and the fish flakes easily.
3. Prepare the gremolata. In a small bowl, toss together parsley, pomegranate seeds, garlic, pistachios, lemon rind, and salt.
4. Top salmon with gremolata and serve.