Moshe Basson’s legacy is written in his cookbook

It’s not unusual for the new breed of rock-star chefs to bring out glossy cookbooks once their careers take off. Others leave nothing behind and vanish when their once-hyped restaurants shutter. 

Then there’s a third group of chefs who write cookbooks only once they have a legacy to share. Jerusalem chef Moshe Basson belongs to this esteemed group. 

The Eucalyptus Cookbook comes after decades of serving a devoted following of local and foreign diners at his restaurant located across from the Old City walls in Jerusalem’s Artist Quarter (Hutzot HaYotzer). 

And as The Eucalyptus restaurant evolved in the years after it opened in 1986, famous chefs and foodies also found their way there, excited to discover a menu incorporating biblical foods, the Iraqi Jewish kitchen, traditional Arab and Jewish dishes from the Levant and foraged wild plants and herbs such as the now ubiquitous za’atar. 

All this is reflected in the cookbook, which contains 100 recipes and took 10 years to complete. Basson’s daughter, Sharon Fradis, helped write and test recipes. 

The forward is by doyenne of Jewish Sephardi and Middle Eastern cooking, Claudia Roden, who admits there is always something new to learn from Basson. 

In the 30 years of their friendship, their adventures have included wild herb picking in the Jerusalem hills, shopping at Mahane Yehuda, and savoring Basson’s “magnificent” Moroccan cigar of duck and figs accompanied by a vanilla carrot puree and pumpkin jam, lamb with dates or balabouza jelly, based on Roden’s recipe but with the addition of rose petal jam. 

“I love the way he combines flavors and textures and the way he marries ingredients, which are surprising and yet nostalgic, triggering almost forgotten memories,” she says. 

Basson’s own foray into cooking was first inspired by his mother reminiscing about eggs cooked over the embers of a bonfire when the family lived in Iraq. They left for Israel in 1951 following a farhud (pogrom) against the Jewish community. 

The young boy managed to recreate the dish with the help of his sister (the first two experiments ended up in exploding eggs!). After picking up the scent of the cooked eggs, his mother hugged him for “bringing her memories to life.” 

Other recipes in the book are inspired by his memories of the “wonderful traditional Arabic dishes cooked by our neighbors of my childhood, as well as the Iraqi dishes prepared by my mother, my grandmothers, and my aunts.” 

His lifelong study of biblical foods led to dishes such as freekeh (called carmel in the Bible) risotto and bulgur tabbouleh. 

In the book he explains how in the story of Absalom rebelling against his father, King David, there is a description of a woman spreading wheat to dry in the sun before cracking it into coarse or fine bulgur. In Arab villages, farmers still use this ancient technique. 

But Basson has never been stuck in the past, writes Elana Shap for the Israel 21c website. The ceviche recipes appearing alongside Moroccan fish kebabs with lemon cream and fish shawarma profiteroles are a testament to his welcoming of the next generation in the business.

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