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‘Olives, Lemons & Za’atar’ by Tanoreen’s Rawia Bishara

Spice girl: Bay Ridge icon pens new cookbook

for The Brooklyn Paper
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It is the book Rawia Bishara was born to write.

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.

“I think when you like to cook food, it’s about adventure and taste,” she said.

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.

“You mix things and make things according to your own taste,” said Bishara, of her propensity for experimentation and invention. “If you have an open mind about things, very nice dishes will come about.”

Bishara also infuses many of her dishes with Mediterranean flavors — Tanoreen’s beloved eggplant napoleon is a stack of fried eggplant slices, layered with baba ghanouj, surrounded by a tomato and basil salad.

“Being exposed to all these cultures and different foods makes you want to really do things and change things,” said Bishara.

But despite Bishara’s flair for the original, “Olives, Lemons and Za’atar” also pays tribute to tradition and heritage, interspersing recipes with stories and memories from her childhood. The Ridge restaurateur said she penned the book to pass down on recipes and stories to people who may not have had exposure to Middle Eastern food before.

“It’s a new way of cooking,” she said.

Rawia Bishara signs copies of “Olives, Lemons & Za’atar at the BookMark Shoppe [8415 Third Ave. between 84th and 85th streets in Bay Ridge, (718) 833–5115, www.bookmarkshoppe.com]. March 4 at 7 pm. Free.

Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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