THE JEWISH COOKBOOK, LEAH KOENIG
Gosh! Where do I start, this 431 page Tome was a marathon to read. But like any marathon, at times it was long winded but the end result was one of fulfilment and achievement. This book encapsulates the Diasporic quality of Jewish food, taking the reader to all corners of the globe. It shows that Jewish food is ‘all about the people that cook it and what has been handed down and held onto’. My ignorance aside, I have learned that there is no definition for Jewish food, moreover, it is defined by spirit, culture and faith as opposed to place.
Jewish cuisine has adapted to allow for resilience, adjustments, longing and remembering and is considered sacred. With this in mind, it is not distinguished by geography, rather geography allows for adaptations which ensure that it can be enjoyed by everyone. Indeed, often the book will cite several recipes for one dish for example, considering the Ashkenazi, Greek or Kurdish form of a recipe.
I must admit, upon opening the book at the introduction I was somewhat daunted. Paragraph upon paragraph of tiny print explaining Jewish Cuisine around the globe, its evolution and cataloguing, appeared a little long winded. But, upon reading, I became hooked. Having recently read two novels about antisemitism, I was keen to learn all I could about the Jewish culture. I was fascinated by the section covering Jewish Holidays and Food Traditions as it uncovered the mysteries surrounding foods eaten during the week and those served on Shabbat (seventh day of biblical creation) and the holidays. I had no idea the rules surrounding these feasts and fasts were so complex.
Jewish food is confined to the dietary laws outlined in the Torah and Talmud. Fundamentally, it is Kosher (Kashrut) which: prohibits milk and meat to be cooked or served together, prohibits the consumption of pigs, shellfish, some birds, insects and any mammal that does not both chew its cud and have cloven hooves, requires the specific slaughter of animals, and forbids the consumption of blood.
These rules give rise to three distinct categories of food: Dairy, Meat and Parve, (which are made solely with eggs, fish, grains or any neutral produce). The resulting cookbook is both complex and fascinating.
Divided into sections: Breakfast; Salads, Spreads, Pickles & Starters; Soups & Stews; Vegetables & Grains; Fritters & Savoury Pastries; Dumplings, noodles & Kugels; Main Dishes; Cakes Cookies & Sweet Pastries; Confections & Puddings and Condiments, Spices & Drinks. It would have been nice to have an index for each of these sections at the beginning of the book so you could jump to a specific area without necessarily knowing the exact recipe you want to look up in the index at the back of the book.
That said, each recipe has its own pictorial key which highlights whether it is: Dairy Free, Gluten Free, Vegan, Vegetarian, 5 ingredients or less and 30 minutes or less. This is a nice touch to give an idea of what you are letting yourself in for before you start!
It is obvious from the language used that this is an American book, but quantities are given in both metric and US conversions. Similarly, where appropriate, language translations are made (some of which tickled me, think ‘bow tie pasta’ instead of ‘farfalle’)
I tested a few of the recipes and, apart from the fact that I would have enjoyed more pictures of the finished dishes, they were well written, easy to follow and yielded great results. My particular favourites were the Ma’ Amoul and the Cinnamon- Golden Raisin Babka. I could face plant these all day long!
I enjoyed the interjection of ‘Star Recipes’ by famous chefs from around the globe as they gave recipes with a touch more finesse for special occasions. And, according to where they were from, utilised ethnic ingredients in a new way.
Personally, the point at which I became a little distracted was the endless Tagine recipes. They all seemed to merge into a mass of meat or veg, in a sauce with dried fruit, or different permutations of. That said, there was a plethora of other main dishes to enjoy.
For me the sweet recipes were the star of the show. Breads, cookies and bakes were studded with spice and fruits… all things I love and a pleasant change from tarts and ganache.
To summarise, this book is beautiful. Both for its cover (very touchy feely) and its content. Not only is it humbling and educational but the recipes are so diverse that you feel as if you have travelled the globe through food.
If you are remotely interested into losing yourself in culture, I urge you to read this book. Then place it nicely on your coffee table for all to admire.