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New Wave Kosher: Jewish Food From Near And Far

By Iris Brooks
Published June 16, 2008

Here is a select sampling of hardcover cookbooks worthy of a look (and taste). Each is filled with a wealth of recipes, culinary history, geography and cultural lore.

In an era when you can listen to Cuban cowboys, Japanese ukulele players and Irish mariachi bands, it’s not that much of a conceptual leap to consider tasting hybrid Jewish foods—like the Tunisian-Jewish breek, for instance. There are surprising Jewish culinary styles and cookbooks of all varieties: California kosher, Chinese kosher, Sicilian Jewish, savories from Samarkand, and dishes in Sephardic Jewish kitchens from Morocco to India. If your taste runs toward the unadulterated, you may prefer traditional Israeli recipes—but of course, there’s also much more to Jewish cuisine than just the internationally known staples of matzo balls and gefilte fish.

The Food Of Israel: Authentic Recipes From The Land of Milk And Honey, by Sherry Ansky and Beth Elon, is part of the Periplus World Of Cooking Series distributed by Tuttle Publishing (132 pages). Although Israel is only about the size of Massachusetts, it does have a rich, multicultural culinary lineage, with immigrants from 70 countries contributing to its distinct array of foods and cooking techniques. 

The Food Of Israel is filled with vivid color photos by Nelli Sheffer, but this is more than a glossy cookbook—it’s an introduction to culinary traditions within a historic and cultural context for appreciating Israeli food. Authentic Israeli ingredients are explained, from the familiar (tahina is described as “a thick paste made from fresh, ground raw sesame seeds”) to the less familiar (such as bahar of ambah, a spicy yellow mixture for seasoning pickled vegetables). According to the authors, Israeli cuisine is built on seven ingredients: olives (a symbol of peace), figs (representing knowledge) and pomegranates (associated with immortality and love), along with dates, wheat, barley and grapes. The mouth-watering pastry triangle called patira, which is stuffed with spinach and herbs, is one of many appealing recipes, listed with both American and Imperial measurements.

Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury Of Jewish Vegetarian Recipes From Around The World, by Gil Marks, was published by Wiley in 2005 (454 pages). Like its title suggests, this is a true treasury, celebrating a mosaic of Jewish culture. Jewish vegetarian recipes from Alsace to Uzbekistan are found in this award-winning book, which was an International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) fi nalist and James Beard winner. In lieu of photos, maps delineate the spread of stuffed cabbage, the predominant cheeses of the Old World, and the primary grains harvested throughout Europe and North Africa. The scholarly author, who is a rabbi and historian, offers an encyclopedic scope of his subject. “Even though Jews were scattered throughout most of the known world,” he writes, “they were generally still able to maintain a degree of unity, both through shared texts and traditions, and sometimes through direct contact. Hence, the cuisines of Jews from Cochin (southern India), Yemen and Ethiopia, regions separated by the