Some folks might not like Chinese food; others don’t like the rich spicy flavour of Indian meals; there are those who say that Northern European food is bland; but it’s impossible to say that one doesn’t like Jewish food.
“What’s not to like?” my Jewish friends might demand. There is no seasoning that is Jewish and Jewish alone, no cooking method that is unique to those attending synagogue, no single ingredient that is kept only for those of this particular faith. No reason not to like Jewish food.
The cuisine sweeps away national boundaries. It embraces the cooking styles of every continent. The raw materials reflect the produce of the diverse countries that have become home to this displaced nation. Jewish cooking is World cooking.
Marlena Spieler knows just about all there is to know about the central place of food in Jewish traditions. Every occasion, be it joyous, sad or religious, has food associated with it. Marlena offers us 400 recipes (some of which have become standard in our home… and, no, I am not Jewish) that give a view of both modern and ancient dishes. Many will be familiar to my dear reader who might not even have considered these to be Jewish foods.
You might know that Cheesecake is Jewish and a bagel is the mainstay of any Jewish baker, but how’s about Moroccan Pigeon Pie, B’Stillah? It is one of Morocco’s most celebrated dishes but Marlena tells us that it originated in Andalucía in Spain and was brought to North Africa by the Jewish community. Moroccan Jews have carried the recipe with them to new homes around the globe.
Jews not only took their own dishes to far off countries but they were evidently open to new ideas. Stollen is what we think of as the archetypal German Christmas bread, but it has been adopted by those Jewish communities still remaining in Germany as a sweet treat to garnish the table at winter celebrations.
I have found several recipes here that have already become favourites. In particular Moist Orange and Almond Cake which is amazingly simple, a fat-free cake with a robust orange flavour from an orange that is first boiled and then liquidised. It takes an hour for the aforementioned fruit to reach soft perfection but you aren’t expected to stand and watch it. I confess that have even made this cake with less almonds than recommended (mental note: must write shopping list) and it was still a delight. Perhaps even better the next day if you can bring yourself to save it.
Jewish Traditions Cookbook is full of dishes that I personally enjoy eating. It’s good cooking for today’s living. There is plenty for both vegetarians and meat eaters, for those who love spice and others who crave delightful desserts. Yes, the book will be welcomed by the Jewish home cook who will appreciate these 400 or so kosher recipes as well as the history behind so many of them, but the dishes are just as good for non-Jews. “What’s not to like?”
Cookbook review: Jewish Traditions Cookbook
Author: Marlena Spieler
Published by: Lorenz Books
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018