Customer Review

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful modern classic., 27 Feb. 2013
This review is from: The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand and Vilna to the Present Day (Paperback)
After several months, I've finally finished it. However, this is not the last of my dealings with this book, not by a long stretch - I've far too many recipes in mind still. Reading it has that effect, I could not help but stop and get the apron out.

It's very clearly laid out in two sections on the cuisines of the Ashkenazi and Sephardi world of Jewry (this will become clear upon reading). In between the recipes are interesting chapters on the different Jews worldwide, spanning the Americas, western and eastern Europe, the Near East, Africa and Asia. The Diaspora is as expansive as the world, of all nationalities: Polish, Italian, French, Spanish, Iranian, Iraqi, Greek, Turkish, Uzbek, Egyptian, Ethiopian, S.African, Indian, Russian, Chinese are immediately called to mind with plenty in between. It amazes me how ignorant one has been of their cuisine (I've Jewish friends), but there it is, I've been appreciatively informed: it's not all salt fish, bagels and pickled cucumbers, such is the Ashkenazi majority in the UK.

Let not the laws of kashrut (dietary, cooking laws) deter you from what could be wonderful recipes to try. Things you'd never consider 'Jewish' are made by Jews, it's as simple as that: from hot and cold mezze, spicy or soothing soups, dressed or fried vegetables, fish, cheese and dairy recipes, overnight stews, coconut curries, fruity and meaty tagines, rice, wheat, bulgar pilaffs, homemade pasta, sweet and savoury boreks (pie/pastries), basic breads, to exotic desserts, pancakes, potato puddings, sweet puddings, fruit and cream desserts, ice-creams, preserves, condiments: there are enough to try a few different ones everyday. (But being realistic, this is unlikely, so this is truly a book to own for a lifetime of discovery).

This is a testament to proper, home and hearth food of the Jews today, with some refined dishes in between for entertaining, or simply, private indulgence. She's selected what she considers representative and best (there's some overlap given their movement or 'displacement' over the ages), adapted slightly to the modern diet in terms of health and availability (e.g. saturated fats, ingredients such as more recherche offal), but most importantly, I trust her. I'm not inclined to lamb except when it's served to me, but even I can adapt a lot of the recipes to other meats. (So very un-kosher of me, but preferably pork.) Many serves 6-8, but are easily adapted for those with a calculating mind. Complaints, perhaps, concern the the preparation of chutneys/relishes and fruit preserves, such as their safe bottling, maturation and life-span. Another, for a baker, are the breads. Few to choose from, and only representative of the tip from what must be the oldest baking tradition of the world. Remiss of her, it spoils what is brilliant. A shame.

I'd be lying if I said the recipes are the most interesting feature of this book, it nearly is, but it isn't: I adored the chapters on the history of the different ethnic Jews. Thankfully she's included a decent bibliography. So far I've made salt beef (easily a raging success, so worth the effort), aubergine pickle (unexpected, but still interesting), pickled turnips (strange and novel), candied orange (she's right, 'so good' especially when what is available to buy is so poor) with candied lemon next on the list. Currently I have rugelach pastry chilling, ready for filling and baking. What can I say, I don't own many cookbooks that I actually cook from, it's motivational. (I often take guidance too from her Middle Eastern Food.) It easily has a little home on my bookshelf alongside the modern Ottolenghi cookbook, et al.

One last, major actually, disappointment is the complete lack of illustrative photos, it's one of those 'black and white' books. But let that not detract from all its strengths. I'd be poorer without this book.
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