Ency­clo­pe­dia of Jew­ish Food

Gil Marks
  • Review
By – September 22, 2011

Gil Marks — rab­bi, chef, his­to­ri­an, lec­tur­er, cook­book author — has long been rec­og­nized as a walk­ing ency­clo­pe­dia of Jew­ish food. Now Marks has com­piled his vast knowl­edge into a com­pre­hen­sive ref­er­ence book enriched with recipes and anec­dotes from his store­house of Jew­ish food lore.

Adap­ta­tion, accord­ing to Marks, is the cen­tral fea­ture of Jew­ish food. Liv­ing in almost every area of the world, Jews adapt­ed the food of each com­mu­ni­ty to the require­ments of their dietary laws, rit­u­als, hol­i­days, and eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion. When per­se­cut­ed and forced to move on, they brought with them the food of their for­mer homes, soon adapt­ed to their new homes. In this way Jews devel­oped many dis­tinc­tive cuisines, reflect­ing the com­mu­ni­ties in which they lived and passed to the next gen­er­a­tions as part of their lega­cy. 

Giv­en this broad def­i­n­i­tion of Jew­ish food, the ency­clo­pe­dia embraces food from almost every cor­ner of the world, start­ing with Ada­fi­na, the Sephardic Sab­bath stew that orig­i­nat­ed in Spain and, in many vari­a­tions, spread across North Africa, to Zwetschgenkuchen, a Cen­tral Euro­pean com­bi­na­tion plum cake and tart. In addi­tion to foods and dish­es, the more than 650 entries cov­er Jew­ish hol­i­days, cus­toms, and rit­u­als, under­lin­ing the impor­tant role food plays in Jew­ish cul­tur­al and reli­gious life. 

A valu­able ref­er­ence for the ori­gin, his­to­ry, and sig­nif­i­cance of hun­dreds of Jew­ish dish­es and for the preser­va­tion of the food of fad­ing or lost com­mu­ni­ties, Ency­clo­pe­dia of Jew­ish Food goes beyond the con­fines of the stan­dard ency­clo­pe­dia with its wealth of anec­do­tal and inci­den­tal infor­ma­tion — Lau­ren Bacall, it turns out, is a first cousin of Shi­mon Peres. High­ly read­able, detailed, and infor­ma­tive, Ency­clo­pe­dia of Jew­ish Food will reward any read­er inter­est­ed in Jew­ish cul­tur­al and culi­nary con­ti­nu­ity. Illus­tra­tions, index, resource list.

Recipe: Sephardic Spinach Pat­ties (Keftes de Espinaca)

About 16 patties


3 table­spoons olive or veg­etable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 to 4 cloves gar­lic, minced (option­al)
2 pounds (about 16 cups raw) fresh spinach, cooked, chopped, and squeezed, or frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed (about 4 cups)
About 1 cup matza cake meal or fine bread crumbs
About 34 tea­spoon table salt or 112 tea­spoons kosher salt
Ground black pep­per to taste
14 tea­spoon grat­ed nut­meg or 12 tea­spoon cayenne (option­al)
3 large eggs, light­ly beat­en
Veg­etable oil for fry­ing
Lemon wedges

1. In a large skil­let, heat the 3 table­spoons oil over medi­um heat. Add the onion and, if using, gar­lic and sauté until soft and translu­cent, 5 to 10 min­utes. Remove from the heat and add the spinach, matza meal, salt, pep­per, and, if using, nut­meg. Stir in the eggs. If the mix­ture is too loose, add a lit­tle more matza meal. Shape about 13 cup of the spinach mix­ture into 212‑inch-long, 1‑inch-wide, and 12‑inch thick pat­ties. 

2. In a large skil­let, heat about 14 inch oil over medi­um heat. In batch­es, fry the pat­ties, turn­ing, until gold­en brown on both sides, about 3 min­utes per side. Drain on paper tow­els. Serve warm accom­pa­nied with lemon wedges. 

3. To reheat the spinach pat­ties, place in a large skil­let, add 112 cups veg­etable stock, and sim­mer over low heat for about 5 min­utes.


Ital­ian Spinach Pat­ties (Polpet­tine di Spinaci): Add 34 cup raisins soaked in white wine for 30 min­utes, then drained, and 1 cup toast­ed pine nuts. Sephardic Spinach Pat­ties with Cheese (Keftes de Espinaca kon Que­so): Add 4 ounces (1 cup) grat­ed Muen­ster, Swiss, Gou­da, or Ched­dar cheese or 14 cup grat­ed Parme­san cheese.

Sephardic Spinach Pat­ties with Wal­nuts (Keftes de Espinaca kon Muez): Sub­sti­tute 12 to 1 cup fine­ly chopped wal­nuts for the matza meal.

Reprint­ed with per­mis­sion from Ency­clo­pe­dia of Jew­ish Food by Gil Marks, Wiley 2010.

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

Discussion Questions