Jew­ish Food: The World at Table

  • Review
By – September 21, 2012

I thought I’d nev­er taste my late grandmother’s pop­py seed cook­ies again. She made them by instinct. But then I saw the recipe for mohn kichel—pop­py seed cook­ies— in Goodman’s new cook­book, a com­pi­la­tion of 170 Jew­ish dish­es hail­ing from 21 coun­tries. This recipe orig­i­nat­ed in Ukraine and was hand­ed down at least three gen­er­a­tions, the book says. 

I had all the ingre­di­ents but not a stand­ing mix­er,” which the instruc­tions called for. My elec­tric hand mix­er will do just fine, I told myself as I placed a stick of soft­ened but­ter and half-cup of sug­ar into a mix­ing bowl. What was I think­ing? Almost imme­di­ate­ly, the but­ter wedged itself inside the mix­ing blades, leav­ing most of the sug­ar behind. I spent the next 15 min­utes extri­cat­ing said but­ter with a spat­u­la and my fin­gers. But I per­se­vered, assign­ing my 11- year-old to hold the hand mix­er as I slow­ly added the dry ingre­di­ents with one hand while rotat­ing the bowl with the oth­er. The dough rolled out beau­ti­ful­ly, and we final­ly got to use our Chanukah shapes Jew­ish sym­bol cook­ie cut­ters. My first crunchy bite into a mohn kichel instant­ly trans­port­ed me back to my grandmother’s kitchen. Next Chanukah, I’m ask­ing for a stand­ing mixer. 

Jew­ish food­ies every­where are like­ly to find more than one recipe in Jew­ish Food that trans­ports them to a kitchen long gone, no mat­ter their coun­try of ori­gin. There’s tor­shi lift—pick­led turnips — a pop­u­lar appe­tiz­er among Syr­i­an and Egypt­ian Jews; mach­li cha kan­ji (Bom­bay cur­ried salmon), fasou­lia (Greek white bean and veg­etable stew), Hun­gar­i­an red cab­bage with apples, goz­i­nakhi (Geor­gian hon­ey-nut clus­ters), and a Mex­i­can blintz dish made with veg­eta­bles and roast­ed poblanos. Good­man intro­duces many recipes with fas­ci­nat­ing anec­dotes. The blintzes, for exam­ple, came from a Jew­ish immi­grant from Lithua­nia who, in the 1930’s, trad­ed her pos­ses­sions for a dia­mond, hid it in her hair, and board­ed a ship bound for Mexico. 

Those look­ing for famil­iar Jew­ish dish­es, such as chopped liv­er, kugels, chal­lah, latkes, brisket and kre­plach, won’t be dis­ap­point­ed. The occa­sion­al hard-to-find ingre­di­ent notwith­stand­ing, most of the recipes are non-intim­i­dat­ing. There are also numer­ous essays focus­ing on a par­tic­u­lar Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty, such as Spain; dish; or ingre­di­ent, such as pome­gran­ates. Good­man— food colum­nist at The For­ward and a cor­re­spon­dent for the pub­lic radio show The Splen­did Table” — inte­grates food sci­ence infor­ma­tion as well as nuances of kashrut laws in sev­er­al of his essays. 

Jew­ish Food cel­e­brates the inge­nu­ity of Jews who infused their culi­nary tra­di­tions with the finest fla­vors of the cul­tures they lived in.

Robin K. Levin­son is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist and author of a dozen books, includ­ing the Gali Girls series of Jew­ish his­tor­i­cal fic­tion for chil­dren. She cur­rent­ly works as an assess­ment spe­cial­ist for a glob­al edu­ca­tion­al test­ing orga­ni­za­tion. She lives in Hamil­ton, NJ.

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