Jew­ish Hol­i­day Cook­ing: A Food Lover’s Clas­sics and Improvisations

Jayne Cohen
  • Review
By – February 24, 2012

Jew­ish hol­i­days, with the excep­tion of Yom Kip­pur, are asso­ci­at­ed with spe­cial foods. Jayne Cohen, a cook­book author and food writer, pro­vides cooks with some new ideas for hol­i­day cel­e­bra­tions. She begins with an attempt at defin­ing Jew­ish food, not­ing its diver­si­ty, and then pro­ceeds with a brief expla­na­tion of kashrut and kitchen basics such as stock prepa­ra­tion. Chap­ters for each of the major hol­i­days — Shab­bat, Rosh Hashanah, break­ing the Yom Kip­pur fast, Sukkot, Hanukkah, Purim, Passover, and Shavuot — fol­low. Each begins with an intro­duc­tion that includes fam­i­ly rem­i­nis­cences and infor­ma­tion about cel­e­brat­ing the hol­i­day. Sam­ple menus and recipes fol­low. Cohen is a very cre­ative cook. She pro­vides a tra­di­tion­al recipe for some­thing like kasha var­nishkes and then turns it into Kasha Var­nishkes with fried egg­plant, mush­rooms, and onion mar­malade. Gefilte fish becomes salmon gefilte fish poached in fen­nel- wine broth with gin­ger-beet horse­rad­ish. Moroc­can-fla­vored car­rot kugel and almond chal­lah are oth­er exam­ples of deli­cious vari­a­tions that will please any­one lucky enough to be at the table.

This delight­ful cook­book belongs in pub­lic and syn­a­gogue culi­nary col­lec­tions as well as home kitchens. B’tey avon!

Recipe: Arti­choke Soup with Light Herbed Mat­zoh Balls

Yield: 8 servings 

3 table­spoons mild olive oil
4 medi­um-large leeks (white and ten­der­est pale green parts only), washed well, pat­ted dry, halved length­wise and thin­ly sliced cross­wise
3 table­spoons chopped shal­lots
Salt and fresh­ly ground black pep­per
2 chopped gar­lic cloves
Two 9- or 10-ounce pack­ages frozen arti­chokes, thawed, pat­ted dry between lay­ers of paper tow­els, and cut into small pieces
7 to 8 cups chick­en stock, prefer­ably home­made (see pages 62 and 70), or good-qual­i­ty, low-sodi­um pur­chased
2 to 3 table­spoons fresh lemon juice
2 tea­spoons grat­ed lemon zest
3 table­spoons coarse­ly chopped fresh flat-leaf pars­ley, plus addi­tion­al for gar­nish
3 table­spoons snipped fresh dill, plus addi­tion­al for gar­nish
2 table­spoons coarse­ly chopped fresh mint, plus addi­tion­al for garnish


4 large eggs, sep­a­rat­ed
2 tea­spoons fine­ly grat­ed onion
2 table­spoons fine­ly snipped fresh chives
3 table­spoons fine­ly snipped fresh dill
Kosher salt and fresh­ly ground black pep­per
1 cup mat­zoh meal

Make the soup: In a large non­re­ac­tive Dutch oven or lid­ded casse­role, warm the oil. Add the leeks and the shal­lots, salt and pep­per light­ly, and sauté, stir­ring, over medi­um heat, about 7 min­utes, until soft­ened. Add the gar­lic and the arti­chokes, stir to coat well with the oil, and sauté over medi­um-high heat for 3 min­utes. Add 1 cup of the broth and 2 table­spoons of the lemon juice, cov­er the pan, and sweat the veg­eta­bles over low heat for 10 min­utes. Uncov­er the pan, raise the heat to high, and boil the pan liq­uid until it is near­ly evap­o­rat­ed. Add 6 cups broth, salt and pep­per to taste, and sim­mer over low heat, cov­ered, for 20 min­utes, or until the veg­eta­bles are very tender. 

Let the mix­ture cool slight­ly. Work­ing in batch­es, puree about half of the veg­eta­bles togeth­er with the lemon zest, pars­ley, dill, and mint in a food proces­sor or blender under fair­ly smooth. 

Return the puree to the pan. If desired, thin the soup with the remain­ing broth. 

Make the mat­zoh balls: Com­bine the yolks with the onion, chives, dill, 112 tea­spoons salt, and pep­per to taste, and beat very well until thick­ened. In a sep­a­rate bowl, using clean beat­ers, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff. Gen­tly fold the whites into the yolk mix­ture until well com­bined. Sprin­kle with the mat­zoh meal and gen­tly mix until com­plete­ly blend­ed in. Let rest 10 to 15 minutes. 

Bring a large, wide lid­ded saucepan of well-salt­ed water to a boil. Light­ly form the mix­ture into wal­nut-size balls. (A light touch is essen­tial here — per­fect­ly formed, com­pact lit­tle balls will result in dense, heav­ier mat­zoh balls.) Place the balls on a platter.

Slide the balls one by one into the water. Avoid crowd­ing the pot — if nec­es­sary, cook the mat­zoh balls in two batch­es. Cov­er the pot tight­ly and reduce the tem­per­a­ture to a slow boil. Cook with­out remov­ing the cov­er for 20 min­utes. (They need the steam to fluff up prop­er­ly, and remov­ing the cov­er will dis­si­pate some of the steam, caus­ing deflation.) 

Remove the balls with a skim­mer or a slot­ted spoon, drain­ing off excess water. Place the balls in the soup or set aside, cov­ered with a lit­tle broth, until you are ready to use them. 

To serve the soup: If the mat­zoh balls need warm­ing, add them to the soup. Reheat the soup gen­tly and adjust sea­son­ings, adding more salt, pep­per, or lemon juice as needed. 

Place two mat­zoh balls in each shal­low bowl, and ladle the hot soup over them. Gar­nish with addi­tion­al fresh herbs and serve at once.

Jew­ish Hol­i­day Cook­ing: A Food Lover’s Clas­sics and Impro­vi­sa­tions by Jayne Cohen (John Wiley; 2007; $32.50)

Bar­bara M. Bibel is a librar­i­an at the Oak­land Pub­lic Library in Oak­land, CA; and at Con­gre­ga­tion Netiv­ot Shalom, Berke­ley, CA.

Discussion Questions