Jew­ish Soul Food: From Min­sk to Mar­rakesh, More Than 100 Unfor­get­table Dish­es Updat­ed for Today’s Kitchen

  • Review
By – May 22, 2014

From the tempt­ing dish on the jack­et through the one hun­dred dish­es in Jew­ish Soul Food, this book is an invi­ta­tion to the kitchen. Jan­na Gur, one of Israel’s lead­ing food edi­tors and writ­ers, has gath­ered a wide-rang­ing and well-researched col­lec­tion of recipes that reflect the foods of the many com­mu­ni­ties in which Jews have lived and presents them in a clear, easy-to-fol­low format.

This is the food many emi­grants left behind when they began their new lives in Israel. But after sev­er­al years cham­pi­oning new Israeli food in the mag­a­zine she and her hus­band found­ed, Gur was brought up short by a vis­it­ing writer at a trendy Israeli restau­rant. Wasn’t it impor­tant, he asked, to pre­serve the food — and there­by the cul­tures and his­to­ries — of the places Jews had lived in for cen­turies? And so Gur set out to col­lect grand­moth­er recipes, dish­es that have the aro­ma and warmth of well-worn tradition.

In the U.S. we tend to think of Jew­ish food as the Ashke­nazi dish­es our great grand­par­ents brought from East­ern Europe, food not very suit­ed to Israel’s Mid­dle East­ern cli­mate, but Gur dis­plays the full breadth of Jew­ish food. From Alge­ria Gur receovers Passover Green Chick­en Soup fla­vored with car­damom and a host of green herbs. Ush­palau is a Bukha­ran pilaf rich with a brac­ing spice mix­ture. Pome­gran­ates are the base of the sauce for an Alep­pan dish of mixed stuffed veg­eta­bles, and the sweet-sour fla­vor often asso­ci­at­ed with Mid­dle East­ern food is fea­tured in an array of dish­es, notably Salona, an Iraqi fish casse­role. Nor has Gur for­got­ten chopped liv­er, gefilte fish, and brisket, an Amer­i­can bar­be­cued version.

Large for­mat and beau­ti­ful­ly illus­trat­ed with full-col­or pho­tographs through­out, Jew­ish Soul Food offers a vari­ety of recipes for every­day meals and for dress­ing up Shab­bat and fes­ti­val meals as well as a lit­tle back­ground on the tra­di­tions Gur hopes these dish­es will not only pre­serve but also tempt the read­er to explore fur­ther. Gur has pro­vid­ed a list of sources for ingre­di­ents that may be dif­fi­cult to find. Index, illustrations.

Relat­ed content:

Recipe: T’bit — Iraqi Stuffed Chick­en and Rice Hamin with Hon­ey and Spices

Made of beans, beef, and starchy veg­eta­bles, Shab­bat casseroles are pret­ty heavy. Iraqi t’bit is dif­fer­ent. It has all the com­fort­ing essence of a very slow­ly cooked pot roast, but because it is made with chick­en and rice (rather than beef and beans), it is con­sid­er­ably lighter. Just imag­ine how deli­cious the chick­en tastes after it spends the night in the oven wrapped in a blan­ket of fra­grant rice. You can make it with a whole chick­en or with chick­en parts. Here are both ver­sions to start you off. 

Since the rice cooks for such a long time, this is a per­fect recipe in which to use brown rice instead of white and make your Shab­bat lunch more nutritious.

(Serves 6)

For the stuff­ing
2 cups long-grain white rice or par­boiled brown rice (see below)
4 toma­toes, grat­ed (see page 162)
1 large onion, grat­ed
2 gar­lic cloves, minced (option­al)
1 to 2 table­spoons baharat spice mix (see page 150)
2 table­spoons veg­etable oil
1 heap­ing tea­spoon dried mint
Salt and fresh­ly ground black pepper 

For the chick­en
1 whole chick­en (3 pounds/​1½ kg)
2 table­spoons olive oil
2 cups chick­en stock or water

With Whole Chicken

1. Pre­pare the stuff­ing Mix togeth­er the rice, toma­toes, onion, gar­lic (if using), baharat, veg­etable oil, mint, salt, and pep­per.
2. Pre­pare the chick­en Fill the chicken’s cav­i­ty with one-quar­ter of the stuff­ing and secure it with tooth­picks or a truss­ing nee­dle and thread.
3. Heat the olive oil in a large oven­proof pot with a tight-fit­ting lid and brown the stuffed chick­en on all sides, about 15 min­utes.
4. Arrange the remain­ing stuff­ing around the chick­en, so that the chick­en is half buried in it. Pour the chick­en stock over and bring to a boil. Cook for 10 min­utes, until the liq­uid is absorbed by the rice.
5. Pre­heat the oven to 215°F (100°C).
6. Cov­er the pot with a tight-fit­ting lid and place in the oven to cook for at least 8 hours or overnight. 

This doesn’t com­ply with strict Shab­bat rules, but if you want crisp chick­en skin and brown crust on the rice, remove the lid and raise the oven tempera­ture to 400°F (200°C) for 15 min­utes before serving.

To par­boil brown rice:
Par­boil­ing improves the tex­ture of brown rice and enables you to use it in any recipe that calls for white rice. To cook 3 cups brown rice, bring to a boil 6 to 7 cups water with 2 to 3 tea­spoons salt. Add the rice and boil for about 15 min­utes, stir­ring occa­sion­al­ly. Drain. Refrig­er­ate if it will be more than a cou­ple hours before you use it.

(Serves 8 to 10

For the stuff­ing
½ cup long-grain white rice or par­boiled brown rice
1 large toma­to, diced
4 chick­en giz­zards, cleaned and diced (option­al, but rec­om­mend­ed)
Salt and fresh­ly ground black pep­per
1 tea­spoon sweet papri­ka
1 tea­spoon baharat spice mix (see below)
3 table­spoons olive oil 

For the chick­en
12 chick­en thighs
1 table­spoon hon­ey
1 table­spoon sweet papri­ka
Salt and fresh­ly ground black pepper 

For the casse­role
½ cup olive oil
3 onions, chopped
4 gar­lic cloves, minced
1 table­spoon sweet papri­ka
½ tea­spoon hot papri­ka
1 table­spoon baharat spice mix
1 tea­spoon salt
2 table­spoons toma­to paste
3 cups long-grain white rice or par­boiled brown rice

With Chick­en Thighs

1. Pre­pare the stuff­ing Mix togeth­er the rice, toma­to, giz­zards (if using), salt, pep­per, sweet papri­ka, baharat, and olive oil in a bowl.
2. Pre­pare the chick­en Gen­tly run your fin­gers between the skin and the meat of the chick­en parts to sep­a­rate them and cre­ate pock­ets.” Fill each pock­et with 2 to 3 tea­spoons of the stuff­ing. Be care­ful not to over­stuff because the rice dou­bles in vol­ume when cooked. Secure with tooth­picks.
3. Light­ly brush the chick­en pieces with hon­ey and sweet papri­ka. Sea­son with salt and pep­per.
4. Pre­pare the casse­role Heat the olive oil in a large oven­proof pot with a tight-fit­ting lid over medi­um heat. Add the onions and sauté for 6 to 7 min­utes, until gold­en. Add the gar­lic, sweet papri­ka, hot papri­ka, baharat, salt, and toma­to paste. Pour in 4 cups water and bring to a boil.
5. Pre­heat the oven to 215°F (100°C).
6. Add the rice to the pot and bring the liq­uid to a boil. Reduce the heat and care­ful­ly arrange the chick­en pieces so the stuffed side is fac­ing up and they are par­tial­ly buried in the rice. Return to a boil and sim­mer for 10 min­utes.
7. Cov­er the pot with a tight-fit­ting lid and place in the oven to cook for at least 8 hours or overnight. Serve hot.

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