Jew­ish Soul Food: Tra­di­tion­al Fare and What It Means

  • Review
By – May 18, 2015

Car­ol Ungar uses her tal­ents as a writer and cook to bring read­ers a unique vol­ume. Not­ing that the home, and in par­tic­u­lar the din­ing table, is the true cen­ter of Jew­ish life, she uses the hol­i­days on the Jew­ish cal­en­dar to present tra­di­tion­al foods along with their spir­i­tu­al sig­nif­i­cance. The Hebrew word for Jew, Yehu­di, has the same root as the word for grat­i­tude, and Jew­ish spir­i­tu­al­i­ty is based on giv­ing thanks. The hol­i­days involve spe­cial foods to remind one of the impor­tance of grat­i­tude: mat­zo recalls slav­ery in Egypt, latkes invoke the oil that last­ed eight days, and haman­taschen bring forth Haman’s evil deeds.

The author goes beyond these basic rec­ol­lec­tions with chap­ters for each hol­i­day. Shab­bat is full of foods with the Kab­bal­is­tic numerol­o­gy of sev­en: chal­lah, home­made sweet wine, and chick­en soup. She pro­vides menus for each of the meals served dur­ing the Sab­bath, along with com­men­tary about the ori­gins of the dish­es and their mean­ing. A Torah scroll chal­lah for Sim­chat Torah, etrog con­fit for Tu Bish­vat, and rice and lentil pilaf to break the fast of Tisha b’Av are among the spe­cial dish­es that will add both mean­ing and delight to hol­i­day obser­vance. The recipes come from Ashke­naz­ic, Sephardic, and Mizrahi Jew­ish tra­di­tions. Most are quick and easy to pre­pare. They are not labeled dairy, meat, or pareve, but the ingre­di­ent lists tell cooks where they belong. This is a love­ly book for any­one inter­est­ed in Jew­ish culi­nary traditions.

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

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