The Jew­ish Cookbook

Leah Koenig, Julia Tur­shen (fwd.)

  • Review
By – January 27, 2020

The next time I rave about my favorite Jew­ish deli and some­one cuts me off to ask, but is there real­ly a Jew­ish cui­sine?” I won’t waste my breath argu­ing. Instead, I’ll give them a copy of The Jew­ish Cook­book, a bril­liant new book in which Leah Koenig has detailed a trove of recipes that expert­ly illus­trate the sto­ry of the Jew­ish dias­po­ra.

What makes this book so spe­cial is the dili­gent research Koenig put into her 430-page book to diver­si­fy the mean­ing of Jew­ish food. Each recipe is pref­aced by a short expla­na­tion of why and how the dish­es evolved to become sta­ples in var­i­ous Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties. The breadth of region­al cuisines are wide, span­ning from Ashke­nazi clas­sics to the Bene Israel com­mu­ni­ty of Indi­an Jews. As Julia Tur­shen notes in the book’s fore­word, Koenig’s deci­sion to define Jew­ish food by dias­po­ra means it’s also defined by resilience, adapt­abil­i­ty and infi­nite adjust­ments, long­ing and remem­ber­ing, and often home­sick­ness — even if home is no longer.” In Koenig’s hands, a col­lec­tion of var­i­ous charoset recipes is enough to illus­trate how Jews were deter­mined to keep tra­di­tions alive in what­ev­er cor­ner of the world they wan­dered to.

To illus­trate how the con­tem­po­rary world has shaped Jew­ish cui­sine, Koenig makes room to fea­ture recipes from famous Jew­ish chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi, Michael Solomonov, and many more. Recipes from culi­nary icons tend to be com­pli­cat­ed and could daunt the home cook, but the mix of both approach­able and aspi­ra­tional dish­es assure that this book will main­tain a long shelf-life. Inter­ludes from recipes that pro­vide use­ful infor­ma­tion about Jew­ish hol­i­days and feasts that accom­pa­ny them can help con­tex­tu­al­ize the dish­es and encour­age read­ers to car­ry on tra­di­tions in the way that best express­es their own rela­tion­ship to Judaism.

The Jew­ish Cook­book should be a sta­ple in every Jew­ish house­hold. It is the per­fect gift for both a Jew­ish per­son who won­ders what their great-grandmother’s knish­es tast­ed like and those curi­ous to learn about new food cul­tures and culi­nary tech­niques. Koenig’s col­lec­tion of recipes prove that dar­ing to define Jew­ish food isn’t a fool’s errand. It val­i­dates thou­sands of years of his­to­ry, car­ried for­ward through the food we make, eat, and share.

Emi­ly Mari­noff is a cul­ture writer and audio pro­duc­er. Her writ­ing has appeared in Roads & King­doms and Buz­zfeed, and she cur­rent­ly makes pod­casts at iHeart­Media. She is espe­cial­ly enthu­si­as­tic about bread making. 

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