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.