The New Mediter­ranean Jew­ish Table: Old World Recipes for the Mod­ern Home

  • Review
By – December 10, 2015

Many cook­books today are more suit­ed to the cof­fee table than the kitchen. With sump­tu­ous pho­tos and illus­tra­tions on each page, recipes can take sec­ond place. But although these gor­geous images will sure­ly make your mouth water, can you real­ly imag­ine a home cook turn­ing out such per­fect pho­to-shoot creations?

In The New Mediter­ranean Jew­ish Table, Joyce Gold­stein returns to a more old-fash­ioned style of cook­book. With recipe after recipe — more than 400 of them — set out in a pleas­ing design, one is intro­duced to real food, for prepa­ra­tion by real home cooks. What a pleasure!

Gold­stein, a chef, restau­ra­teur, cook­ing teacher, food indus­try con­sul­tant, and pro­lif­ic cook­book author, with numer­ous awards to her cred­it, delves into Mediter­ranean food tra­di­tions and their adap­ta­tions by Jew­ish cooks so as not to con­tra­vene the kosher dietary laws. She expands the com­mon­ly held def­i­n­i­tion of what is meant by Jew­ish cook­ing” — name­ly, Ashke­nazi food, with its Euro­pean her­itage — to take in food tra­di­tions that devel­oped in Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties liv­ing in the Mediter­ranean region. This includes Spain, North Africa, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and the Mid­dle East. So brisket is out, lamb is in; for­get bagels, try pita; less meat, more veg­gies; spice things up with sumac, char­moula, and pre­served lemons.

One may won­der, why the label Mediter­ranean” rather than the more famil­iar Sephardic” in the book’s title? Gold­stein explains that refer­ring to food tra­di­tions that devel­oped in all parts of the Mediter­ranean as Sephardic is inac­cu­rate. She dis­tin­guish­es three dif­fer­ent Mediter­ranean Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties: Sephardic from Spain and Por­tu­gal, Maghre­bi from North Africa, and Mizrahi from the Mus­lim Mid­dle East. While ingre­di­ents and cook­ing meth­ods for pop­u­lar dish­es often over­lap, there are also dis­tinc­tions based on the com­mu­ni­ties that adopt­ed and adapt­ed them.

In her help­ful intro­duc­tion, Gold­stein pro­vides an overview of Mediter­ranean Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties and the devel­op­ment of their culi­nary tra­di­tions, some his­to­ry, sources, and brief expla­na­tions of kashrut and the Jew­ish hol­i­days. Addi­tion­al­ly, each recipe is accom­pa­nied by a para­graph or two describ­ing its ori­gins as well as how, where, and when it is served. It makes for fas­ci­nat­ing read­ing even if you choose not to pre­pare the dishes.

But Gold­stein encour­ages their prepa­ra­tion. The recipes in this book are not muse­um pieces,” she writes. They are alive” and are open to change and per­son­al inter­pre­ta­tion. It’s a won­der­ful invi­ta­tion to pre­pare some­thing new, and at the same time expand Jew­ish culi­nary tra­di­tions. How about Moroc­can Lamb with Pre­served Lemon and Olives? Per­haps Braised Arti­chokes, Favas, and Let­tuce, from Italy? Or, for an unusu­al dessert, Turk­ish Grain and Fruit Pud­ding, with an Egypt­ian variation?

The New Mediter­ranean Jew­ish Table is Joyce Goldstein’s wel­come con­tri­bu­tion to a genre that presents food as an entry point to under­stand­ing (and tast­ing) the Jew­ish experience.

Relat­ed Content:

Gila Wertheimer is Asso­ciate Edi­tor of the Chica­go Jew­ish Star. She is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist who has been review­ing books for 35 years.

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