June Hersh is the author of The Kosher Car­ni­vore: The Ulti­mate Meat and Poul­try Book, avail­able this week. She will be blog­ging all week for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ings author blog­ging series.

As a food writer you need to be pre­pared to answer just about any ques­tion tossed at you dur­ing a Q&A. I like to feel I know my sub­ject mat­ter inside and out, and I admit to late night Googling (that sounds x‑rated) to research some­thing I am not 100% cer­tain of. While I should be dream­ing of food, I am instead try­ing to unrav­el its mys­ter­ies. My obses­sion with infor­ma­tion is jus­ti­fied as I have been asked if a free-range chick­en is hap­pi­er than its caged neigh­bor, or whether America’s fas­ci­na­tion with hum­mus is a fad or here to stay. Under­stand­ing food is my job, and the bet­ter my under­stand­ing the more clear­ly I can com­mu­ni­cate the pow­er of food through the recipes I write. No query has kept me awake more nights then a ques­tion I was asked dur­ing a radio inter­view: what is Jew­ish food? Truth is, it’s a great ques­tion with no easy answer.

In my first book, Recipes Remem­bered: A Cel­e­bra­tion of Sur­vival, I told the sto­ries of Holo­caust sur­vivors and recre­at­ed their cher­ished recipes. No one would ques­tion that the kugel I tast­ed, the mat­zo ball soup I slurped and the brisket I devoured were Jew­ish foods. They have been eat­en in every Jew­ish home, pre­pared in a myr­i­ad of ways and while ingre­di­ents and tech­niques vary, they def­i­nite­ly fall into the Jew­ish food arena.

My sec­ond book, The Kosher Car­ni­vore: The Ulti­mate Meat and Poul­try Book, was designed to be a depar­ture from the typ­i­cal Jew­ish cook­book, focus­ing on tech­niques and recipes that crossed bor­ders and time-zones and appealed to both Jew­ish and non-Jew­ish cooks alike. Using a meaty cut of osso buco or a testos­terone dri­ven capon, I pre­pared what I con­sid­er to be eclec­tic but unex­pect­ed kosher food. Yet once the word kosher is involved in a book title, the per­cep­tion is you are pre­sent­ing Jew­ish food.

The real issue is how do we define Jew­ish food when we don’t have a spe­cif­ic coun­try we can point to for culi­nary inspi­ra­tion? It’s not as if Israeli food rep­re­sents Jew­ish food, or that there is a coun­try where Jew­ish food is the main­stay cuisine.

Con­sid­er this: we’ve been thrown out of all the best coun­tries in the world, so we have incor­po­rat­ed in our cook­ing style the best of every culture’s culi­nary point of view. We have clev­er­ly adapt­ed or adopt­ed cook­ing from regions we have found our­selves in and made those styles our own.

Addi­tion­al­ly, we don’t have a cook­ing icon who defines our cui­sine. Proud Amer­i­cans can point to James Beard or Julia Child, Ital­ian cooks mar­vel over Mario, or the British sin­gle out…OK bad exam­ple. There are many great chefs who hap­pen to be Jew­ish but they are not cel­e­brat­ed for prepar­ing what many con­sid­er Jew­ish food.

So what makes a food Jew­ish? Here’s my the­o­ry: I think that beef bour­guignon is Jew­ish food when made by a woman who endured the Holo­caust on the out­skirts of Paris and learned to make this clas­sic French dish for Rosh Hashanah din­ner. I pro­pose that the Sephardic meat cakes that I helped my grand­moth­er make every Passover typ­i­fy the ulti­mate Jew­ish food for my fam­i­ly. It is a dish I now make annu­al­ly and one I hope will endure for years to come. I con­tend it’s watch­ing your favorite aunt make her sig­na­ture latkes and serv­ing them every Chanukah. And isn’t that what makes a food tru­ly Jew­ish? It is the process of learn­ing to make that dish with some­one you love, it is the hope that dish will find a lega­cy, it is the asso­ci­a­tion of that food with a fam­i­ly gath­er­ing. It is an inde­fin­able cui­sine with tra­di­tion being the main ingredient.

Some schol­ars main­tain that mat­zo is the only true Jew­ish food. And who with any culi­nary pride or pedi­gree would want to lay claim to that? As far as I know there are no restau­rants called Mat­zo and More” or Most­ly Mat­zo.” So, in our search for a Jew­ish restau­rant, is our local deli the only fix for tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish fixings?

Absolute­ly not. You don’t need to be Sher­lock Holmes to detect the ubiq­ui­tous Jew­ish dish­es dis­guised in many of today’s trendi­est restau­rants. Vis­it the newest three-star eatery where the deci­bel lev­el is only exceed­ed by the num­ber of young things stacked at the bar. Order the toast­ed buck­wheat with far­falle and smile, because you’re eat­ing kasha var­nishkes. Try the paper-thin dumplings stuffed with beef and onions and under­stand they are kre­plach answer­ing to anoth­er name. Care to cool off with chilled roast­ed beet soup? That’s borscht in my book. And when you order bis­cot­ti for dessert, remem­ber, twice baked man­del bread is biscotti’s Jew­ish cousin with less effec­tive PR.

And what about buzz words like loca­vore and organ­ic, which might seem new and flashy? Jew­ish cooks were organ­ic loca­vores long before the terms became fash­ion­able. They knew that if it grew in your back­yard or was raised on the farm next door, it was din­ner. These cooks can pre­pare cab­bage a hun­dred dif­fer­ent ways and man­age to nuance sweet and sour so that your tongue delights like a chore­o­graphed dance. In writ­ing and research­ing both books, it struck me that the more we move for­ward in our food trends the clos­er we get to the Jew­ish food our grand­par­ents pre­pared. If we ate like 85-year-old Pol­ish peas­ants, we could skip the occa­sion­al spin class, light­en up on the ener­gy bars and enjoy a shot of schnapps a lit­tle more often.

Tonight when I am awake at a time I should be asleep and I am tempt­ed to Google some obscure food, I should turn off the light, shut down the com­put­er and be con­tent­ed that I am sat­is­fied with my answer to the ques­tion what is Jew­ish food?” It is not lim­it­ed by region, not con­strained by ingre­di­ents, and nev­er short on love and tra­di­tion. It might be dif­fi­cult to define, hard to cat­e­go­rize or even digest. But, it is the food that has always nur­tured and nour­ished us, and is hap­pi­ly enjoy­ing a spir­it­ed revival in the hands of a new gen­er­a­tion of Jew­ish cooks.


This dish, which has its roots in Milan, is braised in wine and aro­mat­ics and served over saf­fron scent­ed rice. Osso Buco actu­al­ly trans­lates to mean, “ hole bone”, allud­ing to the rich melt iny­our mouth mar­row con­tained in the cen­ter. Be sure to pro­vide small forks or lit­tle knives tocoax out the soft del­i­ca­cy. This recipe calls for a dash of bal­sam­ic vine­gar and the option ofadding olives and anchovies to give the dish a lit­tle extra intrigue. The gre­mo­la­ta top­ping isop­tion­al, but lends a vibrant note when spooned over the veal.

Behind the Counter Have your butch­er cut the shanks into 2 ½ – to – 3‑inch pieces (about10 ounces each). Ask your butch­er to tie kitchen twine around the out­side of the meat, as ifcinch­ing the shank with a belt at the waist, so that it does not fall off the bone when cooking.Alternate cuts There is no exact sub­sti­tute that will pro­duce the same dish, but you can use the­sesame ingre­di­ents and method to pre­pare veal spare ribs (-$) or lamb shanks (-$).

About 4 serv­ings
Start to Fin­ish: Under 2 ½ hours

4 veal shanks cut osso buco style
3 table­spoons olive oil
¼ cup flour for dredg­ing, sea­soned with 1 tea­spoon kosher salt, ½ tea­spoon fresh­ly ground black­pep­per and 1 tea­spoon Hun­gar­i­an papri­ka
2 car­rots, peeled and cut into 1‑inch pieces (about 1 cup)
1 large onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 cel­ery ribs, cut into 1‑inch pieces (about 1 cup)
4 cloves of gar­lic, peeled and smashed
1 cup pit­ted and halved Kala­ma­ta olives, option­al
2 to 3 small anchovy filets, fine­ly minced or 1 table­spoon anchovy paste, option­al
¾ cup white wine
2 table­spoons bal­sam­ic vine­gar
1 cup diced toma­toes, drained
2 cups chick­en stock
1 bou­quet gar­ni- 1 bay leaf, 4 sprigs thyme, wrapped and tied in cheese­cloth, pouch or with kitchen twine. (If you are not prepar­ing the gre­mo­la­ta, then add 6 sprigs of pars­ley to the bouquet.)

½ cup fresh­ly minced flat – leaf pars­ley
1 lemon peel, zest­ed
1 table­spoon fine­ly minced garlic

Pre­heat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat the oil in a brais­ing pot. Pat the veal dry, and dredge the­veal in the sea­soned flour. Brown the veal on both sides, over medi­um – high heat, until a nice­brown crust forms on each piece. Remove the veal to a plate. In the same pot, cook the car­rot­sand onions over medi­um heat, until light­ly brown, about 5 min­utes. Add the smashed gar­lic, andthe olives and anchovies if using, and cook 5 min­utes longer. Pour the wine and vine­gar intothe pot, scrap­ing up any bits that col­lect­ed on the bot­tom and cook until the liq­uid is reduced by half, about 10 min­utes. Place the veal back into the pot, along with any liq­uid that col­lect­ed on the plate. Add the toma­toes and stock. The liq­uids shouldn’t drown the meat; the top por­tion ofeach shank should show. Nes­tle the bou­quet gar­ni in the sauce. Cov­er and cook at 325 degreesfor 1 ½ to 2 hours, until the meat is very tender.

Pre­pare the gre­mo­la­ta, by com­bin­ing all the ingre­di­ents, reserve. When the meat is fin­ished cook­ing, care­ful­ly remove the meat and veg­eta­bles from the pot with a slot­ted spoon. Remove­and dis­card the bou­quet gar­ni and bring the sauce to a slow boil. To thick­en the sauce, cre­atea slur­ry by mix­ing 2 tea­spoons of corn­starch with 4 tea­spoons of water, stir back into the pot,heat and repeat if nec­es­sary. Sea­son to taste with salt and pep­per. Spoon the sauce over the veal (remove the string) and top each serv­ing with a gen­er­ous pinch of gremolata.

Osso Buco and rice Milanese have enjoyed a long mar­riage. Prepar­ing rice Milanese is as easyas mak­ing boiled rice, with the addi­tion of gold­en saf­fron threads, which add the mel­low yel­low­col­or and a burst of fla­vor. This pre­cious spice comes from the dried stig­ma of a saf­fron cro­cu­sand by weight is the most expen­sive spice in the world. You only need a pinch to impart its­dis­tinc­tive taste and dis­tin­guish­ing col­or. Pre­pare your white rice as direct­ed on the pack­age andadd a pinch of saf­fron to the cook­ing liq­uid. If you replace the water with chick­en or veg­eta­ble­stock, the fla­vor will be even more amplified.

Check back all week for more posts and recipes from June Hersh.

June Hersh is a pas­sion­ate home cook and twice-pub­lished cook­book author. She con­tributes con­tent to many web­sites and food pub­li­ca­tions, con­ducts book talks, holds cook­ing demon­stra­tions and has been fea­tured in many main­stream media out­lets as well as morn­ing TV and QVC, where she debuted the soft­cov­er ver­sion of her best-sell­ing first book Recipes Remem­bered. June is a mem­ber of the Jew­ish Fed­er­a­tion of North Amer­i­ca’s Speak­er’s Bureau and has donat­ed all pro­ceeds from the sale of her books to char­i­ty. She lives in NYC with her husband.