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Modern Jewish Cooking

Delicious: Who Knew?

Although I can spot trends, predicting them is not my forte.  I wouldn’t have bet on the upward trajectory of Jewish cuisine.  Kugel and brisket, delicious as they may be, were not trendy for most of my life.  Some of our traditional foods require exposure from birth – gefilte fish is the vegemite of the Jews and even then, it’s iffy.  Jewish cuisine is clearly having a moment.  Prescient Toronto chefs have moved it forward, with restaurants like Caplansky’s, Fat Pasha and even Byblos.  

Modern Jewish Cooking, recently released by Brooklyn blogger Leah Koenig, is right on trend.  This cookbook is aimed at the “next generation” of Jewish cooks, targeting urban millennials interested in cooking the food of their ancestors.  But in my view, it’s useful for anyone who is interested in this type of cooking.  

I generally like that this book takes a liberal view of “Jewish cuisine” – as the Jews wandered, so do the recipes.  Perhaps too liberal in parts.  Recipes hail from much of the globe.  Koenig’s Kasha with Varnishkes – updated kasha and bow tie pasta with caramelized onions and olive oil is a welcome update to a classic dish.  Yes it’s a carb-fest but Russian (and Canadian) winters are cold.  Spinach Shakshuka is for me preferable to the classic dish of eggs cooked in tomatoes.  Vegetarian Porcini Farro Cholent is an interesting vegetarian version of the traditional long-simmered Sabbath meal of meat, barley and beans.  But I don’t need this book for her Fennel Gratin or Sugar Snap Pea, Corn and Basil Salad.  

I tried a number of recipes and they work as is, or tweaked to taste.  Parsley Matzoh Balls were nice and fluffy (I left out the parsley so just made plain matzoh balls).  Orange-Scented Cheese Blintzes packed a flavour punch and I loved the ricotta substitute for cottage cheese.  I cut the sugar and added an egg to the filling but that’s a matter of taste.  Matbucha, best described as an Israeli ratatouille or caponata, was a savoury and slightly sweet dip for pita and grilled chicken.  

My biggest accomplishment was Brown Sugar-Citrus Gravlax and Homemade Bagels.  Gravlax, salmon cured with fresh dill, caraway, and orange zest, was surprisingly easy and very flavourful.  Slicing it thinly was no problem.  The bagels were no more difficult than baking bread but they impressed everyone.  They turned out great – chewy on the outside, soft on the inside, nicely shaped to boot.

This is a good way to learn about “Jewish” cooking, however you want to define it.  There is a wide variety of recipes, lots of explanation and the recipes are not too complicated.  Recommended?  Yes, for balaboostas and next generation cooks alike.