I grew up in a Jewish household. Well, OK, sort of. My dad is Jewish and my mom is not. We learned about and celebrated some of the Jewish holidays like Passover and Chanukah. I grew up with foods like Matzo Ball Soup, Challah, Farfel Kugel, Cheese Blintzes, Latkes, Matzo Brei and many others. This never seemed odd to me. It actually seemed odd that this wasn’t normal. These foods are great!
One of my favorite dishes I think of when looking back on my childhood is Jewish Baked Chicken with Lokchen Kugel. This is the epitome of “how to use chicken fat” or better known as schmatlz and gribenes.
When I then later ventured into cooking on my own and developing my cooking skills I started thinking a lot about “Jewish Food”. What is it? Is there even such a thing? How would one define it? Then the bigger thoughts like: Can it be modernized? Can it be healthy? Can it be interpreted through the foods, flavors, and locally accessible ingredietns?
With this whole food revolution in fresh, local, and new twists on old world classics, why isn’t anyone doing this with Jewish Cuisine?
I am happy to say someone has. Well two someone’s… and more all the time. The book is: The Gefilte Manifesto, New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods; written by Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern. The book is full of stories and thoughts. Upon opening it I was immidiately enamored with the picture of the two of them in aprons with giant goggles on their heads holding a horseradish root and a grater! Then moving into the foreword you that this book is about a younger generation reclaiming the time honored foods, traditions, along with caring how their sourced and taste. After reading just this page I was moved and excited. I was almost brought to tears with feeling like someone got it. I then moved to the introduction and read about how Jeffrey grew up with the Sabbath dinners, The fresh baked challah, the Passover dinners but outside the holidays it was spaghetti, mac n cheese, and the rest of the typical american fare. It was just like my childhood! He then talks about moving out on his own and having to realize it was up to him to carry on the traditions if he was going to want to keep enjoying those memory envoking foods… This book was seriously speaking to me.
Put to the side it being a Jewish cookbook, or that it’s Ashkenazi cuisine, or that I connected with the author… this is a VERY well written cookbook. It begins with stories to inspire you. Then it moves into the pantry and the supplies. Then it’s into recipes for everything from pickles, to breads (even pictures on a 6-braid challah!), to soups and appetizers, to deli specialties, mains, desserts, and even beverages! This cook book has it all! Add to all that they talk a lot about lacto-fermination in making your beverages and pickles as well as water bath channing some of your staples for your pantry… It’s like they knew how I lived my life, what was important to me and gave me the encouragement to have a more intimate understanding of the foods of my ancestors!
As if I haven’t sung the praises of this cookbook enough at the end of the book they give you menu ideas, FAQ’s about what you may run into with these recipes and even resources on how to find ingredients.
Even if you’re not Jewish or even if you’re not of Ashkenazi decent this cookbook offers flavors and recipes everyone who loves to cook should try! So far from this book I have successfully made:
Schmaltz and Gribenes