Growing up, Chanukah was always special because it brought light, fun and latkes to the darkness of winter, and reminded me that spring was coming. I loved making and hanging decorations, getting out and cleaning the menorahs, finding our dreidels, buying gelt and selecting and wrapping gifts for friends and family. Not much has changed, except that for the past fifty years (or so) I have been the one making the food and getting everything ready for the holiday.
More recently, I learned about Judith, a young beautiful Israelite widow who slayed General Holofernes (who had been sent by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Assyria). She went to the general’s camp and invited him to a feast. Since she was young and beautiful, he readily agreed. She fed him salty cheese (probably feta), which caused him to drink large amounts of wine. When he fell asleep, she took his dagger and cut off his head. Deprived of their commander-in-chief, the panic-stricken Assyrian soldiers fled. Judith’s story is thought to have inspired the Maccabees. Because of her, I have added cheese and dairy dishes to my Chanukah menu as well.
Today we look at food in a more global way, and Chanukah can be celebrated with a wide variety of dishes, such as American fried chicken with Moroccan spices as well as delightful other options. I hope you enjoy my selections from several (mostly) new books for this year.
The New Mediterranean Jewish Table: Old World Recipes for the Modern Home by Joyce Goldstein (University of California Press, 2016)
I met Joyce Goldstein over 40 years ago, when she came to the DC area to teach classes on Mediterranean and Moroccan cooking. I became a devoted follower and collector of her wonderful books. Over the past years, Goldstein has served a consultant to the restaurant and food industries, and was the chef/owner of the award-winning Square One, a Mediterranean restaurant in San Francisco offering foods from Italy, Spain, France, Greece, Turkey, the Middle East and Africa.
It makes sense, then, that Goldstein’s latest book, The New Mediterranean Jewish Table: Old World Recipes for the Modern Home, is dedicated to the Mediterranean Jewish table and include tremendous information about Jewish history, holidays and kashrut, and rich and innovative recipes “based on or inspired by, dishes from the three Mediterranean Jewish cultures: Sephardic [from the Iberian Peninsula, people who were expelled after the Inquisition], Maghrebi [Jews who lived in North Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, and Egypt)] and Mizrahi [“Eastern” or “Oriental,” Jews who have been living in Muslim lands since Biblical times].” Goldstein explores the paths Jews took around the Mediterranean and Middle East and the new ingredients they incorporated into their ways of cooking, such as herbs and eggplants.
Bubbe and Me in the Kitchen: A Kosher Cookbook of Beloved Recipes and Modern Twists by Miri Rotkovitz (Sonoma Press, 2016)
Miri Rotkovitz is a food writer, editor, recipe developer and registered dietician. Her food-writing career began at the James Beard Foundation, and in recent years she has served as the kosher food expert for About.com, where she shares recipes, entertaining tips and articles exploring kosher culture. Rotkovitz spent a good portion of her early years in the kitchen of her grandmother, Ruth Simon, whose commitment to seasonal, international Jewish fare left a lasting impression and inspired her to write Bubbe and Me in the Kitchen. The book includes recipes from her grandmother’s coveted recipe box along with more than 80 of her own original kosher recipes and anecdotes and family recipes from a number of prominent Jewish chefs. Some highlights are Potato Latkes with Ras el Hanout and Lemon Zest, Kasha Varnishkes with Ratatouille and Apricot Pistachio Babka, among many others.
In the introduction Rotkovitz writes, “For me, kosher is a way to look back, and a way to look forward…And it’s a connection to Jews around the world and throughout time. At the table in her kosher kitchen, my grandmother introduced me to new foods, shared wisdom about the ingredients she loved, and let me ‘help,’ even when mess-making was my forte. She imparted lessons about manners (licking the iced tea spoon did not constitute cleaning it), nutrition (fish was ‘brain food’), and cultural awareness (people around the world who had their own distinctive food traditions).”
Huckleberry: Stories, Secrets, and Recipes From Our Kitchen by Zoe Nathan with Josh Loeb and Laurel Almerinda (Chronicle Books, 2014)
A woman after my own heart, Zoe Nathan loves dough and desserts. Her approach to baking is based on the premise of using only great ingredients, a healthful mix of sweet and salty, her personal adage ” color is flavor” and being involved in each and every step along the way. Nathan and her husband Josh Loeb own six restaurants, one of which is a warm and welcoming neighborhood spot in Santa Monica, called Huckleberry Café & Bakery, which offers outstanding seasonal cuisine, including sweet treats, breakfast items, savory sandwiches, salads and a wide variety of takeout items. In 2012 Nathan was named Chef of the Year by the Los Angeles Times. She has also been featured in Food & Wine, Saveur, Bon Appetit and others.
Huckleberry: Stories, Secrets, and Recipes From Our Kitchen is Nathan’s first cookbook. It features over 115 recipes and mouthwatering color photos, as well as approachable how-to tips, insight on recommended techniques and tools and a collection of breakfast-inspired recipes straight from the Huckleberry kitchen, including both savory and sweet favorites. The chapters are cleverly broken up into the hours at which each category is prepared in the café’s kitchen—3:30 am is muffins, 5:30 am is “breads and other things that rise” and 9:30 am is “hearty plates with an egg on top”—and instead of acknowledgements, Nathan has a section of apologies where she writes a heartfelt apology to each person for the things she did, or missed, due to the book.
Sweet Noshings: New Twists on Traditional Jewish Desserts by Amy Kritzer (Rock Point, 2016)
Growing up, Amy Kritzer loved to cook traditional foods with her Bubbe Eleanor. Whether they were braiding challah or rolling out rugelach dough, there was always tons of laughter (and a messy kitchen). “I have always enjoyed cooking and baking, but needed a new goal, a challenge, to get back to my culinary roots.” So she called up Bubbe Eleanor and pleaded with her to send her best recipes. Kritzer loved cooking these recipes so much, she quit her corporate job and went to culinary school.
After culinary school Kritzer decided she needed a challenge, a new goal and developed a blog called What Jew Wanna Eat as a source for home-cooked and occasionally kosher goodness. The blog took her back to her culinary roots, and is all about classic Jewish recipes with a modern twist in ingredients and techniques, making some of the most unusual Jewish creations ever. As the blog gained success, it made sense to follow it up with a cookbook that mirrored the blog, so she wrote Sweet Noshings (all sweets), which “takes the ever-evolving world of Jewish desserts to the next level.” Filled with stories, wonderful photos, anecdotes about her life and her interpretations of classic recipes and old favorites, Kritzer has created a new cuisine.
Some of Kritzer’s “noshings” include: Chocolate Halva Hamantaschen, Manischewitz Ice Cream with Brown Butter Charoset and Manischewitz Caramel, Tex Mex Chocolate Rugelach and Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate Babka. Kritzer involved her blog readers in the recipe-testing process. She shared, “My favorite part of the cookbook process was probably the taste testing! A difficult, but delicious job…It was also fun having readers help with the testing. I love connecting with people on an individual level, and it was fun to share the process. I wouldn’t have a cookbook without them, so it’s super important my readers love the recipes and that they work well and taste great.”