Tag Archives: Janna Gur

Two Great Cookbooks for Hanukkah 2014

2 Dec

My private cookbook collection can’t compare to that of many of my colleagues — my 500 or so seem paltry next to collections in the thousands. But at this stage of life, I carefully curate the books I want around forever. Here are two of them — both recently published and perfect gifts for Hanukkah.

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Jewish Soul Food: From Minsk to Marrakesh
by Janna Gur
Schocken Books, New York NY 2014 $35.00 ISBN 978-0- 8052-4308-6

This is a rave. With striking photos and vibrant spirit, here is a cookbook that reads like a luscious travelogue built around the culinary narrative of the Jewish diaspora. The book’s author, Janna Gur, is among the most knowledgeable representatives of Israeli cuisine (her first book, The Book of New Israeli Food, 2007 is already a classic) and of Jewish food and identity around the globe. Her new book, Jewish Soul Food: from Minsk to Marrakesh, is both prequel and sequel to Jerusalem by Ottolenghi. In a world cluttered with cookbooks, hers is a standout, a poignant journey of enforced migration and authenticity cast in a contemporary light. There is much to learn. I have never seen, eaten, or made many of these dishes: Her sabich (an egg and eggplant sandwich often eaten for breakfast) is gorgeous, as is hamim macaroni, mafroum (meat and potato “sandwiches”), Bulgarian feta-stuffed pepper “cutlets,” and tantalizing fluden, made with poppy seeds, walnuts and apples, for dessert. Its diverse recipes paint much of Israel’s culinary landscape, where Ms. Gur resides and publishes, with her husband, Israel’s most prominent food and wine magazine called Al Hashulchan (At the Table). Born in the former Soviet Union, Ms. Gur emigrated to Israel in 1974 and since that time has scholarly untangled the global threads woven into the Israeli kitchen.

Some of my favorite dishes include sabzi polo, rice pilaf made with equal amounts of basmati rice and fragrant fresh herbs, and addictive ijeh b’lahmeh which are herb and meat latkes perfect for Hanukkah. Also appropriate for the holiday are bimuelos, a Sephardic dessert of fried dough, drizzled with cinnamon-scented honey syrup and garnished with walnuts. I look forward to making her orange flower butter cookies studded with almonds for gift-giving this season.

This book is important because of Janna’s strongly held belief: The only way to preserve traditional cuisine for future generations is to cook it. Without her careful attention to this repertoire of priceless artifacts — recipes from vanquished times and cultures — these hand-me-downs would be all but lost. Jewish cuisine is unique because it reflects the histories of so many nationalities, wars and displacements. How Ms. Gur captures its essence in 100 recipes is the magic of this book.

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Eating Delancey: A Celebration of Jewish Food
by Aaron Rezny and Jordan Schaps

powerHouse Books, Brooklyn, NY 2014 $35.00 ISBN 978-1-57687-722-7

I don’t know exactly where my grandparents lived as Hungarian immigrants in the early part of the last century, but they certainly climbed tenement steps and shopped on Delancey Street, as depicted in this sumptuous book with lovely essays by famous fressers (eaters) — Calvin Trillin, Paul Goldberger (architecture critic of the New York Times), food maven Arthur Schwartz, legendary graphic designer, Milton Glaser — and mouth-watering recipes. There are spectacular images of food, people, storefronts, and culinary ephemera, and an unexpected black-and-white photo of Janis Joplin smoking a cigarette at Ratner’s, which is fabulous.

Eating Delancey, is Mr. Rezny’s personal homage to the vanishing flavors of his youth. Similarly, Mr. Schaps waxes nostalgic about his bubbe Ethel Raben and the meals he consumed in her Russian-Yiddish-American kitchen. Mr. Rezny photographs the semaphores of their combined history — bagels, halvah, knishes, seltzer bottles — with the same intention. The photographs of iconic quaffs — a bottle of Cherry Heering, Slivovitz, a bottle top of Cel-ray soda, tea in a glass are stunning in their simplicity. And the luster of the finished dishes — a slice of creamy cheesecake, Schwartz’s sweet and sour flanken, even matzo brei, a monochrome dish if there ever was one, here looks sensuous.

Joan Rivers would have kvelled from this book. Her poignant introduction, which in itself is poignant, is brilliantly alive with affection for Jewish food. She describes her mother, “a chic woman, very well read, a great hostess, and a horrible cook” and goes on to confess her love of singed chicken feet and gefilte fish with freshly grated horseradish.

Many books have delved into the psyche of Jewish people through their food — but this book succeeds as a true work of art. I, for one, regret not knowing more about my grandparents’ path, that of Joseph and Louise (Goldstein) Gold, who walked and ate with the best of them. More nostalgia: My best friend threw me a surprise wedding shower at Sammy’s Roumanian on Chrystie Street — imagine how classy that was — a place where chicken fat is poured from a pitcher, garlic fills the air, and where time, for a moment, stands still.

Read All About It: Israel’s Emerging Food Scene

9 Oct

cookbooks2Now that Jerusalem has become one of the best selling cookbooks in recent years, it may be time to look at it in context. The recipes are wonderful, the photographs are mouthwatering, the narrative is compelling and democratic. Beyond food, the book has touched something deeper in all of us. Jerusalem, home to more than 60 religious and ethnic communities, is a lodestar for spirituality, sharing and healing, along with a full measure of continuing strife. So beyond the book’s virtues of history combined with recipes, unusual ingredients and flavors, it allows us to hold in our hands a gastronomic overlay to the region’s millennial conflicts, through a universal experience that connotes peace and above all, pleasure.

I had the rare opportunity last year to interview authors Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, the former is Israeli, the latter Palestinian, when they came to New York on a book tour. We three sat on the bima in a huge Park Slope synagogue, and gazed upon hundreds of fans who came to listen to their stories and then hungered for more. It was clear to all of us assembled there that their Jerusalem penetrated into a realm far deeper than cooking. The cuisine that the authors express speaks to ancient realities and present truths: The kitchen table knows no boundaries; and no wall, however high and long, can ever be so impermeable to prevent the vapors of the collective culinary consciousness waft through.

Just this weekend, I had pleasure of a parallel experience. This time, the talented and ebullient chef, Einat Admony, owner of New York City restaurants Balaboosta, Taim and Bar Bolonat, expressed the food of another diaspora. Vivid dishes — cooked and served in her Brooklyn loft to a handful of journalists and friends – blended the recipes of her native Iran with Arabic verve, and Israeli cunning. Pomegranate mimosas, spicy Yemenite s’chug, brown-boiled eggs, delectable fried eggplant, osovo (an overnight peasant dish with myriad variations – ours included rice and marrow bones), kubaneh (a slow-cooked Yemenite bread), and malabi (a traditional milk custard) with red fruit conserve for dessert made an emphatically evocative case for “new Israeli cuisine.” Best of all, the recipes are easily found in Ms. Admony’s beautiful new book Balaboosta published this week by Artisan.

If asked who I’d have come to a last dinner, Yotam, Sami and Einat would certainly be among my guests. But so too would be the five journalists who graced the stage of the
Museum of Jewish Heritage on October 6th for an event entitled “Frothed Milk and Truffled Honey.” It was a nod to the ebullient creativity that’s fermenting in the kitchens of Israel’s best chefs. Janna Gur, food writer and publisher of Israel’s most prestigious culinary magazine Al Hashulchan, said that the best word to describe the new Israeli cuisine is “fresh.” Fresh referring to the abundance of Israel’s technicolor produce, fresh referring to the culture’s rampant innovation, and fresh also referring to the sassy ingenuity with which chefs there have absorbed culinary influences from the entire region and integrated them into a new, electrifying cuisine.

In 1996, I was one of four “Women Chefs for Peace” on a mission to Israel. Upon my return I wrote an article for the New York Times called “A Region’s Taste Commingles in Israel.” I predicted then that it was the trend to watch. And now, it’s here.

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