The Gefilte Variations: 200 Inspired Recreations of Classics from the Jewish Kitchen With Menus Stories


Inspired by the rich traditions of the Jewish community, this cookbook offers all the excitement of a newly discovered world of eating. Food writer Jayne Cohen celebrates her culinary mother tongue, improvising with the foods she is passionate about. Faithful to the traditions -- all recipes are kosher -- she presents the full range of dishes: breakfasts and brunches, starters and noshes, soups and garnishes, fish, meats and poultry, dairy dishes, nondairy and pareve grains and vegetables, fruit sauces, sweet ...
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Inspired by the rich traditions of the Jewish community, this cookbook offers all the excitement of a newly discovered world of eating. Food writer Jayne Cohen celebrates her culinary mother tongue, improvising with the foods she is passionate about. Faithful to the traditions -- all recipes are kosher -- she presents the full range of dishes: breakfasts and brunches, starters and noshes, soups and garnishes, fish, meats and poultry, dairy dishes, nondairy and pareve grains and vegetables, fruit sauces, sweet kugels and desserts -- 200 mouthwatering reinterpretations of traditional dishes designed for everyday meals as well as every holiday.

EVEN IF YOU'VE NEVER GOTTEN BEYOND TOASTING A FROZEN BAGEL BEFORE THIS, you'll find the recipes in this book readily accessible. Transform ready-made wonton wrappers into sheer silken salmon kreplach floating in warm shav (sorrel soup), or fashion supermarket phyllo into airy knishes brimming with luscious garlic mashed potatoes. Or make a batch of buttery rugelach with store-bought caramels.

HERE ARE THE DELICIOUS REINTERPRETATIONS OF A FEW CLASSICS...Matzoh balls that begin with roasted fennel and change with the seasons, a whole chicken rubbed with a garlicky marinade and roasted on a bed of lemons, and a sleek buttermilk noodle kugel bursting with fresh and dried peaches.

THERE'S AN ENTICING VARIETY OF MEATLESS MEALS, emphasizing fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs, and using them in exciting, novel ways. A simple staple like hummus becomes a sensuous feast prepared with quick-cooking lentils, perfumed with pomegranate and mint, and served with toasted spiced matzohs. Kasha is lightened up with a caramelized onion marmalade and cubes ofmelting eggplant.Fabulous, easy-to-prepare cheese latkes are graced with fresh persimmon sauce.

STORIES AS ENCHANTING AS THE RECIPES that you will want to read around your own table to family and friends. Follow the author as she takes you through the streets of the old Jewish community in Carpentras, France, sleuthing after a recipe for a Passover breast of veal from a forgotten novella.Learn why Jews light menorahs against the darkness of winter with everything from olive oil to goose fat in potato or egg shells. Or share a sip of Kiddush wine around her father's Sabbath table.

IMMERSE YOURSELF IN THE WORLD OF JEWISH CUISINE. Learn what Jewish food is, how to stock your pantry to make basic preparations such as olive oil schmaltz and yogurt cream to create lighter versions of your favorite dishes, and find the definitions of Jewish terms in a comprehensive glossary.

CELEBRATE THE HOLIDAYS. Discover new recipes for your Sabbath and Hanukkah tables in the extensive section devoted to the holidays. Create memorable seders and complete break-the-fast Yom Kippur buffets using the suggested menus. Richly woven details of biblical origins and today's customs vividly bring these occasions to life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Few can explain the essence of Jewish food as charmingly and lyrically as freelance writer Cohen does in this outstanding debut. In this collection of innovative yet tradition-based recipes--what she calls "the autobiography of one palate"--Cohen often takes a simple, familiar dish (matzoh brie, for instance), dissects all its possibilities (in this case she explains how to make it crispy or fluffy), then offers experimental versions (Savory Artichoke Matzoh Brie and Overnight Caramelized Apple Matzoh Briesame). Cohen incorporates both international Jewish tradition (Chopped Chicken Liver from the Rue des Rosiers, Veronese Rolled Turkey Loaf, Bombay Pineapple-Coconut Milk Kugel) and her own fertile imagination (Pastrami-Style Salmon, Chicken Soup with Asparagus and Shiitakes, served with Roasted Fennel Matzoh Balls) to offer new takes on the classics. She also invigorates some forgotten customs: her grandmother's habit of sprinkling fresh latkes with sugar lives again in Crispy Shallot Latkes with Sugar Dusting. Cohen also happens to write beautifully; her stories about relatives and her portraits of Jewish communities around the world and their individual customs could stand alone in a book of essays. This well-rounded cookbook will appeal to the observant and the nonobservant--even to those who are not Jewish at all. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
In this lovely book, Cohen brings a breath of fresh air to favorite Jewish dishes, from matzoh brei to noodle kugel. Her "improvisations," some 200 recipes in both the Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions, while imaginative and often sophisticated, are uncontrived and faithful in spirit to the original: Garlic-Rosemary Potato Latkes, Chicken Soup with Roasted Fennel Matzoh Balls, and Duck and White Bean Cholent, "reminiscent of a fine cassoulet." The first half of the book contains recipes organized by course, the second presents special dishes for the holidays; all are kosher. Cohen's well-written and informed text provides a great deal of history and background, and there are myriad quotations throughout from such writers as I.B. Singer, Sholem Aleichem, and many others. Highly recommended. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684827193
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 3/1/2000
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 7.63 (w) x 9.54 (h) x 1.19 (d)

Table of Contents

A List of the Recipes
What Kind of Cookbook Is This?
What Is Jewish Food?
Notes to the Cook
How to Use This Book
Pantry and Procedures

Year-Round Favorites
Breakfasts and Brunches
Starters and Noshes
Soups and Garnishes
Meats and Poultry
Dairy Dishes
NonDairy and Pareve Grains and Vegetables
Fruit Sauces
Sweet Kugels and Desserts
The Holidays
Rosh Hashanah
Breaking the Yom Kippur Fast

Suggested Menus
A Glossary of Useful Terms
Selected Bibliography

A List of the Recipes
Breakfasts and Brunches
Making Matzoh Brie
Savory Artichoke Matzoh Brie
Cinnamon Matzoh Brie with Toasted Pecans and Warm Vanilla Maple Syrup
Matzoh Brie with Prunes and Wine
Overnight Caramelized Apple Matzoh Brie
Challah French Toast Stuffed with Mango and Ginger Maple Syrup

Starters and Noshes
Chopped Chicken Liver from the Rue des Rosiers
Grated Black Radish and Endive Salad in Shallot Vinaigrette
Chopped Chicken Liver with Caramelized Onions
Lentils "Hummus Style," with Pomegranate and Mint and Toasted Za'atar Matzohs
My Mother's Fried Cauliflower
Chicken Gefilte Balls (Falshe Fish) and Green Olive Sauce

Soups and Garnishes
Classic Chicken Soup
Matzoh Balls
Savory Herbed Matzoh Kleis (Matzoh Balls Made from Whole Matzoh)
Tangy Russian Cabbage Soup with Pot Roast-Beet Kreplach
Sorrel-Flavored Mushroom Barley Soup
Fresh Borscht with Dilled Onion-Butter Matzoh Balls
Beef Stock
Vegetable Stock

Golden Gefilte Fish with GoldenHorseradish (Long and Short Versions)
Gefilte Fish Quickly Steamed Between Cabbage Leaves
Salmon Gefilte Fish Poached in Fennel-Wine Broth with Ginger-Beet Horseradish
Egyptian Ground Fish Balls with Tomato and Cumin (Bellahat)
Tomato and Sweet Pepper Sauce
Italian-Jewish Marinated Fried Fish (Pesce in Saor)
Oven-Fried Smoked Salmon Croquettes

Meats and Poultry
A Brief Discussion of Kosher Meat and Poultry
Flanken with Tart Greens
Mishmash Kreplach (Beef, Potato, and Fried Onion Kreplach)
Braised Brisket with Thirty-six Cloves of Garlic
Aromatic Marinated Brisket with Chestnuts
Eggplant-Stuffed Brisket Braised with Tomatoes, Saffron, and Honey
Roasted Garlic-Braised Breast of Veal with Springtime Stuffing (Spinach, Chard, and Fresh Herbs)
Romanian Garlicky Ground Meat Sausages (Carnatzlach) with Sour Pickle Vinaigrette and Roasted Red Peppers
Sephardi-Style Stuffed Meatballs with Celery Root and Carrots
Fried Onion and Chicken Kreplach
Fried Chicken Cutlets, Italian-Jewish Style

Dairy Dishes
Raspberry-Peach Blintzes
Strawberry-Rhubarb Blintzes
Apricot Blintzes with Toasted Pistachios and Yogurt Cream
Apple-Cranberry Blintzes with Maple-Ricotta Cream and Sugared Walnuts
Golden Cherry-Cheese Varenikes
Sorrel-Onion Noodle Kugel
Spinach-Cheese Squares
Potato-Onion Kreplach, Pot Sticker Style
Garlic Mashed Potato Knishes
Sautéed Chive Mamaliga with Feta-Yogurt Cream

NonDairy and Pareve Grains and Vegetables
Kasha Varnishkes with Fried Eggplant, Mushrooms, and Onion Marmalade
Deconstructed Kasha Varnishkes (Kasha and Orzo with
Grilled Portobello Mushrooms)
Sautéed Cabbage and Garlic Noodle Kugel
Wild Mushroom-Potato Kugel
Onion-Crusted Light Potato Kugel
Moroccan-Flavored Carrot Kugel
Fresh Corn Kugel

Fruit Sauces
Intense Apricot Applesauce
Fresh Raspberry Applesauce
Spiced Pomegranate Molasses Applesauce
Ginger-Pear Sauce

Sweet Kugels and Desserts
Rich Noodle Kugel Baked with Fresh Plums and Nectarines
Roasted Apple-Walnut Noodle Kugel
Peach-Buttermilk Kugel
Caramel Rugelach

The Holidays
A Sabbath Dinner
Lemon-Roasted Chicken
Rhubarb-Prune Tsimmes
Garlic-Rosemary Potato Latkes
Dried Fruit Compote with Fresh Pineapple, Pistachios, and Mint
Duck and White Bean Cholent
Herbed Beef Cholent with Onion Gonifs
Garlicky Lamb and Lima Hamin with Little Eggplant Boats

Rosh Hashanah
Honey for Dipping Challah and Apples
Leek Croquettes from Rhodes
Brisket Braised in Pomegranate Juice with Onion Confit and Pomegranate Seeds
Syrian Apricot-Stuffed Meat Rolls with Tart-Sweet Cherry Sauce (Kibbe Gheraz)
Syrian Pilaf
Iranian Stuffed Chicken with Fresh Green Herbs and Golden Soup
Egyptian Black-eyed Peas with Cilantro (Lubia)
Hungarian Plum Tart
Bombay Pineapple-Coconut Milk Kugel

Breaking the Yom Kippur Fast
Iranian Rose-Apple Ice (Poludeh)
Pomegranate-Orange Sunsets
Almond Challah
Smoked Whitefish and Fennel Salad
Pastrami-Style Salmon
Honeyed Quince-Apple Blintzes with Sour Cream-Date Sauce
Double Ginger-Caramelized Pear Noodle Kugel

Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Soup with Sweet Potato Knaidlach (Matzoh Balls)
Stuffed Vegetables
Cabbage Stuffed with Mushrooms and Meat
Mujadderah-Filled Roasted Red Peppers in Tomato-Garlic Sauce
Chard Stuffed with Artichokes and Rice
Caramelized Onion and Carrot Tsimmes with Candied Ginger
Maple-Roasted Pears with Passion Fruit and/or Fresh Raspberry Sauce

Creamy Potato-Onion Latkes
Celery Root-Potato Latkes
Crispy Shallot Latkes with Sugar Dusting
Scallion Latkes with Scallion Dipping Brushes
Cheese Latkes with Fresh Persimmon Sauce
Greek-Inspired Cheese Latkes
Black Grape, Goat Cheese, and Noodle Latkes with Fragrant Honey
Fish in Potato Latke Crust with Horseradish Cream
Apricot- and Orange-Scented Goose with Roasted Garlic

Chickpeas with Garlic and Barbecue Spices
Poached Prune Kreplach with Honeyed Cream and Pecans
Fresh Apple
Apricot, Date, and Pistachio
Poppy Seed, with Raisin-Walnut Filling

Chopped Eggs and Onions
Huevos Haminados
Chicken Soup with Asparagus and Shiitakes, Served with Roasted Fennel Matzoh Balls
Fish in Tomato, Rhubarb, and Blood Orange Sauce
Braised Lamb with Artichokes, Lemon, and Fresh Herbs
Veronese Rolled Turkey Loaf (Polpettone)
Beet-Braised Pot Roast with Horseradish and Potato Knaidlach
Toasted Matzoh Farfel with Wild Mushrooms and Roasted Garlic
Toasted Almond-Coconut Macaroons
Hazelnut Macaroons
Spring Compote
Hungarian Chocolate-Walnut Torte
Passover Confectioners' Sugar
Chocolate Icing
Lemon-Fried Chicken with Tart Salad Topping
Snapper Fillets in Pistachio-Matzoh Crust
Mozzarella in Matzoh Carrozza
Mango and Sour Cherry Macaroon Crumble
Warm Shav with Salmon Kreplach
Grandmother's Cold Fruit Soup
Cheese Blintzes with Fresh Berried Fruit Compote
Turkish Silken Rice Pudding (Sutlaj) with Fresh Raspberry Sauce
Old Country Cottage Cheese Cake
Honey-Ricotta Cheese Cake
Roseberry-Rhubarb Gelato

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First Chapter

Introduction This book was written for cooks who approach the rich tapestry of Jewish foods as an exciting cuisine -- filled with nostalgia, yes, but still very much alive, and above all, delicious. Characterized by homey techniques and tastes, like slowly braised stews and soft, caramelized onions, this family cuisine serves here as a departure point, much the way Italian pasta and pizza have been explored by innovative cooks, and American Southwestern cuisine has been transformed and infused with new life.

Jewish food was meant to be potchkehed, or played with. Jews are constantly encouraged to question and reinterpret the accepted, as no one who has read the Passover Haggadah can forget. There, the learned rabbis argue over the number of plagues God visited on the Egyptians, starting with the traditional ten, and going through many variations, including ten times ten (one for each finger of God's hands) and then that figure taken to the tenth power. The possibilities, considered from various perspectives, are always infinite.

Delicate matzoh balls, for instance, whose flavors -- roasted fennel, sweet potato -- change with the seasons. Or simple staples like hummus that become a sensuous feast when prepared with quick-cooking lentils perfumed with pomegranate and mint and served with toasted za'atar matzoh.

But you need not pay for such culinary forays with kitchen servitude. Use ready-made kosher wonton wrappers to make paper-thin kreplach filled with tart sour cherries and crystallized ginger, then glossed with sour cream; or stuff them with leftover pot roast and beets and set them afloat in a tangy winter cabbage soup. Fashionairy knishes from store-bought phyllo dough and spoon in luscious garlic-mashed potatoes. Jews have always assimilated the exotic ingredients and cooking methods they encountered in trade, travel, and the many new homelands they were forced to find.

What Kind of Cookbook Is This?

Earthy and elegant, these delectable improvisations are foods I love to cook and eat. My preferences and predilections are the sole determinants for including a recipe. You won't find every delicious Jewish dish here -- or its reinterpretation. For that, many excellent, authoritative books on Jewish cuisine already exist (a partial selection is listed in the bibliography), whose recipes, when carefully read, will evoke a history of the people who cooked and ate this food.

This is instead that other kind of cookbook: a highly subjective selection. Revealing the ingredients, combinations, methods, and refinements I am drawn to and the culinary influences that nourished me, this book tells a more personal story, the autobiography of one palate.

It is written in my culinary mother tongue -- Jewish -- and for that reason, these improvisations are inextricably bound to the foods of my childhood and my family. My grandmothers were superb traditional home cooks, but both my parents were particularly inventive in the kitchen. Although each holiday appeared at our table cloaked in its customary set of enticing aromas, when my parents cooked the meal it was a safe bet that the foods would somehow taste different every time.

With the possible exception of politics, no topic ever inspired so much passion in our house as food. The meals we had eaten and those we talked -- and argued -- about sharing in the future were a metaphor for all that we had relished together, for everything that was delicious in life.

Our gastronomical selves, of course, are constantly evolving, and in the transition from eager palate to curious cook, I've also experimented with ideas derived from traveling and eating, from talking and reading. Here I mean not just cookbooks -- though I confess to savoring piles of them late at night like secret sweets -- but food tasted in fiction and in poetry. I might bring to life, for example, a tantalizing breast of veal from a forgotten novella by Armand Lunel, a Jew from Provence. Perhaps you will taste the recipes in this book first in reading their introductions, which are intended to provoke and excite your "mind's tongue" to get you cooking.

These improvisations are firmly rooted in Jewish tradition, and while playful, they remain faithful to its spirit and soul. I am not creating silly, culturally perverse combinations here, like matzoh balls made with butter and destined for a meat soup, or gourmet hybrids, like jalapeño-sun dried tomato gefilte fish. Nor am I after chili, Jewish simply because it is prepared with kosher ground meat. Rather, my recipes are all integrated interpretations of foods I think of as Jewish, and all are kosher.

What Is Jewish Food?

Can the food of a people dispersed all over the world centuries ago, cooking the many disparate foods of their adopted homelands, be described as a cuisine? A cuisine that would find common elements in a beef kibbe, tart-sweet with apricots and tamarind, and a tender brisket, heady with onion gravy? Or delicate gefilte fish dumplings and bellahat, Egyptian spicy ground fish balls?

There is a Jewish cuisine. But it cannot be defined as simply any food cooked by Jews. By that logic, pasta primavera and Mexican salsa, now made with kosher ingredients by Jewish cooks, are Jewish foods.

Nor are the only true Jewish foods matzoh, haroset, the Passover fruit-nut paste that commemorates the mortar the Jews used in ancient Egypt, and long-simmering Sabbath dishes, like hamins and cholents. We cannot deny chopped liver or the oniony hard-cooked eggs, huevos haminados, because they are not eaten by all Jews. Jewish cooking is perhaps the original regional cuisine, with a purview that nearly spans the globe.

Blintzes may first have been prepared in a Russian kitchen as round pancakes meant to evoke the winter sun at Shrovetide. But haven't Jews, who welcome summer with them at Shavuot, adapted and adopted them long enough to call them their own? When does an immigrant food become naturalized? Surely baked beans are solid New England fare, though many food historians believe that either the Pilgrims borrowed their overnight Sabbath stews from Jewish versions during their sojourn in Holland or seafaring captains brought the Jewish dish back from North Africa.

The Varied World of Jewish Cuisine

Comprising the largest segment of world Jewry, the Ashkenazim (from Ashkenaz, the Hebrew word for Germany) are descended from the Jews who originally settled in France and Germany, later emigrating east and north to Poland, Russia, the Baltic, and Central Europe. While their cuisine was far from homogeneous -- contrast the Hungarian stews spicy with paprika and hot peppers with sweet Polish dishes like raisin-studded stuffed cabbage or a honey-sweet tsimmes of meat, fruit, and vegetables -- there is a recognizable commonality. Most Ashkenazim came from cool climates and worked with similar ingredients: beets, carrots, cabbage, potatoes. Few had access to the sea, so collectively they developed a love for freshwater fish. Their shared food traditions were also a by-product of the interaction among the various Ashkenazi communities through trade, marriage, and the constant migrations resulting from persecution and expulsion (an integration made easier because they spoke the same language, Yiddish). Later the cuisine became further standardized in the apogee of such intermingling, namely, the American melting pot.

Sephardim (from the Hebrew Sepharad, meaning Spain) refers technically to those Jews and their descendants expelled from the Iberian Peninsula beginning in 1492, but it has come to mean as well all the Jews from the diverse communities of the Balkans, the eastern Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. There had been a Jewish presence in all these lands for centuries: Jews have made Morocco home, for instance, at least since Roman times, and the Jewish community in Iraq dates back to antiquity when King Nebuchadnezzar brought Jews to Babylonia as captives after he destroyed the First Temple in 506 B.C.

Many of these Muslim areas welcomed the Spanish and Portuguese Jews -- indeed, the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid II invited them, avowing, "[Ferdinand] is impoverishing his country and enriching my kingdom" -- and they brought with them not only their language, Ladino, but their foods and cooking techniques as well. These in turn influenced and became influenced by all the different culinary traditions of the new lands they settled.

Sephardi cooking then is really a constellation of disparate cuisines, revolving, to some extent, around similar ingredients like sun-soaked vegetables and fruits, lamb, saltwater fish, oils, herbs, and aromatic spices. While the boundaries are permeable, at least four very general types of cooking styles can be distinguished: the cuisines of the eastern Mediterranean Jews (Greece, Turkey, and the Balkans), where the cooking of the Iberian Jews had the greatest influence; the Maghreb (North Africa) Jews; the various Jewish communities of the Middle East: Egypt and the Levant; and Iran and Iraq.

Although it is often classified as Sephardi by Ashkenazi Jews, Italian cuisine is quite distinct. Jews have lived in Rome continuously for twenty-one centuries: la cucina ebraica is an amalgam of the foods of the ancient Jewish communities, the Sephardi and Ashkenazi émigrés and their Italian-Christian neighbors.

The third largest group of Jewry, the Yemenite Jews, trace their ancestry to the celebrated union of Solomon and Sheba in the ninth century B.C. Because they were fairly isolated from other Jews, not only their customs but their fiery hot cuisine developed differently.

Separate mention should also be made of the Asian Jewish communities. Many Jews who settled in the stops along the Silk Route -- the fabled names out of Coleridge, like Samarkand, Bukhara, Tashkent -- originally came from Iran. Cut off from their forebears, they developed a rich, festive cuisine greatly influenced by their Central Asian and Russian neighbors. The cuisines of two of the three far-flung Jewish settlements in India -- the Bene Israel in Kerala and later Bombay, and the Cochini Jews from the Malabar Coast -- bear strong resemblance to the Hindu and Muslim cooking there. The Baghdadis, who make up the third community, centered in Bombay and Calcutta, were Iraqi and Syrian Jews. Their unique foods blend elements of the Jewish Middle East with Indian and, to a lesser extent, British cooking.

Some time ago I was in the home of a Jewish woman originally from Kerala, on the southwestern coast of India. Accustomed to celebrating Rosh Hashanah during the furious monsoon season there, in New York, on a soft September morning, she prepared the same traditional foods with which she welcomed the New Year back home. The apartment was filled with the aromas of chicken curry simmering on the stove and platters of halwah, sweet puddings enriched with coconut milk (in avoidance of the dairy that would contravene kosher law), cooling on the dining table.

Such strong smells are intensely evocative. And I was indeed transported -- but not to a place of pink palaces, golden caparisoned elephants, and silk saris in rainbow colors. Instead, I was back in my Polish grandmother's apartment on Davidson Avenue, in the Bronx, the one with the sealed-up dumbwaiter, inhaling the same warm, homey smells of sizzling onions, sweet cinnamon, and toasted poppy seeds, from the Rosh Hashanah brisket, tsimmes, and honey cookies she used to cook in the old white Formica kitchen.

Was the food the same -- or the grandmothers? Probably a little of both. Jewish cooking is, after all, "bubbe cuisine," created by grandmothers and served up family-style. The most festive -- and delicious -- meals are centered around home celebrations, whether with the immediate family at quiet Sabbath dinners or the whole raucous extended mishpocheh at the Passover seder. And table ceremonies like dipping challah and apples in honey to ensure a sweet new year appear invented to engage the family and delight the children.

There are no trained chefs, educated on elegant, codified recipes, who prepare Jewish banquet dishes in royal kitchens or luxe restaurants. The best Jewish restaurants mimic fine Jewish home cooking -- not the other way around.

This homeyness that informs every aspect of the cuisine, from the favored ingredients to the cooking techniques to the family-centered style of eating, is born of an ancient religion, deeply rooted in ritual and the rhythms of the natural world.

Take brisket and beef kibbe, for example. They are both carefully braised over gentle fires -- one of the long, slow meat-cooking methods, like stewing, oven- or pan-roasting, that have for centuries warmed Jewish kitchens from Beirut to Bialystok and the Bronx.

Such cooking methods are no accident. Jewish dietary laws require that meat be soaked and salted to remove the blood so it no longer resembles the flesh of a live animal. By tradition, it is usually cooked well-done enough that no trace of blood remains visible. For the blood of any being is sacred to God: "Ye shall eat the blood of no matter of flesh" (Leviticus 17:14).

Kashrut, the dietary laws, also proscribe eating -- in addition to pork, rabbit, and any other animal that does not chew its cud and have split hooves -- many of the tender cuts of kosher animals, like cows and lamb. Because Jacob had injured his thigh during his fight with the angel (Genesis 32:33), meat from the hindquarters, like filet mignon, sirloin, and leg of lamb, is taboo, unless the sciatic nerve is removed first -- a difficult and expensive process. (Some non-Western Jews do remove the sciatic nerve from animals: in Kaifeng, China, where a flourishing community of Jews settled in the tenth century, Jews were called Tiao Kia Kisou, "sect which extracts the sinews.") So long, patient simmering is also necessary to tenderize the tougher cuts that are permissible.

And the word "gefilte" may belong to Eastern European Jews, but the process of separating fish from its bones and grinding it up is common to much of Jewry. On Sabbath and religious holidays, Jews are not permitted to work. For some, meticulously removing the flesh from tiny fish bones was a labor that swallowed up some of the joy of the holy day. And yet, one is encouraged to eat fish on these days as it is a symbol of fruitfulness and a mystical means to taste a bit of Paradise and ward off the evil eye. The solution: ground fish balls, which also stretch the supply of fish and can be prepared in advance.

Foods that can be readied ahead characterize much of Jewish cookery. Since Jews are not permitted to kindle fires on the Sabbath, but are exhorted to feast then, foods like kugels, tagines (Moroccan stewlike dishes), and yes, curries, are fixed in advance, and then simply heated through, or like cholents and dafinas, slow-cooked overnight, on previously lit fires. And from diverse Jewish communities come imaginative cold dishes, especially well-seasoned fish, developed with the injunction against Sabbath cooking in mind. Because no last-minute cooking is permitted, the whole family can sit down together to eat.

An ancient people, Jews have a taste for ancient foods. The onions and garlic that nourished the Hebrew slaves in Egypt are relished today by Jews everywhere. Those well-done meat dishes would lie leaden on the tongue without garlic, roasted or sautéed, and crisply browned or gently stewed onions to provide the requisite aromatic lift.

The pomegranates that quenched the thirst of the Israelites as they wandered forty years in the desert are still sought out by Jews regardless of how difficult they are to find in their new homelands, especially for the fall holidays, when the fruit is at its peak. And biblical ingredients like lamb, figs, dates, barley, lentils, almonds, and pistachios still locate a dish as Jewish for many.

Dairy- and grain-intensive foods are central to the Jewish culinary universe. Dairy or vegetarian meals assume more significance when obtaining meat slaughtered according to kashrut has proven difficult. The legendary beauty Queen Esther, wife of the Persian King Ahasuerus, relied on legumes like chickpeas and lentils for sustenance, since no kosher meat was available at the court where the wicked Haman held sway. And during the Inquisition, when it would have been perilous for them to kosher their meat, many "secret" Jews depended on eggs and dairy for protein.

The biblical injunction "a kid must not be seethed in its mother's milk" means that meat and dairy (any food containing milk or milk products, including butter and cheese) may never be eaten at the same meal -- and observant Jews wait one, three, or six hours (depending on local custom) after eating any meat before swallowing a dairy product. (There is no waiting period, however, between eating dairy -- except for hard cheeses -- and subsequently eating meat. One must simply cleanse the palate with a drink or a piece of bread.) When dairy foods are eaten, like blintzes slicked with rich sour cream, cheesy fritadas, and creamy puddings -- they become the focus of the meal, rather than simply flavoring adjuncts to the meat dishes.

Although many dishes derived from humble foods like kasha and lentils, even the poorest Jewish kitchens had exotic sweet-smelling spices available -- usually cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg at least -- because they were integral to the Saturday night Havdalah ceremony, evoking the fragrance of the hereafter as Queen Sabbath is escorted out. (The need for special spices, fruits, and nuts for ceremonial use, like Havdalah, Passover haroset, and the Sukkot bouquet, is one reason Jews became important international traders in such foodstuffs.) Cinnamon and other aromatic spices are frequently called for in both Ashkenazi and Sephardi savory and sweet recipes.

The spice of Sabbath became a metaphor for its unique flavor, and preparing especially fragrant and sapid foods was a means of honoring the festive days. Glistening fresh fish and vegetables just plucked from the garden need little adornment, but foods prepared ahead for a holiday and either kept heated or eaten chilled require exuberant seasoning to make them sparkle. Some Jews added sweetening, some spicy or savory flavoring. And many, in disparate communities from Morocco and Italy to Germany and Poland, added both. After all, the taste for sweet and sour or sweet and savory has potent resonance for a people whose every joy is tinged with bittersweet: whose wedding laughter is momentarily shattered by the traditional breaking glass, who punctuate their most joyous festivals with poignant allusions to their enemies' sorrows, and their own.

The Jewish kitchen revolves around the Sabbath and the seasonal cycle of holidays. Though the specifics of a dish may differ, according to local availability of ingredients, cooking traditions, and customs, all foods prepared for holidays and other life-cycle events speak to the same ritual and symbolic concerns. Ashkenazi Jews may fry latkes in oil, and Israelis their sufganiyot, jelly doughnuts, but both foods are inspirited with the miracle of the oil that burned in the holy lamp for eight days at Hanukkah. Although the permissible foods vary from community to community, all Jews have a unique Passover cuisine rooted in the absence of leavening to commemorate the unleavened bread the Hebrews ate during their hasty exodus from Egypt.

Everyday fare too resonates with that abiding Jewish love for symbolism. "Soul food" in its most basic sense, Jewish dishes are routinely used to explain and reinforce the mysteries of life. Most Jews in mourning commonly eat round foods, such as eggs, bagels, and lentils, which reflect the eternal cycle of life. Symbolic of abundance, stuffed dishes, whether made from grape leaves or cabbage, are especially enjoyed at harvest time.

Are these foods to be appreciated only by Jews involved in their traditions or nostalgic for their people and their past? Or would they intrigue other food lovers too?

Many people, when they learned the subject of this book, reacted with smug smiles and suppressed giggles. And those were the polite ones.

Partly, of course, such responses are a telling commentary on the deteriorated quality of contemporary Jewish cooking. But more to the point, I think, is what they reveal about the stereotyped perception of Jewishness.

Can you be too Jewish to be beautiful? In her provocative silkscreen Four Barbras, from The Jackie Series, Deborah Kass answers the question even as she asks it. Kass's work, part of the controversial exhibit "Too Jewish? Challenging Traditional Identities" at The Jewish Museum, New York, March to July 1996, proudly celebrated Barbra Streisand's frankly ethnic face as transcendent cultural icon, akin to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, in the format the artist borrowed from Andy Warhol's famous series.

But it was rare until recently for artists to celebrate their Jewishness in their work. In aesthetics, Jews strove for the universal; Jewish beauty was assimilationist. To a child growing up in the 1950s and '60s, "Oh, you don't look Jewish," was a compliment more often than not, whether delivered by Jews or non-Jews: it meant you were pretty. And by inference, looking Jewish meant you were not.

The same aesthetics applied to food. My mother, a superb, imaginative cook, could not help but leave her imprint on the Jewish food she prepared for our everyday and Jewish holiday tables. But her real flights of fancy were reserved for the Italian meals she whipped up for company or other special occasions. Jewish food was, well, too Jewish to be beautiful.

Like many American Jews who came of age while actively involved in the civil rights movement, I began to appreciate my own roots as I explored other minority cultures. Not only were these diverse ethnic groups beautiful, so was mine: we too were a vivid patch in the exciting crazy-quilt of multiculturalism.

I was not alone. Today Jewish chefs around the country express their Jewishness in their dishes, challenging the marginalized, exclusionary concept of Jewish food as nongourmet; that is, dreary and unrefined.

The culture serves as inspiration, however, not imprisonment. For only by rethinking, questioning, and reinventing -- in the best midrashic tradition -- can we guarantee it will remain meaningful to us.

Jews have always believed, in a very real sense, that you are what you eat: foods remain forever in our bodies, transformed into blood, brains, heart, and even soul. More than mere corporal nourishment, the proper food keeps both body and soul healthy. The physical becomes the spiritual, as we approach God through eating, worshiping at this unique altar, the table.

For food is truly magical. Through the simple act of eating, Jews partake of a mystical but very real communion with their families, their traditions, and the world itself. In improvising in this culinary universe, I have varied the ingredients and experimented with different styles, but always the essential -- the magic -- endures.

Notes to the Cook

Good cooks are good eaters. Excited by delicious food, they keep sampling and adjusting their work until that charmed moment when flavors, texture, temperature, and appearance coalesce and, like the girl with the golden tresses said, "it tastes just right."

Throughout this book I give approximate cooking times for various stages in a recipe. But ultimately, these are only guidelines. The exact time it will take you to caramelize onions, for instance, will depend on many factors: the onions themselves (how much moisture and natural sugar they contain, how finely you have cut them); the type and size of the pan; the degree and kind of heat you are using; other ingredients, like salt, you may have added; as well as your own personal preferences. In the end you decide whether the onions are sweetly browned enough.

By all means, adjust the seasonings to suit your ingredients and your tastebuds. Recently I prepared Honeyed Quince-Apple Blintzes (page 252), using fruit from the fragrant centerpiece that had graced my table for a couple of weeks. The fruit looked ripe and fresh and bore no telltale signs of discoloration. Yet it tasted singularly dull and lackluster with the seasoning called for in the recipe, quantities that, the six or seven times I had previously made the blintzes, had always produced beautifully flavored fruit. Perhaps I had let the quinces and apples languish too long, unchilled, in my steam-heated apartment. Perhaps they were insipid to begin with. I should have tasted the raw fruit first. Luckily, I did sample the cooked fruit before I filled the blintzes, and by adding another quarter teaspoon or so of cinnamon and vanilla, an extra teaspoon or two of honey and a squeeze of lemon, I was able to revive the tired flavor.

Use these recipes as departure points for your own explorations, changing flavorings or making other substitutions as your tastes and the seasons dictate. Often suggestions for variations are given in the "Cook's Note" at the end of a recipe. If a dish is not in your food memory -- if you are not sure what it is supposed to taste like -- use the descriptions and your mind's tongue to determine what you want it to taste like when you begin experimenting.

A lot of Jewish cooking can be rather filling for contemporary tastes. Many Ashkenazi dishes are based on dairy (sour cream, butter, and cream cheese), heavy starches, and rich meats. Sephardi food, while lighter in general, relies on generous quantities of oil. And both cuisines make lavish use of eggs.

I have reduced unnecessary amounts of oil in recipes, I trim off the meat fat, and thoroughly skim soups and gravies (detailed instructions for removing fat from gravies is given in the introduction to "Meats and Poultry"). But many recipes frequently call for real butter, real sour cream, whole milk, and other rich foodstuffs -- not substitutions.

Certainly, you are not going to eat blintzes and brisket every day. And when you do serve them, round out the meal with fresh salads, seasonal vegetables, and fruit (either a light compote or beautiful uncooked fruit, artfully arranged on dessert plates). For centuries, Jews ate their Saturday lunch cholent (a heavy, meat-and-starch meal-in-a-pot) accompanied by a starchy kugel, or pudding. They probably had no choice, given the scarcity of other foods, especially vegetables. But we do. To best enjoy a rich cholent or dafina(the Sephardi equivalent), eat it with a salad of fresh-tasting tart and bitter greens. (The suggested menus for holidays and life-cycle events will further assist you in planning meals.)

Here are some ways to "lighten up" in the kitchen:

  • Fresh fruit, barely cooked and sweetened, adds a flavorful burst to the top of rich noodle puddings and as filling for blintzes. Fresh fruit sauces, like Fresh Raspberry Applesauce (page 178) or Fresh Persimmon Sauce (page 282), provide a lighthearted but full-flavored counterpoint to fried latkes, blintzes, and brisket.
  • Dried fruit, like tart apricots, dates, and especially prunes, round out flavors in recipes and contribute body to a variety of foods, including soups and sauces.
  • Intense fat-free fruit concentrates (such as pomegranate molasses and temerhindi, or tamarind) and full-bodied fruit juices, like apple-cranberry and prune, reduced over high heat to deepen their flavors, add clean-tasting zest and decrease reliance on added sugars.
  • Fruits and vegetables, soft-cooked or pureed, can fill out soups, gravies, and sauces. And they can be used to replace butter and eggs, lightening and enriching pâtés and grains. I substitute some pureed caramelized onion for part of the hard-boiled egg in a chopped liver variation, and use meltingly tender cubes of eggplant instead of gobs of butter to moisten kasha.
  • Reduce, reduce, reduce soups, sauces, and gravies to concentrate flavors and thicken them.
  • Vary the textures in a dish to create the impression of lightness. For example, I combine both sautéed and crisp raw onions in the Chopped Chicken Liver recipes (pages 47 and 51) and Chopped Eggs and Onions (page 312). To make latkes, I grate most of the potatoes coarsely, ensuring a crunchy crust; I puree the remainder for a creamy interior.

How to Use This Book

The Gefilte Variations is divided into two parts. The first, organized by menu category, features techniques and imaginative renditions of year-round Jewish favorites, like Marinated Brisket with Chestnuts; Potato-Onion Kreplach, Pot Sticker Style; and Peach-Raspberry Blintzes.

The second section offers new takes on holiday standards as well as international Jewish dishes that are particularly appropriate for holiday tables: Double Ginger-Caramelized Pear Noodle Kugel to break the Yom Kippur fast, Cheese Latkes with Fresh Persimmon Sauce to celebrate Hanukkah. Additional recipes from the first section that make excellent holiday matches are cross-referenced.

I've devised a variety of suggested menus for holidays (including several nonmeat meals) and life-cycle celebrations, like the bar/bat mitzvah. Arranging these foods (many of them quite rich and filling) into appealing, well-balanced meals requires a graceful tango between, on the one hand, the exigencies of Jewish traditions, and on the other, contemporary demands for lighter, fresher tastes. To round out these menus, I have added some simple dishes for which no recipe is given. These straightforward foods -- mostly salads and vegetables -- are in the repertoire of most home cooks or easily prepared from the descriptions given. Feel free to supplement the menus with your own favorite dishes. And after you become familiar with the cuisine, you will find it easy to compose delectable menus of your own.

Because the dietary laws proscribe eating foods containing meat or meat products with foods containing milk or its derivatives, I have designated recipes as meat, dairy, or pareve. (Pareve foods, considered "neutral," contain neither meat nor dairy and so may be eaten with either, and are suitable for vegetarian diets. However, though dairy-free, many pareve foods include eggs, so vegans will need to check the ingredients list.) If a recipe may be categorized in more than one way, depending on your choice of ingredients (for example, butter instead of margarine, chicken versus vegetable broth), it bears all possible labels.

Copyright © 2000 by Jayne Cohen

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2001

    Truly Inspired

    Creative, interesting and easy to follow recipes for every occasion. Add tradition, yumminess and lots of love to your holiday celebrations with this well-researched, lovely collection of Jewish recipes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2000

    Jewish recipes that would make Bach Proud

    These are the GEFILTE VARIATIONS by Cohen, not the GOLDBERG Variations by JSBach as performed by Glenn Gould. Just a note of history first. The Goldberg Variations (Aria with 30 variations) were composed by J. S. Bach for Count Herman Carl von Keyserlingk of Dresden to be played to soothe him by his harpsichordist and 15 year old prodigy Johann Gottlieb Goldberg (1727-1756). The variations explore the full palette of emotions: joy, contemplation, happy, quiet, tragic, resurrection. OKAY, now what about this Jewish recipe and story book? Just as Bach showed full range and innovation, the Gefilte Variations is innovative in its presentation and reinterpretation of the Jewish musical, I mean recipe, standards, such as matzo balls (with fennel and seasonal changes), kasha (with melted eggplant) chopped liver, kugels (with peaches), entrees (like fish and rhubarb and tomato), soups, latkes (with persimmon), and matzo brei (with artichoke hearts, with wine and dried plums, or french toast style, or fritatta style, or fluffy egg style, or pancake style). Oh their are so many variations. Speaking of matzo, Cohen provides a recipe for recrisping matzo to give it that 'fresh from the Williamburg oven' taste (toasting it at 400 degrees), as well as at least five variations of flavored motzot, from lemon to cheese to sweet to onion, garlic, thyme, or herb. I hope I have given you a flavor of the book's contents.

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