• Jam and poppy seed kugel (Evan Sung)Source: Evan Sung
An ever-evolving cuisine.
By
Alana Schetzer

18 Dec 2019 - 9:30 AM  UPDATED 18 Dec 2019 - 11:43 AM

When it comes to the world of Jewish food, lots of people have a rather narrow idea of what that actually means, says celebrated Jewish cookbook author Leah Koenig.

According to Koenig, "For people who grew up with Eastern European Jewish food traditions like brisket, challah, matzo ball soup and stuffed cabbage, there is often a misconception that that's all there is to it.

"But really Jewish food is an incredibly global cuisine. There are subsets of Jewish cuisine from Morocco and Italy, India and Ethiopia, Uzbekistan and Mexico - and everywhere in between."

TIMELESS
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Koenig is known as an authority on Jewish food, having published six books on the subject and written for the likes of The New York Times, Taste, New York Magazine, Serious Eats, Wall Street Journal, Bon Appetit and plenty more.

Her latest tome, The Jewish Cookbook, is a Bible-like (or should that be Torah?) collection of four hundred recipes collected from home cooks across the world. The recipes are modern takes on some dishes, with Eastern Europe, Africa, Middle East and North America all represented.

Koenig is known as an authority on Jewish food, having published six books on the subject.

AROUND THE GLOBE
About Jewish food
Jewish cuisine is difficult to define as one entity. As a people who've been uprooted time and again, the Jewish diaspora has meant that there are a multitude of regional food styles: from the hearty fare of Eastern Europe’s Ashkenazi Jews to the more subtle, Mediterranean flavours of their Sephardi brothers and sisters – not forgetting their Mizrahi cousins, who have a preference for the spices of Morocco, the Middle East and India.

The ever-popular potato latkes are delicious, there's a sweet version of the kugel stuffed with jam and poppyseed, plus there's baked salmon salad and meat-stuffed kreplach, which are triangle-shaped dumplings that are either boiled and served in soup or fried and enjoyed on their own.

For Koenig, who lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, this book was about creating a broad picture of what Jewish cuisine is and explores its fluid geographical influences. An added bonus is that Koenig was able to add to her considerable bank of Jewish food knowledge and test out some recipes herself, finding some new favourites along the way.

BRILLIANCE
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Chanie Apfelbaum is all about mixing things up in tandem with tradition, be they Jewish holiday classics or everyday kosher cooking.

"I loved making and eating Moroccan stuffed artichoke bottoms; it's a labor intensive dish that I learned from a Moroccan-Jewish woman who lives in Montreal, but the result is astoundingly delicious."

It wasn't a dish she knew about prior to working on the cookbook but it has since become a "completely necessary dish" for her own table. 

"It reminded me how truly diverse the cuisine is."

Given she grew up eating Jewish food and has carved out a career writing about, it might be easy to assume there's little Koenig doesn't know. But another benefit of creating The Jewish Cookbook is that she got to delve into worlds she didn't have access to before, like Moroccan Jewish traditions. 

"Jewish food has definitely taken on something of a 'cool' status."

"I learned so much with this book! One favourite example was learning more about the Mimouna tradition, which is a special celebratory meal that Moroccan Jews enjoy at the end of Passover," she says.

"I'd heard about it before, but for this book I got to delve into the holiday's dishes, like these delicious fried crepes called mofletta [or mufleta] that are topped with jam, butter, and chopped nuts and rolled up into delicious little parcels."

"Really, Jewish food is an incredibly global cuisine," says Koenig.

Unlike many other cultural cuisines that have penetrated the mainstream in recent years and become firm favourites with people from all cultural backgrounds, Jewish food remains on the peripheral. But Koenig believes that situation will change, and soon.

"Here in the United States there seems to be another nouveau Jewish delicatessen or modern Middle Eastern/Israeli restaurant popping up in another city every week. And on my travels abroad in places like Budapest and Berlin - Jewish food has definitely taken on something of a 'cool' status.

DISCOVERING NEW FOOD
Mufleta

These simple pancakes are traditionally eaten at the Moroccan festival Mimouna, which marks the end of the Jewish Passover. The sweet breads are best served with butter and honey.

"I think Jewish food has something to offer the world beyond the Jewish community, so I think this will only grow."

Jewish food, Koenig says, is ever-changing, which is what makes it so exciting and diverse.

"Some people regard Jewish food like it is this fixed, never-changing thing - the same food it has been since the time of the Bible. But Jewish food by its very nature as a diaspora cuisine is constantly evolving," she explains.

"Whenever Jewish communities move and settle in a new place, which is something that Jews have historically done over and over, there's a merging of traditional dishes and the new/adopted culinary landscape that encourages delicious evolution. It's a big part of why Jewish food is so varied and exciting."

The Jewish Cookbook, published by Phaidon, RRP$65, is out now.

Cook the book
Meat-stuffed kreplach

Kreplach is to Jewish cuisine what ravioli are to Italian cuisine - delicious parcels of homemade pasta stuffed with meat (or sometimes cheese or vegetables).

Jam and poppy seed kugel

Hungarians have a particular fondness for poppy seeds, often pairing them with pastries and noodle dishes. Here, the dusky seeds add nutty flavor to a baked lokshen (noodle) kugel.

Flaky chicken and almond pie

This rich and flaky Moroccan pie, called b'stilla, is a showstopper. It pairs saffron- and spice-scented chicken with sweetened, ground almonds inside crispy filo dough.

Pizza ebraica

This ancient Italian Jewish “pizza” isn’t a pizza at all, but rather a bar cookie densely studded with dried fruit and nuts.

Leah's potato latkes

Potatoes, which are a New World ingredient, did not enjoy widespread use in Eastern Europe until the nine-teenth century. Once the starchy tubers caught on, they were embraced with gusto, and today these potato fritters, with tender, savory insides and crackly crusts, are the undisputed king of Ashkenazi Hanukkah celebrations.

Schnecken

Tasting like a cross between a sticky bun and rugelach, these glazed, nut- and currant-filled pastries check all the indulgence boxes.