The New Mediterranean Jewish Table: Old World Recipes for the Modern Home
By Joyce Goldstein
University of California Press, 468 pages, $49.95
It takes chutzpah to put out a cookbook in 2016 without a single photograph of the food. But if you read the fine print, The New Mediterranean Jewish Table is published by the University of California Press with "generous support" from an endowment fund set up by the S. Mark Taper Foundation. This is a work of culinary academia, and substance comes before style.
While the book won't draw you in with a gorgeous cover salad, it does capitalize on two trends. The first is the unstoppable popularity of Middle Eastern cuisine, which continues to be buoyed by annual bestsellers from Yotam Ottolenghi and company. The second is the modernization of Jewish food seen at restaurants such as New York's Mile End and Fat Pasha in Toronto.
Author Joyce Goldstein rose to prominence as chef-owner of Square One in San Francisco in the 1980s. She was a key player in the California cuisine movement, which helped farm-to-table Mediterranean push aside fussy classical French.
Since the restaurant closed in 1996, she's been a prolific cookbook author, and her latest title feels like the culmination of a lifetime's work.
Since most Jewish immigrants to North America came from Eastern Europe, Jewish cuisine here is mostly associated with the stodgy cold-weather dishes from the Ashkenazi canon. Brisket, chopped liver and matzo ball soup are still enjoyed on holidays and Shabbat dinner, but they are not everyday fare.
Goldstein reminds us there is a whole other world of Jewish cooking, and it falls into step with the modern preference for seasonal ingredients and vibrant flavours. Jews settled all over the Mediterranean and "cooked the traditional recipes of the region in which they lived while observing kosher laws."
Once I got cooking, I was hooked. The vegetable recipes are strong, including a Venetian dish of sweet-and-sour carrots with raisins and pine nuts. Fish baked under a thick blanket of herbed green tahini, a specialty of Egypt and Lebanon, was another huge hit. And I've tried many different yogurt sauces; the book's Persian version is now my go-to recipe.
With Passover less than two weeks away, I've adapted a baked Sephardic omelette for the holiday, which is more like strata with matzoh standing in for bread. It can be served for brunch alongside a crunchy salad of shaved raw vegetables, or as a side dish with roast salmon.
Despite the engaging writing and delicious recipes I still find the absence of photos a head-scratcher. As Goldstein writes in her introduction, "Younger generations of Jewish home cooks are looking for contemporary ideas to match their evolving palates."
I would think these younger generations, raised on smartphones and Snapchat, are also looking for visual inspiration.