In the Kitchen with Traditional Jewish Cooking

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Tamar Genger MA, RD
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jewish traditional cooking cover

Cook and food writer, Ruth Joseph, and former food editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Simon Round came together to bring us a compendium of Jewish recipes in the new cookbook, Traditional Jewish Cooking.  This book takes you on a culinary journey, from the warm climates of Africa and the Middle East to the cooler temperatures of Europe and North America.  This book covers all the bases with Ashkenazi and Sephardi classics you will definitely want to add to your repertoire.  Don't miss the savory vegetable noodle kugel, just in time for Shavuot.

What motivated you to write this book?

I was motivated to write this book as I had have always had a passion for good kosher recipes that work and I had amassed numerous lovely ancient recipes, some written on old envelopes that my late mother and mother-in law passed onto me.

Plus I had devised my own solutions with a goal to make the recipes as light and healthy as possible. And once I had worked these out perfectly I wanted to share them with like-minded Jewish foodie people.

I asked Simon to test the meaty recipes as I no longer cook meat in my home. Some of the recipes were mine from my own home but it wouldn’t have been fair to give recipes that were not tested to check whether they work.

How did you decide which recipes to include in this book?

It was hugely difficult to leave recipes out and I had a trying day with my lovely editor culling 30 recipes which had to be omitted because of space issues.

Most traditional Jewish recipe books are either Ashkenazi or Sephardi, how were you able to become an expert on both cuisines?

I am an expert on Ashkenazi and Sephardi cooking as I am an Ashkenazi Jewish person myself – my family name is Carlebach and I am extremely proud of my Ashkenazi heritage. But I married a Sephardi man whose family originated from Palestine and before that Spain and so I developed a fascination for Sephardi cooking. I went to Morocco and met some wonderful cooks who helped me in my quest and I loved the
lightness of their cookery with oil rather than schmaltz, plus the generous quantities of herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables in their foods.

How and when did you learn to cook?

I learned as a child at my late mother’s side. I was maybe three when she set me down with a little ball of pastry and I tasted and smelt the magic of a dough dusted with sugar and baked until golden. She was a generous cook and adored entertaining when she was well and I learned how to make and how to arrange food to make it look appetzing. I owe her a great deal. Sadly as she became more poorly I became the full-time cook and carer but I learned to make everything for a kosher home and truly although it was tough I was given a huge grounding in cookery, using left-overs for example in knishes and kreplach and I’ll always remember how talented she was in the kitchen.

plava recipe

Plava Recipe

What is your favorite recipe from this book? Please share it with us?

My favourite recipe from the book – goodness how to I chose one child over all the others?

Perhaps it’s the Plava because it was such a huge success – moist, tender and sweet tart with lemon.  When it finally emerged and when we photographed the final version it included my homemade lemon curd and a sprig of lemon tree flower from my husband’s green house.

Sephardi spiced hot fish jewish cooking

Sephardi Spiced Fish

Also, the Sephardi Hot Spiced Fish which I often serve to friends as they adore the flavouring and I can prepare it a day in advance. I learned that recipe in Fez in a tiny warm kitchen with a lovely lady who chopped onions into her hands instead of a chopping board!!! And I’m hugely proud of the recipe.

Which recipe is the most important for historical or traditional reasons?

On consideration for both historical and traditional reasons it has to be Judith’s Black and White Cake.  It was always baked in a special bundt tin that she, my late mother Judith Carlebach carried out of Germany at the age of 12 when escaping from the Holocaust.  She held it in her still childish hands wrapped up with her mother’s second-best candlesticks. And although most of her life she was sick and I nursed her until she died at the age of 46, there were good times when we made that cake, rich with melted chocolate and more chocolate drizzled over the top. I was always in charge of greasing and flouring the intricate furrows of the tin which was a huge pressure but the tin and the cake never let me down. I love that tin and the recipe to make it with its sweet memories and I also remember sitting with my mother and making marzipan fruit to decorate the top.

Enjoy a sampling of recipes from the book and then go buy your copy to get the rest.

Savory Vegetable and Noodle Kugel

Sephardic Fish

The Plava