Tina Wasserman has been in the food writing business for a while, but two years ago when she wrote her first cookbook, Entree to Judaism: A Culinary Exploration of The Jewish Diaspora, she really appeared on the map. Tina loves to share the history of our food and helps us all connect to our Jewish roots through food. Her new book, Entree to Judaism For Families, is filled with the tools to help kids of all ages learn to cook in the kitchen and learn bits of history too. I had the chance to meet Tina recently and I came away with so much amazing knowledge. Let's see what we can learn now.
Your books are filled with little history lessons connecting the food to Jewish history, how did you learn all these facts?
History books, the Talmud, interviews with people in my community that grew up Jewish in the Maghreb (North Africa) and the Middle East and India, credible Internet sites (no Wikipedia!) that represented all Jewish denominations and, believe it or not, old Jewish cookbooks that really portrayed the culinary customs of Jewish immigrants to this country more than one hundred years ago. It was amazing to watch the transformation of immigrant cuisine as subsequent generations grew up in North America.
In your first book you shared recipes from all over the world, what is different about this book?
My focus in Entree to Judaism for Families was creating recipes that would be fun to make, would not be "gimmicky" children's food but would be sophisticated preparations that would introduce children to a wide array of foods that would be delicious, incorporate many nutritious ingredients (vegetables,whole grains,fruits) and still have a link to ancient and modern Jewish culture and history. Each recipe provides a springboard for discussion that facilitates discussion about one's own family heritage.
This new book (will) also be available in digital form, what is the benefit of that version?
The first book is now available on iTunes too. I am a trained culinary educator. I actually started out as a junior high school Home Economics teacher. No matter what I am teaching-Jewish food lore or programming for religious schools, I am always teaching techniques on how to cook. The digital version is, to my knowledge, the first digitally interactive cookbook geared to young cooks. Each recipe provides links within the directions to photos of equipment or very short videos on technique. Link for the word whisk will pop up a photo of that utensil and can lead to child developmental exercises of following commands and finding the whisk in the kitchen. Highlighting this, and many other words can enhance spelling proficiency. Why do we have to always teach B is for ball and C is for cat? Why can't W be for whisk and B for boil? The book is also imbedded with over thirty minute videos to teach technique. A child could play with the app in their car seat as easily as in the kitchen!
You believe strongly in tradition, what is your favorite Jewish tradition as it relates to food?
That is a very hard question. Certainly all recipes related to Pesach conjure memories; chopping charoset in the wooden bowl with a handheld metal blade, slicing the hard boiled eggs for the salt water at each place setting. But I think I have received the greatest joy from teaching children(and their parents) how to make a traditionally shaped 6 braided challah. When my husband's grandmother was 90 she taught me how to create the braid sitting at her kitchen table using six skinny bakery strings. I link the tradition to Leviticus and discuss the commandment to the twelve tribes about how to place their show bread on the olden table in the holy Temple. I have a you tube video on how to do this but seeing the delight on the faces of my students, young and old, is a joy for me.
You wrote this book for the Reform movement and you made sure that all the recipes followed the laws of kashrut, why was that important to you?
The true definition of Jewish food, whether it is from India, Iraq, Russia or South America, is that it is food that carries on
culinary tradition utilizing foods that are readily available in the region that conformed to the laws of Shabbat and Kashrut. So if I am teaching foods that are rooted in centuries-old traditions, they will conform to kashrut and I will keep it that way. I keep a kosher home because I wanted my children to grow up in a home that emphasized our culinary heritage. I am definitely not alone in that regard in the Reform Jewish movement so I wanted to be true to the tradition.
How do you think families can use this book together?
Parents really want to do things with their children but playing a board game or sitting on the sidelines cheering on your child at a tee ball game only can bring so much connectivity! Parents have laughed when they see the recipes in my book and say that the instructions and recipes are more useful for them! These recipes, with their "Tidbits" for how to cook with children at different ages and stages of development , will facilitate relaxed and productive interaction between adult and child, teacher and student. The recipes can be a part of a meal rather than an independent activity creating a snack. And the suggested "Kitchen Conversations" opens up a dialogue that becomes personalized with family anecdotes. Persian Kuku might be a silly sounding name for a frittata-like egg and vegetable dish but it exposes the child to spinach or cauliflower,lends itself to a discussion about Persian Jews and provides a dish that can be "fun" eaten in small squares skewered with toothpicks that look like little swords or colorful frilly tops.