The Gefiltefest Cookbook: Recipes from the World’s Best-Loved Jewish Cooks

gefilteIt is no secret that food plays an enormous part in Jewish identity and celebration. Gefiltefest is a British Jewish food charity whose mission is to bring people together to explore the relationship between Judaism and food, educating and enthusing them about all aspects of Jewish food including food heritage, ethics, culture and traditions. The charity is proud to be at the forefront of Britain’s Jewish food movement and stages a hugely popular annual festival.

To coincide with the 2014 festival, Gefiltefest has produced its first-ever Jewish cookbook. This engaging book includes contributions from well-known Ashkenazi and Sephardi chefs and food writers from around the globe. Over a three-year period, more than 65 chefs donated recipes, including Poopa Dweck (Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews), Jamie Geller (Joy of Kosher: Fast, Fresh Family Recipes), Joyce Goldstein (Cucina Ebraica: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen), Deborah Madison, Joan Nathan (Jewish Cooking in America: Expanded Edition (Knopf Cooks American)), Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Jerusalem: A Cookbook), Claudia Roden (The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York), Gil Marks (The WORLD OF JEWISH COOKING: More Than 500 Traditional Recipes from Alsace to Yemen), Tina Wasserman (Entree to Judaism: A Culinary Exploration of the Jewish Diaspora), Paula Wolfert (The Food of Morocco) and Orly Ziv (Cook in Israel: Home Cooking Inspiration). This unique cookbook features their favorite recipes, encouraging the use of seasonal produce. The proceeds from the compilation will be donated to Gefiltefest, the only British charity that has Jewish culinary tradition as its primary focus and believes in proudly enjoying Jewish heritage and keeping culinary traditions alive.

The book begins with an introduction by founding patron Claudia Roden and a foreword on “Being refined, heimische and hygienic: Early Jewish cookery books” by Maureen Kendler. Beginning with starters, soups, salads, light dishes and dips, you’ll find familiar elements like borscht on the rocks (dairy or parve) and chicken soup with handmade egg noodles alongside Sephardic and Middle Eastern dishes like smoky eggplant salad with garlic and parsley, Moroccan orange and olive salad, tabouleh-couscous vegetable salad and Paula Wolfert’s Tunisian couscous with fennel, red peppers and garlic. There are many delicious “upscale” salads that have made it into frequent rotation in my kitchen, particularly Tina Wasserman’s arugula salad with dates and chevre and Evelyn Rose’s chicory and frisee salad with blue cheese, croutons and pecans.

Mains offer a variety of stellar chicken dishes like Simi Goldberg’s roasted paprika chicken, white rice with nut and raisin topping and the Italian Jewish chicken with tomatoes, olives, herbs and red wine, while lamb dishes also get ample coverage (sumac rack of lamb with fattoush salad, Greek lamb stew with romaine lettuce and dill, spring lamb casserole). As I am pescetarian, I particularly loved the fish offerings, particularly the salmon with noodles and leeks, oodles of spring onions with cod in a ginger and soy sauce, deconstructed sushi salad platter, and dill salmon. Fellow vegetarians will also find much to enjoy, such as the pumpkin, spinach and feta frittata with piperade, caprese latkes, springtime risotto, veggie bakes, and the amazing egg-stuffed crispy brik pastry with feta, caramelized shallots and spinach served with date syrup and a herb salad. (Note that veggie dishes are listed under “mains” and there is not a separate veggie section.)

Desserts offer a festive assortment of Eastern European favorites like strudel, compote, babka, kugel, lekach, rugelach, and cheesecake alongside Middle Eastern sweets like cornes de gazelle filled with marzipan, orange and anise glazed sweet potato sfinge, stewed black grapes and Greek yoghurt, and Syrian apricot compote in rosewater syrup.

Each recipe is labeled dairy, meaty, or parve, and ingredients are given in metric and volume. There is a brief introduction by each author to the origin of a given recipe, sometimes including bits of family history as well. The recipes are delicious, unfussy, and include a wide range of culinary influences from the Jewish diaspora, and it is wonderful to hear from so many well-known Jewish chefs in a single place (I own many of their individual cookbooks). There are the occasional full-color photos, but not for every recipe. I appreciated the fact that the book is printed on high-quality matte pages, so glare is not an issue. I also liked the page layout being broken up by blocks of color (green horizontal bars for the recipe title, the contributing author’s name in a red vertical bar on the page edge).

Overall, the Gefiltefest Cookbook is a wonderful addition to your cookbook collection, not only for the recipes but for the fact that proceeds go to charity. More info on Gefiltefest can be found at http://www.gefiltefest.org.

(Thank you to Gefiltefest and Grub Street for the review copy!)

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