“A land of wheat and barley, of grape vines and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive trees and honey . . . you shall eat and be satisfied.” Deut. 8:8-10
Tracing vegetarian Jewish Diaspora recipes is no easy task: Rabbi and chef Gil Marks has created a painstakingly researched cookbook that at times reads more like a history book. With recipes from Azerbaijan to Yemen, Olive Trees and Honey is a catalogue of the vast variety of Jewish vegetarian cuisines, including chapters on cheese and dairy spreads, pickles and relishes, soups, salads, savory pastries, cooked vegetable dishes, vegetable stews, beans and legumes, grains, dumplings and pasta, eggs, and sauces and seasonings.
Each section features fascinating information about the origins and spread of each type of cuisine, often with illustrative maps. Some examples include a map of which type of cheeses are popular in which Diaspora community, or the spread of stuffed cabbage from Persia. Each recipe contains a myriad of further variations to try. Every recipe is labeled Dairy or Pareve for those keeping kosher, and many recipes offer Pareve alternatives (which generally are vegan).
Some of the more interesting recipes that caught my eye were Moroccan Pumpkin Soup, Hungarian Wine Soup, a sangria-like cold soup (red wine and fresh/frozen fruit mixed with orange juice, lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon, and cloves), Middle Eastern Bulgur-Stuffed Cabbage, Sephardic Cauliflower Patties (perfect for Passover if made with matza meal), Indian Coconut Rice, Middle Eastern Wheat Berry Stew, and the classic Ashkenazic Sweet Noodle Pudding (Kugel).
Also included are suggested vegetarian menus for special occasions and holidays. This is a monumental work and one of the most beautiful vegetarian cookbooks out there, refreshing for the soul as well as body. I only have two small complaints: Rabbi Gil Marks wrote the excellent (and out-of-print) The World Of Jewish Desserts: More Than 400 Delectable Recipes from Jewish Communities. I would have liked to see the incorporation of more of his well-researched desserts as a final sweet note (there are recipes for several pastry-based desserts included). Also, the large number of variations in addition to the core recipes (example: ten recipes for red lentil soup, many of which are minor variations of the basic Sephardic Red Lentil Soup) made this a bit overwhelming; although I enjoyed browsing through the 300+ recipes, I honestly don’t see myself ever making more than a handful on a regular basis.