Chef and historian Claudia Roden succeeds with a formidable assignment: define and categorize the cuisine of a people spread throughout the globe, many of whom have adopted entirely new cuisines. The Book of Jewish Food samples from all corners of the diaspora, from the roasts and hearty dumplings of Eastern Europe (Ashkenazi) to the spiced stews and date-filled pastries of Spain, Turkey, and the Middle East (Sephardic). Detailed histories and numerous archival photographs make this a rich and varied exploration of Jewish identity (Did you know there were Jewish communities in China? In India?), in addition to more than 800 well researched recipes and tales from Roden’s own upbringing in Cairo.
Roden’s food favors simplicity: short ingredient lists and patient instruction. You feel that a favorite grandmother is finally sharing her secrets. “Take 1 piece of dough, roll it between your palms, and pull it out into a long fat rope … a little fatter at one end,” she instructs in the recipe for round challah. Stew with Stuffed Chicken and Chickpeas, a must-try North African recipe, is a fragrant homecoming dish redolent with nutmeg, cinnamon, and saffron, made comforting with the hearty additions of potatoes, chickpeas, and hard-boiled eggs.
GIVE THIS TO: A curious cultural historian; a cook of any skill level. —Hannah Klinger