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
3 of 7Photo: Randy Mayor
The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook
Delicious things happen when you slow down: Flavors meld, and the cook can ease into a more leisurely pace. “Slow-cooking is relaxing and more forgiving,” Wolfert maintains, “since there’s usually a decent margin of error.” The approach doesn’t refer only to cooking in a slow cooker or slow oven. For Wolfert, the term also applies to braising, marinating, macerating, presalting, pickling, or even allowing bread to go stale.
The slow cooker does make its appearances, as in the intriguing Sephardic Long-Simmered Eggs, a recipe in which whole eggs go for 12 hours with a little olive oil, red onion skins, salt, and ground cumin. The result is unique and worth-it good: firm yet creamy yolks and whites with a beige color and subtle earthy flavor.
In Night-and-Day Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder, the meat cooks at least 12 hours and can go as long as 24. It’s fall-apart tender, moist, and succulent, a revelation among all those versions of slow-cooked pork. There are many more such treasures here—about 150 of them inspired by Wolfert’s travels in North Africa, Turkey, Greece, Spain, France, and the rest of the Mediterranean. All are designed for cooks who will trust in the method and dedicate good time to pulling the richest flavors from the deepest parts of meats, vegetables, and more.
GIVE THIS TO: Cooks who love the rewards of a leisurely, handcrafted dish. —Adam Hickman
This compact book paints a warm and delicious picture of a country whose cuisine is largely misunderstood by Americans. Taken from her three years living in Moscow in the early 1990s, a tumultuous period that marked the fall of the Russian Communist Party, Jones recounts her experiences in Russian homes and shares the true cuisine of Russia, not the poor gruel of the economic crisis nor the overly opulent, frozen-in-the-aspic-of-time foods of a bygone era. She was “never served a Charlotte Russe, Strawberries Romanov, Beef Stroganov, [or] Chicken Kiev” during her time in Russia, but instead “delicious food lovingly prepared by skillful cooks.”
Although the book includes a recipe for Borscht (perhaps the most widely known “Russian” soup), Jones explains that borscht is really a Ukrainian dish and that real Russians prepare Shchi, a cabbage soup that’s simple, delicious, and the perfect comfort food on a cold night. Like Shchi, the rest of the recipes are inviting, simple, and soul-satisfyingly free of fanfare. Potato Casserole with Mushroom Sauce, a real standout, tops baked dill-flecked mashed potatoes with a densely savory sauce.
Each chapter opens with a vignette—tales of a simple meal at a communal apartment, a foray into a Butter Week bliny festival, an autumn wedding—followed by recipes that relate to the scene. Through Jones’ writing and recipes, the cold and frozen images of Russia recede, replaced by thoughts of cozy homes, warm dishes, and welcoming people sharing their proud traditions.
GIVE THIS TO: Comfort-food junkies looking for something a little different. —Tiffany Vickers Davis
Wolfert’s first foray into the lushly flavored North African cuisine, 1973’s Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco, was inducted into the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame for good reason. This latest effort bolsters her credentials as America’s foremost authority on Moroccan food.
As gorgeous to flip through as it is delicious to cook from, the book is a comprehensive offering of authentic Moroccan cuisine, from couscous dishes and slow-cooked tagines to hearty harira and grilled brochettes. Her Beef Tagine with Roasted Cauliflower is an exceptionally satisfying dish, with complex, nuanced flavor that belies the recipe’s elegant simplicity. The seductively spiced salads that begin traditional Moroccan meals, like Wolfert’s Eggplant Zaalouk, are some of the tastiest light dishes you’ll find west of Marrakech.
GIVE THIS TO: Cooks who have visited Morocco, or anyone interested in authentic world flavors and techniques. —Tim Cebula
6 of 7Photo: Randy Mayor
Mediterranean Street Food: Stories, Soups, Snacks, Sandwiches, Barbecues, Sweets, and More from Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East
Helou explains that as a child in Beirut, she was forbidden from eating on the street. “Girls from good families don’t,” her uncles told her. But she was enticed by the vivid aromas, the call of lively vendors, and the pleasure others seemed to take. When she grew up, Helou became something of a street-food addict; this most democratic of food “is a great way to get to know both the food and the people of a country you are visiting,” with the added bonus that you can watch the food being cooked in front of you, and learn.
Helou brings the stalls of Damascus and Crete and Istanbul to life through writing and her own photography. Chickpea and Lamb soup, a favorite of Helou’s from Morocco, was an eye-opener both for its depth of flavor and for disproving the kitchen rule about cooking dried beans with tomatoes (the chickpeas softened up just fine). Simply-named Chicken Kebabs deliver deep flavor with easy preparation and few ingredients. Omelets, stuffed breads, soups, and pastries litter the book, offering tasty and inspiring ways to diversify your palate.
GIVE THIS TO: Cooks who enjoy bold flavors. —Tiffany Vickers Davis
7 of 7Photo: Randy Mayor
Jerusalem: A Cookbook
Jerusalem: A Cookbook By Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, Ten Speed Press, 2012. Hardcover. $35; 320 pages
Ottolenghi’s 2011 book Plenty was an exciting and exuberant take on vegetarian cooking, and with this title the London chef is back with business partner Tamimi, exploring the melting-pot (or is it bubbling-over-pot?) foods of the city in which both were born. Ottolenghi was from the Jewish side of town, Tamimi from the Muslim side, and “the flavors and smells of this city are our mother tongue.”
Well, everyone should speak the language of their Pistachio Soup: Flavored with saffron and a refreshing orange juice spritz at the finish, it’s creamy, tangy, spice-fragrant, and surprising. Or Burnt Eggplant with Garlic, Lemon, and Pomegranate Seeds—a baba ghanoush-type dish with the brilliant pop of juicy pomegranate seeds. For something a little less exotic, there’s Chicken with Caramelized Onion and Cardamom Rice, a lovely one-pot dinner that steps up boring chicken and rice with fragrant spices and sweet currants. Food photos—there are lots of them—are vibrant, beautiful, and exciting, making this a book for perusing as much as for utility.
GIVE THIS TO: Cooks who like bold, cultural mash-up cuisines. —Scott Mowbray