12 September 2009

Food: Globalizing Jewish cuisine

Since I am getting way too hungry to read more holiday food stories, our little series will stop (unless of course there's another amazing story out there!) with this one from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The story covers all the bases - Sephardic, Mizrahi and Ashkenazi - and offers some great recipes.

As most Tracing the Tribe readers know, the Jewish New Year - Rosh Hashanah - begins at sundown Friday night, September 18. This means several shopping expeditions this week to plan meals for Friday night, Saturday lunch, Saturday dinner and Sunday lunch.

The best things to have on Rosh Hashanah in my book are invitations for at least some of those meals so you don't have to do it all yourself and can perhaps just bring along one of your specialties.

Universal traditions - except where challah isn't typically part of the table - is a round challah made with raisins, and dipping a slice of apple in honey.

Everything else comes from each family's own heritage. Jewish history is one of migration (voluntary or forced), and - along the way - our ancestors picked up traditions from the communities in which they lived. Jewish cooks have always adapted traditional cuisine to local available ingredients and methods of cooking.

In case you're a bit fuzzy as to where the lines are drawn, generally Ashkenazim come from France, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, and other parts of Central and Eastern Europe; Sephardim are from the Iberian Peninsula, the Caribbean, South America and North Africa; and, from the Middle East and Asia, the Mizrachim. However, in most countries, people from all three groups lived side by side in the same communities and learned techniques and flavors from their neighbors, so the lines can indeed be fuzzy.

And that's why our Persian cousins in Israel make gefilte fish, learned from Ashkenazi neighbors when they immigrated to Israel long ago. Somewhere those same Ashkenazi families continue to make Persian gonde every Shabbat, as they learned from our cousins!

However, according to the story, the biggest shift in American Jewish cuisine occurred gradually in recent years as Ashkenazi Jews began to appreciate Sephardic cooking and its unusual flavors and health benefits.

Those dishes are lighter in fats and carbohydrates and richer in spices such as saffron, cumin, turmeric and coriander. The recipes use basmati rice or couscous instead of potatoes, more olive oil and less butter.

They emphasize citrus, especially preserved lemons. They put figs, pumpkin, olives, almonds, pistachios, pine nuts, and chickpeas in the pantry of cooking staples. And they introduce elements such as harissa, a spicy paste made from hot red peppers, and haloumi, a mildly salty cheese that holds up well to grilling.
This story references a number of excellent cookbooks which also reside on my own shelves.

The story notes that former Mancunian (Manchester UK) Clarissa Hyman ("The Jewish Kitchen) says she "was brought up in a pickle barrel, with 'schmaltz in my veins' as her parents had a deli. Her international recipes, acquired during extensive travel, include Venetian pumpkin risotto, North African coconut and orange cake, and Siberian Tzimmes (a carrot-and-prune side dish enjoyed on Passover).

Everyone knows Joan Nathan's name ("Jewish Cooking in America" and others) .

Poopa Dweck ("Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews") incorporates spices such as saffron and cardamom popular in the Middle East and North Africa.

Joyce Goldstein ("Cucina Ebraica: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen") uses hazelnuts, olive oil, and anchovies. I've made her roast chicken with oranges, lemon, and ginger.

Egyptian native Claudia Roden (with many excellent cookbooks to her name) writes about Italian, Greek, Uzbeki, Polish, and Lithuanian influences. Her orange and almond cake is an alternative to honey cake.

The story's recipes include:

- Orange and Almond Cake ("A New Book for Middle Eastern Food," Claudia Roden)

- Roast Chicken With Orange, Lemon, and Ginger ("Cucina Ebraica: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen," Joyce Goldstein)

- Eggplant Salad with Garlic and Parsley ("Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews," Poopa Dweck)

Read the complete article and recipes at the link above.

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