Entrée to Judaism: A Culinary Exploration of the Jewish Diaspora

Tina Wasserman

Building a Bookshelf

Entrée to Judaism: A Culinary Exploration of the Jewish Diaspora

by Tina Wasserman
URJ Press, 472 pp., $39.95

In my work as a private chef, I was once preparing the first dinner for a new client. The household's 5-year-old edged into the kitchen. "So," she said, skeptically, "are you Jewish?" "Uh, no," I replied, thinking fast. "But I can cook Jewish."

While a glib answer might satisfy a kindergartner, Jewish cooking is not so simple a proposition. It's a multifaceted culinary arena based on religious observance and food laws, family tradition, geographic location, available ingredients, and the creativity of individual cooks. Over the centuries, wherever Jews have settled across the globe, they've absorbed and adapted local flavors into the culinary customs and dietary regulations that traveled with them.

There are many terrific books about Jewish cooking, but Tina Wasserman, longtime Dallas cooking teacher, chef, and food writer, skillfully tackles this vast subject with fresh eyes. She provides interesting context for virtually every recipe, explaining when and why Jews settled in a region and how dishes evolved there. I learned much about the historic roles Jews played in international food trade – oranges in the Middle East, spice routes across Asia, vanilla and cacao in the Caribbean.

The book's 275 recipes range from the relatively familiar Jewish cuisines of Russia, Europe, and the Mediterranean to less well-known dishes developed by inhabitants of Southeast Asia, China, and Latin America. Was­ser­man includes some of her own Texas adaptations, which she says are "no different than what our ancestors did when they arrived in a new country; take what's locally available, add personal preference and experience to the mix, and make sure it conforms to kashrut."

This book is a cornucopia of tasty dishes easily managed in American kitchens, and it's a useful resource for anyone interested in historic Jewish foodways. Where else might you find eight different chicken soup recipes prepared by Jewish mothers, from Poland to India to Thailand?

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