The Best Jewish Cookbooks of 2015

Cookbooks make fantastic Hanukkah presents for the die-hard foodies, armchair chefs and aspiring gourmets in your life. To help you navigate the unusually crowded field of Jewish cookbooks that came out in 2015, we offer this roundup of our favorites. (For lack of a better organizational system, the list goes in chronological order of when the books came out, more or less).

Jeff and Jodie Morgan have written seven other cookbooks, but “The Covenant Kitchen: Food and Wine for the New Jewish Table” (Schocken) is their most personal to date. Secular Jews when Jeff Morgan began making kosher wine — he started with Covenant in Napa over a decade ago but moved the winery to Berkeley last year — keeping kosher is relatively new for them. Still, they found that many of the recipes they enjoy regularly at home can easily be made with kosher ingredients, and while there were already a few kosher cookbooks with wine pairings on the market, they wanted to improve on that concept. They did that — and more. Recipes we loved: onion tart, spiced lamb meatballs.

“Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes and Customs for Today’s Kitchen” by Leah Koenig (Chronicle Books). Forward contributing editor and columnist Koenig has written a great cookbook for those who love the classics but aren’t fearful of what will happen with a bit of updating. Koenig, who made the Forward 50 this year, is a farmers’ market enthusiast who includes plenty of dishes suitable for vegetarians, while not skimping on meat recipes. Plus, her updated versions of Jewish classics, while not traditional, sound too good to resist, such as her beet latkes with chive goat cheese for Hanukkah. Recipes we loved: red wine and honey brisket and roasted beet salad with preserved lemon.

Perhaps because we’ve seen too many sisterhood fundraiser cookbooks over the years, we weren’t sure what to expect when we first saw “The Community Table: Recipes and Stories from the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan and Beyond” by Katja Goldman, Lisa Rotmil and Judy Bernstein Bunzl (Grand Central Life & Style). We were more than pleasantly surprised. This is one of several books that came out this year that is rooted in tradition, yet offers new interpretations we’ll go back to again and again. Dish we loved: Roasted Chicken Paprikash.

“Yogurt Culture” by Cheryl Sternman Rule (Rux Martin, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) isn’t a Jewish cookbook per se, but we ran it through its paces in a Taste Test because a) a good number of recipes in it come from the author’s trip to Israel and b) the author is Jewish, and we found her recipes really delicious. Dishes we loved: labneh with tomatoes, pesto and tapenade and cold yogurt soup with cucumber, herbs and rose petals. (Not kosher.)

The story behind “Vilna Vegetarian,” by Fania Lewando, translated from the Yiddish by Eve Jochnowitz (Schocken), is extremely compelling. It was a revelation to many of us that a woman in pre-war Vilna promoted vegetarian cuisine and owned her own vegetarian restaurant where the cultural elite of Vilna ate. And the way two women championed the book into print when they discovered it is also part its considerable charm. Recipe we loved: leek appetizer.

“Honey and Co.” by Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer (Little, Brown and Company) gets the award for most seductive cookbook of the year. These are the recipes we would go to if we were trying to seduce someone. The Israeli couple own a restaurant of the same name in London, where, no surprise, they got their start working for Yotam Ottolenghi. Dishes we loved: chicken pastilla and cherry, pistachio and coconut cake. (Not kosher.)

Given that its publisher is better known for prayer books than cookbooks, we were happy to report that “The Silver Platter: Simple to Spectacular Wholesome, Family-Friendly Recipes” by Daniella Silver (Artscroll/Mesorah Publications) surprised us by being great. We had feared that its “family-friendly” recipes would be dumbed down to suit the palates of picky children, but they weren’t. While Silver’s fully kosher recipes may be simpler than some other books we tried this year, for many, that’s a plus. Dishes we loved: snap pea salad with basil-mint dressing and wild rice with roasted peppers & candied almonds.

“The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen: A Fresh Take on Tradition” by Amelia Saltsman (Sterling Epicure) easily won us over with its contemporary outlook. As it turns out, Jewish cooking has always taken a seasonal approach. Saltsman is another author who isn’t afraid to add a contemporary twist to the classics, a good example being her sweet potato and butternut squash latkes with labneh and smoky harissa. Recipes we loved: autumn slaw with beets, carrots and kohlrabi and apple, pear and concord grape galette in rye pastry with ginger cream.

We’re all for eating more plant-based (read vegan) cuisine these days, especially when an Israeli chef is spearheading the movement. The Israeli-born, Los Angeles-based Tal Ronnen is one chef who is making vegan cuisine sound delicious to the rest of us. And if cooking for celebrities like Oprah Winfrey makes you a celebrity chef, he certainly qualifies. “Crossroads: Extraordinary Recipes from the Restaurant that is Reinventing Vegan Cuisine”(Artisan) is the book featuring dishes from his L.A. temple of vegan cuisine. Recipes we loved: grilled vegetable lasagna with puttanesca sauce and warm kale and artichoke dip.

“Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking” by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is a deeply personal book from the chef/owners of the celebrated Philadelphia restaurant of the same name. Though the spotlight may have moved on to Alon Shaya in New Orleans, it was Solomonov who is widely credited for putting Israeli cuisine on the culinary map in this country. Dishes we loved: laffa and pita in the home oven, kale and apple tabbouleh.

We were worried that “Modern Israeli Cooking: 100 New Recipes for Traditional Classics” by Danielle Oron (Page Street Publishing) would be overlooked because it came out a week after “Zahav,” so we want to stress that it’s really worth a look. Oron owns the Moo Milk Bar in Toronto, and splits her time between that city and Atlanta. The daughter of Israeli immigrants, she puts her own spin on Israeli classics. Recipes we loved: roasted garlic and apricot chicken and whipped cheesecake with pecan cookie crumbles. (Not kosher.)

While our taste-test of NOPI: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully (Ten Speed Press) hasn’t been posted yet (stay tuned — and spoiler alert: We loved it) we can say that the Israeli-born chef, who has put out a cookbook a year for a few years running, has yet to disappoint. Some find Ottolenghi’s recipes too complicated, with too many ingredients. Those people should probably stay away from this book. Given that “NOPI” is a restaurant cookbook (NOPI is Ottolenghi’s fine-dining restaurant in London), its recipes are more difficult than the ones in his other books such as “Plenty” and “Jerusalem.” They’re also uniquely delicious. Dishes we loved: mixed cauliflowers with golden raisins, ricotta and capers and pistachio and pine-nut crusted halibut with wild arugula and parsley vichyssoise. (Not kosher.)

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