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The Year’s Best Jewish Food Books

From the announcement that the holiday window displays at Barneys would feature statues of food celebrities to “Top Chef” winning the Emmy for best reality series, food is without a doubt having its moment. And so are Jewish food books.

This year produced the first English-language Jewish encyclopedia of food, two books that dig deep into the past of the immigrant palate, a delicious food novel and a surprisingly large Jewish component to a book that chronicles America’s culinary history, among others. We’ve hand selected the best of this year’s crop for every type of Jewish foodie, just in time for last-minute Hanukkah shopping.

“Encyclopedia of Jewish Food” by Gil Marks

What exactly is melicha and why do Jews eat pomegranates for Rosh Hashanah? Gil Marks, a rabbi, historian, social worker and passionate cook answers those questions and 650 or so more in his indispensable (and massive) tome. The encyclopedia’s entries trace the origin and development of Jewish foods from around the globe. Interspersed throughout the book are gourmet recipes for dishes from adafina (a Moroccan shabbos stew) to zetchgenkuchen (German plum cake). -Devra Ferst

Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France by Joan Nathan

Joan Nathan, who first fell in love with food in France as a teen, makes readers of this book fall in love with Paris. The product of sifting through generations of recipes of France’s Jews — with the help of Julia Child’s editor Judith Jones — is a lovely book that is part cookbook, part history text. While the recipes, from olive oil chocolate mousse to Moroccan lamb, are enticing, “it is the family histories and traditions she presents alongside these recipes that make the book valuable both inside the kitchen and outside it,” Forward Ingredients columnist Leah Koenig writes. -DF

Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a Higher Authority by Sue Fishkoff

One third to one half of the food in American supermarkets is kosher, and many people – not just observant Jews – look for certification when making their purchasing decisions. “Kosher Nation” provides an in-depth look into the inner workings of the Kosher industry. Fishkoff profiles food manufacturers, rabbinic supervisors, ritual slaughterers and the kosher-keeping public to explore where our food comes from, how kosher supervision works, and why “more and more of America’s food answers to a higher authority.” – Daniel Infeld

“97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families” by Jane Ziegelman

Sure, your matzo ball recipe was your great bubbe’s. But what else did she and her family eat when they arrived in America a century ago? Jane Ziegelman, a food anthropologist, examines the dishes of five families who lived on New York’s Lower East Side. Weaving together the stories of two Jewish families, an Irish, an Italian and a German family she uncovers the roots of many iconic New York City foods, culinary traditions like food carts and even how a pickle craze helped launch public school lunch programs. – DF

The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser

We would never recommend throwing out your copy of “The Joy of Cooking” but you might want to make some room on your shelf right next to it for Amanda Hesser’s incomparable 1,400-recipe cookbook. With recipes from the New York Times’s food archive, which dates back to the 1850s, Hesser’s book is more than a guide to how to cook almost anything — it is a history of American cuisine. Hundreds of Hesser’s recipes would provide a welcome break from the typical roast shabbos chicken. Recommended menus and accompanying recipes for Rosh Hashanah, Passover and Hanukkah also come in handy for the Jewish cook. And the menus are rounded out with a substantial selection of recipes from Israel. – DF

“Quick & Kosher: Meals in Minutes” by Jamie Geller

Often called the “Jewish Rachael Ray,” Jamie Geller breaks down the down the preparation of American standbys and Jewish favorites into a handful of easy-to-follow steps. Her new book, “Quick and Kosher: Meals in Minutes,” is organized by the number of minutes that the recipes take to prepare — 20, 40 or 60. Be sure to try her adventurous Hanukkah recipe for samosa latkes, which she pairs with Bombay salmon and mango cardamom shortcakes. – Gabrielle Birkner

“The Cookbook Collector” by Allegra Goodman

In this engrossing, delightful book, food isn’t just what we eat, it’s what we remember. A cookbook isn’t simply a repository of recipes, but a window into character and history. “She wanted to know the cookbook’s secret life,” Allegra Goodman writes of Jess Bach, whose relationship with her sister Emily propels this story of loss and love. This is a modern-day Jane Austen tale with a decidedly Jewish flavor. I’m not sure I’d ever try the recipe in the cookbook collection, but I would love one day to meet these characters. -Jane Eisner

“The Yiddish Family Cookbook: Dos Familien Kokh-Bookh” by H. Braun, translated by Beverly B. Wingrod

In 1914 the first and second generations of American Jews were navigating the new homeland’s markets and cuisine, trying to hold tight to their roots and to assimilate at the same time. H. Braun’s cookbook, which was first printed in 1914 and was essential enough to be reprinted three times, taught home cooks how to pick a piece of fresh fish and cook an egg without boiling it. It also introduced its readers to the idea of nutrition, infusing recipes with health information. Wingrod’s translation gives English readers a looking glass into the past along with loads of old-fashioned recipes that deserve to be preserved. – DF

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