For the past five years running, the Forward’s annual list of best Jewish cookbooks has included something by Yotam Ottolenghi — from the U.S. release of “Plenty” in 2011 to last year’s “NOPI,” with “Jerusalem: A Cookbook” and others in between.
Not this year.
While we eagerly await Ottolenghi’s next work, a number of excellent new players have entered the field. Here are some of our favorite cookbooks of 2016.
“The New Mediterranean Jewish Table: Old World Recipes for the Modern Home,” by Joyce Goldstein (University of California Press), wins the prize for most comprehensive scholarly work. There are no photos — rare these days — and what other cookbook offers 450 recipes? We enjoyed having a window into lesser-known Sephardic and Mizrachi dishes, and particularly love the asparagus soup from the Veneto, Tunisian fish ball tagine, and Turkish lamb stew.
Another book of with a focus on sweets in “Sweet Noshings: New Twists on Traditional Jewish Desserts” by Amy Kritzer, author of the blog What Jew Wanna Eat.
As if making up for the lack of photos in Goldstein’s tome, there is “Israel Eats,” by Steven Rothfeld (Gibbs Smith). While we had minor issues with some of the recipes we tried, we fell hard for the Napa-based photographer’s culinary travelogue of the Jewish state. Appealing in a coffee-table-book way, this is the one to get for great fans of Israel and its food. Dishes we love: spinach and feta arayes; date-honey and tahini semifreddi with cashew brittle.
It’s a good sign when guests at one of our tasting dinners run out and buy the cookbook after the meal. That’s what happened with “The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods,” by Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern (Flatiron), founders of Gefilteria. This one simply aced our taste test. Dishes we love: smoked whitefish gefilte terrine; crispy chicken with tsimmes.
“Jewish Festival Food: Eating for Special Occasions,” by Marlena Spieler (Lorenz Books), is not only rich with Ashkenazi classics but also contains unexpected dishes like doro wat, an Ethiopian chicken dish frequently served for an Ethiopian Jewish Shabbat dinner. Other dishes we love are Libyan spicy pumpkin dip and Moroccan vegetable salad.
“Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes From an Ancient City,” by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill (Clarkson Potter), isn’t specifically Jewish, but we were impressed by a significant chapter on recipes from Rome’s Jewish quarter and by some dishes from Rome’s Libyan-Jewish community. While the book is not necessarily for beginners (and there’s a lot of pork in these pages), we loved most of what we tried, especially the spaghetti with cured fish roe and dandelion greens, and the chicken meatballs in white wine sauce.
“Molly on the Range: Recipes and Stories From an Unlikely Life on a Farm” (Rodale) is the first book by the longtime Forward contributor Molly Yeh. With her blog, “My Name Is Yeh,” she developed a huge following of readers hooked on her addictive recipes and her stories of uprooting herself from Brooklyn to move to the Upper Midwest with her then-fiancé. Recipes run the gamut from her versions of Middle Eastern classics to scallion-pancake challah, a fusion dish representative of her Jewish Chinese heritage. Other dishes we recommend: chocolate-tahini cake with tahini cream cheese frosting; hummus with meat all over it.
Israeli food continues its ascent with the first book in English by Israeli baker Uri Scheft, owner of New York’s Breads Bakery. “Breaking Breads: A New World of Israeli Baking,” which Scheft co-wrote with Raquel Pelzel, may be an instant classic due to the inclusion of its wildly popular Nutella babka. We also love the recipe for Breads Bakery’s cheese burekas.
In “Our Table: Time-Tested Recipes, Memorable Meals,” by Renee Muller (ArtScroll), Swiss-born Muller writes about how she became a food stylist — a new field in the frum world. Recipes are simple but sophisticated, with a terrific combination of everyday and holiday dishes. We love the salmon with silan, lemon and mustard, and the butternut squash cream soup.
“Le Marais: A Rare Steakhouse, Well Done,” by Jose Mierelles and Mark Hennessey (Gefen Publishing House), won us over with its use of kosher bacon and the unlikely tale of two non-Jews opening one of New York’s most successful kosher restaurants. Dishes we love: parsnip-apple soup; pistachio olive oil cake with citrus sabayon and candied pistachios. (Taste Test coming soon!)
It doesn’t get much sweeter than “Sweet Noshings: New Twists on Traditional Jewish Desserts” by Amy Kritzer, whose blog, “What Jew Wanna Eat,” could be considered the kosher counterpart to “My Name Is Yeh”. Classic Jewish desserts take a playful, creative turn under Kritzer’s care, with recipes including pink and white cookies, lemon-lavender blintzes and Manischewitz ice cream.
“Dorie’s Cookies” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is Dorie Greenspan’s 12th cookbook, a tome of over 150 recipes. Though the author already had more than enough cookie recipes in her repertoire to fill the book, she resisted the temptation to recycle and instead spent time creatively “cookie-fying” surprising ingredients. As a result, there’s a whole chapter on sweet and savory cookies to enjoy with cocktails. The book is written in Greenspan’s signature style: Friendly and approachable, she makes you feel like she’s standing right next to you in the kitchen. Holiday-season favorites include kasha-dotted multigrain chocolate-chip cookies, fortune cookies and double-chocolate world peace cookies, a photo of which graces the book’s cover.
Alix Wall is a writer and personal chef in Oakland, California, and the author of the blog www.theorganicepicure.com