I have come to take for granted that with a quick search on Google I can easily find most recipes that I’m looking for. If for any reason I don’t find what I want on the Internet, I can usually consult my ever-growing collection of cookbooks to find the recipe I need. This means that a huge number of recipes are literally at my fingertips whenever I need them. However, my most recent time in the kitchen reminded me that this was not always so.
This Tuesday marked Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av. Tisha B’Av is a Jewish fast day marking the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, but over the years, it has come to serve as a symbolic day of mourning for tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people over the course of history.
When thinking about what I should write about next for Eating Jewish, I came across Lenore Skenazy’s article entitled “You Say Mandel Bread, I Say Biscotti” in The Forward. In the beginning of her article Skenazy confesses her lack of affinity for mandel bread, a baked good she associates with bubbes and paper lined tins. On the other hand, it’s clear that she is a fan of biscotti, cookies she describes as “the world’s coolest cookies, the supermodels of sweets: tall, thin, Italian, expensive.
Hosting dinners, whether it is for Shabbat or any other occasion, is something I truly enjoy because I love cooking for other people and it also gives me a chance to try out new dishes. However, despite the fact that I enjoy trying new recipes, there are certain standbys that I know I can rely on to be crowd pleasers. One of these recipes is the roasted red pepper and walnut dip called Muhammara. This dip originated in Aleppo, Syria where there was a sizable Jewish community, many of whom immigrated to the United States and formed a community in New York.
After having spent an entire day in the library, the thought of cooking anything when I got home seemed impossible to fathom. On my way home I tried to think of something simple that I could throw together with a few of the ingredients I had lying around my kitchen. I remembered that I had bought three oranges the day before and I also had some pimento stuffed green olives in the cupboard that I could use to make a delicious salad with. I simply added some olive oil, cumin, paprika and salt to the oranges and olives, and dinner was ready.
Freshly baked cookies are, in my mind, one of life’s pleasures and are hard for anyone to turn down. Jewish cookbooks abound with recipes for cookies and other baked goods but it is rugelach that has come to hold a place in my heart and my stomach. They are one of the first Jewish cookies that I began baking and I’ve been hooked on them ever since.
What exactly is Jewish food? This is the question that most people will invariably ask me after I tell them that I research Jewish food. Most people ask this question with interest, while others are incredulous that there could be Jewish food. Yet, whenever I am confronted with this question I realize that one simple answer cannot work to define this term that eludes any strict definition.
The centrality of food to the Jewish experience is a fact that is undeniable. It serves to identify one as a Jew, while at the same time defines one’s particular identity within the wider sphere of the Jewish community.