The Golden Dreidle

Foods of Israel Today, by Joan Nathan

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Joan Nathan, author of the popular Jewish Cooking in America and creator of the PBS series of the same name, wanted to show "the richness of Israel's past and present through its many cuisines," and she succeeds brilliantly in her comprehensive The Foods of Israel Today, generously illustrated with color and black-and-white photos. According to the Israel Defense Force Cookbook a typical Israeli dinner includes "a Middle Eastern hummus or tahini, a central European turkey schnitzel with a Turkish eggplant salad, or a Hungarian goulash-type stew, with fresh native fruit for dessert." It's a far cry from the original foods used by local cooks as reported in Deuteronomy: barley, wheat, figs, dates, pomegranates, olives, and grapes. These days Israel is the ultimate melting pot. Its population comes from more than 90 different countries, and its heritage includes Christian and Moslem traditions from throughout the Middle East. Unsurprisingly, its cuisine is a hybrid. The 300-plus (all kosher) recipes reflect this diversity. The section on Couscous, Pasta, and Rice Dishes, for example, offers couscous dishes from Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia; a peppery noodle kugel from Jerusalem; a Lebanese mujeddra of lentils and bulgur; a holiday pilaf from Uzbekistan; Sephardic cheese ravioli; and desert bulgur patties from the Black Hebrews of Dimona. Nathan includes recipes from popular restaurants as well as early settlers such as 97-year-old Shoshana Kleiner, whose commandment for her Fourth Aliyah Vegetable Soup is "Cook until cooked!" There are "overnight" dishes that can be prepared the evening before the Sabbath and served hot the next day. Nathan also provides a brief guide to good restaurants in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and other areas, as well as some notes on Israeli wine. Much more than a recipe book, The Foods of Israel Today celebrates the connection between food and people, past and present. Hardcover, 433 pages, isbn 9780679451075

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