Book Review: The Artisan Jewish Deli At Home

The Artisan Jewish Deli At Home, by Nick Zukin and Michael C. Zusman

If you are a moderately hipster locavore [1] who is of a culturally but not religiously Jewish background or someone who enjoys moderately exotic foods and recipes [2], this is a book you will likely enjoy.  My tastes are not particularly adventuresome and I am not particularly much of a hipster, but although I found a bit of fault in the fact that all of the artisan Jewish delis discussed in this book were in places whose political worldview I find problematic and disreputable, like Toronto and Montreal in Canada, New York City, and Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Portland along the West Coast, there was still much to enjoy in this book. If a book can be enjoyed despite its clumsiness of cultural approach, it has a lot to offer, and this book has a lot to offer, namely some very tasty recipes that make me hungry just thinking about them, and better yet, recipes that avoid using pork or other unclean foods, even if some of the foods are not precisely kosher because they combine beef and cheese.  It goes without saying that you will enjoy this book a lot more if you’re not on a gout diet, but even so there were many mouth-watering foods worth trying for me.

As is the case with many recipe books, this one is organized by type of food, and filled with amusing sidebars where the authors discuss different types of Jewish food like blintzes or bagels, or interview some of the movers and shakers within the contemporary Jewish deli movement, which looks like a very small world, at least the part of the world that was included by the authors of this book.  The first chapter of the book covers deli food basics like chicken broth, fillings, Russian dressing, and sides like pickles and fried peppers.  The second chapter of the book covers starters and sides like knishes, latkes, Chinese broccoli, and shtetl toast.  The third chapter provides some tasty soups and salads, like matzo ball soup, curried lentil and sweet potato soup, and chicken salads like seasonal chicken salad and spring chicken salad with peas.  Then the authors provide some dishes in eggs, fish, and dairy, including chalah french toast, cheese blintzes, smoked whitefish, and corned beef hash, along with several recipes for schmears. Chapter five looks at beef dishes like corned beef, rare roast beef, brisket with seasonal vegetables, steak’n (porkless bacon), and kishke, some of these foods so tasty they’re worth risking a gout attack for, and that’s not something to be said lightly.  The sixth chapter of the book looks at bagels, bialys, and breads, including a tasty-looking recipe for pumpernickel bagels and rye breads.  The seventh and final chapter of the book gives recipes for pastries, desserts, and drinks, including challah sticky buns, apple cake, chesecake with shortbread crust, Passover honey cake, and sweet noodle kugel, along with an egg cream.  The authors close the book with some resources on where to get high quality ingredients for the book’s recipes.

In many ways, the foods in this book reminded me of a particularly interesting time when a friend of mine in Tampa, Florida went to the Hillel House at the end of the Day of Atonement and broke our fast after sunset with potato latkes and bagels with salmon and a cream cheese schmear.  Ah, those are fond memories, even if I felt like a bit of a stranger among the much more hip and much less religiously observant Jews that were there. That said, I cannot say I am the sort of person who is very comfortable in many places, not even in my own skin, but eating foods with someone is one of the few things that makes me reliably more comfortable with anyone, strange as that may seem. If you are looking for clean dishes with hipster appeal and you are not bothered by the authors’ seeming ignorance about life in middle America, this is a good book to read to raid for recipes to make one’s eating a bit more Jewish, at least in the contemporary sense.

[1] A locavore is someone who eats locally grown foods, especially in season, usually as part of a commitment to sustainability and lowering the carbon footprint of one’s diets.  For other comments on hipsters, see the following:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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