Book Review: The Gourmet Jewish Cook

The Gourmet Jewish Cook, by Judy Zeidler

I get the feeling that I would have liked this book a great deal more but for two aspects, one of which is peculiar to the author, and the other which is bound up in the problem of Jewish kosher cooking in general. The author spends a lot of time in this book name-dropping. She talks a lot about famous cooks that she has worked with and befriended, some of whom have come up with kosher alternatives to their normal cooking, or enjoyed the kosher alternatives for their dishes that the author herself has found. The author is or was apparently a famous cook, albeit one I am not personally familiar with, and so this book is apparently aimed at those who are familiar with her and who find her stamp of approval of dishes and dietary approaches as appealing. As a stranger to the author I am not so easily impressed, and it is clear that this book is aimed at upper-middle class audiences who find their summer activities include tennis and bicycle rides and the like, as the author demonstrates herself to be aware of cooking from the point of view of economic privilege, and thus a certain degree of hipster appeal in the ingredients and approaches to cooking that are adopted here.

This book is about 400 pages and it is divided into three sections, all of which are thematically organized rather than organized by the type of dish involved. The book begins with introductory material that includes a preface, a step-by-step plan of how the author entertains guests, tips and techniques, and a wine lover’s guide. After this the author discusses various dishes and meal plans set around various Jewish holidays (I), including the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, Hanukkah, Purim, the Days of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, as well as Sabbath dishes. This is followed by a second part of the book that gives kosher interpretations of international dining, including Mexican, Chinese, French, Italian, Brazilian, Moroccan, Israeli, and Scandinavian cuisines (II). The third part of the book then discusses various meal plans and recipes for special celebrations including American Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, Father’s Day, a bridal shower salad buffet, a bar/bat mitzvah buffet, a sophisticated summer supper, a pumpkin harvest dinner, and a Sunday brunch, after which there are recipes for stocks for soups and sauces, a glossary of Jewish food terms, and an index.

The other aspect of this book that limits the author’s appeal springs form the author’s desire to promote kosher cooking. In some ways, kosher cooking is of immense personal appeal, in that one can be sure that the foods included are clean to eat from a biblical perspective. There are no pork dishes here, no shellfish, no lard, or anything else of that nature as is often the case in cookbooks. Yet kosher standards are not precisely the biblical standards of cooking, because of a mistaken split between dairy cooking and meat and poultry. This leads the book to have a huge focus on non-dairy products to substitute for butter and cream in certain dishes that would obviously be appealing with dairy, with a lot of margarine, for example, and where dairy is only mixed with fish and not with anything else that we would judge as a meat product. It is a bit puzzling, at least to this reader, why it is that a prohibition on eating meat and diary would apply to poultry, who have no milk to give, even if one interprets biblical law to avoid mixing red meat and dairy. Given these constraints, though, this book definitely has some interesting recipes to offer.

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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