When I was in my mid-twenties, my mother sent me a handwritten note which said the following: “Molly, please learn how to make brisket and chicken soup with matzah balls. Then you can get married.” I won’t even begin the discussion about the glaring heteronormativity of my mother’s assumptions about what my role in any marriage would be, but as I reflect on the message in her card, what strikes me most about her message wasn’t just about my place in the kitchen, but clearly my place in a North American Jewish kitchen, married to a North American Jewish husband.
Over the past month, I have poured over the recipes in The New Complete International Jewish Cookbook (Pavilion, an imprint of Anova) by the late Evelyn Rose and her daughter, Judi Rose. Evelyn Rose is a not-too-familiar name on this side of the pond, but in Great Britain her original book from 1976 has long been considered the culinary bible of Jewish cuisine, blending traditional dishes like challah and matzah ball soup with more modern and internationally inspired recipes like coq au vin blanc and apricot frangipane.
That is to say, it’s a culinary bible of Jewish cuisine for European Jews. That brisket my mom insisted I learn how to make? It’s in here, but is nothing like the American version of the dish. In fact, there is no mention of the American Jewish go-to flavor booster, onion soup mix, in this 648 page tome. And the chicken soup with matzah balls? Yes, it’s in here, but the matzah balls are but one of the five suggested soup garnishes for meat soups, which also include home-made lokshen (egg noodles), kreplach (Jewish ravioli), and mandlen (soup nuts).
This updated edition by Judi, written more than 20 years since its first printing, has been revised to reflect contemporary cooking tools and ingredients while preserving the foundation of each dish. A great example of this would be the recipe for Haimische Pickled Cucumbers, which, the book points out, has taken several generations to perfect and displays an understanding of the science behind the pickling process. I am a bit dismayed, however, to read about the demise of the common “dessert trolley” that was wheeled out at the end of a meal.
And the book itself? Well, it really is quite impressive. The recipes are divided by sections, including vegetarian meals, meats, parve dishes, dairy dishes, desserts, baking, cooking for a crowd, and suggested menus for all of the major Jewish holidays. In the course of reviewing this book, I bookmarked well over two dozen recipes that I didn’t have a chance to try out.
One thing that I absolutely adored about this cookbook was the suggested food storage times for the dishes; how long they could last in the refrigerator as well as in the freezer. The book does a wonderful job of sharing traditional Jewish dishes from around the world. For example, on one page is a recipe for Bitki, a Russian meat casserole, followed by a recipe for Brazilian meatballs, followed by Izmir Keufteh, Turkish-style meatballs from Smyrna. A smorgasbord of ground meat! Every recipe in the book is preceded by an explanation of the dish, its country of origin, its history and the traditional serving method. The breadth of this part of the project alone is quite admirable. The recipes also take in mind the American reader by supplying measurements in cups, as well as the traditional European weight measurement.
There are a few downsides to this cookbook. The biggest problem is one that isn’t entirely Rose’s fault. It’s just a simple fact that some of the everyday ingredients in Great Britain just aren’t as readily available here, like gooseberries, golden syrup and crème fraiche. Sure, you can find them, but it takes a bit of scrounging. Although she does a decent enough job at the beginnings of each section to explain the differences to the American reader, it’s still a bit frustrating to figure out what whole-meal flour, caster sugar, golden granulated sugar, and icing sugar are. Also, there are some dishes which take on a totally different meaning in the United States than in England. Pudding, for example, is more of a dense cake than a custard. And then there’s “sponge” puddings, which taste much better than what an American baker might think at first glance.
As it turns out, I did end up learning how to make brisket and chicken soup, although, my Irish Catholic husband doesn’t seem to expect those dishes to come from my kitchen. Go figure.
Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger and Lime
Serves 6-8 Keeps 3 Days Under Refrigeration Freeze 3 Months (pg. 59)
Butternut squash is shaped like an elongated pear. It has a pinky-beige skin and bright yellow flesh, and makes a superb soup for either a dairy or a meat meal because of its creamy texture. To make squash easier to slice, peel and then microwave whole until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. The garnish is optional. Some may find it a little exotic, but the combination of lime and ginger adds a superb finish for a special occasion meal.
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 fat garlic cloves, chopped
3 Tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 oz. (50g/4 Tablespoons) butter or margarine.
2 lb. (900 g) butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed and thinly sliced
2 pints (1.25 litres/5 cups) vegetable or chicken stock
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
15 grinds of black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons sunflower or vegetable oil (for frying)
4 teaspoons julienne strips of peeled fresh ginger
3 teaspoons julienne strips of lime peel
3 scant Tablespoons toasted pine kernels (pine nuts)
In a large soup pan (soup pot) gently sauté the onion, garlic, and ginger in the butter, with the lid on, until the onion is soft and golden. Add the squash and stock, bring to the boil and then simmer covered for 20 minutes, or until the squash feels absolutely tender when pierced with a slim, sharp knife.
Purée in a blender (preferably) or food processor until absolutely smooth, then return to the pan, and stir in the lime juice, pepper and salt. Taste for seasoning, then reheat until barely bubbling. (The soup can be refrigerated for up to 3 days at this point.)
For the garnish, sauté the ginger strips in the oil until a pale gold, then drain on crumpled paper.
To serve, divide the soup between bowls and garnish with the fried ginger, julienned lime peel and pine kernels.