Author of Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food
Tell us about your favorite classic cookbook or food-related book and how it transformed your relationship with food or informed your style of cooking.
I’d have to say Crisco Recipes for the Jewish Housewife. It’s a pamphlet published by Proctor & Gamble in Cincinnati in 1933, in Yiddish and English. I first encountered it years ago when I was working at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Everything about the cookbook was amusing: the notion of Crisco, the fact that it was bilingual, the word ‘housewife’, which sounded like an anomaly (in Yiddish, it’s balebosteh, which is now the name of a great restaurant on Mulberry Street in Manhattan). But to get back to the Crisco cookbook, it turned out to be a great teaching tool for kids and people of all ages, because everyone can identify with food and in New York. Most people have first-hand experience with what it means to speak another language and having to translate daily experiences –including what one eats–into a common language. This cookbook was a marketing tool–it was a way for Crisco to target an audience who needed an alternative to butter (to adhere to dietary laws) and was eager to fit in. I haven’t tried any of the recipes from the booklet, but now that I look at it, I’m really curious about the beet kugelach (a biscuit of sorts, made with eggs, beets, salt and,of course, Crisco). It really tells a serious story–or several of them.
Tell us about your favorite modern cookbook and like above, how it transformed your relationship with food or informed your style of cooking.
Arthur Schwartz’s Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisited is a great and fascinating corollary to the Crisco recipe book. The book–it’s a coffee table book, really–is hefty, gorgeous and unapologetic. And even though it has the word “Yiddish” in the title, the book is entirely in English (peppered with a healthy dose of Yiddishisms). Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish food often gets a bad rap–“its bland, it’s lumpy, it’s without spice or form or shape.” Just think of all the nasty things people say about gefilte fish. Well the truth is, this food is prepared with love. It’s hearty and it’s beautiful and it’s downright delicious. Schwartz’s book was a revelation and a gift and an a homage to all the people who cooked simple, hearty dishes like tsimmes and kugel and sorrel soup (schav) and the kind of foods that weren’t considered “sexy” enough for a cookbook. Not only did Jewish Home Cooking make those recipes sexy, it reminded people like me that we have a heck of a lot to be proud of.
Favorite Brooklyn-based restaurant and why.
One that I keep going back to–with friends, family and on my own–is Geido on Flatbush Avenue in Prospect Heights. No knishes there, obviously, but the sushi is fantastic, the okinamayaki (somewhere between a pancake and an omelette) is to die for and the staff is incredibly friendly. Plus, the neighborhood feel is undeniable, which is increasingly hard to find. What can I say? It’s one of the most heimish (homey) places I’ve found, which, in my opinion, makes everything even tastier.