Mixing nostalgia with a big helping of modern flavours

Jewish is food is seen by many of us as a constant in an ever-changing world - a warm, nostalgic reminder of days gone by.

But while most of us still love staples such as chopped liver, chicken soup and lockshen pudding, things have shifted perceptibly.

Four decades ago the default mode for British Jews would have been the Ashkenazi classics, but since then our perception of what is Jewish has changed. Now, Israeli dishes have been incorporated into our repertoire and imported into our supermarkets. Open the fridge in a typical household and you might well see chopped herring but there is also likely to be a tub of hummus, perhaps some aubergine caviar, a spicy Yemeni-influenced tomato salsa, most probably a bag of pitta. And when Jewish families go out to eat kosher, they are just as likely to order a lamb shawarma as a salt beef sandwich.

Some years ago, thanks largely to the massive contribution of Claudia Roden's encyclopaedic Book of Jewish Food, we cooks began to look beyond the obvious ingredients and spices that our families brought over with them from eastern Europe.

So the challenge, when JC food writer Ruth Joseph and I decided to create a new Jewish recipe book, was how to fuse the nostalgic dishes we all yearn for with some of the new flavours and cooking techniques which have seeped into our consciousness since the days of Florence Greenberg, as well as revamping and updating the old classics for the 21st century.

Ruth's motivation was not only to provide new and exciting inspiration for Shabbat and the High Holy Days, but also to reproduce the recipes of her late mother and grandmother - some beautifully handwritten. She was pleased to capture legacies from the past but she worked hard to test and re-test those recipes until they worked perfectly.

There could be no Jewish cookbook without a recipe for cholent. But while we follow the long-slow cooking method which has been used for hundreds of years, our oxtail cholent is spiked with Moroccan ingredients like coriander, cumin and chickpeas. A bland and comforting poached chicken and rice is served with a zesty, hot Yemenite sauce called zhug. And fish is roasted Sephardi style with a Moroccan chermoula rub and preserved lemons.

Our baking horizons have been expanded as well. This means that as well as the traditional rye bread and caraway and, of course, bagels, there are also recipes for pitta bread and pretzels. Even the most traditional dish can stand a little adaptation, so for adventurous bakers there is a recipe for challah, made with olive oil - its golden colour supplied by egg rather than saffron.

Whereas Sunday brunch 20 years ago might have consisted of bagels, smoked salmon and cream-cheese (still pretty popular at my place), now there are alternatives. For example, many of us have become aficionados of the ultimate Israeli hangover cure - shakshuka - a zingy tomato stew topped with an egg. It can be partnered by flatbread and, if you are feeling virtuous, an Israeli salad - another item which requires no explanation these days.

Then there are the dishes you probably never realised were Jewish. By now most of you will have come across that gastropub standard, butternut squash risotto, but what is less known is that this dish is 100 per cent haimishe in its origins, created by the Italian Jewish community and popularised in the north of the country.

(And talking of risotto, there is a dish we have concocted using the ingredients of the shtetl - chicken, barley and mushrooms, with an Italian makeover.)

Of course, we willingly submitted to the comforting appeal of some old favourites. Kugel is there, as is lockshen pudding, albeit in healthier form, but also a carrot, orange and olive oil cake and, for Pesach, a spinach and cheesy leek roulade

Oh, and if you were wondering, of course there is a chicken soup - but this one is Vietnamese style, so stock up on star anise, mint and coriander.

'Warm Bagels and Apple Strudel' is published by Kyle Books, priced £25. Readers can buy the book at the special price of £20 inc free p&p (UK mainland only).
Call: 01903 828503, or email: mailorders@lbsltd.co.uk. quoting ref KB WBAS/JC

    Last updated: 11:12am, April 6 2012
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