Let's Eat

What does it take to write a successful kosher cookbook?

General collections are out, niche and local appeal is in for the new wave of Jewish food writers says Anna Rahmanan


According to Silvia Nacamulli, the London-based author of Jewish Flavours of Italy: A Family Cookbook (Green Bean Books), writing a successful kosher recipe collection nowadays is not just about ingredients, flavours and the right set of directions.

“It’s about being able to share a story that is both personal and collective,” she says. “A communal identity is very much part of the Jewish experience but, we also all have our own stories within that. Writing a cookbook is about being able to pass that message across in an interesting way.”

Finding a way to tell the story in an engaging way is, perhaps, the reason why, in recent years, the kosher cookbook industry has expanded its scope, treating Jewish palates to more niche titles that, paradoxically, can end up appealing to a wider audience.

In the late 1960s and mid-1970s, many Jewish cookbooks tended to cover a broad scope. Evelyn Rose’s The Jewish Home (1969)  and The Complete International Jewish Cookbook (1976) were the most referenced collections of kosher recipes. The then JC food editor’s extensive guides featured a huge range of dishes spanning  Italian, Asian and African dishes. and found a place in most Jewish kitchens. Her books mostly expressed the collective Jewish experience that Nacamulli speaks about, but now kosher cookbooks are more likely to be niche titles, each with their own unique selling point.

For example, in 2015, the American book The Covenant Kitchen: Food and Wine for the New Jewish Table (OU Press) by Jeff and Jodie Morgan catered to a drinking audience, pairing each dish with a fine kosher wine from the Californian vineyard Covenant Winery.

Since then, we’ve seen a series of cuisine-specific cookbooks that just happen to be kosher.  Adeena Sussman’s Sababa (2019) zeroes in on the melting pot that is Israeli food, and her 2023 release, Shabbat  focuses on our various Sabbath traditions; Leah Koenig’s Little Book series were mini books on specific types of dish including appetisers, desserts and festival dishes; while Jake Cohen’s 2021 Jew-ish (Harvest), catered to the kitchen needs of Gen Zers by offering kosher-friendly recipes with a flair for the modern.

“The fact that a cookbook features kosher or Jewish-leaning recipes doesn’t limit you as an author,” says Benedetta Jasmine Guetta, Italian food writer whose book Cooking Alla Giudia: A Celebration of the Jewish Food of Italy, dissects the sorts of dishes that the local Italian community was raised on. “It’s actually an opportunity to share more stories alongside recipes.”

Guetta argues that taking a more nuanced view of a cuisine genre will broaden the potential consumer of the presented recipes. So Jewish authors are no longer catering to a strictly Jewish audience but to home cooks at large.

“A publishing house doesn’t want to take the risk of publishing a book for a very niche audience so the option of delivering a bunch of kosher recipes is not really there,” says Guetta. “The title should apply to a wider audience.”

Nacamulli echoes those sentiments: “The main target is still the Jewish spectrum, but I think the books also appeal to a non-kosher audience, because the recipes are interesting. If the food is good, it doesn’t matter what the rules are — you can attract anyone.”

If the interest in these cuisine-specific recipes is sufficient, obvious restrictions like the kosher rules don’t seem to infringe upon the scale of the audience.

“I actually don’t think people even notice that we’re abiding to kashrut laws,” says Guetta. “For example, not mixing dairy and meat: I don’t think that the average reader realises that and, if anything, kashrut is just an enrichment and a chance to tell more stories. Maintaining a Jewish identity within a kosher cookbook was always an opportunity to share more recipes.”

Nacamulli cites lasagne as an example, which plenty of folk in Italy cook with milk but she suggests preparing with vegetable stock instead, and also replacing butter with oil. “At the end of the day, you’re just enriching the cultural landscape with a diversity that, perhaps, people wouldn’t have thought about before,” she notes. “In this way, you might even be helping vegan eaters and those intolerant to dairy.”

Nacamulli feels the hardest aspect of writing and selling a kosher cookbook is more about geography: “Specific ingredients that you might find in one country might not be exactly the same in others” she explains. “I can recommend dairy-free kosher products in London, for example, but in the United States, the landscape is different.”

Globalisation is certainly on the author’s mind, especially when thinking of how kosher cookbooks of today end up appealing to non-Jewish palates as well.

“The tackling of a wider scope of cuisines within the kosher world is just a natural development of kosher eating,” says Nacamulli. “I think in a globalised world, where everything is more accessible than it once was, the strength of the Jewish cookbook writer is our unique stories.”

Silvia Nacamulli / Benedetta Guetta 

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