If you or your family are inspired by Veganuary (the push for people to go vegan this month) or even simply reducing their meat intake, don’t panic over menu-planning. Help is at hand.
Food writer Paola Gavin, a vegetarian for all of her adult life, has a new book out called Hazana (Quadrille Publishing), packed with beautifully photographed meat-free, Jewish vegetarian recipes from around the world.
Gavin explains that she chose the name because “it means nourishment in Hebrew. I think it also expresses a feeling of joy that goes well with Jewish hospitality.”
Although she has been writing vegetarian cookery books since 1987, this is her first specifically Jewish book. “I have been collecting Jewish recipes for years — in fact I found so many delicious, traditional Jewish vegetarian recipes, I realised I had to put them all in a new book.”
Gavin, raised in Hove and later London, started cooking as a child. “I have been making pan’d’Espanya (sponge cake) since I was nine years old. I was taught by a Sardinian au pair girl we had — she also showed me how to make tomato sauce properly.”
It was when she moved to Italy that she was inspired to write about her foodie finds: “I married an American actor, moved to Rome and became inspired to write my first book, Italian Vegetarian Cooking. I was also fortunate enough to have travelled widely throughout Europe and Israel — which was a great help when writing Hazana.”
The book, which took Gavin five years to write, is reminiscent of writers such as Claudia Roden, with a generous helping of back story to the 150 recipes sourced from 20 countries. “I was also interested in Jewish history and culture. If you’re English, it’s taken for granted that you know something about your own history, but it’s different if you’re Jewish. Most Jews only know what happened to their own families over the past hundred years or so. I was interested to discover how they came to be living in so many different countries, what they did there and the food they prepared.”
With meat and fish so prized in Jewish holiday meals, the assumption may have been that our vegetarian legacy is limited. Gavin disagrees, explaining in the book that the concept of Jewish vegetarianism dates back to the Garden of Eden and that under traditional Jewish law, it was forbidden to kill an animal, as it was to kill a man. The diet of the ancient nomadic Israelites was predominantly vegetarian.
“Jews have a long history of vegetarianism. Vegetarian dishes are traditionally served for several Jewish holidays. There’s also an enormous repertoire of dairy dishes because of the dietary laws.”
You won’t find fusion cuisine here. To Gavin, tradition is king. “I like to be authentic. I hope I’m not offending anyone, but I’m not interested in ‘made-up’ dishes — dishes that have been created by chefs who want to make things taste different or sound more exciting, like ‘lentil-barley burgers with fiery fruit salsa’ or ‘beetroot bourguignon.”
If she were planning her perfect Friday night menu, it would mix Sephardi and Ashkenazi recipes. “I would start with a Tunisian artichoke and fennel salad with harissa; followed by a Sabbath minestrone then perhaps a potato and carrot kugel with some lecso (a Hungarian sweet pepper stew) on the side. For dessert, something light like a prune and red wine compote or pear and walnut strudel.
Asked for a favourite recipe, she struggles to choose, but says that her desert island ingredient would be filo pastry. “I love all the recipes with filo pastry. It’s great to use when you have guests coming over for dinner. You don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen and it never goes wrong.”
For the Jewish mothers still panicking about their offspring fading away on a meat-free diet, Gavin offers this advice: “It is very important to balance your food properly and not eat too much acid-forming food like grains, eggs, cheese, pulses etc. The easiest way of doing this is by eating plenty of fruit and vegetables. Also, don’t worry about getting enough protein. There is good quality protein in most vegetables. In fact, one cup of broccoli has as much protein as an egg.”
Hazana by Paola Gavin (Quadrille) £25