Sydney’s amazing food scene is no secret although it is not somewhere you would expect to find great Jewish food. Even though Australia is home to the ninth largest Jewish community in the world.
It is though, the birthplace of an exciting new Jewish cookery book. The Monday Morning Cooking Club: the food, the stories, the sisterhood is a collection of recipes which has been a best seller in Australia and was published in the US last summer and is due to be published in the UK in June.
The book was the brainchild of Sydney-based ex-lawyer and mother-of-four — Lisa Goldberg and five of her Sydney friends. In 2006, the women began to meet each Monday morning to discuss and share favourite recipes, food memories and fantastic meals. A sort of a foodie book club.
The club was so successful that Goldberg, Natanya Eskin, Merelyn Frank Chalmers, Lauren Fink, Paula Horwitz and Jacqui Israel decided to compile the recipes into a book.
“We wanted to produce a cookbook that could sit on any book shelf in any book shop in the world. Something amazing,” says Eskin.
“We emailed everyone we knew asking for nominations. If we got three nods for one person then we knew we had to ask that person for their recipes,” explained Goldberg.
After collecting “hundreds and hundreds” of recipes, the women began testing them at their Monday meetings in Goldberg’s kitchen.
“The recipes did not have to be Jewish but they had to reflect the Jewish landscape of the time. The dishes in the book had to be more than just great tasting, they had to have something special about them,” explains Goldberg.
“Every week we would try six to eight recipes. We would eat, try, talk and debate. You can imagine six Jewish women trying to agree on something.”
The group felt a great responsibility to not only collect and collate the most delicious recipes but to preserve the array of Jewish traditions within the community.
“All sorts of things got thrown around the kitchen. Sometimes we would have a full-on debate, which would last a few weeks, about whether one recipe should or should not make it in to the book,” smiles Goldberg.
Former teacher, and mother of three, Eskin adds: “The recipes are so diverse because the people who make up our community have come from far and wide bringing their traditions with them. Along with the recipe comes the story of a person’s life. We are very conscious of that.”
The book documents not only the traditions of the Jewish community but the history of Australian society. Chalmers writes in the book: “My kitchen is the link between the old world and the new. I may have been born in Western Australia, but the salt and pepper of my home life was Judaism and Yiddishkeit.”
In the book, each recipe is accompanied by a personal commentary written by the writer. Contributor Sharon Hendler writes before her Tuscan bean soup recipe: “Why do I love food so much? It may have something to do with growing up in a house with an Israeli mother, a Russian father and a Spanish housekeeper.”
The book has been a huge success. It is a staple in almost every Jewish household in Australia and has raised over $400,000 AUD (£215,000) for a variety of charities — including Wizo and Ozharvest. “The icing on the cake,” the girls giggle. It was also endorsed by kitchen goddess Nigella Lawson who posted a version of their apple cake on her website in 2011 writing: “having the book at home is pure cosy joy”.
The women are delighted that the book has been published in the US and is soon to be in the UK.
“We would love to be a part of the kitchens in the UK. We would love to tour the UK and meet Nigella, Yotam Ottolenghi and the Jewish community there,” shares Lisa.
The journey of the MMCC is far from over. The women now meet three times a week compiling a second book due to be published there in April.
“The new book has recipes from across Australia, we have tried to find people that aren’t in our little shtetl,” says Eskin. “It also has a lot more of us in it — we are more connected to these recipes. After the next book is out everyone will know what fressing means,” Goldberg laughs.
Barabara Solomons's Chicken and Barley Soup
You will need to make the chicken stock the day before the soup.
Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking: 70 – 80 minutes
2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
400g tin diced tomatoes
2 l chicken stock (see below)
200g pearl barley
350g shredded cooked chicken meat
2 tbsp chopped parsley
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and cook the onions, carrots and celery until soft.
Add the garlic to the pan and cook for a further 1–2 minutes before adding the tomatoes and stock.
Bring to the boil.
Add the barley and reduce the heat to a simmer, then cook for about 50 minutes, or until the barley is tender.
When the barley is cooked, add the chicken and parsley, and stir through to heat.
Season well with salt and pepper to taste.
Barbara’s home-made chicken stock
Makes approximately 5 litres of stock and around 700g chicken meat. Can be frozen.
1 chicken (preferably a boiler), jointed into 6 or 8 pieces, plus 2 chicken carcasses
1 handful giblets, cleaned
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 parsnips, roughly chopped
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 stalks celery, with the leaves, roughly chopped
1⁄2 bunch parsley
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tsp salt, or to taste
Place the chicken pieces in a large 8–10 litre stockpot and cover with water.
Bring to the boil and skim off the scum.
Put the rest of the ingredients in the pot and simmer over a low heat for 2 hours.
Allow the chicken to cool a little and then take the meat off the bones. Reserve the meat. Strain the stock and allow to cool overnight in the fridge. Skim off the fat before using.
Monday Morning Cooking Club, Harper Collins, will be published in June. Available to pre-order on Amazon