Something has happened to cookbooks in the past 20 years or so. They have moved from the kitchen to the coffee table and even to the nightstand as more and more have developed captivating narratives to go along with the recipes. Cookbooks have become pleasurable reading even for people who don't often find their way into the kitchen. This seems particularly true of Jewish cookbooks, whose stories are effective vehicles to connect past and present, preserving history and culture and building Jewish identity.
This trend can be traced back to 1994, when Joan Nathan's award-winning Jewish Cooking in America, which used food to examine Jewish history and culture in America, sparked attention in literary as well as culinary circles. Two decades later, three new offerings promise to carry on the tradition of cookbooks that make for good reading as well as good eating.
Israel Eats (Gibbs Smith, 2016, 240 pages), written and photographed by Steven Rothfeld, is a gorgeous exploration of the "culinary language of Israel." Israeli food has been gaining international respect and recognition in recent years, as evidenced by an award-winning duo of cookbooks, Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem (2012) and Michael Solomonov's Zahav (2015). Israel Eats completes this trifecta of must-have contemporary Israeli cookbooks.
Rothfeld and his collaborator, chef and author Nancy Silverton, came to Israel's table relatively recendy. After Rothfeld's first trip to Israel in 2010, he became passionate about exploring and tasting what was "cooking up on top of the layers of civilization that are still smoking."
Rothfeld guides his book's journey from one end of the country to the other with a nontraditional structure that divides the recipes geographically. Each section is introduced with descriptions, observations and anecdotes about the people, places and, of course, foods from each area. From appetizers on through to desserts, Rothfeld moves seamlessly from olive grove to kitchen, vineyard to restaurant, focusing on the best regional recipes and accompanying them with illuminating short stories.
The recipes are easy to follow (even the few that are more complex) and call for readily available ingredients. Many of the dishes reimagine classics such as challah with olives, anchovies and oregano (pictured on the cover), stuffed cabbage cake and salmon roll with pickled fennel. Encompassing the true...