Book Review: Jewish cookbook by Dallas author offers culinary world tour

Entrée to Judaism (URJ Press, $39.95) is a vast, multiethnic survey of Jewish cooking. The diversity of recipes in this book will astound you – especially if your idea of Jewish food is stuck in the brisket and matzo ball soup vein.
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Written by Dallas cooking instructor and Reform Judaism magazine food columnist Tina Wasserman, this cookbook and culinary history mines all corners of the world to explore Jewish cooking since the Diaspora (the resettling of Jews beyond Israel).

Wasserman reaches back centuries for exotic recipes prepared by Jews in ancient lands – from Asia to Africa, throughout the spice route and all across Europe. She also showcases New World and modern expressions of Jewish cooking in the Caribbean, Latin America and Wasserman’s kosher kitchen in Dallas. It all adds up to 275 recipes from more than 40 countries, and scores of anecdotes explaining the dishes’ cultural origins.

Wasserman’s historical findings make a fascinating read. Who knew that dark-skinned Jews settled in India when King Solomon came in search of spices? (That fact is the lead-in to the Bene Israel Shabbat Chicken Curry recipe.) Or that 15th-century Ottoman rulers welcomed Jews to Turkey during the Inquisition? (Hence, a recipe for Turkish Leek and Meat Patties, a Sephardic favorite for the New Year.)

Wasserman explains every geographic relocation of Jews as neatly as she does her recipes. And each recipe is accompanied by one of “Tina’s Tidbits,” valuable preparation tips.

You don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate this book. It’s an international cookbook that would appeal to anyone who values interesting yet easy ethnic recipes. Wasserman’s experience in teaching home cooks keeps it accessible. Whether you’re a gentile or Jew, chances are you don’t own a book like this. And that makes it the ideal gift for the cook who has almost everything.

Tina Danze is a Dallas freelance writer.

SEPHARDIC SEMOLINA PUDDING (HALVAH DE SEMOLA)

1 stick unsalted butter

1 ½ cups semolina (or Cream of Wheat cereal), not semolina flour

3 cups water

1 cup sugar (honey may be substituted, although not traditional)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup very finely chopped walnuts

Cinnamon for sprinkling on top (optional)

Melt the butter in a 2-quart saucepan over moderate heat. Add the semolina and stir to completely coat the grains of wheat with the butter. Continue to cook and stir the semolina until the mixture is light brown, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes. Stir the semolina mixture constantly while you carefully pour the boiling syrup into the pot. Avoid burning yourself with the spattering liquid. Remove the pan from the stove and continue to stir for about 4 minutes until the mixture becomes thick. Gently stir in the vanilla and the finely chopped walnuts until well combined.

Cover the pot with a double layer of dish towel and let the mixture set for about 30 minutes or until thick and all the moisture has been absorbed.

Lightly butter an 11×7-inch glass casserole or 6 to 8 4-ounce ramekins. Stir the mixture one more time and spread the semolina mixture evenly in the chosen container, smoothing out the top. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Let mixture set for ½ hour (or if using ramekins, chill in the refrigerator). If using the casserole, cut into diamond shapes and serve warm or at room temperature; if using ramekins, unmold the chilled ramekins and then sprinkle with cinnamon.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Variation: For a more Middle Eastern flavor, substitute 1 ½ teaspoons rose water for the vanilla, and add 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom. Finely ground pistachios may be added to the mixture instead of the walnuts.

SOURCE: Entrée to Judaism

Entrée to Judaism: A Culinary Exploration of the Jewish Diaspora (URJ Press, $39.95), by Tina Wasserman; Sold online at www.urjbooksandmusic.com and at amazon.com; sold in Dallas at Barnes & Noble; the Jewish Community Center gift shop; Temple Emanu-El gift shop; and Carlyn Galerie in Preston Center.

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