New Cookbook, ‘The Jewish Holiday Table,’ Makes For A Delicious Global Food Tour

The Jewish Holiday Table’s arrival this month is perfectly timed, just as Jewish people around the world will don costumes and shake their groggers on Purim, and who doesn’t need a festive bash after the dark, shorter days of Winter?! The lushly photographed recipes have been collected by Naama Shefi and The Jewish Food Society, a nonprofit Jewish preservation organization Shefi launched in 2016.

As Shefi explains, she grew up on the ho-hum foods that were part of the communal dining of her kibbutz, foods “divorced from the cooks, their stories and their traditions.” Later Shefi found delights and inspiration in the tiny Tel Aviv kitchen of her husband’s grandmother, whose Sabbath meal was a call back to the incredible journey she and her family had gone on over several decades – Turkey, Rhodes and Zimbabwe – before creating a lasting home in Israel.

The 30 cooks, writers and educators featured on the pages – many of whom present multi-course holiday and Shabbat menus – share similar snapshots of their families’ travels, memories and passed on sacred and secret recipes. Every continent (save for Antarctica) is represented, with selections from Persia, South America, Europe, Iraq, India and Africa. The book reflects a history of expulsion and loss but also survival, both of the families as well as the treasured dishes.

The Jewish Holiday Table begins, not surprisingly, with Fall and the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. For Purim, author Stella Hanan Cohen highlights favorites like Pan d’Espanya (Orange Chiffon Cake – iconic in Spain) and Boulukunio (Almond and Sesame Brittle that has its origins in Medieval Spain). These came from her Rodesli ancestors, Jews cast out of the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th Century who settled in Rhodes during the Ottoman Empire and then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Food writer Yonit Naftali grew up helping in the kitchen when her mother Eva would have her grind nuts using her mother Paula’s ancient grinder. Paula was a Hungarian Holocaust survivor who had little left of her family after the War, but remembered special holiday foods of her childhood made by her mother. And of course what is Purim without Hamantaschen, this version a delightfully indulgent one made with chocolate ganache, which could also be made with a chocolate spread.

The recipes – almost all of which are Kosher or can be readily adapted – provide a vital window into the Jewish culinary Diaspora that, thanks to efforts of family, people like those included in The Jewish Table and The Jewish Food Society, endure – keeping alive and honoring those lost and the cultures that must be protected.