by MAX SPARBER
Community News Editor
There is no question the traditional Askenazi-American diet can be a little heavy. While historians make the case that the Jews of Europe lived mostly on fish and vegetables, which were cheap and plentiful, when they came to America they found themselves in a land of plenty.
So they went a little crazy with it, the meat especially, as the sandwiches piled high with mounds of roast beef, grilled chicken and the like demonstrated.
There has been a move in recent years to try to recreate the Jewish diet in a manner that is somewhat less heart-attack inducing, and Paula Shoyer’s The Healthy Jewish Kitchen (Sterling Epicure, 2017) put that goal right on the cover. Not only is there the title, but the cover photo shows several charred carrots on guacamole sauce, which looks delicious but doesn’t exactly scream “Jewish.”
The food is Jewish, however: the recipes are kosher, and the book frequently looks to the various Jewish traditions for inspiration. The very first recipe is an Israeli herb and almond salad, something the book insists you will find in every Israeli hotel. There is also a stuffed cabbage recipe, which seems about as Eastern European as you’re likely to find. This cabbage, however, is stuffed with turkey, a lighter meat and a very New World one.
So it is throughout the book. There is a borscht, but it is identified as a “modern borscht,” and includes coconut milk rather than sour cream. But lest anyone think the author has strayed too far from tradition, the recipe includes copious beets and dill, the flavors many of us associate with borscht.
So it should be. Jewish dining has always been a grab bag of traditions, mostly borrowed from wherever the Jews happened to be at the time. We borrowed bagels from the Poles, kugel from the Germans, and falafel from someone, perhaps the Egyptians.
It’s probably a good idea that we now look to American cuisine for inspiration, especially to cooks who are looking to create food that is at once delicious and healthy. It might not feel as Jewish as deli food, but we’ll probably live longer to enjoy it.
(American Jewish World, 1.26.18)