COOKBOOK REVIEW: Fusing flavors, the Jewish way

‘Modern Kosher: Global Flavors, New Traditions’ by Michael Aaron Gardiner
"Modern Kosher: Global Flavors, New Traditions" by Michael Aaron Gardiner (Rizzoli, $40)

"Modern Kosher: Global Flavors, New Traditions" by Michael Aaron Gardiner (Rizzoli, $40)

As a Reform Jew, Michael Aaron Gardiner doesn’t keep a kosher kitchen. Yet the Jewish dietary laws known as kashrut deeply inform his inventive cooking style, as illustrated in a recipe like paprika-heavy Short Rib Goulash garnished with emerald-colored Herb Oil — a contemporary take on a staple of his Hungarian Jewish ancestry. You’ll find it in his first cookbook, “Modern Kosher: Global Flavors, New Traditions” (Rizzoli, $40).

The dazzling plated compositions within look to be the work of a chef at a high-end fusion restaurant. Actually, Gardiner is an attorney who moonlights as a restaurant reviewer and food and travel writer for various publications around San Diego and Baja California. He also co-hosts a podcast, The Art of Spooning, for the Specialty Produce Network. Throughout these pages, it’s clear that he loves to tinker in the kitchen, drawing inspiration from travels abroad, favorite chefs and cookbook authors such as Joyce Goldstein and Yotam Ottolenghi, and the occasional family heirloom.

While Gardiner may not keep two sets of cookware in his kitchen as more observant Jews do, he honors the primary rules that govern the Jewish diet — such as avoiding pork and shellfish, and taking care not to serve meat and dairy in the same meal — as a “matter of mindfulness,” and a “spur to creativity.”

Beet Tartare with Greek Yogurt, Capers, and Fenugreek Salt is a terrific example, with crimson finely diced roasted beets mimicking the color and meatiness of beef. I’d make it again in a heartbeat, as I would his Salmon Rillettes with Sourdough Toast Points — sure to be as welcome at a Rosh Hashanah gathering as it was at my across-the-hall potluck.

There’s plenty of delicious inspiration for other occasions — holiday or everyday — that anyone, anywhere, regardless of religious affiliation, can appreciate.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at

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