COOKBOOK REVIEW: New food rituals rooted in old traditions

"Jew-ish: Reinvented Recipes from a Modern Mensch" by Jake Cohen (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30)
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"Jew-ish: Reinvented Recipes from a Modern Mensch" by Jake Cohen (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30)

“Jew-ish: Reinvented Recipes from a Modern Mensch” by Jake Cohen (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30)

Growing up in New York, Jake Cohen was what he calls “a High Holiday Jew, the kind who comes out of the secular woodwork around Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur to completely commit to temple, gefilte fish, and Manischewitz.” His now-husband, Alex, was “a no-holiday Jew” of Middle Eastern descent who “didn’t even get bar-mitzvahed.”

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As their relationship grew serious, so did their desire to build a life around their blended “Jew-ish” identities. They gave synagogue a try, but after a few services concluded it wasn’t for them. Instead, they began inviting guests to their home for Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, to “actively exercise gratitude, to strengthen and build our community, and to simultaneously do the one thing we enjoy most — eat.”

Through these Friday-night events, Cohen began to tap into his deep culinary expertise as a chef and food writer to perfect the babkas and briskets of his youth, while developing creative new dishes inspired by Jewish cuisine from across the Diaspora: Everything Bagel Galette, Iraqi Roasted Salmon with Tomato and Lemon, Tiramatzu (tiramisu made with matzo).

A former staffer for Saveur magazine who’s now the editorial and test kitchen director for popular social media network Feedfeed, Cohen is well-known for the challah-braiding videos he’s posted on Instagram and TikTok. He offers a full-color tutorial for making Jake’s Perfect Challah in the opening pages of “Jew-ish: Reinvented Recipes from a Modern Mensch” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30), along with a loose game plan for breaking bread in the spirit of Shabbat no matter your heritage or faith.

After a quick tour through a pantry where matzo meal and egg noodles reside with rose water and dried black limes, you’ll find delectable, doable recipe ideas for any occasion — be it a last-minute get-together or a full-fledged tradition-bending Passover feast.

My happy experiences thus far with Crispy Chicken Thighs with Tzimmes; Roasted Cauliflower with Pistachio and Raisins; and a glorified version of French Onion Brisket enhanced with Calvados motivate me to keep reading, cooking and learning what it means to be “Jew-ish.”

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

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