JEW-ISH: A Cook­book: Rein­vent­ed Recipes from a Mod­ern Mensch

  • Review
By – September 2, 2021

Grow­ing up in what he defines as a Jew-ish house­hold, Jake Cohen nev­er felt par­tic­u­lar­ly con­nect­ed to his faith. I was what you call a High Hol­i­day Jew,” he writes, the kind who comes out of sec­u­lar wood­work around Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kip­pur.” Only lat­er in life, when meet­ing his now-hus­band, did they begin to reex­am­ine and define the role that Judaism would play in their day-to-day lives. After try­ing a few syn­a­gogues, they set­tled on some­thing that ful­filled their desire to pause at the end of the week, gath­er with friends, and of course, eat: host­ing a week­ly shab­bat din­ner. It was through host­ing these din­ners, where Cohen explored both the food of his Ashke­nazi child­hood and his husband’s Per­sian and Iraqi tra­di­tions, that the recipes in this book took shape.

While Jew-ish cov­ers the clas­sics, with approach­able recipes for chal­lah, pota­to latkes, and mat­zo ball soup, there are plen­ty of twists (shak­shu­ka alla vod­ka, any­one?). Cohen’s abil­i­ty to rein­vent tra­di­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly with the Per­sian-Iraqi influ­ence of his hus­band, is evi­dent through­out. An overview of his pantry includes Mid­dle East­ern sta­ples like tahi­ni, haris­sa, and za’atar. The result is some­thing that com­bines the mag­ic of Shab­bat din­ner with the fun cel­e­bra­tion of a din­ner par­ty with friends.

There are cus­tomiz­able recipes for bab­ka and rugelach, and menus for the High Hol­i­days, Hanukkah, and Passover. And these menus are rein­vent­ed as well; instead of the clas­sic seder plate, he serves dev­iled eggs, pome­gran­ate-BBQ chick­en wings, and orange seg­ments that rep­re­sent the LGBTQ+ com­mu­ni­ty and oth­er mar­gin­al­ized groups. Both his authen­tic voice, and the recipes them­selves, serve as a refresh­ing reminder that we are free to define how the rit­u­als and cul­ture of Judaism can form a part of our own day-to-day lives. Some­times he fol­lows the rules, and some­times he doesn’t — a nod to his Jew-ish upbring­ing.

The com­mu­ni­ty that he’s cre­at­ed through these meals is evi­dent with­in the pages. It’s no won­der that after just a few Shab­bats, I was able to both deep­en exist­ing friend­ships and quick­ly build new ones,” he writes. For Cohen, it’s clear that cre­at­ing an inclu­sive din­ner table full of a diverse range of cul­tures and peo­ple is as impor­tant as the food itself.

Whether or not you’ve host­ed a Shab­bat din­ner, this book will give you the tools, and the inspi­ra­tion, to gath­er your friends to cel­e­brate and start your own tradition.

Court­ney Gooch is a design­er and part­ner at Por­trait, a graph­ic design stu­dio that cre­ates iden­ti­ties for peo­ple and places. She lives, cooks, and eats in Brooklyn.

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