Mod­ern Jew­ish Com­fort Food: 100 Fresh Recipes for Clas­sic Dish­es from Kugel to Kreplach

  • Review
By – December 5, 2022

Mac­a­roni and cheese. Noo­dle kugel. Each dish fea­tures wind­ing noo­dles bound by egg and soft cheese, the best iter­a­tions of both fea­tur­ing gold­en crunchy tops. Of course, the two baked pas­tas have their dif­fer­ences: one tends toward salti­er, more orange vari­eties of cheese, and the lat­ter toward soft­er, sweet­er noo­dles and, to the dis­may of some, per­haps a gold­en raisin or two. While noo­dle kugel pre­dates mac­a­roni and cheese, the crunchy top­ping that has become pop­u­lar on the Jew­ish baked noo­dle dish was inspired by its mid-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can coun­ter­part. These two his­tor­i­cal­ly entan­gled casseroles, then, are quite obvi­ous­ly bash­ert. The inge­nu­ity of the Amer­i­can-style Velvee­ta is won­der­ful­ly ground­ed by the sweet and earnest qual­i­ty of the Ashke­nazi dish’s sig­na­ture egg noo­dles, mak­ing for a sub­tly dif­fer­ent but whol­ly new, Franken­steined dish. And so, it is to our good for­tune that we have the shad­chan Shan­non Sar­na around, offer­ing a recipe for this win­ning match in her warm hug of a cook­book, Mod­ern Jew­ish Com­fort Food.

When I first sat down to peruse Mod­ern Jew­ish Com­fort Food, it was after a long day of work and, hon­est­ly, I was not sure how I would react to the book. Worn out and sit­ting next to what is already a tee­ter­ing stack of Jew­ish-themed cook­books, I was pret­ty sure this one would not have me itch­ing to get into the kitchen and give yet anoth­er kugel/​latke/​challah recipe a spin. How­ev­er, I am hap­py to say that this is far from true. Sarna’s book both soothed my tat­tered sev­en p.m. nerves and indeed had me break­ing out my apron. The book’s serene and undra­mat­ic images, cou­pled with whim­si­cal and indul­gent takes on clas­sic fare (see: fun­fet­ti man­del bread), make for the per­fect pair­ing. Sarna’s recipes are famil­iar but enlivened, per­fect for some­one hop­ing to spice up their stan­dard Jew­ish hol­i­day menus.

Many of the recipes in Mod­ern Jew­ish Com­fort Food are sex­i­er takes on clas­sics: sweet pota­to and sage knish­es, for exam­ple, and sum­mer corn zuc­chi­ni latkes. Oth­er recipes sit com­fort­ably in the many food tra­di­tions that make up New York – area Jew­ish palates, bind­ing non-Jew­ish and Jew­ish fla­vors: the corned beef and cab­bage kre­plach, for exam­ple (although, as Sar­na notes in the recipe’s head­note, corned beef and cab­bage — known by many as an Irish dish — actu­al­ly came into the Irish diet dur­ing the ear­ly – twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry on the Low­er East Side when Irish immi­grants tast­ed the fla­vors of home in the Jew­ish deli sta­ple). I found it won­der­ful­ly grat­i­fy­ing to see these icon­ic fla­vors come togeth­er, and the book is ripe with sim­i­lar moments.With whole chap­ters ded­i­cat­ed to schnitzel, latkes, and chick­en soup, Shan­non Sarna’s Mod­ern Jew­ish Com­fort Food is a culi­nary sur­vey of both cozi­ness and fun, mak­ing it the per­fect addi­tion to any cook’s col­lec­tion this new year.

Han­nah Kres­sel is a cur­rent fel­low at the Pardes Insti­tute of Jew­ish Stud­ies in Jerusalem. She holds a Mas­ters in Art His­to­ry from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Oxford and a Bach­e­lors in Art His­to­ry and Stu­dio Art from Bran­deis Uni­ver­si­ty. Her research exam­ines the inter­sec­tion of con­tem­po­rary art, food, and reli­gion. She is an avid bak­er and cook.

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