Mod­ern Kosher: Glob­al Fla­vors, New Traditions

  • Review
By – December 4, 2020

In the intro­duc­tion to Mod­ern Kosher: Glob­al Fla­vors, New Tra­di­tions, author Michael Aaron Gar­diner writes that Kosher food is a liv­ing, breath­ing process, not a muse­um piece.” This spir­it­ed the­sis sets the tone for Gardiner’s live­ly book, brim­ming with anec­dotes, descrip­tions, and recipes that encour­age fusion and cap­ture the elu­sive qual­i­ty of Jew­ish food.

Though, in its most tra­di­tion­al iter­a­tion, Jew­ish food is bound by a strict set of rules (kashrut), Gar­diner high­lights how these rules have gen­er­at­ed, and con­tin­ue to gen­er­ate, an expan­sive, thrum­ming food cul­ture out­side of reli­gious con­texts. While fui­sion in a kosher cook­book may be sur­pris­ing to some read­ers, Gar­diner writes that Jews are adopters of cui­sine, Israel being the epi­cen­ter of this cul­tur­al meld­ing. He argues that the recipes in Mod­ern Kosher, which go beyond a stan­dard semit­ic palette, merg­ing local fla­vors with tra­di­tion­al ones, are Jew­ish because of their mod­i­fi­ca­tions, not in spite of them.

It is par­tic­u­lar­ly sat­is­fy­ing fol­low­ing along as Gar­diner embraces the chal­lenge of kashrut; his enthu­si­as­tic deter­mi­na­tion to piece togeth­er the jig­saw puz­zle of devel­op­ing a recipe that both fol­lows kosher laws and remains true to the core val­ues of Jew­ish food results in quite a few deli­cious a‑ha! moments. One such moment comes in a recipe for lamb kibbeh with cucum­ber, dill, and avo­ca­do sauce. Gar­diner describes first try­ing kibbeh in El Cajon, Cal­i­for­nia, home to many Chris­t­ian and Mus­lim Iraqi immi­grants. He explains that the dish is typ­i­cal­ly served with a yogurt sauce, how­ev­er, because kashrut pro­hibits the mix­ing of meat and dairy, he takes inspi­ra­tion from Cal­i­forn­ian cui­sine and replaces the yogurt sauce with an avo­ca­do and cucum­ber sauce which mim­ics the cool­ing sen­sa­tion of the orig­i­nal with­out sac­ri­fic­ing the creaminess.

Cre­ative­ly replac­ing dairy is only one of the many tech­niques Gar­diner uses to make dish­es kosher. In addi­tion to full recipes, he pro­vides an essen­tial reper­toire of sauces, spices and flour­ish­es to beef up any kosher kitchen. This is a high­light of the book, as kosher sauces — espe­cial­ly those out­side of stan­dard Ashke­nazi, Sephardic, and Mizrahi palates — remain dif­fi­cult to come by.

All in all, Mod­ern Kosher is a delight­ful trip through var­i­ous cuisines of the world, and is sure to be an infor­ma­tive addi­tion to any cook’s col­lec­tion, kosher or otherwise.

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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