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.