"The 100 Most Jewish Foods: A Highly Debatable List" by Alana Newhouse, Artisan Books, 303 pages, hardcover, $24.95
Passover, which begins at sundown Friday, April 19, is said to be the most celebrated Jewish holiday. What better time to open a discussion on which foods — not necessarily the best tasting or most popular — hold the deepest significance to Jewish life in America?
That’s the idea behind “The 100 Most Jewish Foods: A Highly Debatable List” by Alana Newhouse, editor-in-chief of Tablet, a daily online magazine of Jewish news, ideas and culture. Newhouse says a version of the book’s list appeared on Tablet’s website in early 2018, and the book “incorporates the energy of the conversation that followed.” It also includes 60 recipes and is illustrated with full-color photographs.
Featured contributors include Tablet writers and editors, chefs, food writers, artists and thinkers, the author said.
“We aren’t all food experts or cooks, and we aren’t even all people who love the dishes we’re writing about.”
The list begins with an essay about Adafina, or Sabbath stew. During the Spanish Inquisition, many Jews converted to Christianity, willing or not.
“The Inquisition used remnant Jewish practices as a key to identifying the New Christians who still Judaized,” contributors David Gitlitz and Linda Davidson wrote. Sabbath stew, which contained ordinary ingredients but never pork or shellfish, is the dish most often mentioned in accounts of accusations by neighbors, servants and friends.
Dan Barber offers a fun read about the apple’s journey from the Garden of Eden to becoming “as American as apple pie” and its use during Rosh Hashana to symbolize the sweetness of life.
Joan Nathan looks at chicken soup, which she admits predates Judaism — the Chinese were already using chicken soup for medicinal reasons — but it became known as “Jewish penicillin” after doctor and philosopher Maimonides in the 12th century recommended “chicken soup be used as a cure for whatever might ail you.”
Nathan also writes about the matzo ball, and Michael Wex explains how stuffed cabbage taught him about the difference between non-kosher and non-Jewish.
Marjorie Ingall gives the history behind Hydrox, the kosher version of the Oreo cookie. (Oreos were certified kosher in 1997.) First sold in 1908, Hydrox predated Oreo by four years but was phased out in 1999 after Keebler acquired the manufacturer. It returned in 2014.
Chef Marcus Samuelsson, a native of Ethiopia raised by adoptive parents in Sweden, writes about why lox reminds him of home.
“The 100 Most Jewish Foods” is an entertaining choice for anyone interested in how food reflects a people and helps connect them to shared traditions.
Clarification: Readers have emailed about the amount of baking powder needed to make the Madeleine recipe which appeared in the April 4 Side Dish column about “Let’s Eat France!” by François-Régis Gaudry. The book listed the amount as ⅛ ounce (5 grams). I used a scant 1 teaspoon when testing the recipe.
Cheramie Sonnier is a food writer and columnist. Contact her at email@example.com, and follow her on Twitter, @CheramieSonnier.