There are cookbooks you simply leaf through. There are those you cook from. Then, there are those really rare ones that touch more than your palate. Mia Adler Ozair’s cookbook, Cook, Pray, Eat Kosher is definitely the last one.
On whole, it’s a beautifully photographed cookbook with 90 simple recipes featuring both Ashkenazi and Sepharadi heritage cuisine. In today’s “everyone has a schedule to keep” nuclear families, that might be enough for me to recommend the book –especially for those of us who have absolutely no idea what it means to keep a kosher kitchen or are just starting out on their home chef journey. Most recipes are easy and quick to make, and the ingredients are easily sourceable. I was surprised how easy it was to incorporate many of the recipes into my weekly menu planning. For some reason I had the idea that Jewish cooking was fussy, took a whole of time and required a massive amount of ingredients I’ve never heard of. I was so very wrong.
Like many cookbooks I review and enjoy, the author shares her favorite dishes and her Mom’s recipes. She’s not home a chef, she’s a home cook. But while this book nourishes your tummy and satisfies your appetite, the real magic of the book is the mystical knowledge and insight into Judaism itself as it relates to the preparation and serving of food. The book has many layers to it. In one sense it is a practical cookbook. However on a deeper level, it is peppered with meaningful threads of connection and conversation that will stay with you long after the physical nutrients have passed through your body.
A good example of what this book has to convey is found on page 24. “Within every grain of food, piece of fruit, or drop of water, there exists a spark of light, a piece of HaShem waiting to be released.” “Given that the universe is one vast metaphysical system, with everything made up of various energies, it is important to know that you, chef extraordinaire, leave your mark on whatever food you prepare.” You see, this is a cookbook for the soul. A spiritual journey as well as a gastronomic one.
Enjoy the simple, flavorful and traditional recipes that require ingredients you most likely already have. Preparation is easy. The parts of the book that speak to tradition and practices are especially lovely. There’s a glossary of terms to help the newcomer understand unfamiliar or forgotten words.
My favorite recipes came from the soup and (of course) the dessert section, but every one of the distinct sections had something that was praise worthy.
As the author shares, “Cooking for someone else is one of the most spiritual and intimate acts of creation and sharing.” I am hoping for you, as it was for me, that reading this particular cookbook will spark you to try new things, taste new foods, explore new types of regional cooking, and think a bit more about the transcendent and mystical role food plays in our everyday kitchen life. Who knew?
Give this book a spin by trying this wonderfully textured recipe.
COOK, PRAY, EAT KOSHER: The Essential Kosher Cookbook for the Jewish Soul
By Mia Adler-Ozair
Feldheim / November 2015
Makes 6 to 8 servings
Source: Hana Manzur
Note from the author: This is one of the first Iraqi dishes that my husband taught me how to make. I had never eaten okra before and was fairly certain my kids would reject it. Much to my surprise, not only did the kids love it but it has become a family favorite!
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 26-ounce jars tomato sauce if choice
Frozen okra (2 bags of large okra or 3 bags of baby okra)
2 tablespoons sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
2 to 3 tablespoons each salt and pepper, or to taste
5 medium to large onions, chopped
3 tablespoons turmeric
1 jar water (jar from tomato sauce
2 to 3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
To prepare the meatballs:
Combine a quarter cup of chopped onions in large bowl with ground beef, one tablespoon salt and tablespoon pepper.
Blend thoroughly, then form into small meatballs.
In a large pot on the stove:
Over high heat, add grapeseed oil to cover the bottom of the pot and add remaining onions. Sauté until the onions are almost soft.
Begin adding the meatballs into the pot on top of the onions, allow them to brown.
Stir the onions and meatballs gently to prevent burning. Once the meatballs are browned add tomato sauce, sugar, juice of lemon, turmeric, remaining salt and pepper, water and okra.
Stir until blended, cover and cook on medium heat until bubbling, stirring every 5 to 10 minutes to prevent burning.
Simmer over medium-low heat, covered for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
Adjust seasoning to taste while cooking.
Serve with rice (some do not eat rice on Pesach, so omit accordingly).
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Cook, Pray, Eat Kosher