What is Jewish food? While I’ve written thousands of words on the subject, I don’t have a tidy answer. Instead, I offer these 13 cookbooks, each of which dives into the myriad culinary techniques, traditions, and dishes of the Jewish diaspora. In their pages, you’ll find recipes for gondi, the Persian Sephardic chicken stew bobbing with chickpea-flour dumplings, as well as the Ashkenazi matzo ball soup you might buy at an appetizing store or deli counter. You’ll encounter breakfasts of whitefish-slathered bagels and spicy tomato-poached eggs, and lots of halva (or halwa, or helva—and depending on which book you’re cooking from, the treat could be a crumbly sesame-paste candy, a carrot and semolina pudding, or a saffron-scented milk-jelly slice).
While the roots of these Jewish cookbooks may come from the same tree, the category is not monolithic. Some are wide-reaching, academic approaches to Jewish food, while others are personal explorations of how culture, time, and place influence one’s culinary point of view. So whether you’re getting ready for your weekly Shabbat or looking to bring a dish to your first Hanukkah celebration, pick up one (or three, or all 13) of these books for inspiration. Each will teach you something new—and fill your kitchen with something delicious.
“Traditional Indian Jewish food is a dying art,” Esther David writes. There are many historical accounts and theories as to how sects of Jewish people made their home in India, beginning as early as the sixth century BCE when traders from Judea settled in modern-day Kerala, but today only about 5,000 remain in the country. David, a member of the Bene Israel community (one of the five Jewish groups in India), is a journalist, novelist, and artist, and as the Indian Jewish population dwindles, she felt compelled to document the subculture’s culinary traditions. Each chapter of her book explores the food of one the five communities, most of which share customs like the swapping of dairy for coconut milk when mixed with meat, no pork, and washing kosher meat (or opting for vegetarianism when permissible meat is unavailable). Some of the dishes share names and characteristics with non-Jewish Indian dishes but look quite different. In the pages of this book you’ll find puran poli, the sweet lentil flatbread of Bene Israel Jews in western India served during Purim; a whole-fried potato dish called aloo makala, the “culinary pride” of Baghdadi Jews in Kolkata served with roast chicken during Sabbath; and the Hanukkah treat of powdered rice and jaggery-fried ariselu ladoos of Bene Ephraim Jews in Andhra Pradesh.
Cookbook author Claudia Roden’s 800-recipe tome covers the culinary traditions of two major ancestral groups of Jewish people: Ashkenazi (those with roots in Central and Eastern Europe) and Sephardic (typically those hailing from the Iberian Peninsula but often including those from the Middle East and North Africa, though some of the latter group identify as Mizrahi Jewish). “Jewish food tells the story of an uprooted, migrating people and their vanished worlds,” she notes. Her own family came from Syria and Turkey to settle in Egypt before making their way to England. Roden’s book shows that, as a result of constant changes in location, Jewish food continues to adapt. That means there are as many variations on konafa, a syrup-soaked pastry made with white cheese or cream and rice flour, as there are spellings (“knafeh,” “kunafa,” and “kanafeh”).
Deep-fried artichokes, orecchiette with broccoli rabe, tangy-sweet caponata—we know these dishes as Italian, but they are in fact Jewish Italian. Cooking alla Giudia dives into the cuisine of this population, which remains largely unknown throughout the world today. (Only a handful of Jewish Italian cookbooks have been published over the past 40 years, and this is the first comprehensive book since 2005.) The cookbook is in some ways an extension of the food writer and photographer Benedetta Jasmine Guetta’s Kosher blog Labna, the only one in Italy. The book explores dishes that fall into two categories: “recipes whose invention is attributed to the Jews of Italy by credible historical sources” and “what Jews eat in their own homes,” mainly Italian dishes tweaked to comply with Jewish dietary guidelines. You can find sfratti, the traditional walnut-honey cookies for Rosh Hashanah, alongside cacciucco livornese alla guida, a shellfish-less riff on a Tuscan fish stew.
Eden Grinshpan has worn many hats in food media, among them television host, restaurateur, and recipe developer. In each venture, and especially in her debut cookbook Eating Out Loud, she celebrates her Israeli heritage with a modern perspective; the dishes in this book feel more in conversation with contemporary food media than your Jewish grandmother’s recipe box. She spent childhood summers in Israel and returned after culinary school, leading her to delve deeper into the food she always found so familiar. “I wanted to know everything about this crazy mishmash of flavors that drew from places in North Africa, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and about a million years of culinary history,” she writes. Many Jewish cooks may be surprised to see that some recipes call for, as Grinshpan puts it, “a few treif-y things” like shellfish, pork, or a combination of meat and dairy. But traditional or not, when I make her salted halvah chocolate chip cookies, green shakshuka with jalapeño and fennel, or even chermoula pork chops with labneh, I still think, “This is Jewish food.”
Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
“Is there even such a thing as Jerusalem food, though?” chefs and cookbook authors Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi ask, citing umpteen cultures’ influence on the food of the city. Many Jewish communities have called the city home, from Eastern European Hasidim to Middle Eastern Sephardim to my own Ashkenazi grandfather, a Belarusian immigrant. But this is not, of course, a purely Jewish city. There is the Palestinian Muslim community, who have as much historical claim to the city as its Jewish members, as well as Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian Copt, and Armenian Orthodox families throughout. Both Ottolenghi, who is German Italian Jewish, and Tamimi, a Palestinian Arab, were born in Jerusalem, and while Jerusalem is not about solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this partnership is what makes their book sing. Is hummus Jewish food? Or Arabic? The authors say arguing about ownership is futile and instead invite readers to cook the foods that evoke the city. The book in fact opens with an anecdote of a near-identical side dish prepared by both authors’ families in childhood. In the Muslim east of the city, Tamimi’s mother used couscous; in Jewish west Jerusalem, Ottolenghi’s father made the dish with ptitim, also known as Isreali couscous but technically a pasta. The authors write, “This is Jerusalem cooking in a nutshell: very personal, private stories immersed in great culinary traditions that often overlap and interact in unpredictable ways.”
“Enjoying Jewish food is simple—describing it is more complex,” cookbook author and writer Leah Koenig writes. This behemoth of a book celebrates that Jewish food is not one group of ingredients, nor collection of cooking techniques, nor owned by any particular place—and its organization by dish style, not ancestral origin, enforces this. Do you prefer to brunch with salty pastrami lox on a bagel, an Ashkenazi tradition, or dunk flaky Yemenite malawach in s’chug? You’ll find them both featured in the “Breakfast” chapter. Whether you choose to slurp on a hearty Iranian bean-and-noodle-laden aash-e reshteh or a Mexico City matzo ball soup simmered with chiles, nosh on cardamom-scented baklava or saffron rice pudding, Koenig is excited to share her personal anthology of the world’s Jewish dishes, or as she puts it, a “snapshot of this special food culture as it stands today.” Most of the recipes were developed by Koenig, but other are pulled from contributors—among them the matzo brei with ikura from Brooklyn restaurant Shalom Japan and tahini-slathered whole-roasted cauliflower from Eyal Shani, owner of global Miznon franchise.
Dubbed the “matriarch of Jewish cooking” by the Jerusalem Post, American cookbook author and journalist Joan Nathan has published several books on the subject, but King Solomon’s Table is particularly unique in its exploration of global Jewish food. Legend goes that each of the 700 wives of the ancient king of Israel came with new ingredients (pomegranates, dates, olives) to be incorporated into the court’s meals, and in turn, Jewish lifestyle. I may not know for sure if the king’s appetite is responsible for the joy that is brick-red North African matbucha or the Eastern European poppy seed-onion flatbread known as pletzel, but I am grateful nonetheless.
Koshersoul by Michael W. Twitty
In Koshersoul’s preface, Michael W. Twitty recalls being asked whether his book was about Jewish food or Black food. His response? “This is a book about a part of Black food that is also Jewish food; this is a book about Jewish food that’s also Black food because it’s a book about Black people who are Jewish and Jewish people who are Black.” Before diving into Black Judaism specifically, Twitty explores the individual communities’ trauma, highlighting a unique yet shared pain between those who encounter antisemitism and anti-Black racism. His words bring new power to the Jewish adage: “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.” The first four parts of the book serve as both cultural criticism and memoir, while the final chapter features 60 recipes organized by both Jewish and Black celebrations, from Passover to Juneteenth, all calling for ingredients that span both multifaceted cultures. I have my eye on the West African–inspired brisket, which trades the usual ketchup and brown sugar for a ginger-turmeric-cinnamon-paprika spice blend, and the Louisiana-style latkes seasoned with garlic, scallion, celery, and cayenne for Hanukkah.
As the rainbow-sprinkle-topped babka on the cover might suggest, Shannon Sarna, a cookbook author and editor of The Nosher, isn’t afraid to get contemporary with the classics. After losing her mother when she was 16 years old, Sarna, raised with both her parents’ Jewish and Christian traditions, began baking challah on Thursday nights with her two young siblings. Though Sarna’s mother, raised Italian Catholic, didn’t make challah, she was an avid baker, and the family’s Shabbat loaves became a new way to honor their mother’s memory. This book deserves a place on the shelf of any baker, Jewish or otherwise, who wants a primer on iconic Jewish baked goods—and to have as much fun as possible while they’re at it. Sarna has helped me perfect a six-strand challah that my relatives brag about to their friends, and I use her everything-bagel topping on sourdough discard crackers and pillowy pita. Sarna writes, “I want [this cookbook] to both serve as a sort of baking map for you to master different types of dough and also be an invitation to be creative and diverse.” This is modern Jewish baking at its best.
The blogger, Food Network host, and cookbook author dives into recipes from her Jewish and Chinese heritage while recalling her childhood in the Chicago suburbs and celebrating her life today on a farm in Minnesota. Like so many Jewish Americans, Molly Yeh is proud to be Jewish but never ignores her other identities—or the many others that make up the Jewish diaspora. This comes through in her recipes: scallion pancake challah, which I’ve been making for years, and a wild rice hotdish with ras el hanout and dates, a Moroccan twist on the classic Midwestern casserole.
This collection of Iranian Jewish recipes comes from author Angela Cohan’s late grandmother, mother, and other family and friends. Forced to leave Iran during the 1979 revolution, Cohan’s family moved to Tel Aviv, then to San Diego, joining a long list of Jewish people who have had to migrate from their homes. Luckily, their recipes also made the journey. From ruby-red aashé anar, a pomegranate and beet soup, to 18 (!) rice recipes, Persian Delicacies outlines traditional Persian Sephardic Jewish recipes and culinary traditions and their subsequent adaptation to the author’s life in the US. I’m partial to the turmeric-stained tahdig and the verdant pistachio pesto.
Sababa by Adeena Sussman
“Sababa has come to describe a state of being, where everything is as cool as can be. It means quite simply, ‘everything is awesome,’” food writer and cookbook author Adeena Sussman writes. Within the book’s pages are recipes that salute Tel Aviv, where Sussman has made her home since 2015. As a recent immigrant, the author challenged her homesickness by exploring the markets and cooking her versions of Israeli food. The title enforces the joyful nature of this cooking—it doesn’t only document the traditional or historical, but celebrates personal takes any cook might make at home. For Sussman, this includes dishes like chewy tahini blondies, hawaij-braised short ribs, and crispy sesame schnitzel. Technically, sababa is a Hebrew term derived from Arabic (“tzababa” means “great” or “wonderful”) which further reflects the culinary connection between Israel and the rest of the Middle East. As I read through the home-cook-friendly headnotes and took in the vibrant photos of the city, I could practically feel the warmth of Sussman’s Tel Aviv kitchen and almost taste the produce and spices sold in the open-air market.
Florence Kahn refers to her eponymous bakery-slash-deli in the Jewish district of Paris in the Marais as “an ambassador for the kind of eating that is slowly disappearing.” Her cookbook aims to preserve Yiddish food. (Kahn uses “Yiddish,” the Germanic language spoken primarily by Eastern European Ashkenazim, as something of a synonym to “Jewish.”) The book covers mostly Ashkenazi food, along with some Sephardic and Mizrahi recipes, and traces the evolution of her bakery’s neighborhood, historically the Jewish quarter of the city. The Marais is no longer purely filled with Jewish businesses but now houses creative studios, fashion houses, a bustling LQBTQ community, and hundreds of tourists daily. Kahn’s traditional pastries have consequently gained a new following, and she joyfully shares her simple, elegant recipes for pistachio cheesecake, hamentaschen, and almond macaroons. Her book hits on something all of these Jewish cookbooks signal: “Our identity and culture, Judaism, is not only passed through religion. Food is another way in.”