The book is divided into two main sections, each sharing the varied culture and cooking of the two main Jewish cultural groups - Ashkenazi, Jews with origins in Western & Eastern Europe and Russsia and Sephardi, Jews with roots in the Meditteranean, Middle East, Africa and Asia. Claudia, herself grew up in Cairo and paints a glorious picture of her heritage along with that of my own - Ashkenazi with roots in the Ukraine (considered Russia when my grandparents immigrated to Montreal in 1912 - or 1917, depending on who you talk to in the family) and Poland, but even earlier from Spain. Thus explaining, perhaps my love of Sephardi dishes as well.
So many of the Ashkenazi recipes in the book take me back to my grandmother's kitchen - Gribenese - chicken cracklings that accompanied the chicken shmaltz (and always stolen by my sister, cousins and I on any given Friday night), Mushroom & Barley Soup - my father's favorite, holishkes - stuffed cabbage leaves - frugally made with left over roast chicken or brisket from Shabbat dinners, stretched with rice. Just the thought of them makes me drool.
It wasn't until I was in my late teens that I first met Sephardi Jews, mostly from Egypt and Morrocco, who moved to Montreal because of the French language commonly shared. And it wasn't until much later that I met my husband whose East Indian (Bene Israel) roots can be traced back more than three hundred and fifty years. We are indeed a people of the world, sharing many commonalities and vast differences, especially and delightedly in the kitchen.
One dish from her book that has become a standard at our home is Torta di Datteri (Date Cake). It's typically made for Passover as it is flourless, but that doesn't stop me from making it any other time of year.
"The Jewish community of the Italian port of Livorno has an ancient connection with Tunis,and there are many Livornese dishes with a Tunisian touch, like this cake."That's a sample of the diversity and marriage between seemingly disparate Jewish kitchens that Claudia has discovered for the rest of us with her wonderful intros to every recipe. The book may not have dazzling color photos, but then again, one doesn't need any with her vivid descriptions and stories.
Another Sephardi dish that recently graced our Ashkenazi table is this awesome Lamb with Dried Fruit and Almonds which will become another frequent star.
"This is a Passover specialty of Fez and Meknes in Morocco. As usual for festive occasions, it is sweetened."It may, as Claudia says, be a Passover specialty, but it's a perfect Rosh Hashana or per Yom Kippur dish with a sweet richness to usher in the New Year.
Bottom Line: If you love reading about the history of a culture through food, you will love this treasure. If you just want a book with fantastic recipes from diverse cultures, regardless of religion you will equally love the book.
And now, I'm off to read some more and take a magical journey through another chapter... And since I've recently fallen madly in love with Aleppo spices, I'll read about Aleppo which, according to Claudia, was the pearl of the Jewish kitchen in Syria.