Since the publication
of her first book, The Santa Monica Farmers' Market Cookbook,
Amelia Saltsman's fans have turned to her for fresh, intuitive,
seasonal cooking. She is regularly sought out for her expertise by
such national publications as Vegetarian Times, Bon Appetit, The
Jewish Journal, and Cooking Light magazine. She has just released
her second cookbook, The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen. (Enter our contest for your chance to win a
copy of the book - US only, and check out our Cookbook Calendar of
Events for book tour dates.) Saltsman sat down with EYB to answer
questions about her latest book:
Jewish cooking varies a lot depending on the regional
origins in the Jewish diaspora e.g. Ashkenazi is very different to
Sephardi. Can you explain the main cuisines within Jewish
cooking for our members who are not familiar with
Ashkenazi food of Europe and Eastern Europe evolved in a
Christian milieu, where pork, beef, and butter were important
foods, along with cold-weather grains and cereals like buckwheat.
The term, Sephardic, is used describe all other Jews, even though
it more specifically refers to people of the Iberian peninsula.
Sephardic cooking evolved in primarily Arab regions where olive oil
and hot-weather crops were abundant. This is a huge generalization,
of course, because each country or micro-region developed its own
food traditions within the practice of Judaism. What I wanted to do
is open up the diversity of culinary experience, so you'll find
flavors and dishes that are Italian, French, Iberian, North
African, and more in The Seasonal Jewish
Your book focuses on seasonal cooking. How much is
traditional Jewish cooking already linked to the seasonal
availability of produce?
If we get to the heart of the matter, very linked. Most holidays
have agricultural, therefore seasonal, beginnings, which are
reflected in our traditional foods. Rosh Hashanah comes with a
cornucopia of seasonal foods to symbolize wishes and blessings for
a good, sweet year. Pomegranates, apples, quince, dates, early root
vegetables, and winter squashes are all showing up in markets and
all figure prominently in traditional holiday foods. The new year
custom of eating a "first fruit" to mark the holiday comes at a
perfect time of year--the beginning of the autumn harvest season.
This is really about noticing what's been hiding in plain
sight--seasonality + tradition.
Traditional Jewish cooking is quite rich and starchy.
What traditional recipes did you lighten up in your
I would disagree with that statement! Although sadly, this is
how many people think about Jewish food. I'm here to change the
basic premise! Good cooks have always made delicious food,
certainly true when I think of my grandmothers' elegant touch in
their kitchens. That said, how we want to eat has certainly changed
over the generations for most cooking, Jewish or not. There are
many recipes in the book that are true to the spirit of a
traditional dish, but reflect how we eat today. My Roasted carrot and sweet potato tzimmes is a
perfect example. Carrots, sweet potatoes, dried fruit, citrus zest,
and fresh orange juice--tossed in a large pan and shoved in the
oven. No flour, meat, sugar, or long stewing to mask the great
ingredients. And easier to make, and lighter to eat.
There are many traditional dishes served on the high
holidays such as latkes, tzimmes, etc. Have you included
modernized versions of these dishes?
In some cases, as with the tzimmes, yes. With others, like Pure and simple brisket or My mother's chicken soup, I've given readers
what I consider excellent classics that match our modern
sensibilities. My Best potato latkes are crisp, not greasy, and
my other latke recipes are rediscovered dishes--like the ones made
from summer squash--or innovative, like those with parsnips, or
butternut squash and sweet potato.
Does your book follow kosher rules of not mixing meat
Yes. I simply left those combinations out of the mix. I leave it
to readers to mix and match recipes to build a meal according to
their philosophy. I also chose not to include pork or shellfish,
but I don't think anyone will miss their absence, and certainly
there are many dishes that can be adapted to include them if
What is your own family's culinary history?
Very diverse! I'm the daughter of an Iraqi father and Romanian
mother who were raised in Israel and met in the Israeli army. They
emigrated to California where I was born and raised. To say my food
history is eclectic would be putting it mildly!
There has been a growing interest in Israeli cooking
with the huge success of Ottolenghi's books, especially
Jerusalem. Which of your recipes reflect Isreali spices
I'm grateful to Yotam Ottolenghi for bringing attention to some
of my favorite flavors. Israeli food is very diverse, since it is a
true melting pot of cultures, Jewish and not. So, too many recipes
to mention here! But I will say this, that if you've cooked from my
first book, the Santa Monica Farmers' Market Cookbook, or
enjoyed any I've written for magazines or my blog, you've already
cooked Israeli food! It's much more than hummus and falafel, you
If you were putting together a dinner party from the
book, what would be your dishes you would cook?
That would depend on the season!