Celebrated cookbook author and chef Joyce Goldstein can trace her bloodline to a Russian shtetl, but her heart and soul lie in the Mediterranean.
In "Cucina Ebraica" (Chronicle Books, 1998) and "Sephardic Flavors" (Chronicle Books, 2000) she explored Italian Jewish and Spanish Jewish cuisine, and now, to round out the trilogy, in "Saffron Shores" (Chronicle Books, $35) she continues her Mediterranean culinary journey with the exotic cuisine of the Maghreb: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, even including related Judeo-Arabic countries like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran.
"I have been cooking this food for I cannot tell you how many years," said the former chef/owner of the renowned Mediterranean restaurant Square One in San Francisco. "When I was doing research for 'Sephardic Flavors,' I realized the subject was so huge I couldn't do it all in one book, so I covered the northern Mediterranean in 'Sephardic Flavors' and the southern Mediterranean in 'Saffron Shores.' Here the style of cooking changes with a lot more spices and herbs and additional uses of fruit, but, of course, there is some overlap."
Notable for its absence is Israeli cuisine. "I left it out because it's a hodgepodge," she explains. "The last time I was in Israel I was served sashimi and Thai-flavored something or other, and I thought, sorry, I didn't come here for that. Israeli cuisine is a melting pot, a lot like America. Whoever is there is cooking Romanian food, Italian food, Yemenite food. Is there Israeli cuisine? I think it's fusion, so I didn't give it much attention. It's not pure. I'd rather go back to the sources."
Indeed, each recipe reflects Goldstein's impeccable research and attention to detail, and regional differences are carefully noted. For example, for the Cumin Flavored Meatballs, Goldstein offers Moroccan and Syrian variations. But she never sacrifices flavor for authenticity, adding a touch of orange to the sfenj (Moroccan Chanukah donuts), for example, and adjusting the spices in various dishes.
"The spices of North Africa are really vibrant, just incredible, so much fresher and more intense than those we can buy here," she said. "To make these recipes taste right, I often had to double them."
More than just a recipe collection, "Saffron Shores" traces the history of Jewish life in these exotic lands and its impact on the cuisine. We learn that unlike the Ashkenazim, who preserved their Judaism by isolating themselves, the Sephardim were more involved in the communities in which they lived. "They shared recipes and culinary traditions with their non-Jewish neighbors," she writes. "Their food reflected the cuisine of their homeland but adapted to follow the kosher laws."
Because the Sephardim were more active in the community, in trades and in business, there was a greater exchange of ideas between Jews and Muslims, and the similarity in recipes between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors is striking, she notes.
"On the other hand, certain [Eastern European] dishes, when you think of them, you know they are Jewish. I have many Russian cookbooks, but I don't see too many recipes in there for brisket or tzimmes. There's not as much overlap between the Jewish and non-Jewish dishes. Some of the ingredients are the same, like cabbage and potatoes, but the recipes don't track the same way that the Sephardic ones do."
A tireless researcher, Goldstein combed cookbooks from the area, written in French, to capture the authentic tastes and aromatic flavors of such dishes as Iraqi Chicken and Chickpea Pastries, Lamb Tagine with Prunes and Honey and Moroccan Chicken and Almond Pie. The latter, known as B'Stilla, Goldstein calls "a masterpiece of Moroccan cuisine."
And while most of the recipes are easy to prepare, favoring the use of fresh, local ingredients over the labor-intensive method, the savory pastries that Goldstein calls "labors of love" are worth the extra effort, she said. Teams of women would prepare them together for special occasions, a tradition that is sadly dying out. Goldstein suggests families create their own traditions by preparing these bistels, briks or buraks together. "Anything that is fried is appropriate for Chanukah. The Tunisian briks are rounder in shape and contain egg, as compared to the bistels from Morocco and buraks from Algeria," she explains, "but they all can be fried."
For those who can't think of Chanukah without potatoes, there are potato filled briks from Tunisia. But Goldstein offers a variety of fillings for these pastries, from beef or lamb to feta cheese to chicken with chickpea to spinach with pine nuts. Depending on the region, the dough may be phyllo, yeast raised, short crust or semolina, and the pastries may be baked as well as fried.
These spice-infused pastries make an alluring addition to any Chanukah table. And for Ashkenazic Jews, what an exotic change from latkes.
>Cumin Flavored Meatballs With Onion Jam and Spicy Tomato Sauce
1 pound ground beef
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1Â¼4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
11Â¼2 teaspoons salt
1Â¼2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Light a fire in a charcoal grill. (You may also use a skillet heated over medium-high heat.)
2. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix well, form into 16 oval meatballs wrapped around skewers, or into eight oval patties.
3. Grill or cook in oil on a hot pan until browned on all sides.
4. Serve with onion jam and tomato sauce.
Moroccan Chanukah Doughnut
2 envelopes active dry yeast
1Â¼4 cup sugar
1Â¼2 cup warm water
4 cups all-purpose flour
1Â¼2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten (optional)
grated zest of 1 orange
1Â¼4 cup canola oil, melted margarine,
or melted unsalted butter (optional)
11Â¼2 to 2 cups warm water or part
water, part orange juice
Peanut or canola oil for deep frying
Granulated sugar for sprinkling or warm honey for dipping (optional)
1. Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the water. Let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes.
2. Pour into a large bowl and gradually stir in the flour and salt.
3. Stir in the eggs, zest, and 1Â¼4 cup oil, margarine or butter, if using.
4. Stir in just enough water or water and juice to make a soft and elastic dough.
5. Knead well, with a dough hook or by hand, on a lightly floured surface, until the dough is elastic, smooth and shiny.
6. Roll the dough into a ball, place in an oiled bowl and turn to coat.
7. Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled (11Â¼2 to 2 hours).
8. Oil your hands. Divide the dough into 20 balls about 2 inches in diameter.
9. In a deep saucepan or wok, heat 3 inches of oil to 365 F.
10. Take a ball of dough, make a hole in the center, and pull it out to make a doughnut shape. Deep fry a few at a time until the donuts are puffed and golden.
11. Using a slotted spoon or skimmer, transfer to paper towels to drain.
12. While still hot, sprinkle with granulated sugar or dip in warm honey. Serve warm.
Makes about 20 donuts.
Judy Bart Kancigor, the author of "Melting Pot Memories" (Jan Bart Publications, $19.95), can be found on the Web at www.cookingjewish.com.