Some cookbooks are born from blogs with massive followings and some cookbooks come not from any corner of the internet but from the most passionate heart and the warmest kitchen. I think this to be very true of Hazana — Jewish Vegetarian Cooking by Paola Gavin, who has been writing vegetarian cookbooks for the past three decades. When I received Hazana in the mail I was very excited by the prospect of learning more about Jewish vegetarianism.
As Gavin moves through 140 traditional Jewish vegetarian recipes from over twenty countries that she traveled to, she reveals how the diet of ancient, nomadic Israelites connects to the modern vegetarian diets of the Jewish diaspora. I found myself learning so much about Jewish culinary heritage and tradition through her dedicated and diligent research. Even though there are four main Jewish communities (the Mizachrim, the Ashkenazim, the Sephardim, and the Italkim) spanning so many countries (Russia, Spain, India, Italy, Greece, Morocco – just to name a few) what she finds is that the “One thing we all have in common is the same love of food and cooking, something that lies at the heart of Jewish life.” (7)
Gavin does a really excellent job of contextualizing the recipes. In the first couple of chapters she first outlines Jewish holidays and festivals, then Jewish history and culture, and it’s throughout the remaining eight chapters that she provides recipes that are specifically chosen because they have “been passed on from mother to daughter for generations, and they are quick, easy to prepare and healthy.” (6) She organizes the recipes through the following chapters — Appetizers and Salads, Soups, Pasta and Dumplings, Grains, Main Courses, Eggs, Vegetables, Desserts. One thing that I noticed is that while all the food photos are gorgeous, they are sparse. For example, for the 17 recipes in the Soup chapter there are 7 photographs, and while this in and of itself doesn’t bother me I know that there are people who prefer copious amounts of photos. To each their own.
One thing I appreciate the most is being able to try new ingredients or techniques. The ingredient that I had the most fun using was filo pastry, which I used in the Sweet Pumpkin Coils, Mushroom Strudel, and the Pumpkin Triangles. I was able to purchase a box of frozen filo pastry at the grocery store (16 sheets for $3.49 — very reasonably priced I thought). I found that the filo was fairly easy to work with and the resulting dishes had a lot of plate appeal. For the most part ingredients were very easy to source and the recipes very affordable to make.
One technique I tried was making fresh green lasagne noodles. While she directs the home cook to use a rolling pin to roll-out the lasagne sheets I opted to use a pasta maker for sake of ease and convenience. Making this recipe brought me to the realization that the recipes in Hazana require a vast range of abilities from the those of a novice home cook to those of a very advanced one, and that while most of the recipes are easy to prepare there are some that I would categorize as “weekend cooking” (recipes that require the time and patience that only the weekends can usually afford). Maybe my green lasagne noodles didn’t look picture-perfect the end result (pictured above) was very tasty and very much enjoyed by my family. This is also an example of a recipe where you could substitute commercially prepared lasagne noodles and still get a great meal.
I found that while the recipes were very forgiving in terms of ingredients and substitutions, the instructions and cooking times could have been refined a bit more. For example, when I tried both the Sweet Peppers Stuffed w/ Rice, Pine Nuts and Currants and then the Tomatoes Stuffed w/ Rice and Mint (pictured below) both times I ended up with slightly under-cooked rice. Each of the recipes required extra water to be poured into the dish with the stuffed vegetables before placing the dish in the oven. With the tomatoes, it seemed to only make the tomatoes a bit soggy (even without the extra cooking time) and I wonder if I could have omitted that extra bit of hot water entirely? Since I’m not that familiar with rice-stuffed vegetable recipes it is entirely possible that the fault lies within my abilities (or lack of). With the stuffed tomatoes I was able to cook them a bit longer resulting in cooked rice but with the tomatoes unable to hold their own shape — that said the dish was one that was enjoyed by my husband and daughter.
For the perfectionist in me I learned that I really need to follow my instincts more than following a recipe to the letter sometimes and that Hazana is a good guide to creating delicious food. When recipes are generational they are probably considered to be tried and true but I’m thinking that for modern cooks without the help of previous generations (mothers, grandmothers, etc) it may be a little challenging to understand recipes that may not have each step outlined or assume what the knowledge/background of the home cook is. But what Gavin does really well is to provide flavourful recipes that use pantry-staples. I found it refreshing to move away from on-trend cooking in favour of cooking that is comfort-based.
If you’re curious to see what recipes I’ve been trying checkout my custom Instagram hashtag #eatworthyhazana or my dedicated Facebook post. As with most of the cookbooks I review I tried about ten recipes from Hazana and found that for many of the recipes I tried I got the results I was expecting and for a few I didn’t get quite what I was expecting (as was the case with those rice recipes — the tomatoes were fine but I didn’t even photograph the peppers because they just didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped).
The purpose of Hazana is to first impart the history and heritage behind Jewish vegetarian culinary traditions and then to encourage the cook to focus on the love of cooking for the purpose of bringing people together for nourishment and community. I don’t think that there is another cookbook quite like Hazana — it has a broad appeal that would be interesting to both vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Quadrille Publishing for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.