Keeping Jewish Tradition Alive in the Modern Age

If there were two things a stranger was to learn about me very fast it would be this: I’m a life-long vegetarian and I’m Jewish. As a result of these two major components of my identity I’m constantly trying to find vegetarian Jewish recipes that connect me to my ancestors. I yearn to know the tastes, the smells, the textures that my ancestors knew and get as close as I can to the authentic: while keeping it vegetarian. Usually, I find my own ways to adapt non-vegetarian Jewish recipes into a vegetarian version, but frequently I find myself unconvinced it tastes like the original version. I question if I have just created a completely new recipe, or, I look instead for the traditional recipes that are naturally solely vegetarian.

Therefore, when I learned about the new cookbook Nosh: Plant-Forward Recipes Celebrating Modern Jewish Cuisine, by Micah Siva, I was beyond ecstatic. Upon reading the cookbook my expectations were certainly met.

Siva, host of the Jewfolk food podcast Not Your Bubbe’s Nosh, serves as your guide to making traditional Jewish food vegetarian. She has done any adaptation work for you, and all you need to do is get in the kitchen and follow the step-by-step instructions. Readers don’t have to worry about if a recipe will taste good or similar enough to an original recipe because Siva has already tested all the recipes. Beyond being accessible to vegans and vegetarians, (approximately 80 percent of the cookbook is vegan), Nosh is also “culturally inclusive” (page 11) and includes Jewish recipes from Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and truly all around the world. Each recipe carefully includes notes about possible ingredient substitutions and tips for making recipes in advance.

Listen to “Micah made a cookbook! Here’s how she did it” on Spreaker.

Upfront, Siva includes a section that reads as a “frequently asked questions,” answering commonly asked questions and dispelling myths about eating a plant-forward diet. “What is?” sections add an educational element, exploring the history of ingredients or specific foods. For example, on page 52 “What is Malabi?” explains that the pudding is very popular in the Middle East and is enjoyed for various Jewish holidays in Sephardic homes. While the recipes provide nostalgia for worlds of the past, they are equally as practical as they are a trip down memory lane. Nosh contains menus for each Jewish holiday, and menus for Shabbat dinners unique to each of the four seasons.

From Carrot Lox to Vegan Matzo Balls to Chraime to Tofu Brisket and Schnitzel, all the classic Jewish foods find representation in Siva’s cookbook. In the recipe for Kasha and Mushroom Cabbage Rolls Siva reveals a fun fact: While “Polish and Romanian cabbage rolls traditionally contain a blend of meats and grains, Ukrainian variations are typically vegetarian with a mixture of grains and vegetables,” (page 133). Although people often think of Ashkenazi food as built off meat and potatoes, Siva demonstrates that wasn’t always the case.

Accompanying each recipe are gorgeous, colorful photos of the food. The photography pops off the page, allowing cooks to visualize what they are about to make before they make it. What makes the cookbook stand out even more is the very personal and down to earth way Siva speaks to readers. The recipes she has chosen are not random. They come from some part of her family, and she shares who taught her the recipe that inspired each recipe in the cookbook. She creates recipes that address her own experiences with Jewish life. For instance, Apple and Honey Porridge Bowls for “if you are going to be sitting in synagogue for [Rosh Hashanah] services, you’ll need something hearty and filling, and this porridge will keep your rumbling tummy from allowing you to enjoy the services,” (page 54). Not only fitting for the holiday but also a creative approach to acknowledging food needs surrounding Jewish moments in the calendar beyond conventional holiday meals.

Growing up in a Jewish vegetarian home with three vegetarians and one non-vegetarian who was a vegetarian in the house, I understand the importance firsthand of finding ways to make traditional Jewish dishes appealing and plant-forward, not just to a vegetarian but to anyone. Siva has no agenda. She isn’t trying to push everybody towards becoming vegetarian or vegan, but rather, through Nosh provides an inclusive space where people can connect to heritage and experiment with a way of cooking and eating that emphasizes plant-based foods. I recommend anyone give this exciting cookbook, which brings the past together with present-day ways of eating, a chance.