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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: Entrée to Judaism: Cooking in the Diaspora

January 13, 2010

Do these chocolate chip cappuccino brownies make my butt look big? 
By Patti Freeman Dorson, recovering attorney, facilitator for the Mothers Circle of Greater Indianapolis and cooking and eating enthusiast

Who but your mother would answer that question honestly?  But that is not the essential question to ask.  The real question is what is a recipe for chocolate chip cappuccino brownies doing in a book about Jewish cooking?

In her spectacular new book Entrée to Judaism: Cooking in the Diaspora, nationally known cooking instructor, food writer and professional speaker Tina Wasserman answers that question with historical and anthropological precision:

The expulsion from Spain and Portugal at the end of the fifteenth century sent many Jews fleeing to Holland, Brazil, and the Far East.  Trade routes were set up from the Caribbean and the Far East to Holland, and Jewish immigrants were directly responsible for the brisk trade in cocoa and coffee from their newfound countries to their relatives trading on the Dutch market. 

Who knew?

Growing up Jewish in Indianapolis, Jewish cooking seemed limited to the staples of Ashkenazic (Eastern European) tradition: beef brisket, honey cake, baked chicken, noodle kugel, chicken soup and matzah balls.  Wasserman takes us on a journey around the world, explaining the literal meaning of the phrase wandering Jew. 

Mass Jewish immigration has occurred in every age and for many different reasons: at the behest of not-so-benevolent government leaders, the pursuit of economic freedom, the instinct for self-preservation, or the dream of a better life.  Wasserman as storyteller and historian explains how Jews came to live in a certain place – Spain, India, Turkey, Russia, Latin America, Africa, the Far East – and how they adapted to local conditions and created Kosher dishes incorporating the flavors and colors of their new surroundings. 

Wasserman as food writer, cookbook author, cooking instructor and Jewish woman demonstrates the breathtaking variety of Jewish cooking in the Diaspora with exceptional recipes ranging from Syrian eggplant with pomegranate molasses to dolmas (Turkish stuffed grape leaves) to Chilean pastel de choclo to Sanbat Wat (Ethiopian Sabbath Stew) and so many more.  And in each recipe, she adds “Tina’s Tidbits”, her wisdom, ideas and variations to enrich the cook’s experience.

The book is divided into three sections: a region and ingredient specific world tour, recipes connected with the celebration of Jewish holidays and iconic Jewish ingredients as interpreted in many different cultures.  Wasserman’s collection has the breadth and depth of other international cookbooks (think Mark Bitman and The Best Recipes in the World) but she writes as she cooks – with passion, with soul and with love.

Oh, and about those Chocolate Chip Cappuccino Brownies:

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter
1 pound light brown sugar
1-1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 tablespoon water
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
6 ounces chocolate chips or white chocolate chips

1. Place the butter in a 3-quart saucepan and add the brown sugar. Stir over medium heat until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add the espresso powder, water, and cinnamon, and stir to combine. Set aside to cool while you measure the other ingredients.

2. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line the bottom of a 9 X 9-inch pan with parchment paper, and butter or spray the sides of the pan to prevent sticking.

3. Meanwhile, using a handheld mixer, beat the eggs and the vanilla into the butter mixture (still in the saucepan). Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix to combine. Using a rubber spatula, add the chocolate chips and stir by hand to thoroughly incorporate without melting the chips.

4. Spread the mixture in the prepared pan and back for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center of the pan. The mixture should be very moist but not liquid.

5. Cool and cut into 1 ½-inch squares.

Note: This recipe may be doubled and baked in a 16 X 11 X 1-inch pan for 30 minutes.
Yield: 3-4 dozen small bars

Tina’s Tidbits

  • Do not overbake these brownies! When they’re done, a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan will come out clean.
  • Never cut brownies while they are not or the sides will mash down.
  • I keep a jar of instant espresso in the freezer to use whenever a recipe calls for some coffee flavoring.
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