For over a decade between 1984 and 1996 a culinary meteor streaked across the skies above downtown San Francisco, leaving a fragrant wake of olive oils, basils, vinegars, cucumbers, pastas, baked eggplants—in short, it was a Mediterranean meteor, an ascendency of tapas, antipasti, mezze and more! Called Square One, the restaurant had a certain prescience of its own history: i.e. you start at square one, but you can’t go back to it.
Although the closure of Square One was a sad sad day, its chef, Joyce Goldstein, works her magic again and again still via her cookbooks.
The latest, “The New Mediterranean Jewish Table—Old World Recipes for the Modern Home,” has made its way onto my kitchen counter like that meteor of old, and was named in “The 30 Most Exciting New Spring Cookbooks (2016)” by Epicurious.
Ok, you’re not Jewish? No matter. These recipes trace the origins of many Jewish household recipes across the Mediterranean region, and we’re not talking brisket, gefilte fish, and chopped liver. Nothing like it.
As the author says,
...not all Jewish cooking traditions come from eastern Europe. For centuries, Jewish people lived and cooked in southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East—what is thought of as the Mediterranean. Because Mediterranean Jews did not immigrate to the United States in large numbers, their delicious and varied cuisines have been nearly unknown here until recently.”
The book offers a healthy diet, just right for today’s greater emphasis on eating plants, and eating meats in moderation. This is the food of sunlight—hot days in the vineyards, fishing offshore, grilling back home! Goldstein writes for what she calls again and again “the modern kitchen,” a place where freshness and health are paramount.
Trust me: you will love the recipes in this book. It’s all business, by the way; no photographs, no cover jacket, no long-winded paeans to the author by other writers. Joyce Goldstein knows her reputation precedes her. I know, too, for like many of us, it all started with a great meal “back at Square One.”
TOP PHOTO: Joyce Goldstein, Courtesy of University of California Press