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The Sephardic Element

September 27, 2000|RUSS PARSONS

Until recently, when Americans thought about Jewish cooking, they thought about Ashkenazi dishes: kugels, bagels, kreplach, latkes. That's only natural, because most Jewish immigrants to this country have been Ashkenazim, refugees from Germany, Poland, Russia and adjacent countries.

It was probably inevitable, though, given our current fascination with all things Mediterranean, that eventually the Sephardim would get their due.

And that they do, handsomely, in three new cookbooks. Though only one is purely Sephardic, Joyce Goldstein's "Sephardic Flavors" (Chronicle Books, $35), that type of cooking is well represented in two other more pan-Jewish books: Faye Levy's "1,000 Jewish Recipes" (IDG Books, $35) and Gil Marks' "The World of Jewish Desserts" (Simon and Schuster, $30). Each book is very different from the others, and each is wonderful in its own way.

If it's purely Sephardic cooking you're looking for, you should go with Goldstein, the longtime chef at the late San Francisco restaurant Square One. Her recipes are rich in the big, bright flavors of Turkey, North Africa and all the other southern and eastern Mediterranean countries the Sephardim fled to at the time of the Spanish Inquisition.

On the other hand, if you want a more general Jewish cookbook, you can't do better than Levy's. A local author of more than 20 cookbooks in English, French and Hebrew, she has in this book the closest thing yet to a Jewish "Joy of Cooking." Not only are there recipes from a wide variety of Jewish traditions (Levy's family is Ashkenazi, her husband's is from Yemen), there are also helpful explanations on everything from the meaning and practices of kosher cooking to menus appropriate for specific holidays. Each recipe is helpfully designated either "dairy," "meat" or "pareve (neutral)."

Marks has concentrated on sweets (particularly appropriate for Rosh Hashana), pulling recipes for everything from madeleines (celebrated by Marcel Proust, whose mother's family were Alsatian Jews) to Italian anise fritters to Indian rice pudding (kheer). Just what you'd expect from a guy his publishers describe as "the gourmet rabbi."

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