The Covenant Kitchen: Food and Wine for the New Jewish Table by Jeff and Jodie Morgan (Schocken Books/OU Press; New York, 2015; 272 pages; $35)
For those of us who love food, love wine, seek always to expand our culinary repertoire and also keep kosher, here’s the place to look: The new and wonderful cookbook, The Covenant Kitchen: Food and Wine for the New Jewish Table by Jeff and Jodie Morgan.
The core of the book is the Jewish table, by which they mean not simply food or cuisine but a way of life, as they put it, “a contemporary approach to eating and drinking in the Jewish tradition” as seen through their eyes. They’ve been on a religious and spiritual journey toward their Jewish heritage for the last 10 years. In this way, the book is very personal and personable but without being self-indulgent. As they put it, the book “illustrates our life here in Northern California where — after growing up in assimilated, secular families — we have rediscovered our Jewish heritage while making kosher wines.”
The couple’s food philosophy draws heavily from the Mediterranean, but is also thoroughly California-foodie: Whenever possible use fresh, seasonal, natural ingredients, with the judicious addition of extra virgin olive oil, herbs (such as thyme, rosemary, sage and basil), garlic, spices (like cumin, cinnamon, and cardamom), and hot and fruity chilies. Their pantry also includes staple Asian items, like tamari, toasted sesame oil, fresh ginger and panko bread crumbs. As a native of Northern California myself, it is all too easy to appreciate the very California-like blend of international influences on Jewish, Israeli and Middle Eastern foods and flavors. A particularly delicious entry, for example, is the very Californian take on Israeli shakshouka (baked eggs with tomato sauce), which includes avocado, butter beans and feta cheese.
The recipes are divided into familiar categories like appetizers, salads and soups, fish, meat and poultry, and desserts, which is meant to reflect the rhythm of a typical meal. In sidebars they highlight entertaining or kitchen techniques and information on key ingredients. Their focus is food for everyday living, not just special occasions or holidays.
Wine factors heavily in the book. Each of the 100 or so recipes is accompanied by suggested wine pairings, thankfully by wine type, rather than by brand; and they are not parochial about it, recommending far more than is available from their own winery. The pairings are intelligent and sophisticated, without sacrificing common sense. To accompany their delicious endive and Asian pear salad with walnut vinaigrette,” for example, they suggest “any crisp, fruity white wine” like a “Riesling or Gewurztraminer,” but add that a “bright edged Sauvignon Blanc” might make for a nice variation —“more contrasting than complementary.” Or consider their suggestion to accompany their gorgeous smoked salmon frittata with gruyere and fresh herbs: sparkling wine if served as brunch, “but eggs pair very well with both red and white wines,” so the saltiness of the smoked salmon suggests a “crisp white wine,” but they note that “on a cold winter day, red wine would be our choice.”
Their chapter on wine also covers kosher winemaking, and the book was written with explicit hands-on insight from the Orthodox Union kashrut organization offered in various sidebars (the OU certifies all their own wines). In engaging conversational tones, they explain the why and how of kosher winemaking, about wine grape varietals and the sorts of wines they produce, how to taste and evaluate wine quality, and how to talk about this meaningfully, and other wine appreciation basics.
Throughout, the food photography vibrantly brings their recipes to life as well. The Covenant Kitchen is a delight to read and also a pleasure to use.