Saffron Shores offers Jewish food from the lower Mediterranean

Tunisian Potato Turnovers

Joyce Goldstein wants to change everything you thought you knew about Jewish culinary traditions. Many Americans associate Jewish cooking with Eastern European flavors (such as chicken fat, onions, and sour cream).

But Goldstein’s research into Mediterranean Jewish food has opened up a world of different tastes. Her newest cookbook, Saffron Shores: Jewish Cooking of the Southern Mediterranean, isn’t for the novice cook; many recipes are challenging.

But it is a beautiful treasure trove of dishes from the Jewish communities of North Africa. Some will seem familiar ― spiced roast lamb with couscous and harissa from Morocco, for instance ― whereas others are more exotic, like a green puréed soup of fava beans and cilantro, garnished with chicken gizzards, for Passover.

Saffron Shores (Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2002; $35; 800/722-6657) is full of fresh ideas for all the Jewish holidays. For Hanukkah, it is traditional to eat oil-rich foods in honor of the miracle of a Temple lamp that burned for eight days with only one day’s supply of oil.

Goldstein suggests serving sweet or savory fried pastries, such as classic North African briks (spicy filled turnovers). We found more than one reason to like the mashed potato-filled Tunisian pastries, adapted from Goldstein’s recipe ― first, because they’re easy to put together (egg roll wrappers fry up beautifully, and the thick filling doesn’t leak out), and second, because they taste like a subtle twist on comfortingly familiar latkes.

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