Samaritan Cookbook - a review

 Samaritan Cookbook - a review

Food, as in breaking of bread and feasting, along with hospitality are integral to God's being. Jesus' command to "take, eat" is not just a Eucharistic command, but a call for God's people to put aside their differences and come together at table. Post resurrection Christ often appears to his disciples in "the breaking of bread." It was this and my personal interest in food and cooking that led me to jump at the chance to review Samaritan Cookbook: A Culinary Odyssey From the Ancient Israelites to the Modern Mediterranean by Benyamim Tsedaka.

The first thing I noticed upon receiving the book was it's design. The book is beautifully illustrated with artwork along with pictures, not only food, but of the Samaritan people. The second thing I noticed was that the book is a balance between actual recipes, theology, and cultural information. This is a cultural cookbook in which the author and editors appeal to five main groups: "Mediterranean food lovers who want good, healthy cuisine; coexistence supporters interested in bring Middle Easter communities together; Jewish people fascinated by a distinct Israelite heritage; Christians hoping to connect with a biblical legacy; and scholars studying this one-of-a-kind ethnolinguistic sect." I believe the book succeeds on all these levels. It is prayerful, educational, and fun. It also provides some delicious recipes.

I couldn't review a cookbook without making some if its recipes. There are only twenty-four recipes in the cookbook and I made six; two appetizers, two main dishes, one side dish, and one dessert.  The recipes are intended to reflect ancient life of the Samaritans. Like recipes from my own grandmother, some of the directions are a little vague. As modern Americans we are used to an ingredient list that gives us the ounces or number of teaspoons. Here you will find directions like "add a  pinch or season till it takes right. In a couple of the recipes there were some steps omitted. For example the directions for the side dish say to cook three large onions and put half into the rice mixture. There was no indication as what to do with the other half of the onions. I'm an experienced cook and I met with  several other cooks in going over the recipes. There were times we were baffled. We could figure things out but a less experienced cook might have some trouble. If there is one thing I would have changed about the cookbook, it would have been to have a food editor. A food editor could have caught some of the issues without changing the integrity of the source material. If nothing else a food editor could have given some helpful notes on each recipe. 

On to the review of the food itself. I prepared the food for guests to get their reactions. They raved about all of the dishes except one, which was a very bland main dish. For starters I prepared the Avocado & Sesame Dip and the Zucchini with Yogurt Dip. Both were delicious and easy to make. I was a bit leery of the zucchini dip, but it turned out to be a favorite. The Lamb Meatballs with pine Nuts was another hit, although this was a very confusing recipe. The title suggest a meatball, but the directions seem to use chunks of lamb. I cubed the lamb into medium chunks and proceeded. This is one of the recipes that just gives you Allspice and Cinnamon with no set amount. You can make it as strong or weak as you like. We served the lamb with Haifa Majadara on the side. This was another huge hit and very easy to make. This is the one that called for three onions, I used one and a half. The Beef Noodle Casserole was a disappointment. For dessert I prepared the Ma'amul. This was the most labor intensive of the recipes I tried, but it was worth it. Another hit!

Literally, the hardest aspect of the recipes is finding the ingredients. I was able to order the Arabic Spices (Baharat) and the Za'atar from one online spice shop, and the safflower from another. I could not locate any gum arabic for the Ma'amul but it calls for a very small amount and the end result was still delicious. 

If you are looking for a hard-core, five-star Mediterranean cookbook, this isn't for you. If you fit into one of the five groups listed above, you will find this book meets your needs. Don't be afraid, give it a try. You'll be glad you did.




Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.


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