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Comforting home-cooked kosher food celebrated in cookbook

Joannie Tansky brings together her passion for cooking and Judaism in The Big Jewish Mama’s Cookbook. (Janice Arnold photo)

The Big Jewish Mama’s Cookbook is Joannie Tansky’s love letter to women who have kept the flame of Judaism alive through their cooking.

She hopes this richly illustrated collection of uncomplicated kosher recipes will encourage more Jewish families, especially young ones, to return to the tradition of sharing homemade meals together.

“I’m reminding people of the importance of sitting around the table with good food and actually talking with each other,” she said. Tansky attributes her love of cooking to her two grandmothers.

Tansky her and husband, Freddy, have always enjoyed entertaining at their home. This long-nurtured project is a consequence of her becoming more observant through the Chabad movement more than 25 years ago.

Her first book was Girl Meets God: The Gift of Being a Jewish Woman.

Tansky – a mother of three and grandmother of 16 – is known to Jewish women around the world for her emailed Short Shabbat Insights, a weekly one-page digest designed for them to read at their Shabbat tables.

Many others are familiar with her less domestic persona through her bi-weekly blog, The Blanche Report, a satirical take on politics and news on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

The Big Jewish Mama’s Cookbook is divided into chapters on challah, salads, soups, fish, chicken, meat, sides and desserts.

Tansky acted as her own food stylist and photographer, producing the pictures of the delicious-looking dishes that are featured throughout the book.

The recipes are doable by anyone, Tansky said. She has mostly kept steps to a minimum and used ingredients that are easily accessible and adaptable. Most of all, she was looking for yumminess. “There’s no kale or quinoa,” she pointed out.

Recognizing that modern women do not have as much time to spend in the kitchen as their grandmothers, Tansky is not snobbish about using shortcuts, and turns to soup mixes or prepared sauces, for example, to keep it simple.

While eastern European-inspired cuisine predominates the book, Tansky has included dishes that celebrate the diversity of the Jewish community.

There’s Iraqi chicken soup with rice (with cinnamon and cardamom), Hungarian chicken paprikash with nokedli (tiny egg dumplings) and even tourtière. Tansky has tweaked this comforting French-Canadian ground meat pie into a Jewish dish, which she suggests eating in a cold sukkah.

Another sukkah recommendation is “best ever” couscous and veggies, a Moroccan standard that Tansky loads with butternut squash, sweet potatoes, zucchini and carrots.

Tansky is not one to fuss too much with baking. High on Tansky’s list of sweets is her daughter Shoshana’s brittle. Tansky warns that these ultra-thin cookies are irresistible.

Tansky avoids being “preachy,” but the cookbook does contain a few “Torah Nuggets,” such as why certain foods like gefilte fish and cholent became customary among Jews.


For more information on the cookbook, visit bigjewishmama.com.