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Oh. My. Goodness! What a beautiful cookbook... what a beautiful book!
Stella Cohen has produced a masterpiece! Her bio in the back of the book bills her as a Sephardic cuisine expert. That much is obvious immediately. If she has written any other books, I can't find them. If she has not, this one book is worth a lifetime of others; if she has, certainly this is her Magnum Opus! Truly a work of Art. Stunning in execution and content both. A priceless legacy of family for her descendents, of history for Sephardic Jews and for the rest of us... for all of us who believe the study of history to be necessary for civilization and who know that food and food traditions nourish the body, mind and spirit equally.
303 heavy-weight paper pages with gilt edges, a fabric covered spine and two ribbons, one gold and one blue. Heavy boards with gold foil inset printing on the front and blue foil inset printing on the back and on the spine, the endpapers, front and back, are slightly different views of an antique-style of map of the world showing the entire Atlantic ocean, and surrounding continents.
Inside, first a dedication in Stella's own hand (I love that!) Then, an introduction to Stella's current life, her childhood, and the history of her family both the difficult and the sublime, followed by a general history of the Jews of Rhodes from 1492 up to the present.
Many don't realize how important the typeface is to the whole of a book. The typeface chosen for this book is perfect, uniquely accented with artistic calligraphy. Oh and such gorgeous photography by Marc Hoberman. Photography is such an integral part of modern cookbooks, and never more than in this one. It would not be the breathtaking book it is without the fabulous photography. (I just purchased another cookbook photographed by him solely on the weight of his involvement.)
183 food photographs, by my quick count, of finished dishes or dishes in progress with plenty more photographs of gorgeous scenery both Rhodes and Africa, as well as many family photos both old and current; both heartbreaking and life-affirming. Of course, my favorite current photo is the one with the lion cub. Seems there might be a few hazards unique to an African kitchen.
147 recipes, again by my quick count, grouped into nine sections:
Meze & Salads
Soups, Stews & Braises
Gratins, Fritters & Egg Dishes
Meat & Poultry
Rice Pilafs & Noodles
Savoury Pastries & Breads
Sweet Treats & Beverages
Not all recipes have photos. Some photographs, usually those of finished dishes, take up entire pages; other pages are montages of three or more photos of various steps and stages in the recipe process. Many show the author's own hands deeply engaged in The Great Work, transforming raw ingredients into edible works of art and history (I love that!)
I am not Sephardic, I'm not even Jewish, but I am well-versed in Mediterranean cooking. It was my good fortune to be taught Greek cooking in my late teens by the matriarch and other members of an old, Greek, island family. From there, I branched out in my interest to all shores of the Mediterranean and then on to the rest of the world, but the Mediterranean remains my "go-to" genre for most of my cooking yet today, so I feel well qualified to comment on the recipes themselves and not just the wonderful presentation. I recognize these recipes as sometimes the same as what I was taught, sometimes kissing cousins to what I was taught and always authentic. As I read, I can taste the food, smell the cooking aromas and hear the murmurs of conversation punctuated by gales of laughter as Stella and her family cook these age old dishes.
This book is a sacred text transmitting the heart essence of the lineage of the art of family nourishment; we should all pay attention and absorb its deep teachings and blessings.
Given the quality and the content, it seems unbelievably inexpensive even at the full retail price of $50.00; if you have even the slightest interest in great cookbooks, in Jewish or Mediterranean history or foods please don't miss this book.