Spice & Kosher sprinkles aspects of history into an assortment of traditional Cochin Jewish recipes. The first few chapters provide basic facts about the history of the community and some prominent personalities.
References to a Jewish presence in the area date back to biblical times. Information pertaining to the challenge of keeping kosher are also discussed.
Anyone interested in learning more about Cochin or Indian Jewry will find Spice & Kosher a fascinating book. More information about Cochin Jewry can be found on Bala Menon’s Jews of Cochin blog.
Bala Menon, sent me an electronic image of one of the paintings that is hanging in a small room leading from the main entrance to the Paradesi synagogue in Cochin. These pictures were painted by a local artist, S.M. Krishna during the 400th anniversary of the synagogue. Although the caption dates the exchange of the copper plates between Joseph Rabban, leader of the Jews and Cheraman Perumal to the 4th century, modern historians now believe this occurred in 1000 CE. This is one of several events that illustrate the positive relationship that the Jewish community had with the reigning powers.
Since the Jews in this region maintained a high status and did not encounter any anti-Semitism, they were able to mix freely with their non-Jewish neighbors while maintaining kashrut laws. Like their Ashkenazic (Jews from Eastern Europe) brethren, they utilized the available resources. European Jews tended to have a diet filled with meat and potatoes, whereas Cochinim Jews thrived on dishes made with rice, coconut, locally grown fruits and vegetables, and curry leaves.
Toronto residents Kenny Salem, who is a Cochin Jew from Mattancherry and journalist Bala Menon have teamed together, along with Dr Essie Sassoon from Ashkelon, Israel, to create Spice and Kosher. This unique cookbook records Cochin Jewish recipes. The authors separated the recipes into 17 convenient categories. Each grouping of recipes has an occasional comment or footnote. These extra words provide additional insight into Cochin Jewry.
Without this added information, some of the traditions, customs and history might be lost forever. These recipes have been handed down from one generation to the next. Only a handful of Jews still reside in Cochin. The recipes were gathered from former Cochin residents who now live throughout the world. The last chapter includes a useful guide to the prominent spices and masalas (blended complementary spices). A bibliography provides additional resources
Having traveled to this region, I am familiar with some of the foods. Nevertheless, learning how to cook Indian food will require time to embrace the overall style. Many foods need to sit for an extended period of time and are cooked with unfamiliar methods. Others require ingredients or cooking utensils that are not usually found in a North American kitchen. It may be necessary to visit a specialty store. Additionally, some modifications may be necessary to meet one’s preference for tamer spices or less fat content.
If you prefer following a set routine and are not interested in trying unfamiliar spices and foods, I’d recommend maintaining the status quo. However, if you enjoy experimenting and learning about foreign cultures, Spice & Kosher is perfect for you. While the cooking methods may be out of the ordinary and occasionally hard to follow, the preparation of new foods will take you on a worthwhile journey to another place and time.
Have you tried any of these recipes? I’d love to hear your feedback.
In the coming days, I will be sharing some of my Indian cooking experiences.
Related Posts Links:
Rohan Sabharwal’s documentary on the Cochin Jews premiered in Kochi on November 22. Two video clips-
Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. She is a licensed Colorado teacher who has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses. Sandra is married and has four adult sons.
The memoir was a finalist in the Travel category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the 2013 International Book Awards, the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards, 2013 USA Best Book Awards, and a Honorable Mention award in the Multicultural Non-Fiction category for the 2013 Global ebook Awards.