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Rethinking Culinary Classics with Beignets

Rethinking Culinary Classics with Beignets

When I caught wind of The New Jewish Table: Modern Seasonal Recipes for Traditional Dishes, I wondered just how playful Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray,  would push their reinterpretation of Jewish classics. The owners of Equinox Restaurant in Washington, DC,  won me over pretty quickly.

   I was lured by Smoked Salmon and Sweet Corn Beignets,

a perfect convergence of salty smoked fish and deep fried Southern tradition in a corn fritter with a blended identity.


 In Joan Nathan’s forward to this exciting new resource, she refers to a “culinary convergence”.  This is the story of what happens when a Southern Episcopalian, CIA trained chef falls in love with a Jewish gal who prefers the vibrant fresh flavors of the Mediterranean. Together they have forged a new path that reflects their backgrounds and preferences.

 This volume presents just the right mix of family anecdotes and memories from their respective childhood kitchens.  Ellen paints a great picture of her father introducing Todd to NYC’s most traditional Jewish delis so he would taste the pinnacle of the city’s best pastrami, herring and corned beef.

 Summer Corn Succotash with Black-Eyed Peas

Todd prefaces his recipe for Summer Corn Succotash with Black-Eyed Peas with a reference to the traditional dish getting “a bad rap because people usually think about the sad, over cooked dish our mothers made from canned corn, lima beans and mushy red peppers.”

After drooling over his easy recipe, I plan on making  this succotash a staple on my table once the CT corn crops starts to sprout.

 Through these stories and recipes, we begin to understand what this “culinary convergence” is all about. First and foremost, this culinary blending of traditions is centered on seasonal access of the freshest, most local ingredients.

Each section is a seasonally focused, with approachable and flexible ideas for celebrating that season’s bounty. Within each section are six chapters: brunch, starters, lunch, dinner, sides and desserts. I love the organization of this cookbook as it is really the way I shop, cook and eat. 

 Reluctant to fire up your stove in these warmer months?

Grilled Yellowfin Tuna with Rustic Tomato Sauce

Grilled Yellowfin Tuna Skewers with Rustic Tomato Sauce is the perfect way to stack your dinner on a skewer and take advantage of the bushels of local tomatoes you’ll soon find in your local markets.  

Meat eaters looking for a twist on that basic burger on the grill?

Grilled Lamb Burgers with Olive Tapenade These Lamb Burgers with Olive Tapenade subtly reference the Middle East with a generous dose of cumin and crushed garlic.

  And with chilled soups providing welcome relief  from the heat, I’m willing to wrangle with a few ripe mangos in order to create this velvety puree with a tangy burst of limes, dotted with wild blackberries.

Chilled Mango Soup with Blackberries

Interestingly, Ellen refers to this cold soup as a “modern-day extrapolation” of sweet and sour beet soup (borscht) which was so common in Ashkenani cuisine, due to the ease with which beets were grown in Eastern Europe.

We’ve come a long way from borscht here.

 An inspiring section in the back suggests Jewish holiday menus that point innovative cooks to new ideas like a Passover version of Apricot Hamantaschen (Why do we reserve these treats for one day of the year anyway?) and Fig and Port Wine Blintzes for bumping up the more nuanced flavors at your break fast after Yom Kippur.


There is one  disconcerting oddity in this volume that bears mentioning. In the intro, Todd and Ellen state that this is NOT a KOSHER cookbook, although the rules of kosher eating resonates for both of them.  Still, each recipe is clearly identified as Dairy, Meat or Parve, which I appreciate.

 But why then, introduce a non-existent term called MIXED? There is NEVER a concept of MIXED in kosher cooking, as separating dairy and meat is one of the basic tenants of the laws.

After a reader called my attention to this when I offered a give-away of this volume, I debated long and hard about recommending this book here.

I’ve resolved to make my own adjustments for those few recipes and give credit to the authors for clearly stating that this is NOT A KOSHER COOKBOOK, rather one that celebrates and reinvents Jewish culinary traditions. I am happy to add this volume to my library. I plan on using it as inspiration and guidance as we wind our way through the seasons.


Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray own and operate three restaurants in Washington, DC. Equinox is built around sourcing and celebrating seasonal and local resources. They also operate the Muse Cafe in the Corcoran Gallery of Art. All restaurants are listed on this website.

Photo credits: Renee Comet with permission from St. Martin’s Press.


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