The Jewish community has long been nicknamed the People of the Book—a reference to our connection to the Torah—but I’ve always thought it would be just as accurate to call us the People of the Cookbook. From spiral-bound community collections to James Beard Award-winning tomes, the canon of Jewish cookbooks is remarkably broad. Taken together, they paint a picture of a diverse people bound together by a shared love of food. Here, a shortlist of my favorites. —Leah Koenig

The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York

Claudia Roden (Knopf, 1996) Claudia Roden, an Egyptian-born Jew who now lives in London, has a history of putting out gorgeous, mostly Middle Eastern-themed cookbooks. My personal favorite is The Book of Jewish Food, a James Beard Award-winning volume which weaves together history with her own family’s story, archival photos, and an extensive collection of more than 800 Jewish dishes (some of them never-before documented).

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The Foods of Israel Today

Joan Nathan (Knopf, 2001) Israeli cuisine has blossomed over the last quarter-century, and this book introduces readers to the rich tapestry of people who live and cook there–both individuals and the emerging crop of celebrated chefs. The abundance of local produce and the mingling influences of European and Middle Eastern-inspired dishes give rise to the extraordinary variation that make Israel such an enchanting place to eat: Romanian challah with poppy seeds, fried falafel and tahini, and — my favorite — the sugar syrup-drenched Turkish semolina cake, tishpishti. Amazon

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Jewish Food: The World at Table

Matthew Goodman (Harper Collins, 2005) Cookbook author Matthew Goodman spent several years as the food columnist at The Jewish Daily Forward, chronicling topics like the secret behind making good tsimmes (an Ashkenazic meat and fruit stew) or the biblical origins of cheese latkes. Out of this experience sprang Jewish Food: The World at Table, a collection that gives readers access to 173 Jewish dishes from 29 different countries. Goodman’s thorough reporting, thoughtful single-topic essays, and creative, easy-to-follow recipes make the book is as exciting to read as it is to cook from; the recipe for bamia (stewed okra with tomatoes) even inspired me to cook okra in my kitchen for the very first time. Amazon

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Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World

Gil Marks (Wiley, 2004) Jewish food may be known in America for meat-heavy dishes like pastrami and chicken soup, but vegetarian-friendly cuisine has been a central aspect of Jewish cooking elsewhere in the world throughout history. Marks dives into the Jewish and historical contexts of vegetable-centric dishes like batata bil firan (a Moroccan mashed potato casserole) as well as Ashkenazi mushroom knishes, and offers reliably tested recipes that set readers up for success. While all of the dishes in this book are meat-free, what omnivore wouldn’t swoon over a perfectly spiced Moroccan pumpkin soup or Sephardic spinach patties? Amazon

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Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews (Poopa Dweck (Ecco, 2007)

Classic Italian Jewish Cooking: Traditional Recipes and Menus
Edda Servi Machlin (Ecco 2005) There’s a well-known Yiddish saying, “Two Jews, three opinions,” which, in essence, means that Jews love a good debate. In that spirit, for the last entry in this Top 5 list I offer you two options, because I can’t decide which I like better: Poopa Dweck’s Aromas of Aleppo and Edda Servi Machlin’s Classic Italian Jewish Cooking. Each of these volumes deftly captures the soul of its subject. Dweck’s stunning book is a love letter to her culinary heritage, telling the story of Aleppo’s now-vanished Jewish community through its cuisine with dishes such as kibbeh (stuffed Syrian meatballs), ejjeh b¿kerrateh (leek fritters), and honeyed rice pudding. Machlin, now 85, shares memories from her childhood in Pitigliano (once known as “Little Jerusalem”), and includes regional Italian Jewish recipes like the famous carciofi alla giudia (Jewish-style fried artichokes) and the less familiar creamed baccala (salt cod) and sfratti (honey walnut stick cookies). Both Dweck and Machlin understand that the best way to preserve traditional foods are to cook and eat them, and their books give us every reason to rally behind their cause. Buy Aromas of Aleppo on » Buy Classic Italian Jewish Cooking on »