By Deb Silverthorn
“Do not forget the things you saw with your own eyes, so that they do not fade from your mind as long as you live. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.” So says Deuteronomy and so says Dallas chef, cooking instructor, columnist and cookbook author, Tina Wasserman. “These are the tastes of our families and our traditions.”
Wasserman, a New York native and longtime Dallas resident, and her recently released “Entrée to Judaism — A Culinary Exploration of the Jewish Diaspora,” will be featured at the J Bookfair 2009 on Wednesday, Nov. 18, beginning at 7 p.m.
“Tina’s book is beautiful and inspiring, it’s more than ‘just’ a cookbook,” said the JCC’s Rachelle Weiss Crane, director of the Melton and Gesher Graduate Programs. “Learning meal preparation with Tina isn’t just a cooking class. It’s a history lesson that shares where the food came from and how the Jews adapted the recipes.”
“This book is a dream come true for Tina and it’s my great joy to be a part of this event,” said chair, Lizzy Rosenberg Greif. “Tina’s passion and love for food makes it enjoyable. Tina’s been a mentor and a friend and she’s contributed so much to my life.”
“In Tina’s recipes, each ingredient tells a story,” Temple Emanu-El’s Rabbi Debra Robbins wrote in the “Entrée to Judaism” foreword. “Each recipe expresses an ethical value, explores a historical event, evokes a memory.”
Rabbi Robbins further wrote, “This book is a little bit like the Talmud. It is a compilation of rules and stories, with real-life examples and illustrations, a guide not only for preparing certain recipes, but for living Jewish life. In this book there are recipes for Jews by birth, embracing the history of our people, Jews by choice, compiling scrapbooks of memories. These are recipes that will nourish and nurture, not only our bodies, but hearts and minds and souls.”
More than 275 recipes and 60 photographs, culled from Wasserman’s 12-plus-hour days of researching everything from Josephus and the Talmud to the first Jewish cookbook written in the 1800s, entice the reader. They include Eggplant Bharta, an Indian recipe adapted from one by the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas; Pumpkin with Spiced Coconut Custard, an idea brought after a Chabad rabbi in Bangkok explained the use of pumpkin for Jewish holidays, representing all-encompassing prosperity; and Ottoman Watermelon and Olive Salad, flavors that the author first tasted on the island of Santorini.
“Tina’s recipes are goof-proof. I don’t ever hesitate, even with company coming, to make one of her dishes for the first time,” Weiss Crane said. “I can make any of her Hungarian recipes and my dad will enjoy a meal that smells, tastes and looks just like my grandmother would have prepared.”
“Tina’s Honey Mustard Grilled Chicken Salad is a staple at our Shabbat table and her Mushroom Barley Soup is a comfort food that I make every couple of weeks,” Rosenberg Greif said. “When I think of how I cook, how I learned to cut an onion even, I think of her ‘tidbits.’”
“Tina’s Tidbits,” well-known to those who have taken her “Cooking and More” classes at her own 500 square-foot kitchen as well as at Central Market, Sur Le Table, the JCC, the Hilton Anatole Verandah Club and other facilities, are key. The “tidbits” range from advice on how to clarify butter, to how much frozen spinach equals a pound of large leaf spinach, to notes about red curry — which is parve in most cases, but she warns that some do contain 5 percent shrimp paste. She always uses the former.
Recipes for Chanukah include Chanukah Radish Salad Canapes (radishes, the Torah states, were a mainstay of the Jewish slaves’ diet in Egypt); Frituras de Malanga (Taro Root Fritters, a recipe Wasserman learned at Havana’s Patronato Synagogue while on a mission to Cuba); and Lemon Ricotta Pancakes (Wasserman’s tribute to Judith, who saved the Jews from annihilation by feeding salty cheese and wine to General Holofernes, then beheading him and scaring off his troops).
In 2002, Wasserman wrote to Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, suggesting that Reform Judaism, the world’s largest circulated magazine, was in need of a column regarding Jewish food, recipes and history. At the time, Wasserman was hired to write one article. That one begat two, then more, and she has served as Reform Judaism’s food columnist ever since. “Entrée to Judaism — A Culinary Exploration of the Jewish Diaspora,” is the URJ’s first cookbook to be published.
Wasserman, who herself chaired a 2008 Bookfair event, is a member of Temple Emanu-El and of Dallas’ National Council of Jewish Women, a board member of URJ’s Camp Newman and a lifetime member of Hadassah; she’s just retired as the longest-serving member, 19 years, on the board of the Vogel Alcove. She is married to Dr. Richard Wasserman and is the mother of Jonathan, a photographer in New York, and Leslie, a senior at American University.
Growing up in Long Island, the daughter of the late Lucille and Leon Rice and the sister of Sherry, Wasserman’s first memory in the kitchen is sitting on the kitchen floor, rolling pin in hand, with a 5-lb. bag of flour, and “I was making a pie.”
“My mother lived through the depression and she treated food with reverence,” she said. “Our salads were always served on their own plate, had a radish rose, four slices of bell pepper and four slices of tomato. It was from Mrs. Wood, our neighbor, that at the age of 9 I learned to bake. She took me under her wing and today I can remember my first flourless French chocolate roll.”
“It was when I was 13 years old and in Mrs. Levine’s class that I decided I wanted to teach cooking,” she said. “She was all the things that a home-ec teacher wasn’t. Young, Jewish and ‘cool.’”
Wasserman mentioned that “‘Jewish’ cooking, to so many, means an overcooked meal with lots of potatoes and onions.” For more than 40 years she has taught Jews and non-Jews about kosher cooking: never with pork or shellfish, no dishes with milk and meat ingredients together. “No one cared and no one thought they were missing out on anything. Our home kitchen is a kosher kitchen, something I always wanted to share with my kids. I wanted them to grow up in an environment that was Jewish, and a kosher kitchen is part and parcel of our tradition.”
In addition to “Entrée to Judaism,” Wasserman hosts a Web site, cookingandmore.com, which features recipes, information and the sale of the author’s note cards in sets relating to holidays and general cooking, each with a recipe and photo.
“Every recipe has a story and there’s always something for every cook to learn. The laws of kashrut and the laws of Shabbat define Jewish food. For generations, around the world, we’ve adapted recipes to make them our own,” said Wasserman, who will sign copies of her book at the Nov. 18 event. “The Jewish world really is connected, regardless of the thousands of miles that might separate us.”
For more information on the J’s Book Fair, call 214-739-7128 or e-mail email@example.com.
‘The Girl from Foreign’s’ Sadia Shepard to highlight third annual community read
By Rachel Gross
Sadia Shepard learned of her Jewish roots at age 13. Since then, she has written a book and traveled to Jewish communities across the country to share her story.
Shepard discovered her Muslim grandmother was actually Jewish. Before her grandmother died, Shepard made a promise that she would go to India to learn about her Jewish faith. Shepard’s book, “The Girl from Foreign,” weaves stories of her cross-cultural childhood with tales from her two-year journey to India to uncover the Bene Israel, a tiny Indian Jewish community from which her maternal grandmother originated.
Shepard will be the guest at this year’s community read on Dec. 14 sponsored by the Tycher Library of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas. The event will begin at 7 p.m. in the Zale Auditorium of the Aaron Family JCC.
She said she plans to discuss the legacy of the Jewish people in India and her personal story to connect with her grandmother’s community.
“One thing I hope people take away is the great gift that older people in our lives have for us — the power of storytelling,” she said. “By hearing their stories, there is so much to learn about our own families and different ways of seeing the world.”
Shepard grew up outside of Boston with a multicultural family; her father was Protestant and her mother was Muslim. After she found out her grandmother’s name was Rachel Jacobs, it sparked an interest in learning about Judaism.
She said growing up with many different religions made her become more educated, and she hopes to share her wisdom.
“I was fortunate to grow up in a home with three different parents. It became a catalyst in my life to learn more about Judaism,” she said. “Coming from a home with multiple religions can often be confusing, but it’s also a great opportunity for dialogue and learning. When you are a kid, you’re not always interested in family and tradition, but I was lucky that my interest in different faiths and traditions was encouraged.”
Shepard also made a documentary in 2008 called “In Search of the Bene Israel,” a film that follows a group of more than 3,000 Jews in Bombay. Shepard plans to share this at the Dallas event.
She added that she is excited about her visit to Dallas and is grateful for the opportunity not only to educate people about her life, but to learn their stories as well.
“Texas is a melting pot of so many different countries and has many different influences,” she said. “There is a large Indian community, immigrant groups from all over the world and a thriving Jewish community. It’s exciting to have the chance to visit a place where all of these different elements are coming together. One of the best things about publishing this book is developing the new awareness of the diversity of Jewish communities in the United States.”
The community read began in 2007 and has received accolades since. Joan Gremont, director of the Tycher Library, said about 200 people attended last year and the hope is for that number to double.
People are asked to read the book on their own, and then attend to meet the author and join in discussion. The audience will also have a chance to ask Shepard questions.
Gremont said being able to hear the writer in person makes the book much more personal.
“There is nothing like hearing the author because it makes the book come alive,” Gremont said. “This is a book that has universal appeal. It’s Muslim, it’s Jewish and the main question is: What religion is Sadia Shepard? The book doesn’t tell you and I’m sure that will be the first question she is asked. When you read a book you really love, you want to talk about it; that always makes magic. This makes it real because you see the person behind the words.”
For more information, call Gremont at 214-239-7133. Books are available for purchase at the Tycher Library and other book retailers.