Book Review: The Samaritan Cookbook

The Samaritan Cookbook: A Culinary Odyssey from the Ancient Israelites to the Modern Mediterranean. Collected and edited by Benyamim Tsedaka

David Livermore in his book Cultural Intelligence notes that for residents of the United States, food is more of a “utilitarian function.” He writes, “We eat to have energy. We eat so we can “do” more… In contrast, for many cultures food is a direct expression of who the people are.” (p. 226)

I thought of this comment and other experiences I have had as a hospice chaplain, where food = love and love = food. We want to feed the people we love. We want to offer comfort in a cup of something hot or cold, a tasty dish or sweet treat. In some cultures, strangers and visitors must be fed when they enter a home. Only in the time of COVID-19 has it been (barely) acceptable to decline food in the homes of patients and their families because I am masked up and covered in PPE.

I approached this book with the mindset of learning more about the tastes and the loves of the people of Samaria. I was, as Livermore invites us to be, “culturally curious.” The current descendants of Samaritan culture hearken back to the biblical and historical Northern Kingdom of Israel. The most famous Samaritan Christians know of is the one who showed how to be a neighbor, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 10:25-37). That was the extent of my understanding!

The book is much more than a cookbook! The recipes require a list of spices that were a part of my kitchen already, with the exception of Baharat and Za’atar. A bit of searching and haunting a favorite spices store, and I could make any recipe in this cookbook. But more than ingredients, the recipes bring together Palestinian and Israeli, Christian and Muslim and Jew.

I was intrigued by explanations of cultural feasts and celebrations, and the emphasis on community and family. The recipes offered are from the kitchens of Tsedaka’s family, translated from Hebrew to modern English equivalents. Some of the recipes were intriguing (Eggplant with Pomegranate Juice? Sesame and Anise Cake?) Others made me shiver a bit (Spiced Thistle?) The photographs enriched the recipes, and I look forward to trying more of them. My Challah did not come out as beautiful as the photograph, but it was delicious!

With all of the tension and strife in the Middle East today, this cookbook may help us see our way to a vision of united peoples, finding a way to live together in peace… and with shared experiences and good food.

Samaritan Cookbook: A Culinary Odyssey from the Ancient Israelites to the Modern Mediterranean
. (c) 2020 Benyamim Tsedaka, Ben Piven, and Avishay Zelmanovich. Wipf & Stock, Eugene, Oregon. Paperback 117 pages. ISBN: 978-1-7252-8589-7

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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