This spring’s best cookbook is Israeli and South African-inspired
A Manhattan foodie favorite, Jack’s Wife Freda, releases its first cookbook with some delicious comfort food recipes.
Since the husband-and-wife team Dean and Maya Jankelowitz opened their first restaurant, Jack’s Wife Freda, in a narrow space on SoHo’s Lafayette Street five years ago, it has become a cult favorite for its Israeli (her)-meets-South African (him) comfort food and intimate atmosphere.
Uptowners and downtowners come to their two restaurants for breakfasts and brunches of green shakshouka and rosewater waffles, business lunches of Greek salads with kale, and dinners of chicken schnitzel and peri-peri chicken.
Now, with the release of their first cookbook, Jack's Wife Freda: Cooking from New York's West Village, just published by Blue Rider Press, Freda fans can recreate these dishes at home. From the Grapevine spoke with Maya about writing the book, her favorite recipes and the variety of Israeli cuisine.
This is your fifth year in business. Congrats. How does it feel?
It’s incredible. It’s so easy to get into a routine and everyday habits and work and all that, but we really try to pause to reflect. The book has been a real help. It was kind of like having a baby. There was all this work put into it, on top of focusing on the restaurant on the daily basis. It was a pause that we definitely needed. Reading the introduction [written by Sarah Tihany], for myself and Dean, was cathartic. Sometimes when you stand in the frame, it is hard to see the picture. It was definitely a moment where we were able to step outside the frame and page through the book and look at everything. It was very emotional.
Why was now the right time for a cookbook?
Most of the stuff in the restaurant happens in an organic way, knowing someone who knows someone. Everything we do, we go with this instinct and have no big plans, and the book happened in the same way. The Penguin and Blue Rider Press offices are right around the corner from the Carmine location, and our editors were having breakfast here. We made friends with them without knowing where they work. Sarah, our editor, asked if we ever thought of doing a cookbook. We get to make friends in the dining room everyday, and it totally happened with this. Sarah was just incredible and held our hands through the whole process to put it together.
I also would always go downstairs and get the Word document recipe on paper for any person who wanted a recipe. It was never a thing that nobody can know the recipes. I think that’s our pride. Our food is so simple and easy to make at home. We do revived twists on familiar foods, and we were always happy to share the recipes. But it’s a lot more special to have the cookbook to offer to share with people.
What was the process like to write this cookbook?
It was a really nice creative outlet. We try to be creative as much as we can and work from the heart. Because we know our food and we know our look, we envisioned the simplicity of the foods with the colors and how it would look first. We had to start with writing, and now I have a whole new appreciation for the art of writing and how therapeutic it is.
How did you pick what recipes to include?
We chose with Julia Jaksic, our chef, based on what felt the most interesting and realistic to make at home. A lot of our food is maybe too easy to make at home, so we tried to pick the most exciting and fun recipes. Julia tested out all the recipes in her home kitchen in Nashville and in her little studio apartment in SoHo. So we know they were all made in tiny little apartments. Hopefully it’s pretty enough to be a coffee table book also, but definitely user-friendliness was a priority. It’s funny, people come in a lot and say, “I could make this at home.” Maybe they’re complaining, but I take it as a compliment. You could make our food at home – it’s really simple – but you can come here and feel like you’re at home instead.
You’re from Israel, and for the last few years, Israeli food has been having such a moment in New York City and the States. What, to you, makes Israeli food special and so likable?
It’s nice to see. When I came here when I was younger, I didn’t feel it as much. Israelis take such pride in everything. Whenever I did find a place with some Israeli salad, I was one of those Israelis taking all that pride. I always knew inside that it would be successful. I think it fits with the trends nowadays with health. Israeli food is really clean and fresh and light.
What’s your favorite of the Israeli-inspired dishes in the cookbook?
We revived the shakshouka with green tomatillos instead of the traditional red tomatoes. When we moved to Israel when I was 8 years old, I didn’t speak Hebrew yet. I remember I wanted scrambled eggs and the word for scrambled eggs sort of sounded like shakshouka to me. I thought shakshuka meant scrambled eggs, and I remember asking my mom to make shakshouka and she was so excited. And she made it and I was like, “What the hell is this?” Then I understood. I always go back to that memory of my first shakshouka. Then we have the kefta kebab, the chicken kebab with couscous, the Lebanese yogurt, Greek salad – those are all things I remember from our cafe eating days in Tel Aviv. Many of the other recipes have a South African influence. It was fun bringing our relationship and background connections into the food.
Want to try a recipe from the cookbook? Check out this lamb kefta dish.
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Related Topics: Chefs & Restaurants