Reviewed by Devorah Talia Gordon
In her first cookbook, Aviv Harkov showcases dozens of delicious recipes specifically for the Jewish family. But this is more than a cookbook; Harkov has created a user-friendly guidebook for preparing for Shabbos with one’s children. Each recipe is connected to the parshah, includes a dvar Torah for that week’s parshah, and a story to read with one’s children.
Harkov, an avid cook, food writer, and contributor to several Jewish food websites, maintains her own blog and even ran a catering business. These are impressive accomplishments for a 23 year old. Harkov is a New Jersey native, but made aliyah, served as a naval officer in the IDF, and is currently studying at Hebrew University. Her release is quite a feat, both substantial and appealing, and could become a well-worn go-to for Shabbos preparation.
The book is organized according to the parshiyos, including one recipe per parshah, as well as one dvar Torah and one story. While it’s handy to go through the book parshah by parshah as you prep for Shabbos, the writer included a separate table of contents organized by course, including appetizers, salads, side dishes, main courses, and desserts. Therefore, if one just wants a fresh salad idea or a new side, she can easily find what she’s looking for.
The benefit, however, of the book’s organization by parshah is that one can spend quality time with his or her children in the kitchen while simultaneously teaching about the parshah. Harkov has also included specific tips for tasks your little “sous chefs” can take on. For example, in the recipe for Unleavened Coconut and Chocolate Macaroons, Harkov writes, “Your sous chefs will enjoy scooping out the macaroon mixture onto the baking sheets. You can also put them in charge of dipping the baked macaroons into the melted chocolate and then decorating them.”
Each recipe connects to a quote from the parshah, for example for this week’s parshah, Pinchas, the quote is “On the day of the first-fruits, when you offer a new meal-offering to Hashem (God) on your Festival of Weeks, it shall be a holy convocation to you; you shall not do any laborious work (Bamidbar 28:26). The fruit-themed recipe for the week is Watermelon and Lime Granita, with a dvar Torah about Zelophehad’s daughters, and a story about making an unbiased decision. This is another nice touch; the stories Harkov has included address important educational topics like self-respect, taking initiative, setting an example, fearing G-d and loving your fellow Jew. Some readers might be sensitive to the fact that not every story is derived from a Jewish source. For example, some are sourced in other cultures fables and folk tales; but the vast majority are Jewish, and all include valuable lessons.
A potential drawback to an otherwise outstanding book is that while the recipes look and sound delicious, many are quite gourmet. While a lot of cooks do like to potchke, especially in honor of Shabbos, those with less time or resources on their hands might find a multi-step gourmet recipe such as Coq au Vin with Sun-dried Tomato and Mushroom Stuffing quite daunting. However, there are many cooks, myself included, who would gladly take on the challenge!
Another benefit of this book is its appeal to Jews across the spectrum of observance. While the stories are replete with ideas sourced in traditional Judaism, Harkov presents them in a warm, inviting way, rather than sounding didactic. I can easily see this book as a good gift choice for many families, particularly ones that are open to exploring Torah and mitzvah observance.
With beautiful pictures, clear instructions and more than fifty tantalizing recipes, A Taste of Torah is worthy to find a permanent place on your kitchen counter. Beteyavon!