The World Religions CookbookCan’t we all get along...and solve the world’s problems by enjoying each other’s holiday cuisine?


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KAREN HOCHMAN is Editorial Director of THE NIBBLE.


June 2007

Product Reviews / Best Reads / Cooking

The World Religions Cookbook

Holiday Recipes From The Largest U.S. Faiths


We are the ideal person to buy this book: Our mother’s household celebrated every holiday for which a great meal could be cooked. Jewish or Christian: All days with a significant meal were celebrated. Our understanding of the reason for the holiday was based not on an awareness of the significance of St. Patrick or Cinco de Mayo, but of what was eaten to celebrate it.

Thus, when we first heard about The World Religions Cookbook, we were charmed by the idea that seven of the world’s great religions were  breaking bread together—in a cookbook, at least. Arno Schmidt, a chef, and Paul Fieldhouse, a professor and author of books and essays on nutrition, religion and food policy, explore the practices, beliefs, customs and recipes of key religions. The book covers Buddhists and Shintoists, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, Jews and Muslims via the foods traditionally served on their major religious holidays. The authors note that while there are many religions worthy of attention, they selected those with the largest representation in the U.S. Perhaps they’ve left the door open for Volume II.

An introduction to the history and beliefs of the religion opens each culinary chapter; the book supplies handy tools like a glossary and a chart of comparative dietary laws. While you can buy other cookbooks that explore festive Jewish, Hindu or Christian cooking, for example, no other cookbook provides such a lovely family guide to discuss religions, learn about the special holidays in each and to appreciate people who are different from us using the very incentive everyone can agree on: good food. To paraphrase Rodney King, why can’t we all just get along, and share a huge buffet of our favorite national, regional and holiday dishes.

In fact, the book may evoke interest from non-cooks in the household who have more scholarly and cultural interests. It they can’t cook and don’t want to learn, at least they can become menu planners. Then, instead of wondering what to make for dinner on Losar, the Tibetan New Year (celebrated in February), you can look forward to the special New Year’s Eve Soup With Dumplings, Sweet Saffron Rice, and Kapse Fritters (a sweet fritter with honey and powdered sugar). While we haven’t taken on the planning task, the 231-page book probably has enough material to create a special celebration every week of the year.

Even Christians will learn a lot—for example, in Serbia, Orthodox Christians celebrate St. Nicholas’s Day on December 19 with a red-colored bean dish to herald the approach of Christmas. In Mexico, a hearty chicken and vegetable soup is served with tortilla chips to celebrate Día de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe on December 12 (you’ll read why in the book). The dishes are not fancy: They’re what every celebrant would have access to: good and satisfying “soul food.” The recipes are easy to make.

The $49.95 list price is very high for a volume that has no photography and a tiny number of illustrations—a few ingredients (cilantro, herring, star anise) and fewer cooked foods (challah, samosa, sfingi fritters). The cover has four color photos, unattributed in the book (we will do our best to identify them as a seder plate, Buddhist shrine with holiday offerings, fruit cake and Indian banquet). However, it’s a small publisher producing a book with big ideas. Look online for photos of what the dish is supposed to look like. Use The World Religions Cookbook to learn more about the world’s great religious holidays, and enjoy them bite-by-bite.

The World Religions Cookbook,
by Arno Schmidt and Paul Fieldhouse
Greenwood Press
288 pages*
Click here to purchase

*The text ends on page 231; the remainder includes indices and glossary.

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