Long Before Moosewood, There Was…

Vegetarian-Dietetic Cookbook: 400 Recipes Made Exclusively from Vegetables was written in Yiddish and published in 1938.  But coming as it did on the cusp of the blood-drenched tide that swept across Europe, the book, like its author and her husband, soon perished. Or so it had seemed, until many decades later, when a copy miraculously resurfaced and landed at YIVO.  The cookbook was quickly recognized as the lost treasure that it was, and it was soon translated and slightly adapted to suit contemporary cooks. 

The resulting volume, The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (Schocken 2015), has an earnest and at times touching tone. “The produce must be of the best quality,” instructs the author. “There is only a small difference in price between the best and worst produce, but in cooking there is a great difference, in taste as well as nutrition.” The four hundred recipes contained represent a dazzling array of Jewish cuisine and tradition—minus the meat. Cutlets made of beans or nuts, stewed dishes, soups, kugels, blintzes, latkes, Passover dishes, stuffed dishes, breads, compotes, turnovers and juices—they’re all here, testament to Fania’s wide-ranging vision and deep devotion. Below is Fania’s eggplant appetizer; make it tonight, in her honor. 

Broil 2 large purple eggplants, and remove the charred skins. Sauté 2 (chopped) onions and 3 tomatoes in (olive) oil. Grind the sautéed vegetables with a bit of challah that has been soaked in vinegar. Add this to the broiled eggplant pulp and chop well. Then mix with salt, (chopped fresh) dill, and ½ cup of the best oil. Serve decorated with sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, and dill.