Hot button cultural issues such as gender and reproductive health appear to be modern concerns, yet, societies –and particularly women in society – have wrestled with these issues for millennia. A new cookbook illuminates the long history of these seemingly contemporary concerns.

Published in September by Turner Publishing Company, “Feeding Women of the Talmud, Feeding Ourselves” is a plant-based community cookbook compiled by Maine native Kenden Alfond. The struggles experienced by women and men since the Talmud, a fundamental Jewish text, was first compiled more than 1,000 years ago will be familiar to the modern reader.

The cookbook is organized around the stories of 69 women who appear in the Talmud. Their stories are written by 69 contemporary women rabbis, academics and scholars from around the United States and the world. Each woman from the Talmud is paired with a plant-based, mostly vegan recipe sourced from 60 chefs and home cooks. (The non-vegan recipes call for honey.) The resulting cookbook is expansive and thought-provoking. All profits from sales will be donated annually to a Jewish nonprofit.

“Just reading the stories and the dilemmas confronted by the heroines in the Talmud can be inspiring and intellectually compelling for anyone regardless of their religion and gender,” said Alfond, who lives in Paris (France) and grew up in Dexter, the granddaughter of Dexter Shoe Company founder Harold Alfond.

Alfond, who eats a lot of plant-based food but is not a vegetarian, writes in the book’s introduction that the pairing of these stories with vegan recipes creates a way for readers to “connect to Judaism and healthy food at the same time.”

She, alongside the impressive list of contributors, have been working on “Feeding Women of the Talmud, Feeding Ourselves” since 2020, when the cookbook’s sister text, “Feeding Women of the Bible, Feeding Ourselves,” was published. Alfond previously wrote the vegan cookbook “Beyond Chopped Liver.”

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Rabbi Rachel M. Isaacs, of the Beth Israel Congregation in Waterville and an assistant professor of Jewish Studies at Colby College, sees the book as a way to “engage a greater diversity of people” in the study of the Talmud.

“The role of women in Judaism has evolved over the millennia,” said Isaacs, who did not contribute to the book. “This book highlights and gives greater exposure to the women in the Talmud, who are often overlooked or whose legacies tend to be diminished. Jewish women have assumed more leadership roles in the Jewish community throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, serving as esteemed scholars, rabbis and prominent lay leaders.’’

“Feeding Women of the Bible, Feeding Ourselves” offers festive, modern and accessible recipes such as dandelion-pumpkin seed pesto, challah rolls, sweet beet loaf cake, white bean kale stew with matzo balls, and creamy vegan noodle kugel (the last would be excellent for any vegans you’re serving for Rosh Hashanah, which starts Sept. 25.

“To ensure that the book did not feature 30 challah recipes,” Alfond first collected recipe ideas from the chefs she’d recruited to the project, and then made a final list of 69 recipes based on how well each fit with a particular story and within the overall collection.

Kenden Alfond, who grew up in Dexter, but now lives in France, brought together 129 scholars and cooks to create a community cookbook pairing stories of women in the Talmud with plant-based recipes. Photo courtesy of Kenden Alfond

“Some of the stories lend themselves easily to recipes because they reference food,” Alfond said. “For example, the story of Imma Shalom, written by Myriam Ackermann-Sommer, a rabbinical student at Yeshivat Maharat in New York who will become the first modern orthodox rabbinate in France, shows her giving bread as charity. Azelma Moscati, a passionate Italian baker currently living in Gibraltar, shared her vegan chocolate babka recipe for the story.”

Alfond herself wrote the essay about Yehudit, the wife of a rabbi and mother of four children, who after the painful birth of her fourth child disguises herself to ask her husband whether wives must bear children, to which her husband answers “no.” This leads Yehudit to drink an herbal form of birth control. “Yehudit’s story also points to a larger question of when Jewish law allows women (and men) to use birth control,” Alfond writes. “This issue of contraception and Jewish law is an ongoing discussion.” The essay is paired with a recipe for a nourishing womb tonic created by an herbalist from Massachusetts from plants and herbs, including nettle, raspberry leaf and milky oat tops.

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Ideas about gender can be found in the essay about Bruriah, “the most legendary female scholar of the Talmud,” according to historian and former Colby College professor Elizabeth LaCouture, who now directs the Gender Studies Program at the University of Hong Kong. “Bruriah is a woman who transgresses the boundaries of male learning, but in acting like a man, she ensures that the gendering of knowledge as male remains intact,” LaCouture writes in the book. The story is paired with a recipe for focaccia.

Each thought-provoking essay concludes with discussion prompts, which readers can chew on while preparing one of the book’s sweet or savory dishes.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at:

Social: AveryYaleKamila

[email protected]

Corn Latkes with Mango Salsa.  Photo courtesy of Sonja Lazukic

Corn Latkes with Mango Salsa

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The recipe was created by Esther Daniels, who was born in Bombay and now lives in Melbourne. In “Feeding Women of the Talmud, Feeding Ourselves,” the recipe is paired with an essay about the wife of Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah, who is consulted by her husband about a significant decision. When mangoes are not available, make the salsa with peaches, nectarines or fresh tomatoes. Yes, we know latkes are traditional for Chanukah, which isn’t until December, but corn is in season right now.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 12-15 small latkes 

FOR THE MANGO SALSA:

2 firm but ripe mangoes, peeled, deseeded and chopped into ½-inch (1 cm) cubes

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½ cucumber, finely chopped

1 finely chopped small red onion

2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro or parsley

1 finely chopped jalapeño or small green chili, or to taste

3 tablespoons finely chopped red pepper

1 tablespoon lime juice, or to taste

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Salt to taste

2 or 3 pinches of sugar

Extra chopped cilantro or parsley to garnish

FOR THE CORN LATKES:

1/4 cup cornmeal

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

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½ cup (120 ml) non-dairy milk (coconut, soy, almond or rice milk)

15 ounces (420g) fresh corn kernels (approximately 3-4 corn ears)

2 finely chopped green chilies, or to taste

2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion

3 tablespoons finely chopped red pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro or parsley

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¼ teaspoon black pepper

Salt to taste

Oil (canola/vegetable/olive)

First make the mango salsa: Mix all of the salsa ingredients except for the garnish together in a stainless steel or glass bowl. Let the salsa sit for at least 10 minutes so that the flavors can meld. Garnish with the chopped herbs.

To make the corn latkes, combine all ingredients except the oil in a large bowl and whisk until thoroughly mixed.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Scoop a tablespoon of the batter into the hot pan and gently flatten with the back of a spoon. Depending on the size of the pan, you can fry 3 or 4 at a time. Avoid overcrowding the pan, and add additional oil as necessary.

Cook the latkes until golden brown on both sides, approximately 2 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and place on a paper towel to remove any excess oil. Repeat until all of the batter is gone. Serve the latkes with the salsa alongside or on top.


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