The Jewish Julia project

The Jewish Julia project

November 26, 2009 16:11
julia child 248.88

julia child 248.88. (photo credit: AP)

Cooks in Israel and around the world have enjoyed the recently released film Julie & Julia, in which celebrated cookbook author Julia Child is beautifully played by Meryl Streep.

The story relays how Julia Child learned to cook in Paris and became famous for her cookbooks and her TV shows that taught Americans how to cook French food, and about Julie Powell's challenges in cooking her way through Julia's first book, as she recounted in her blog, the Julie/Julia Project. I heard about America's culinary legend from Israel's "grande dame de cuisine," cookbook author Ruth Sirkis, while working as her assistant, and bought a copy of Julia's famous book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I enjoyed cooking from the book, choosing recipes that were suitable to ingredients I could find in Israel. In my marked-up copy there is a big checkmark next to daube de boeuf, a casserole of beef with wine and vegetables, and a note to use smoked goose or smoked turkey instead of the bacon the recipe called for. I was impressed by the clear and very explicit directions in the recipes, and admired Julia and her experience.

So in 1976 I wrote to Julia that I was planning to study at the new La Varenne Cooking School in Paris, and would like to work for her when I arrive in the US. To my delight, she answered! She told me she had just visited the school and heartily recommended studying there. She felt that in Paris I would get ideas on how to proceed with my career.

And she had a specific suggestion for me - to write "a really thorough and high-class book on Jewish cooking."

Frankly, at that point I couldn't imagine writing a book, and couldn't foresee that I would end up spending as much time in France as Julia Child did. Yakir, my husband, and I had planned to stay in Paris for six weeks while I studied cooking. But we loved living and learning in Paris so much that we stretched the wonderful adventure to nearly six years. Besides studying cooking, I worked at the school drafting recipes and researching and editing cookbooks, and was happy to meet Julia herself at the school on several occasions.

Four years after her letter to me, Julia congratulated me on The La Varenne Tour Book, my first book that was also the school's first cookbook, calling it "absolutely splendid." When my first Jewish cookbook was finally published, in 1991, I acknowledged Julia's contribution to my work. By then I had written cookbooks in Hebrew, French and English. Julia's endorsement of my work was particularly sweet in 1993 in the book Foodwork: Jobs in the Food Industry and How to Get Them by Barbara Sims-Bell, for which Julia Child wrote the foreword and explained that the book reveals how people with successful careers got where they are. The food professionals highlighted in the book were chosen "because they are role models to their peers and to newcomers," she said. Yakir and I were profiled there as the cookbook authors. Like Julia, I felt very fortunate that my husband has encouraged me and has been my partner in all my writing projects.


This recipe is based on Julia's daube de boeuf, which I first made in my kitchen in Bat Yam and adapted for kosher cooking. She wrote that almost every region of France has its own version of this casserole. "Some of them are for a whole piece of braised beef; others are like a boeuf bourguignon" (in other words, cut in cubes).

Julia noted that the beef can be cooked with dry white wine, dry white vermouth or red wine. She specified fresh tomatoes; I use canned ones when good tomatoes are out of season. Julia recommended serving the casserole with boiled potatoes, risotto or noodles, a green salad and a simple red wine or a chilled rose. She noted that it may be prepared ahead and reheated, and is good either hot or cold.

1.4 kg. lean stewing beef, cut in 6-cm. squares, 2.5 cm. thick
2 cups dry white wine
4 cup brandy or gin (optional)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. salt 1⁄4 tsp. pepper
2 tsp. thyme or sage
1 bay leaf
2 cloves mashed garlic
2 cups thinly sliced onions
2 cups thinly sliced carrots
225 gr. smoked goose or smoked turkey, cut in strips
2 cups (170 gr.) sliced mushrooms
700 gr. ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped, or an 800-gr. can tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 cup sifted flour, on a plate
1 to 2 cups beef broth

Place the beef in a bowl and mix with the wine, brandy, olive oil, seasonings, herbs, onions and carrots. Cover and marinate at least six hours in the refrigerator, stirring frequently. Remove the beef from the marinade and drain in a sieve. Reserve the marinade, including the vegetables. Preheat oven to 165ºC. Strew a handful of the vegetables from the marinade in a large, heavy ovenproof stew pan and add some of the strips of smoked goose. Add some of the sliced mushrooms and chopped tomatoes. Piece by piece, roll the beef in the flour and shake off excess. Place closely together in a layer over the vegetables. Cover with a few strips of smoked goose and continue with layers of vegetables, beef and smoked goose. End with a layer of vegetables. Pour in the wine from the marinade and enough stock or broth almost to cover the contents of the pan. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove, cover tightly, and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers slowly for three to four hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily. Tip casserole and skim out fat. Correct seasoning. Makes 6 servings.


In France steamed potatoes are classically tossed with butter and herbs; for a kosher accompaniment for meat, I substitute olive oil. If using large boiling potatoes, quarter them just before steaming.

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 to 2 tsp. chopped chives, parsley or tarragon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
700 gr. new potatoes

Combine oil with herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature. Scrub potatoes well and peel them if you like. Bring at least 2.5 cm. of water to a boil in base of steamer. Boiling water should not reach holes in top part of steamer. Set potatoes in steamer top and sprinkle with salt. Cover tightly and steam over high heat about 20 minutes or until very tender when pierced with a sharp knife but not failing apart. Remove potatoes, drain briefly on paper towels, and transfer to a serving bowl. Add herb oil and toss lightly with potatoes. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Faye Levy is the author of La Cuisine du Poisson (Flammarion, Paris) and of the three-volume Fresh from France cookbook series.

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