Cookbook challenges taboo

Any author has to deal with bad
reviews, but how about the wrath of God?

Dr. Eli Landau has written “The
White Book,” touted as the first Israeli pork cookbook.

With 80 mainly Mediterranean
recipes and Eastern European dishes, “The White Book” tries to reveal the
secrets of the pig for cooks who have never prepared it nor perhaps even tasted

Since the mid-1950s, Israel has had
laws restricting the sale of pork and banning its farm production in deference
to biblical proscriptions. But because of legal loopholes, it was possible to
raise pigs for science or in areas considered Christian. Pork buyers included
secular Jews, Christian Arabs and more recently, immigrant workers and the
hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who don’t keep

Even more than other non-kosher
foods, pork is seen by many Israelis as an affront to Jewish nationalism. Pork
sellers routinely face protesters, and in recent years, arsonists have attacked
shops in cities like Netanya and Safed, where Orthodox Jews live near secular
immigrant communities.

Landau, a 61-year-old retired
cardiologist and food writer from Tel Aviv, likes pork and thinks there are
many Israelis who shy from it not so much because it’s taboo, but because they
don’t know how to prepare it.

“People are reluctant to cook pork
at home,” said Landau, who is not an observant Jew. “I want to make it easier
for chefs and personal cooks to bring it home and to the menus. If that
happens, I’ll be more than happy.”

Rabbi Shimon Felix, an Orthodox
rabbi and religious educator in Jerusalem, said he thought Landau’s intent was
“let’s stick it to the religious tradition.”

“There’s something childish to
being so naughty,” the rabbi said. “It’s more mature and adult to look at this
as an ancient tradition.”

As a child, Landau said, he
developed a taste for pork when his family was given some by a kosher butcher.

Landau said that his mother had
cared for the butcher when he was a boy in the Lodz ghetto in Poland during World
War II. She ate no pork, but she got sausages on the black market to keep him
alive. Years later, when the butcher grew up and his benefactor had a boy of
her own, he sent her family sausages to remember her kindness.

Landau loved eating that sausage as
a child, but he couldn’t find pork in Israeli restaurants as a teenager. Then a
grill man told him the secret: order “the white steak,” a common euphemism for
pork in Israel, and one of the inspirations for the name of the book.

Landau, a food columnist for
Haaretz and the author of three cookbooks with Mediterranean recipes, found the
pork of his dreams in Italy, where he studied medicine near Parma and tasted
his first real prosciutto.

“Pork meat is to a cook like canvas
to a painter,” Landau said. “You can draw on it your own tastes and the meat
will accept, unlike lamb or even beef.”

In one of his favourite recipes,
for spaghetti with pork loin sauce, “the loin of pork is cooked together with
tomatoes – my interpretation to an Italian dish. There’s a chunk of meat with
the bone and it’s cooked for a long time, until the meat falls off the bone.”

Landau also touts his
Viennese-style pork neck schnitzel cut very thick.

“What people have in mind is
chicken schnitzel,” he said, with a hint of disparagement, about most Israelis.
“But they don’t really know schnitzel made of pork, especially this size and
thickness, which keeps the juiciness.”

Yuval Ben-Ami, an author and former
online food critic for Haaretz, said the recipes in the book were contemporary.
“It can compete with pork cookbooks or pork recipes from countries that are not
pork-deprived,” he said.

At Yoezer, a high-end restaurant in
Jaffa, the chef Itzik Cohen has held dinners for as many as 90 customers
exclusively with the book’s pork recipes.

Dishes included frittata with
bacon, prosciutto and zucchini; cabbage filled with pork and polenta; pork
scaloppine with risotto; pork-cheek soup with hummus; spaghetti carbonara; pork
ribs marinated in yogurt; and pork meatballs with fennel seeds.

“They were good evenings,” said
Cohen, who has since incorporated three of the dishes into his everyday menu.
“Everyone was enjoying the food. It all came out beautiful.”

Meir Adoni, the chef
of Catit Restaurant in Tel Aviv, enjoys pork but won’t cook it, in
consideration of his conservative parents. Younger chefs are less likely to be
so deferential.