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Kenden Alfond Finds Culinary Inspiration from the Talmud

September 6, 2022 | by Joe Baur

Honoring women-focused narratives with thoughts and recipes.

Kenden Alfond is an American in Paris who’s spent her adult life working for NGOs and the United Nations from India and Afghanistan to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Switzerland, and Cambodia. But a constant in these past eight years is Jewish Food Hero, a food blog created to connect with other Jewish people who care about healthy food and modern Jewish life.

“At Jewish Food Hero, we create cookbooks that reflect what we are passionate about: conscientious food preparation and uplifting Torah study,” says Alfond.

As of 2022, four cookbooks have been published under the banner of Jewish Food Hero and the fifth one is forthcoming in 2023. The most recent, Feeding Women in the Talmud, Feeding Ourselves, is what Alfond calls a “community cookbook.” She’s referring to the 129 Jewish women from around the world who contributed recipes and essays to the book. This includes 60 rabbis, rabbinical students, Jewish teachers, and emerging thought leaders who contributed to the Talmudic narratives of the cookbook as well as 60 female professional chefs and passionate homecooks.

“The addition of this female-focused point of view to these women’s Talmudic stories—which were recorded and edited by men—is a bright and encouraging testament to a modern generation of women engaging in Jewish learning,” says Alfond.

Women-focused narratives

The cookbook is the second volume of the cookbook series that Jewish Food Hero started in 2020 with Feeding Women of the Bible, Feeding Ourselves. The woman-focused narrative highlighted 20 compelling female biblical heroines from the Hebrew bible paired with two healthy plant-based kosher pareve recipes inspired by the character’s experience.

“The idea for these cookbooks came from my desire to create true food for thought by creating a cookbook/study book that retells the stories of women in Jewish text and honors them with our contemporary thoughts and recipes,” says Alfond. “These books seek to add more Jewish female stories and delicious vegan and plant-based foods to our tables, so we can connect to Judaism and healthy food at the same time.”

In Feeding Women in the Talmud, Feeding Ourselves, each chapter is devoted to one female character in the Talmud. There’s a concise, “true to the text” story, context that seeks to enhance the stories by exploring their historical, social, literary and/or liturgical background for the story, a description of what happens before and/or after the particular story in the Talmud, and an exploration of how the context and position of the story reveals more about its meaning.

Then comes the aggadah or a modern commentary, sometimes in the shape of a fictional story that uplifts the subject’s voice without attempting to neutralize her imperfections, flaws or struggles. Readers are then given meaningful questions intended as prompts to inspire further reflection on the story before finishing with the “food offering”––one vegan or plant-based recipe, each inspired by or honoring the female Talmudic character.

Alfond was drawn to the project given her long interest in learning more about female stories in Jewish texts. These projects, specifically of the Feeding Women series, is how she's been able to learn and study alongside women in the Jewish community. The Talmudic spin was especially helpful for Alfond, who says it was emotionally comforting and intellectually inspiring during the increased social isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Golden Tumeric Lemon Cake from the Jewish Food Hero Kitchen

This Golden Tumeric Lemon Cake from Feeding Women in the Talmud, Feeding Ourselves is based on the Talmudic characters of Yirmatia and her mother.

In the cookbook, Rebecca Whitman, a doctoral student in mathematics at UC Berkeley, describes how the Talmud records her donation to the Temple in an amount of gold equivalent to her daughter’s weight. Alongside an overview of the Talmudic narrative, Rebecca offers a modern aggadah and prompts for reflection.

This Golden Tumeric Lemon Cake recalls the gold that Yirmatia’s mother donated to the temple, says Alfond, and is a variation of a sour milk sponge cake.

“This cake mixes apple cider vinegar and soy milk to create ‘sour milk’ and uses a reduced amount of caster sugar and applesauce to give added texture and sweetness,” she explains. “Applesauce is also a fantastic vegan substitute for the setting properties of eggs. Dense texture can be the curse of some plant-based cake adaptations. But the combination of baking soda and apple cider vinegar stops this turmeric cake becoming ‘claggy.’ Instead, it gives a light crumb with that vibrant golden color throughout. The soy milk soured with apple cider vinegar adds the perfect tangy taste to the finished cake.”

For serving, Alfond recommends combining a slice with a bright tea or cup of coffee.

“Thanks to the lower sugar quantity in the recipe, you can serve it with sweet toppings,” she says. “It can take a dusting of powdered sugar and/or a dollop of raspberry jam without becoming overly sweet.”




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