Kosher and spice: A culinary adventure of India’s Jewish food – Stuff

Posted By on August 18, 2022

If theres something Laura Greenfield has learned from her food adventures its that shes a small cog in a very big wheel.

For years now the Wellington chef has been exploring Jewish cuisine and the journey has shown her just how diverse and far-ranging the people of her religion are.

Jewish people have travelled all over the world, they've had to because theyve been persecuted and have gone where trade is. The food reflects that and its opened my mind.

Greenfield has been showcasing Jewish food at her restaurant Field & Green for the past few years and right now thats what shes serving up for Kosher & Spice, her entry in this years Visa Wellington On a Plate.

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Greenfield says Ashkenazi Jews were eating nose to tail before it became trendy.

When her wife Raechal Ferguson was planning this years culinary investigation, she suggested Greenfield should check out the Jewish food of India; something she didnt know much about. Turning to a few recipe books, she got to work.

Some recipes werent particularly good. One was literally wash fish then boil it in water and serve; I thought were not going to be very busy if we do that.

Boiled fish aside, Greenfield learned from other recipes what spices are used in the food, then created a long list of potential dishes, trying each one out.

Wed go yeah or nah, or this needs work and created a shortlist, redid the recipes again and finally got the menu.

The Jewish food of India is just as diverse as the countrys people. The Cochin Jews arrived on the Malabar Coast, Kerala, in around 50 CE and the areas trading history is reflected in cuisine dominated by spices and drawing from different cultures.


Ekim has the most affordable entry in this year's Burger Wellington but owner Mike Marsland says its no slouch when it comes to taste.

The Bene Israel community settled on the West Coast of India, near Mumbai, around the second century. Their spicy food is characterised by the cooking of the local Maharashtra people, making use of the coasts abundant fish with lots of chilli and tumeric.

And the Baghdadi Jews came from the Middle East about 250 years ago, settling in West Bengal near Kolkata. Their cooking is a hybrid of Indian spices added to Iraqi and Syrian dishes of potatoes, raisins and tamarind.

Greenfield has always loved spices, although they werent something she ate growing up in London. Her family are Ashkenazi Jews whose ancestors came from Russia and Poland.

Ashkenazi is basically poor food from a cold climate. Dumplings, chicken and offal; you ate the whole chicken and the whole cow then made jelly out of the hooves. Basically it was eating nose to tail before it became trendy.

She describes her family as secular but culturally very Jewish

Kerala duck curry with poppy seed paste is on offer at Field & Green

Friday night dinners were a very big thing for us; even as teenagers you didn't go out, you didnt go to your mates, youd stay home and have chicken soup, dumplings and all the traditional things.

On the high holy days wed always go to synagogue and have lunch. Mum was a great cook and I'd help her in the kitchen; food has always been a huge part of the culture in our lives.

Greenfield moved to New Zealand in 2014 with Ferguson, a Kiwi she met in the UK.

We were in our late 40s, leaving our jobs; lives; house. Everyone thought we were bonkers to go and open a restaurant in Wellington. It was mad, but we did it at the right time and we love it.

Becoming a chef wasnt Greenfields first choice of career; as a teenager she wanted to be an actress and attended drama school after finishing college.

My parents said I needed a back-up career so should do a secretarial course - as women did in the 1980s - or a cooking course. I did a 3-month cordon bleu course it should have been called how to become a wife - but I had other plans.

Tilkut Potatoes with sesame seeds and Phul Gobi dry roasted cauliflower.

She says the course taught her discipline and she started catering lunches for local contacts, discovering she was not only good at it, it was something she loved.

I started cooking and haven't stopped since my early 20s, its been almost 33 years of cooking.

Although pork and shellfish are the two main no-nos of Jewish cooking, this time around shes also avoided using beef to respect the Hindu laws. Because Jewish laws forbid the cooking of meat with dairy, coconut milk and cream has taken its place and about half the dishes are vegan.

A collaboration with Duncans Brewery has resulted in a special beer with a label depicting the Hamsa, a hand shaped amulet used for protection by Jewish and Muslim people. New shirts for the restaurant staff also feature the design.

With only about 7000 Jewish people in NZ, Greenfield hopes customers not only enjoy the dining experience but, like she has, learn about a culture spanning centuries.

I've opened this world thats excited me so much and hopefully theyll feel the same.


Kosher and spice: A culinary adventure of India's Jewish food - Stuff

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