Cherished Traditions Passed Down in ‘Jewish Family Recipes’ Cookbook

Much like storytelling, traditional Jewish recipes are passed down from generation to generation.
March 17, 2023

Much like storytelling, traditional Jewish recipes are passed down from generation to generation. They are enjoyed at family meals as well as at important and sacred holidays. 

“We are passionate about our food, our traditions, and it is part of how many people, myself included, identify as being Jewish,” Marlene Bernstein, Chef and Owner of The Lunch Lady, told the Journal.

The Young Leaders Executive Committee of Jewish Family Services Los Angeles (JFSLA) found a way to share beloved recipes while also doing good.

JFSLA’s “Jewish Family Recipes” Cookbook features cherished dishes from their community members, board members and staff, along with recipes and stories from some of LA’s most esteemed chefs and restaurants.

JFSLA’s “Jewish Family Recipes” Cookbook features cherished dishes from their community members, board members and staff, along with recipes and stories from some of LA’s most esteemed chefs and restaurants. This includes some of the biggest names in Jewish cooking, from Mike Solomonov to Adeena Sussman, as well as LA’s most beloved restaurants like Birdie G’s and Jon & Vinny’s. All proceeds are tax deductible and will be donated to JFSLA, earmarked specifically for Food & Hunger Programs. 

“Our SOVA Community Food & Resource Program provides a healthy variety of fresh and packaged food to over 15,000 Angelenos every year – over 2.5 million pounds of food,” Eli Veitzer, President and CEO of JFSLA, told the Journal. “Our Senior Nutrition Program provides over 260,000 meals annually, serving over 1,200 frail seniors and people with disabilities.” 

Zach Gingold, JFSLA Young Leaders executive committee chair, echoed Veitzer. “The Senior Nutrition Program delivers nutritious hot and frozen kosher meals to homebound seniors and people living with disabilities, and runs neighborhood dining centers that are open throughout the week for a hot meal and friendly conversation. We’re really excited to see the impact that the cookbook has already made on these programs.” 

As the pandemic raged on in late 2020 — and they could not do in-person fundraising — JFSLA’s Young Leaders were seeking a way to highlight and support the critical work of JFSLA’s Food & Hunger Programs, while keeping their friends, neighbors and communities safe. So, they decided to compile this cookbook that would also uplift small businesses and restaurants, which were hit hard by COVID. 

JFSLA staff and the Young Leaders spent almost a year collecting recipes, editing and designing the cookbook, and getting it out into the community. The book’s recipes and images were all donated by the chefs and community members, and the book was compiled and designed for free by members of the JFSLA Young Leaders Executive Committee. 

“At a time in our world where people are looking to do good and make an impact, the response we’ve received from chefs, contributors, and supporters just shows what a difference we can make when we all come together,” Deborah Herman, JFSLA Young Leaders executive committee strategic initiatives chair, told the Journal. “We hope that each time families use this cookbook, read the stories and sit around their tables, they are reminded about the power of sharing a meal.”

Emily Fiffer, Chef and Owner, Botanica, is passionate about feeding LA’s unhoused and lower income populations, and thrilled to be a part of the cookbook. Fiffer contributed her grandma Elaine’s Applesauce. 

“I chose it because it was a staple of my childhood, and signifies safety, comfort and nourishment,” Fiffer told the Journal. “Any chance I get to talk about my grandmother is meaningful. She played such a crucial role in my life and continues to be a guiding light despite having passed. I love thinking about her memory living on through a good cause.”

Marlene Bernstein said contributing to this incredible book was a gift. “It makes me feel proud as a chef and as a Jewish person that our community came together to contribute to this book and help a great organization,” she said.  

Bernstein contributed Yemenite Matzah Ball Soup, which is inspired by her roots, to “Jewish Family Recipes,”. Her mom is a Yemenite Israeli and her dad is a New York Jew of Hungarian and Russian background. “I have a deep love and respect for food and the role it plays in our culture,” Bernstein said. “Mixing traditional Yemenite soup and matzah balls felt like a natural pairing of my Sephardic and Ashkenazi background. 

“The heart of Yemenite soup is Hawaij, a spice blend with bold notes of cumin, turmeric and clove used in Yemenite cuisine. That earthy spice blend melds perfectly with the richness from the whole chicken and brightness of the cilantro. The matzah balls soak up all those flavors — it’s a perfect marriage. This is now a staple at every family gathering and hopefully it will be shared in many other households now. “

“Jewish Family Recipes” is designed to shine a light on the history of JFSLA and its constant critical work, its services and locations in the LA area. JFSLA’s Food & Hunger Programs work to ensure that everyone in the community has access to the food they need to lead a healthy and dignified life. Funds from the book will literally put food on people’s tables.

“For Jews, food is a means of gathering, showing love, grieving — it runs the gamut.” – Emily Fiffer

“For Jews, food is a means of gathering, showing love, grieving — it runs the gamut,” Fiffer said. “Jews are excellent at cooking and pushing food on whoever will take it. We don’t want anyone to go hungry!”

To learn more, go to JewishFamilyRecipes.com.

Emily Fiffer, chef and owner of Botanica Restaurant, based in Silver Lake in Los Angeles, CA.

ELAINE’S APPLESAUCE By Emily Fiffer, Botanica

Serving Size: 4-6 | Prep Time: 5 minutes | Cook Time: 30 minutes | Total Time: 35 minutes



3 pounds apples, cut into rough chunks (if you have a food mill, or high-speed blender, keep the skins on and seeds intact; if you don’t, peel and core the apples first)

1 cinnamon stick

4 cardamom pods, bashed to reveal seeds

1 star anise pod

Juice of 1 lemon

2 cups water, plus more

1 tablespoon Red Hots


  1. Add all of the ingredients to your largest heavy-bottomed pot, stir well and set the heat to medium. Allow the apples to simmer away, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon to avoid uneven cooking and sticking. Anytime the mixture looks like it’s drying out, add ½ to 1 cup of water and give it a good stir (we use about 4 cups total per 3 pounds of apples). Continue simmering until the apples are broken down and fall apart easily when poked with a spoon.
  1. Let the mixture cool a bit, then run it through a food mill to extract the seeds and peel. Spoon into heat proof jars and store in the fridge. If you aren’t using a food mill, simply remove the cinnamon stick, cardamom and star anise pod and pour into a heatproof jar. You can also remove the spices and pour the sauce into a high-powered blender to make apple butter. The sauce should keep for a few weeks.
Yemenite Matzo Ball Soup by Marlene Bernstein, chef and owner of The Lunch Lady, a Los Angeles-based corporate catering company.

YEMENITE MATZO BALL SOUP by Marlene Bernstein, The Lunch Lady LA

Serving Size: 4 | Prep Time: 30 minutes | Cook Time: 2 hours | Total Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes



Yemenite Soup

1 whole chicken

2 yellow onions, diced small

1 whole yellow onion, peeled and pierced with 15 whole cloves

5 ribs of celery, diced small across (1 cup)

1 leek, diced small

2 carrots, diced small across (¾ cup)

1½ tablespoons of hawaij (Yemenite spice blend)

1 whole bulb of garlic or 15 cloves, separated into individual cloves in-peel • 16 cups of water

2 bunches of cilantro, roughly chopped

3 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

Matzo Balls (yields 8 matzo balls)

½ cup matzo ball mix

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon soda water

2 eggs



  1. Sauté chopped onions, carrots, celery, leek and garlic with olive oil and salt until translucent in a very large stockpot (12 quarts). Stir in hawaij spice blend and half of the cilantro.
  1. Add the whole onion with cloves, whole chicken and water. Cook on medium-high heat covered for 1 to 1½ hours. The soup is done when the chicken is fully cooked and liquid is reduced approximately by half. The chicken is fully cooked when the meat pulls away from the bone, exposing the leg bone.
  1. Mix all of the matzo ball ingredients together in a small bowl. Allow the mix to sit in the fridge for 15 minutes. Form the matzo balls using a tablespoon. The matzo balls will be roughly 1 ounce each. You should get approximately 8 matzo balls.
  1. When the soup is done, remove the chicken from the soup using tongs. Allow the chicken to fully cool, then shred it and set aside to add at the end. Discard the skin and bones.
  1. Add salt to desired taste then bring to a rolling boil. Add the remaining cilantro to the soup. Drop the matzo balls into the soup while it is at a rolling boil and allow to cook for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes the matzo balls should float to the top and be fully cooked. Add shredded chicken back to the stock pot. Serve and enjoy!
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