It's (nearly) Always About the Food »

with the Monday Morning Cooking Club

By Marlon Zarins
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<i>It's Always About the Food</i> by the Monday Morning Cooking Club

It's Always About the Food by the Monday Morning Cooking Club [©HarperCollins]


‘Monday Morning Cooking Club’ is a group of five Jewish women living in Sydney. For the last ten years they have met on Monday mornings to cook, share, search and honour their cultural bonds.

They have released two cookbooks in that time, Monday Morning Cooking Club and The Feast Goes On which have sold over 55,000 copies and been published in the U.K. and U.S.

It's Always About The Food is their third offering and is the result of an international search through the global Jewish diaspora for the heirloom recipes that have been passed down through the generations.

When I first flicked through It's Always About The Food I thought the title was misleading. The whole book is interspersed with stories of the fascinating people who have inspired the women of the Monday Morning Cooking Club. Each of these mini bios stand alone as interesting reading and of course, are as diverse as people can be.

The people in this book, however, are tied together by a common and ingrained belief that food should nourish not just the body but the hearts and souls of those loved ones for whom it is cooked.

The book came to me at Easter. My first attempt at one of the recipes was Lavosh (p25). I can tell you that making unleavened bread from a Jewish recipe, during Passover made me feel, well, 'Justified and Ancient'.

There is a calmness that settles when you cook from this book. There are not too many ten-minute snacks here but If you choose to make a meal, give yourself some time and you'll be richly rewarded. All of the dishes have been sensitively photographed with diffused light and natural tones, perfectly describing the earthy nature of the experience.

There is a thorough index and an interesting glossary that makes me want to talk like George Costanza. The recipes themselves are easy to follow and you get the feeling that a kindly relative is imparting them lovingly to you, along with some unsolicited wisdom at no extra cost. This all leads to a peaceable time in the heart of the home. Perfect for those Saturday afternoons when your Lavosh demands Baba Ganoush (p41) and the kitchen starts humming with a transcendent joy as you eagerly hunt through for more recipes to fatten out the moment. It's an indulgence we can all afford in an era of food tricks and pseudo glamorising of the cooking process.

Speaking of diverse, the recipe for Bialys – a Polish bagel like bread, baked not boiled (p26) – comes from a woman of Italian heritage who converted to Judaism and celebrates the connections between the two cultures.

The adventure continues from Nava Levy's recipe for the Yemenite Malawach (p50) to Sharon Goldman's Baja Fish Tacos (p120) and then on to a recipe passed down to Naomi Penny by her Russian grandmother (known as 'Granny Girl') for Duck in Cherry Sauce (p140).

Rachel Dingoor, a woman described as having the 'energy of a teenager' and possessing 'Sephardi secrets', shares her recipe for South Indian Fish Curry (p103). Rachel grew up in Bombay with her grandmother who was from Basra, Iraq, so of course there's a twist to the curry.

There are quite a few heavy meat a dishes involved here as well, and again, offered with their own stories. George Sternfield, a man mixed with Ashkenazi and Sephardi heritage, describes a time of his life in Siberia when food was scarce. His mother received a U.N. package containing dehydrated chicken breasts. Not knowing what to do with it at first she tuned it into her own 'gefilte fish'. George remembers it fondly. His extended family did not survive the Warsaw Ghetto and when he presents his recipe for a sumptuous Rack of Veal with Beetroot Confit (p156), I can't help feeling a kind redemptive power in the obvious indulgence.

‘Yemenite Rosh Hashanah Lamb (p150); Kibbeh (p159) and Berbere Brisket (p176) are juxtaposed in the same book with the ultra-light yet heart warmly fulfilling Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi (p188). I served this one up last night and I believe it produced in my fellow diners a soft and gentle joviality. As well as some looks of impressed surprise that I had indeed made something so cool. It is wonderful to observe the effect of food on mood.

This book is full of opportunities like that, opportunities for ‘nachas’.

While desserts, tarts and biscuits have never been a major area of interest for me, the extensive Sweets section is inspiring. Some of the writers recall the glimmers of delight these delicacies brought to their often fraught childhoods.

One of my all time favourites, Fladen (p256) is here, mercilessly tempting me towards diabetes. Polish Apple Strudel (270) and Yoyos (283) star as some of the expected ‘Traditionals’ alongside Danish Risamande (p228) and Poached Peaches with Seekhund (p216). All of these I am inspired to make, but first, Helen Carp's Frangipani Cake (p243) is a must. I am preheating the oven.

The MMCC has created a sublime link between the recipes and the people behind them. A strong emotional backbone runs through the whole book, imbuing the recipes with meaning and a familiarity far beyond the culinary. It's a nice balance but in the end the recipes always win. You'll read the stories once or twice, remember and perhaps identify with the characters, but the recipes will become part of your life. If you have room for that, buy this book and absorb it because in the end it is Always About The Food.


Marlon Zarins is a graphic artist who lives in Hobart. Always an enthusiastic lover of food and cooking, Marlon only recently discovered the joy of following recipes and extending the boundaries of his culinary skills much to his girlfriend’s delight. This is his first foray as a guest reviewer. He hopes you enjoyed it.

It's Always About the Food by the Monday Morning Cooking Club is published by ABC Books/Harper Collins (Sydney, NSW; Mar 2017; Hc, 320pp, RRP A$49.99). It is availble in good bookshops and can be found to purchase online via »


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May 29th, 2017
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