“Jewish texts are rooted in arguing,” Ms. Newhouse said, referring to the Talmud, the vast commentary on the teachings of the Torah, written by numberless rabbis over centuries, that is the primary source of Jewish philosophy and law. “Why should this one be any different?”
In the end, most entries turned out to be quite lighthearted.
There are celebrity pairings: Zac Posen on beets and borscht (an ode to color), Dr. Ruth Westheimer on pomegranates (an ode to fertility); Joshua Malina on gribenes (crispy bits of chicken skin that are themselves an ode to chicken fat).
There are unlikely ones, like Eric Ripert, the great French seafood chef, on gefilte fish; Edward Lee, the Korean-American chef, who fell in love with chopped liver as a kid in Brooklyn, long before he had any idea what it was; and Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, the self-declared WASPs and founders of the website Food52, who suffer from brisket envy. (They grew up on pot roast, which employs lean, boneless chuck instead of fatty, juicy brisket.) “WASPs love their unforgiving meats, just as they love stony silences at the table,” they conclude.
Many spots had to be reserved for the foods that are mentioned in the Torah and still part of Jewish observance: honey, apples, wine, lamb. Also, foods specific to Passover, which begins on Friday night: matzo, horseradish and haroseth, the sweet fruit-and-nut paste that represents the mortar used by Jews as enslaved bricklayers in ancient Egypt.
Space was made for the sacred foods of the Ashkenazi Jews, from Eastern Europe — bialys, lox, seltzer, cheesecake — as well as foods of the Sephardic-Mizrahi (Mediterranean) diaspora: Persian rice, Tunisian lamb-and-bean stew, Roman fried artichokes.