Any cookbook of value today is more than just a compendium of recipes or instructions. It has an overriding message or theme. Recipes are easy to come by. How often have I gone to the internet because I want to use a particular ingredient or have decided to make lamb stew? Click. Dozens of recipes are at my fingertips. Looking for the technique to make homemade ricotta? There’s an app for that.
Each of these new kosher cookbooks has a message beyond measures and ingredients lists. Each provides a context for your cooking, and like kashrut itself, each gives meaning to our foods beyond flavor or sustenance.
I liked all these books, but my favorite is June Hersh’s The Kosher Carnivore, published by St. Martin’s Press. June burst onto the kosher cooking scene with her brilliantly presented anthology/cookbook Recipes Remembered. She writes with an enthusiasm that makes me want to rush into the kitchen and cook. Her style is personal and warm, generously sharing knowledge and advice as if with a younger sister. No doubt, to June food is a celebration. Cooking is fun. And with humor and wit, she graciously invites us all to participate.
Most of the well-composed recipes are approachable even by a novice cook. With helpful hints and technique descriptions peppered liberally throughout, nothing seems too daunting. The different cuts of meat are explained and creative uses for leftovers are provided. While the focus is squarely on meats and poultry, a well-edited repertoire of vegetables, starches, and soups compliment any meal.
While she provides recipes for some classics, this book is not at all the same-old sameold. The Kosher Carnivore reaches liberally into the cuisines of different cultures to make the book fresh, creative, and enticing.
Throughout, June encourages cooks to speak with the butcher to get the best and special cuts, something most of us don’t bother to do. With June’s encouragement we can reverse a trend toward uniformity, connect with our past, provide meaningful work for kosher butchers, and serve delicious variety to our families.
For all who enjoy meat and poultry this book is a winning addition to your cookbook collection.
The Kosher Revolution by Geila Hocherman and Arthur Boehm, published by Kyle Books, is a beautifully illustrated volume that will be enjoyed particularly by those itching to try flavors and combinations that have been forbidden until now. The authors take full advantage of the expanded availability of kosher foods, using nut milks as thickening agents, Asian condiments, and the like. Kosher cooking always has reflected the cuisine, culture, and ingredients of the lands in which we live. Jews have been adapting recipes and substituting ingredients to comply with the requirements of kashrut for as long as we have been cooking. The real revolution is in the availability of new certified kosher products. The Kosher Revolution uses these ingredients and displays a world of new possibilities, introducing the kosher cook to prosciutto made from cured duck breast or crab cakes made from surimi and Old Bay seasoning.
Each of the recipes indicates whether it is dairy, meat, or parve, with helpful substitutions offered to change things up. Recipes are written clearly, often with a personal and helpful introduction. Once your pantry is complete most of these recipes are quite manageable, though a few might be more complicated than an everyday cook might enjoy. The book includes a generous list of meatless mains (potentially making those nine days in summer a culinary highlight), sides, and sweets. The book includes a helpful list of websites where you can buy some of the harder-to-find ingredients and a useful ingredient exchange, so that the adventurous cook can create new recipes with confidence.
Keeping kosher requires thoughtfulness and contemplation. It does not limit us to a particular cuisine, method, or set of flavors. Borrowing from a range of cuisines, this book helps us feel that we can have it all! Bored with your repertoire? This book is for you.
Taking a more scholarly approach, Gil Marks, in Olive Trees and Honey, from Wiley Publishing, presents a comprehensive selection of vegetarian recipes from Jewish communities around the world. Well known to those curious about Jewish culinary history or trends, Marks understands Jewish life through the context of food. Vegetarians (and all cooks) looking for inspiration will find it in this expertly researched and well-written volume.
This hefty textbook includes a brief history of Jewish food traditions from all corners of the globe, a descriptive section on seasonings and spices, and lists of holiday foods from communities as far away as Calcutta and as familiar as Italy. Ever a teacher, Rabbi Marks liberally includes biblical references, information about the ancient spice routes, and maps illustrating the differences in omelets and dumplings around the world. Each of the sections, on soups, grains, pastries, and so on, is preceded by abundant information about cultural norms, food availability, history, and migratory patterns.
Recognized by the James Beard Foundation with its prestigious award, the hundreds of recipes are clearly written, and when similarities exist among several cuisines, they are noted as variations. Rather than discourage a cook looking for a recipe, the skillfully organized index and glossary make the book useful and important on many levels. Can there really be so many variations of Sabbath stews? Or so many uses for chickpeas? Have you ever pined for a new way to cook eggplant? You need look no further.
Olive Trees and Honey is more than a cookbook. It gives us a means to hold on to elements of our culture that otherwise might be forgotten as Jews continue to leave the lands of their parents, and as we all move toward more universal, simple, uniform, or factory-made preparations.
I can’t wait to read Gil Marks’ new Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. I trust that like this book, it will go far beyond just recipes that are delicious and exciting to include social and cultural history and help each of us become a participant in the timeline of Jewish life.
Simpler Beer-Basted Chicken
From The Kosher Carnivore
Basting is a great way to ensure a juicy chicken, but every time you open the oven you let precious heat escape. A better method is to baste the chicken from the inside out. There’s no delicate way to explain this process. Take a can of beer, be sure to pop the top, and then push the can into the cavity of the chicken so that the bird is perched upright with the can of beer in its tush. The beer infuses the cavity with constant moisture, and the metal can helps conduct the heat consistently from the inside out. The result is an incredibly moist chicken that roasts very quickly. If your chicken is on the wagon, try filling the can with chicken stock, herbs, and freshly squeezed lemon juice or any flavorful liquid such as cola or ginger ale.
1 (3 1/2 – to 4-pound) chicken
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon freshly chopped rosemary leaves or 1/3 teaspoon chopped dried rosemary
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 open can of beer
2 bay leaves and fresh herbs, optional
1 large onion, quartered
6 unpeeled garlic cloves, optional
1 to 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
Pat the chicken dry inside and out, and remove any packaging hidden in the cavity. If time allows, place the chicken on a paper towel-lined plate and let it hang out in the fridge for an hour. When ready to roast, preheat the oven to 450 degrees and lower your oven rack to its lowest position. Take the chicken out of the fridge.
Combine the seasonings in a small bowl (this helps prevent cross-contaminating your seasonings while working with the chicken). Take a pinch of seasoning and rub it inside the cavity. Drizzle the oil over the entire bird and then sprinkle the outside with the seasonings. Pop the top of the beer can (toss in some fresh herbs or bays leaves if you like for added flavor) and carefully place the chicken upright on the can. Jiggle the legs in position so the chicken appears to be sitting and does not topple over. Place the bird, upright, in a shallow roasting pan and scatter the bay leaves, onions, and garlic, if using, and add 1/2 cup of the stock. Place in oven. Lower the oven temperature to 425 degrees. After 30 minutes, add 1/2 cup more stock and continue roasting, until an instantread thermometer registers 160 to 165 degrees when it is inserted in the thigh, about 30 minutes more. Transfer the chicken to a carving board and cover with a piece of aluminum foil; the internal temperature will rise 5 to 10 degrees while the chicken rests and the juices will redistribute throughout the bird. Do not handle the can – it will be very hot!
Place the roasting pan directly on the stove, skim off some of the fat, and add more stock if necessary to create the gravy. If you roasted the garlic cloves, squeeze them to extract the roasted garlic and mash it into the sauce. Discard the skins. Let the gravy simmer until heated through. If you prefer a thicker gravy, make a slurry by mixing 1 teaspoon of cornstarch with 2 teaspoons of cold water, stir back into the pan, bring to a boil, and repeat if necessary. When ready to carve, use an oven mitt carefully to remove the beer can from the chicken. Carve the chicken and serve with the gravy drizzled on top.
Sephardic Cheese-Stuffed Eggplant (Berengena Rellenas de Queso)
From Olive Trees and Honey
The first time I made stuffed eggplant, following a different recipe from this one, I was enormously disappointed in the results, as the vegetable tasted insipid and too firm, even after baking for an extended period. Then, an informative Sephardic grandmother advised to parboil the eggplant to give it a creamy texture. Other cooks panfry the eggplant rather than parboiling it, but I find the frying requires more effort and adds extra calories. There are numerous versions of stuffed eggplant, adapted to whatever ingredients are available in the pantry. This cheese-filled version makes a savory entrée for a light meal or a delicious side dish.
2 eggplants (about 1 pound each), halved lengthwise
4 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives or 1 teaspoon dried oregano and 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
About 1/2 teaspoon table salt or 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Ground black pepper to taste
1 cup (5 ounces) crumbled feta, 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Cheddar or Nuenster cheese, or 1 cup (8 ounces) ricotta cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, 1/4 cup coarsely chopped capers, 1/2 cup chopped pitted black olives, or any combination (optional)
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil for drizzling
Scoop out the cores of the eggplant (a melon baller or grapefruit knife works well) leaving a 1/2-inch-thick shell and reserving the pulp. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the shells until tender, but not soft, about 3 minutes. Drain.
Coarsely chop the reserved eggplant pulp. (It might appear like a lot, but it will cook down.) In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, then the eggplant pulp and parsley and sauté until softened, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the bread crumbs, chives, salt, and pepper. Add the cheese, egg, and, if using, the pine nuts.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil a large baking pan.
Lightly salt the insides of the eggplant shells and stuff with the pulp mixture. Arrange in the baking pan and drizzle with a little oil. Cover and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until golden, about 10 minutes.
From Kosher Revolution
Years ago I had a date with a boy who brought me a box of pignoli cookies from Little Italy. The cookies were an instant hit (alas, he wasn’t) and became a great favorite of mine. They’re simple to make, pareve, and perfect for Passover. The nuts give the cookies a buttery richness even though they’re nondairy. Just what you want from a pareve cookie as addictive as these.
8 ounces almond paste
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg white
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pine nuts
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
In a food processor, combine the almond paste and sugars and process until the mixture reaches the consistency of sand. Transfer to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or a medium bowl, and add the egg white, vanilla and almond extracts. Beat on medium speed or by hand for 4 minutes.
Place the pine nuts in a small bowl. Next to it place a small bowl of water for wetting your hands. Wet your hands and form 1 1/2- to 2-inch balls with the paste mixture, making 5 at a time. Drop them into the bowl of nuts and press down gently so the nuts adhere to the bottom of the dough. Transfer to a cookie sheet nut side up. Repeat, filling each prepared cookie sheet with about 15 balls. Bake until puffed and beginning to color, 15 to 18 minutes. Remove from the oven, and cool on the parchment paper on a countertop. When completely cool, peel the cookies off the paper and serve.