So many of us today adhere to a specific dietary regime: vegetarian or vegan; low fat; low carb; no gluten; no dairy; no cooked vegetables (!); or, relevant to this post, kosher. It’s certainly possible to cook from any old cookbook: pick out the recipes that conform to one’s diet, and ignore or adapt the rest. But it is relaxing to hold a cookbook, and know that any recipe in that cookbook can be used, as is, with only personal tastes to consider. This post features three kosher cookbooks: The Kosher Palette: Easy and Elegant Modern Kosher Cooking, a fund-raising cookbook from the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Kushner Yeshiva High School, and edited by Susie Fishbein and Sandra Blank; the follow-up cookbook, The Kosher Palette II: Coming Home, the Art and Simplicity of Kosher Cooking, edited this time by only Sandra Blank; and Susie Fishbein’s first (of many; some might think too many) solo foray, Kosher by Design: Picture Perfect Food for the Holidays & Every Day.
One can only admire Kushner Academy and its cookbook committee for doing a fund-raising cookbook the right way. They did go through a self-publishing outfit, Wimmer, but instead of ending up with the usual unattractive cheaply produced fund-raising cookbook, they came up with a glossy and, at first glance, very professional looking cookbook (albeit still spiral-bound): The Kosher Palette: Easy and Elegant Modern Kosher Cooking. This cookbook was very successful; beyond, I imagine, anyone’s wildest dreams, with four printings of a total of 36,000 copies. Just about everyone I know has a copy of this cookbook; any woman without this cookbook in her kitchen might well have her Modern Orthodox credentials called into question. This is, however, very much a community fund-raising cookbook, in that it reflects, if not exactly how the parents and friends of Kushner actually cook, then how they would like others to think that they cook. With a few notable exceptions, this is not really how I cook (and is one of many reasons that we never could have moved to Southfield or Oak Park when our children were attending school in the Detroit suburbs, when such a move might have made sense). There’s lots of meat and lots of margarine; at least this book must have come out (2000) before uncooked ramen in cole slaw became de rigueur on certain tables. But I appreciate the editors’ efforts to filter out recipes that rely on convenience foods, and there are some good recipes in this cookbook.
In the recipe introduction to “Strawberry-Mango Mesclun Salad” (page 62), its creator says that guests to whom she serves this salad “beg to know the ingredients.” What is the matter with these guests? Can’t they look at the salad in front of them and see the lettuce, strawberries, mango, dried cranberries, onions, and almonds? Maybe the guests are curious about the dressing, but the dressing is just a straightforward oil and vinegar dressing with too much sugar. Nevertheless, this is a good salad combination. I omit the almonds and sometimes substitute dried cherries for the dried cranberries. I also like to mix up the non-lettuce ingredients a bit in advance so that the fruit gets limp and the flavors meld. I have made this with romaine, but the flimsier mesclun mix works better.
“Tomato Tart” (page 169) is a great recipe. It is simple and it is delicious; unfortunately, like any good tart, it may not be the healthiest food around with its buttery carby crust. To make this tart, you slather mustard on an unbaked tart crust and top with garlic, cheese, and sliced tomatoes. You can vary the taste of this tart by varying the cheese: smoked mozzarella is particularly nice. I usually make two of these at a time, as two are not that much more work than one; there is often enough pie dough left over for a few tartlets, too. [Go to the recipe.]
I was having problems finding recipes that I could cook in this cookbook, and so settled for “Zucchini with Garlic and Tomatoes” (page 190), not that different from my standard zucchini and tomato recipe. This is actually the sort of food that one does not need a recipe. Just cook sliced zucchini, onion, and garlic in oil; add tomatoes. The Kosher Palette combines the zucchini with yellow squash; I followed their instructions, but would have preferred only zucchini.
After The Kosher Palette, Susie Fishbein started her own series of kosher cookbooks: Kosher by Design, with eight and counting cookbooks so far in the series. Susie has been wildly successful with this venture, having sold about half a million cookbooks, and has morphed into a celebrity chef and lifestyle advisor: the kosher Martha Stewart. I confess: I am not Susie’s biggest fan, but other people love Susie’s cookbooks, so chacun à son goût. I have all but the most recent of her cookbooks, but I quit buying her cookbooks (even before I quit buying all books) because there is just not that much in her books that I like. Furthermore, her books are all the same: even though the recipes superficially vary from book to book, they are really the same old recipes, recycled over and over (or so it seems, at least). It is telling that Susie has yet to come out with Kosher by Design: Vegetarian, or even Kosher by Design: Healthy. All that aside, her recipes are for the most part competent. It’s not clear how much credit Susie should get, though: on the title page of the book considered in this post, Kosher by Design: Picture Perfect Food for the Holidays & Every Day, is a long list of people involved in the production of the book, including a recipe tester and a recipe editor. Susie doesn’t even make these recipes herself? Or write them? We also have an event planner, design styler, and food styler, so maybe we can’t even blame Susie for the decorating and entertainment tips she shares with us, her readers.
Butternut squash is an ingredient that I wish I liked more, so I am always on the lookout for a really good butternut squash recipe. As for chestnuts, I know I like them. Thus “Roasted Chestnut Butternut Squash Soup” (page 61) seemed like a good recipe to try. The squash and chestnuts are puréed in broth and a little bit of cream is added (or fake cream for the carnivores). There’s not much else, just nutmeg and salt. I was hoping that the simplicity of this recipe would allow the sweetness of the two main ingredients to shine through. This did not happen. It all added up to somewhat less than the sum of its ingredients.
The soup might not have been that good, but Susie’s potato kugels are, as they say, spot on. “Vegetable Potato Kugel” (page 240) has, as indicated by its title, other vegetables in addition to the standard potatoes and onions: carrots and zucchini, which provide, if not much in the way of taste, lovely green and gold flakes throughout the kugel. Susie’s cooking technique is to put a pan with a half cup of oil in a hot oven; once it’s heated, she adds the uncooked kugel mixture. There are two big problems with this method: one half cup of oil is too much, but, more crucially, the oil in the oven can (and does) catch on fire. I learned the hard way to stick the empty pan in the oven to get hot, while heating the oil on top of the stove where I could watch it. Then I add the oil to the hot pan, followed immediately by the kugel mixture. Once cooked, though, this kugel tastes exactly as I think a potato kugel should taste.
“Honey Whole Wheat Challah” (page 19) was a big hit at my table; even I liked it. The loaves were good-looking, and the taste and texture satisfying: sweet, the way I like my challah, and not too dry. Actually, the challah was almost too sweet and definitely would have been too sweet had I followed Susie’s recipe and used both a half cup of honey and a half cup of sugar for only six cups of flour. Not only did I cut the sweeteners by a third, but I used salt which was curiously omitted from Susie’s recipe. At least Susie and I were in concord about the amount of oil: only one tablespoon. Susie calls for generic “vegetable oil”; I used walnut oil. So although I liked this challah, I am not sure how much my version was like Susie’s version (but based on the salt omission, and the fact that this recipe has no introduction, I would not be surprised to learn that Susie never made this recipe). [Go to the recipe.]
We see Susie Fishbein going on to her own career as a cookbook author, but she was not the only one to capitalize on the success of The Kosher Palette; Kushner themselves, with Sandra Blank as editor, came out with The Kosher Palette II: Coming Home, the Art and Simplicity of Kosher Cooking in 2006. This volume is very similar to its predecessor (and to Susie’s book): still very nicely produced, still with annoying marginalia, still with vapid recipe headnotes. And, like The Kosher Palette, there are some decent recipes hidden amongst the dross. I have not cooked as much from this cookbook, but I actually think that there is more here for me than in the other Kushner cookbook.
“Chopped Greek Salad” (page 59) is not a particularly original recipe: it’s made up of standard Greek salad ingredients, chopped and with no lettuce: tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, onion, olives, and feta cheese (but with none of those pickled peppers we sometimes see in salads labeled “Greek”). The dressing is an olive oil and lemon juice dressing spiked with oregano. You can’t go wrong with a salad like this.
Even though it is not yet summer, I still made “Summer Couscous Salad” (page 76). In many ways, this was quite similar to the Greek salad, so I do not think not was the best menu planning to serve these two salads together, but no one seemed to mind. I used big Israeli style couscous, which I like better than its finer counterpart. I also cooked my own chickpeas instead of using canned chickpeas. The other ingredients in this salad are cucumbers, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, mint, scallions, and capers. The dressing is an oil and lemon juice dressing flavored with cumin and paprika.
“Linguine, Basil, and Mushroom Flan” (page 181) was not quite like anything I had ever made before, although it is not that weird a recipe, and it turned out quite well. This is just a frittata with mushrooms and leeks, but also with cooked linguine added. It’s all topped with cheese, of course. There’s not really enough pasta to call this a pasta dish, and there’s too much stuff in the eggs to really call this a frittata (let alone a flan), but whatever you call it, this was good food. [Go to the recipe.]
I initially rolled my eyes at the recipe introduction to “Roasted Cauliflower” (page 193): ” ‘I gave this recipe to a couple of friends and before I knew it, the whole town was making it!’ ” This town had never seen roasted cauliflower before? But what is a little bit different about this recipe is the garlic: “6 to 8 garlic cloves, crushed” are listed in the ingredients. I do not know quite what the recipe author meant by crushed: crushed into little pieces, or simply whole cloves, bashed but still distinct cloves? I just tossed whole bashed cloves in with the cauliflower, and was rewarded with a gentle yet unmistakable garlic flavor. So my initial reaction was wrong: the town had probably seen roasted cauliflower before, but never flavored with real garlic (instead of, say, garlic powder or even jarred garlic). But this is the way I intend to roast cauliflower in the future.
Adapted from Susie Fishbein and Sandra Blank, editors, The Kosher Palette
1¾ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
¾ cup butter, cut into chunks
6 tablespoons water
¼ cup mustard
8 ounces grated cheese (e.g., smoked mozzarella)
5 cloves garlic, minced
5-10 plum tomatoes, sliced
Preheat the oven to 400º.
It is easiest to make the crust in the food processor, but it can also be done by hand. In the food processor, add the dry ingredients to the work bowl, then add the butter and pulse until the biggest particles of butter are less than pea-sized. Or just cut in the butter by hand. Add the water and pulse until the dough comes together, or just mix it in by hand. I use more water than many recipes suggest. Roll out the dough and fit it into a 10-inch tart pan. I like to double the sides.
Spread the mustard over the bottom of the crust, sprinkle the garlic over the mustard and the cheese over the garlic. Top with the tomato slices. How many tomatoes you use depends on how big the tomatoes are; you need enough tomato slices to completely cover the tart.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. It the tomatoes start drying out before the crust looks done, cover lightly with aluminum foil.
Whole Wheat Challah
Adapted from Susie Fishbein, Kosher by Design
2 teaspoons yeast
2 cups water
2 eggs, plus 1 egg for glazing
1 tablespoon nut oil
1⁄3 cup honey
21⁄2 cups whole wheat flour (not white whole wheat)
31⁄2-4 cups bread flour
1⁄3 cup sugar
4 teaspoons salt
I make this challah in the food processor; if you like to knead by hand or want to use your heavy duty electric mixer, you are on your own (but it should be pretty obvious what to do).
Dissolve the yeast in the water; mix in two eggs, oil, and honey. Put the dry ingredients in the bowl of the food processor fitted with the steel (not bread) blade. With the motor running, pour in the liquid ingredients. You may need to add more flour; the dough should form a ball but only just. Process for up to one minute. Transfer the dough to a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise until doubled. I suggest making the dough the night before, and before it has risen fully, putting the dough in the refrigerator, so that you can remove the dough and form loaves when you are ready to the next day.
After the dough has risen, form three braided loaves, place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, cover with a napkin or towel, and let the bread rise until it has increased in volume by about half.
Preheat the oven to 350º for 30 minutes before you put the bread in the oven. Beat the glazing egg lightly and brush the egg on the loaves. Top with seeds if you like; I hardly ever use seeds. Bake until done, about 30 minutes.
Linguine and Mushroom Frittata
Adapted from Sandra Blank, editor, The Kosher Palette II
2 tablespoon butter
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
2 leeks, white and light green part, sliced
4 ounces linguine, cooked and drained
½ cup fresh basil, chopped
½ cup milk
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
3 ounces grated cheese
Preheat the oven to 450º.
In a large oven proof skillet (preferably no-stick), melt the butter. Add the mushrooms and leeks and cook until the vegetables are limp and starting to brown. Stir in the linguine and basil. Beat the eggs, salt, and pepper together, the pour over the vegetables in the skillet. Top with the grated cheese. Put in the oven and cook until the eggs are set, which might take 10 minutes.