If the thought of cooking one more boring meal is just too daunting, Google your heart out – there are gazillions of cookbooks out there.
The days are short and dark and all I seem to want to do right now is stuff my face with comfort food. Some days that manifests as peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and some days it looks like pot roast and mashed potatoes. I rarely crave a salad or a stick of celery in this chilly, wet weather. Mind you, I have been tempted (and given into) a huge piece of pumpkin pie. That’s a daily serving of vegetables, right? I’m all about the carbs at the moment. Plus, peanut butter makes my coat nice and shiny. Or so says hubby Harvey.
Like a bear, I’m looking to bulk up for my winter hibernation. Although, when you think about it, we’ve been living through almost a two-year hibernation. It’s called COVID-19. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t found some comfort in over-indulging during this pandemic. Whether the target of our ill-placed attention is food, booze or online shopping, we’ve all been guilty of overdoing it in some way or other. Oh, I forgot to include Netflix, Prime Video and Crave. I do crave my Crave. I don’t know how many hours of my life I’ve given over to this pap. Not that I’m bragging. Actually, I’m kind of embarrassed by it, but, in a way, it’s keeping me sane because it lets me focus on something other than COVID. But enough about the C-word.
My guilty pleasure is doughy, savoury foods, packed with calories. That’s where the Perogy Toss comes in. I got this recipe decades ago from the catering company at Richmond City Hall’s cafeteria, where I often ate lunch during my working days. The recipe is still a winner. Add a salad and you’ve got dinner. Add a glass or two of wine and you’ve got a date.
1-kg package frozen potato perogies
4 tbsp sundried tomato oil (or olive oil)
3/4 cup minced onion
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp minced black olives
12 tbsp (3/4 cup) minced and drained sundried tomatoes
4 tbsp minced capers
1 1/2-oz (14-gram) package fresh basil, chopped
light sour cream
Boil salted water in a large pot. Add frozen perogies and boil for four to five minutes (or whatever the directions say). Drain well. Rinse with hot water and drain again. Return perogies to the pot.
In a frying pan, heat the sundried tomato oil (or olive oil) until hot. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is soft and golden. Add olives, sundried tomatoes and capers. Stir.
When heated through, add to the cooked perogies in the pot. Heat on low for about one minute, tossing to fully coat the perogies. Add the basil and serve at once. Put sour cream on top, if desired – and who wouldn’t desire that?
Just in case this recipe doesn’t give you your year’s allotment of salt, here’s another one that will not only satisfy your craving for savoury, but holds its own as an appetizer served with pita or crackers. Some of you might be put off by the weird orange shade of this dip, but I’m sure you’ll get past that. If you’re a lazy cook like me, you’ll be happy to know that the only kitchen appliance you’ll need is a food processor.
RED PEPPER & FETA DIP
3 red bell peppers
6 oz feta cheese
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp pine nuts
Cut in half and seed three red bell peppers. Place on a broiling pan, skin side up, and broil until skin is charred and blistered, turning over several times. This is what creates that smoky flavour.
Remove the skin from the peppers – some say sealing them in a brown paper bag while they’re cooling for five to 10 minutes creates steam and makes them easier to peel.
Once peeled, put the peppers in a food processor and add the feta cheese, olive oil and pine nuts. Blend till it’s nice and smooth.
Chill before serving. (I mean the dip, but you could also chill yourself with a glass or two of your favourite alcoholic beverage and a bag of chips.)
Serve with pita wedges or crackers. And don’t even think of substituting a different kind of nut. It’s just wrong. It’s got to be pine nuts.
I’ve made this dip for company loads of times and everyone likes it. It’s one of those go-to, quick-as-can-be appies that’s pretty much foolproof. Of course, your guests have to have a taste for feta cheese and pine nuts, but don’t most of us? (Maybe have an EpiPen ready just in case.) It’s definitely got a bit of an unusual flavour, but in a good way. It’s worth a try, if only to expand your repertoire … says the woman who ate the same California roll and agedashi tofu three or four times a week when she was single. However, I’ve since seen the error of my ways.
As you can tell, I’m all about the easy. And, if it tastes good too, score a win. I’ve never been one to fuss about food because it all gets eaten in a matter of minutes anyway, so why bother? I know, I know. What kind of an attitude is that for an accidental balabusta? But, like Popeye said, “I yam what I yam.”
As time wears on with this pandemic, I’m going to need to get more creative with my culinary adventures. I’ve fallen into the chicken, fish, meat, repeat, habit, and it’s getting old. I sure miss going out to restaurants on a regular basis. With the majority of us Canadians being doubly vaccinated, I think we’re moving in the right direction with this pandemic and, hopefully, it won’t be long before we embark on our “new normal.” G-d-willing, it will be an even better, more beautiful “normal.”
In the meantime, if the thought of cooking one more boring meal is just too daunting, get out your mother’s 1970s National Council of Jewish Women cookbook, Google your heart out or visit a bookstore near you, and tackle some new recipes. You might just discover your new favourites. Or maybe try a recipe swap with your close friends. You never know what tricks they might have up their sleeves. Caveat: choose friends whose culinary realm most resembles yours; otherwise, you may find yourself spending hours in the kitchen making some exotic breakfast, when all you really wanted was a new recipe for French toast.
Wishing you well in your hibernation. Don’t forget to turn the heat down, suspend newspaper delivery and stock up on toilet paper. I know, I know – newspaper? (Present company excepted, of course, and the JI is taking the month off, as well.)
Shelley Civkin aka the Accidental Balabusta is a happily retired librarian and communications officer. For 17 years, she wrote a weekly book review column for the Richmond Review. She’s currently a freelance writer and volunteer.
Cookbook author Joan Nathan, left, with journalist Sybil Kaplan. (photo from Barry A. Kaplan)
Before I review King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking around the World by Joan Nathan (Knopf, 2017), I have to admit, I am prejudiced. I have known Joan for around 40 years, and every cookbook she writes is great. When she was in Israel recently, she agreed to appear at my English-speaking chapter of Hadassah Israel for a fundraiser. The program included my interviewing her, and her remarks are at the end of this article, after the recipes.
In King Solomon’s Table, Joan traces, through recipes and stories, the journey of many of the dishes that Jews eat, the people she has met over the years and the places she has visited. Alice Waters, well-known chef, food activist, owner and founder of Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley and cookbook author, writes in the foreword: “Joan has become the most important preservationist of Jewish food traditions, researching and honouring the rich heritage that has connected people for millennia.”
Joan’s introduction is an amazing history of the roots of Jewish food. This is followed by “The Pantry,” a discussion of spices and other items. Then there are the chapters and recipes. Every recipe has a story, and there are 171 recipes in 12 chapters. One can find recipes from Azerbaijan, Brazil, Bulgaria, Denmark, Ethiopia, France, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, India, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Kurdistan, Libya, Lithuania, Mexico, North Africa, Persia, Poland, Rhodes, Romania, Russia, Siberia, Sicily, Sri Lanka, Syria, Turkey, the United States, Uzbekistan and Yemen.
The variety is vast, from Hungarian Apple Pancakes to Sri Lankan Breakfast Buns, from French Buttery Olive Biscuits to Greek Eggplant Salad to Uzbek Noodle Soup. There are all sorts of breads, and recipes using couscous and different types of pasta. There are 15 vegetable recipes, 15 fish recipes, 10 recipes for poultry and 14 meat recipes. And, of course, there are recipes for sweets – 23 of them, including Sephardic Almond Brittle, Israeli Quince Babka and Brazilian Cashew Nut Strudel.
Scattered throughout the book are essays and, after the acknowledgments is a bibliography and index.
When Joan guest blogged for the Jewish Book Council, soon after the publication of the cookbook, she wrote: “One of the ideas that I have wrestled with throughout my career is the question of what is ‘Jewish food.’ Working on my latest cookbook, King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking around the World, has at last answered that question for me.”
Here are a few of the recipes from this book.
The name shakshuka comes from an Arabic and Hebrew word meaning “all mixed up.” It is said the dish was made in North Africa, when the women were busy with a lover and then made a quick meal for their husbands; it was born in the mid-16th century. This recipe makes eight servings.
4 red bell peppers
1 (1 pound) eggplant
2 tbsp olive oil
3 lamb, beef or chicken chorizo, sliced in rounds (optional)
5 chopped garlic cloves
12 chopped tomatoes or 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp smoked Spanish paprika
2 tsp salt or to taste
1/4 tsp black pepper or to taste
1 tbsp sugar or to taste
1 bunch chopped cilantro
8 large eggs
crumbled Bulgarian feta cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 450°F and line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper. Cook the peppers and eggplant, pricking them first with a fork, turning occasionally with tongs until slightly soft and blackened, about 20 minutes.
2. Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat. Add peppers and fry about three minutes then add chorizo, if using, and garlic and cook six to seven minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes and simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. When the mixture is thickened, add the smoked paprika, salt, pepper, sugar, eggplant and all but three tablespoons of the cilantro. Stir to combine, Add seasonings to taste and add a little water if the mixture is too thick.
4. With the back of a spoon, make eight shallow wells in the shakshuka. Gently crack the eggs into the wells, cover the pot and poach over medium-low heat for five to 10 minutes until egg whites are set. Serve sprinkled with remaining cilantro and, if you like, Bulgarian feta cheese.
PICKLED HERRING SPREAD
2 tbsp chopped red onion
1 tbsp almonds
1/2 Granny Smith or other tart apple, peeled and cored
1 large peeled hard-boiled egg
1 12-ounce jar marinated herring tidbits
1 tbsp fresh chopped dill
1. Pulse onion and almonds in food processor. Then add apple and egg to combine.
2. Pour off sauce and onions from marinated herring and add to food processor to chop. Place mixture in serving dish and sprinkle with dill to garnish.
LEEK AND MEAT PATTIES
The original 100-year-old recipe from Macedonia was a holiday staple for Balkan Jews, which Joan tampered with a bit. This recipe makes 12 patties.
1 1/4 cup olive oil
6-8 chopped leeks
2 1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 pounds chopped lamb, beef or boiled potatoes
3 large eggs
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup matzah meal
1. Preheat oven to 425°F and rub a rimmed baking sheet with oil. Toss leeks with more oil, one teaspoon salt and pepper. Spread leeks in single layer and roast, tossing frequently until golden brown and crisp at edges, about 20 minutes. Cool.
2. Chop leeks and mix with meat or boiled potatoes, eggs, cinnamon, allspice, parsley, matzah meal and salt. Form into 12 patties. Heat a frying pan with a thin film of oil. Fry the patties until golden brown on each side, making sure they cook through. If using potatoes instead of meat, add a little Parmesan cheese for extra flavour.
An Interview with Joan Nathan in Jerusalem, June 15, 2017
SK: How did you decide to continue in food writing after you left Israel in the 1970s?
JN: We moved to the Boston area and I met with an editor at the Boston Globe. He asked me to write about food. I also had a scholarship to the Kennedy School at Harvard to do a master’s in public administration. I also met Dov Noy, z”l, the world’s renowned Jewish folklorist, who said, I’ll help you if you decide to write a cookbook, because he knew a lot about ethnic groups.
[At some point,] I told Julia Child’s editor I wanted to write a cookbook, but my father wanted me to go to Schocken Publishers.
[Schocken published The Jewish Holiday Kitchen in 1979, An American Folklife Cookbook in 1985, The Children’s Jewish Holiday Kitchen in 1988, The Jewish Holiday Baker in 1997 and Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook in 2004. Knopf published Jewish Cooking in America in 1994, The Foods of Israel Today in 2001, The New American Cooking in 2005, and Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France in 2010.]
SK: How long does it take you to write a cookbook?
JN: King Solomon’s Table took six years. On a trip to India, I saw a sign, “Since the time of Solomon,” and got the idea, although the [part of the title] … about my journeys everywhere was my editor’s idea.
SK: How did you acquire the recipes?
JN: I sent out to all the “tribes.”
[Joan digressed here to say that the three essentials for Jewish food are the dietary laws; that Jews went out to look, for example, for spices; and how Jews’ food is influenced by the food of the country in which they’re living.]
SK: Who does the various elements of a cookbook?
JN: I have people help me in testing and I do my research. In the process of putting together a book, professional photographs are essential today. For King Solomon’s Table, I knew where I would go in the world…. I would plan trips for 10 days and, when I returned, I got the material typed quickly. The whole book comes together with the introduction. Each of my books is like a big term paper.
Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, lecturer, book reviewer and food writer in Jerusalem. She created and leads the weekly English-language Shuk Walks in Machane Yehuda, she has compiled and edited nine kosher cookbooks, and is the author of Witness to History: Ten Years as a Woman Journalist in Israel.
Naomi Nachman’s Fudgy Chocolate Bundt Cake with Coffee Glaze is gluten-free. (photo by Miriam Pascal)
What? Another cookbook for Pesach? Yes. And a welcome one – Perfect for Pesach: Passover Recipes You’ll Want to Make All Year by Naomi Nachman (Artscroll/Shaar Press, 2017).
“As a chef specializing in Passover, I wanted to provide home cooks with delicious recipes that bring something new to the table,” Nachman explains in the press material. “Some of the recipes in this book reflect my years of catering Pesach dinners and others are brand new to reflect today’s kosher cooking styles. All my recipes use fresh, simple and delicious combinations of ingredients that you can get all year long and create interesting meal choices.”
Nachman, who lives with her family on Long Island, N.Y., grew up in Australia. She served Long Island’s Five Towns through her personal chef business, the Aussie Gourmet. She led a culinary arts program at a Poconos camp for seven summers and, currently, she is director of the Culinary Arts Recreational Program for VIP Ram Destinations’ Pesach holiday in Florida. She also hosts a weekly show on the Nachum Segal Network and writes a monthly column for Mishpacha magazine.
She certainly has the credentials! And what variety in this book.
Perfect for Pesach features more than 125 recipes, with mouth-watering photography by kosher blogger and cookbook author Miriam Pascal.
There are appetizers, such as Hush Puppy Potato Knishes and Southwestern Chicken Egg Rolls; dips and salads, including Chimichurri Coleslaw and Kale and Roasted Butternut Squash Salad; soups such as Kitchen Sink Vegetable Soup and Kale, Apple and Sausage Soup; fish dishes like Red Snapper en Papillote and Sweet and Sour Tilapia; poultry choices like White Wine and Herb Roasted Turkey Roll and Hawaiian Pargiyot; meat recipes such as Coffee Infused Chili and Maple Glazed Rack of Ribs; dairy recipes such as Quinoa Granola Parfait and Oozy Fried Mozzarella; side dishes like Cauliflower Fried “Rice” and Broccoli Kishka Kugel; and desserts including Pomegranate Pistachio Semifreddo and Mini Lemon Curd Trifles.
In her introduction, Nachman writes that her intention is to present “recipes that are easy to make with ingredients that are generally easily accessible from your local supermarket or online.” She highly recommends using fresh lemons and limes, fresh herbs, fresh spices, and a variety of oils.
Each recipe includes cook’s tip, ideas for year-round serving, an author’s comment and, my favourite, method steps that are numbered. The press release says all the recipes are gluten-free.
Don’t bother to look around for a house gift if you are going to a seder at a friend or relative’s home. Perfect for Passover is the perfect gift – all year round.
Here are just two of Nachman’s recipes.
pareve, 8-10 servings
6 medium zucchini, grated with peel
1 grated onion
4 beaten eggs
1 1/2 cups matzah meal
1 tbsp baking powder
3/4 cup oil
1 tbsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare a nine-by-13-inch baking pan.
- Add all ingredients to a large bowl; stir well to combine.
- Pour into prepared pan. Bake, uncovered, for 90 minutes, until lightly browned and centre is firm.
FUDGY CHOCOLATE BUNDT CAKE WITH COFFEE GLAZE
2 1/2 cups almond flour
1 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup potato starch
1 tbsp instant coffee granules
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 tbsp imitation vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a Bundt pan well; set aside.
- In a small bowl, whisk together almond flour, cocoa powder, potato starch, coffee, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together sugar, oil, vanilla and eggs. Add dry ingredients; stir to combine.
- Pour batter into Bundt pan; bake 40-45 minutes, until toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Set aside to cool completely in the pan. Remove from pan; glaze with coffee glaze, below.
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp brewed coffee
1 tsp oil
- In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients to form a glaze. If the glaze is too thick to pour, add water, a half teaspoon at a time, until desired texture is reached.
- Pour glaze over cooled cake.
Sybil Kaplan is a journalist, lecturer, book reviewer and food writer in Jerusalem. She created and leads the weekly English-language Shuk Walks in Machaneh Yehudah, she has compiled and edited nine kosher cookbooks, and is the author of Witness to History: Ten Years as a Woman Journalist in Israel.
The High Holidays are all about family and friends coming together and sharing a meal. Kosher Taste: Plan. Prepare. Plate (Feldheim, 2016) by Toronto-based Amy Stopnicki offers home cooks a new formula for kosher cooking, with more than 100 recipes and photos.
In Kosher Taste, Stopnicki has taken her best innovations from years of experience and combined them with her passion for creating balanced and beautiful meals.
“I love to cook and I love to entertain. The warmth and beauty of sharing a beautifully set Shabbos or holiday table with friends and family is my passion and joy,” she explained. “The satisfaction I feel when family and guests dig in for seconds, or when kids enjoy a new dish, this makes all the effort of planning and preparing worthwhile. My goal with Kosher Taste is to share this joy, this passion, with home cooks who are looking to experience delicious new tastes and flavors to share with their families.”
Every recipe offers an easy-to-follow formula. Plan: tips for preparing ingredients ahead of time. Prepare: simple instructions and a step-by-step guide help any level of home cook recreate Stopnicki’s recipes. Plate: making what you have prepared look beautiful when served and what you can serve it with.
Recipes include squash zucchini soup, mango salad with raspberry vinaigrette, broccoli kugel, grilled fennel with balsamic reduction, stuffed mushrooms, salmon pad thai, wasabi tuna steaks, maple-glazed turkey breast, spinach pesto stuffed chicken, skirt steak in rum sauce, simple savory brisket, chocolate-dipped hamantashen and pumpkin pie brulée.
Here are some recipes to try for the New Year.
status: meat, serves 6-8
Plan: This recipe can also be baked on cookie sheets. Lightly cover the cookie sheet with oil and coat the top of each schnitzel with non-stick cooking spray. Bake at 350°F for approximately 10 minutes on each side. Quinoa flakes are a great gluten-free alternative. They are light and healthy and easy to work with and can be found in most health food stores.
8 chicken breasts
2-2 1/2 cups dried quinoa flakes
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup cornstarch or potato starch
canola (or safflower) oil for frying
1. Slice chicken breasts horizontally and pound to flatten.
2. In a shallow bowl, combine quinoa flakes, salt, paprika, garlic powder and pepper.
3. In another shallow bowl, lightly beat eggs.
4. Pour the starch on a plate.
5. In a large skillet, heat oil over a high temperature for frying.
6. Lightly dip each piece of chicken in starch, egg, and finally the quinoa mixture.
7. Fry each piece of chicken, turning when necessary. You will know it’s cooked when all sides are golden.
Plate: There are endless debates on how one serves and eats schnitzel: with noodles, or salad, or even in a sandwich. Stopnicki’s favorite is Israeli-style with hummus, Israeli salad and basmati rice.
APPLE CINNAMON STREUSEL MUFFINS
status: pareve, makes 18 muffins
Plan: This sweet treat is a great muffin to have for the kids as an after-school snack. Double the recipe and freeze them so you can take them out as needed. They thaw in 10 minutes or so.
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
2 cups flour
1 tbsp cinnamon
2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 cup applesauce
1 cup water
2 gala apples, peeled and finely diced
3 tbsp margarine
1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a large mixing bowl, cream eggs, vanilla, sugar and oil until mixture is light.
3. Add dry ingredients, applesauce, water and apples and combine well.
4. Pour batter into paper-lined muffin tins, filling them 2⁄3 of the way.
5. Meanwhile, combine all streusel ingredients until they achieve a sand-like consistency.
6.Pour one tablespoon of streusel mixture on top of each unbaked muffin.
7. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the tops are slightly golden.
Plate: Enjoy these alone or with a hot cup of tea.