Testing out tasty texts

This Hanukka, pick from these new cookbooks as a gift for the culinary connoisseur in your life.

December 7, 2017 18:14
4 minute read.
A HOMEMADE bagel with fresh gravlax from ‘Modern Jewish Baker.’

A HOMEMADE bagel with fresh gravlax from ‘Modern Jewish Baker.’ . (photo credit: SHANNON SARNA)


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By Miriam Pascal
Mesorah Publications
304 pages; $34.99

Right at home
If the name Miriam Pascal doesn’t sound familiar, then you’ve probably heard of her as the “Overtime Cook.” But food blogging and cookbook writing ways are no longer in her overtime - she focuses on her culinary endeavors full-time, and it shows in her second cookbook, Real Life Kosher Cooking. While her first book focused solely on desserts, Pascal has tackled “real food” in this one, packing in more than 150 recipes for soups to salads, snacks and sides.

Throughout the book Pascal makes it clear she has the home cook in mind, with notes about not using disposable baking sheets and noting which recipes can be made ahead and frozen. She’s a self-taught cook, baker and photographer who took all the images for the book and made sure each recipe had a corresponding photo.

There are little things that irked me, like calling hawaij a “Middle Eastern spice” – it’s Yemenite – and including a recipe for “roasted vegetable medley” – i.e. vegetables roasted on a sheet pan.

But most recipes will be right at home on most weekday and Shabbat tables, from deli roll cigars to cherry and pecan cabbage salad with a maple mustard dressing and broccoli, zucchini and white bean soup. I already have my eye on the baked honey barbecue popcorn chicken for my next big Shabbat meal.

The six different varieties for roast chicken will definitely be a boon for busy parents who cook regularly, and I can see the corn-chip-crusted fish sticks becoming a quick favorite among hungry kids.

Even though her last cookbook was all things sweet, Pascal doesn’t skimp on desserts in her latest offering either, with a wide selection that includes a fluffernutter brownie pie, pecan pie bundt cake and cheesecake crinkle cookies. It’s not hard to see why this book sold out its first printing after just two weeks.

By Shannon Sarna
Countryman Press 264 pages; $29.95

No knead for more
You’ve probably already seen Shannon Sarna’s work. For years, the New Jersey-based mom has been blogging and recipe-creating and writing for a variety of Jewish media outlets – creating modern, social-media-worthy takes on classics. Her Instagram feed is filled with photos of delectable creations and adorable pictures of her two young daughters.

Now Sarna has taken all that and more and created her first cookbook, Modern Jewish Baker. The book encourages bakers to experiment with their own takes on Jewish classics – Sarna is half Jewish, half Italian – and use her dough recipes as a basis for new creations. The chapters go from halla to babka, bagels, hamentashen, rugelach, pita and even matza (though I can’t say the latter is something I’ve ever wanted to create in a home kitchen).

She’s included more than a dozen recipes for halla, from the classic, to the mouthwatering za’atar and garlic halla, to the eye-raising chocolate cherry halla and yes, even pumpkin-spice halla. Every chapter includes helpful tips on how the dough should look and behave, and step-by-step photographs on shaping the different creations. Six-strand halla – no problem; hamentashen that don’t explode – Sarna has your back. She has no qualms about playing with bold, unconventional flavors – from a tropical babka with pineapple and coconut to a savory hot sauce and blue-cheese variety, or jalapeno-cheddar bagels; chocolate- peppermint rugelach; and onion- jam and goat-cheese hamentashen.

You get the feeling that Sarna really wants you to find success in the kitchen – and it makes you want to jump right in and get started. I’ve already got my eye on the double chocolate cookie babka.

By Paola Gavin
Quadrille Publishing 256 pages; $35

Utilizing nature’s bounty
While most Shabbat tables tend to be laden with chicken and meat, Paola Gavin is here to ensure that Jewish vegetarians have plenty to serve at every meal. Her latest cookbook, Hazana (from the Hebrew for nourishment), takes a global tour of Jewish cuisine through a vegetarian lens. Weaving her way around the globe and throughout history, Gavin presents more than 100 ways to utilize nature’s bounty for holidays and every day.

How about a Turkish dish of stewed lentils traditionally made to break the Tisha Be’av fast? Or a potato and mushroom babka from Poland? Italian pumpkin ravioli with butter and sage and Algerian cauliflower simmered with onions and tomatoes are good any time.

It’s clear Gavin has done a great deal of research and testing to create this book, and she presents a colorful, flavorful and diverse view of Jewish cuisine. The book starts with an overview of the Jewish holidays, and a short overview of the Jewish history of more than a dozen countries. It’s a bit much for a cookbook, though the intentions are good, and it’s always nice to see a wide range of countries and origins represented. From Romanian polenta with cheese to Moroccan couscous with seven vegetables, French vegetable gratin and Russian potato dumplings stuffed with cheese, you’re not going to go hungry with this book around.

While I would have liked more photos (you can never go wrong with more photos), what images are included are crisp and inviting. I also would have enjoyed an index organized by country, but even I can agree that I’m already nit-picking. It’s clear that vegetarians and omnivores alike will find much to love and cook here.

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