The skinny on Jewish cooking

Faye Levy's new book offers tips and recipes to make traditional foods in a healthier way.

gefilte fish 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
gefilte fish 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Age-old Jewish recipes meet the health-food-crazed modern age in the newest book by The Jerusalem Post's leading food columnist, Faye Levy. In Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home, Levy brings new flavors to conventional classics from both Ashkenazi and Sephardi cultures that can satisfy an appetite, a kosher kitchen and a healthy lifestyle. She takes a fresh look at traditionally high-cholesterol holiday meats, greasy Hanukka treats and rich Shavuot dairy cuisine often loaded with fat. Breaking away from stereotypical holiday recipes, Levy brings life back to the holiday meal in a nutritious, calorie-conscious manner. By using vegetable oil, and replacing bad carbs with whole grains and large, hearty meat portions with smaller, leaner ones, Levy offers great taste while still being mindful of healthy eating. She shows her vast knowledge of food by explaining to her readers what types of foods they should look for and how to maintain an entirely healthy lifestyle through portion control, cooking tips and simple, easy-to-follow guidelines. Levy provides numerous angles for readers to use the cookbook, whether they are looking for a specific Jewish holiday recipe or a well-balanced kosher meal for any day of the week. The book is first divided by holiday, with a traditional breakdown following. This includes soups, salads, fish, poultry, meat, parve dishes and vegetarian side dishes. While Jewish holidays often incorporate the most cooking and the largest meals, Levy provides readers the means to maintain a healthy, kosher diet on a daily basis. The cover of the book displays mouthwatering pictures of the recipes that will immediately draw any aspiring cook. But they may easily be disappointed to find that the pictures end there. That being said, Levy includes lively descriptions, which allow every cook to use his own imagination in creating the dishes. She also offers ways to create and maintain holiday traditions, while adding her inspirations for the recipes by providing a personal connection to the holiday dishes. This Pessah season, keeping tradition and health in mind, Levy suggests gefilte fish balls made with salmon instead of cod - because of the fish's high omega-3 content, a far healthier choice. The dish is inspired by Japanese and Hawaiian flavors. For a traditional Shabbat meal with a Mediterranean twist, try the boneless, skinless Shabbat Chicken with potatoes, capers, and olives. Springtime green salad with gefilte fish balls, sugar snap peas and asparagus Makes 4 to 6 servings Salmon Gefilte Fish Balls 500 gr. salmon fillet, free of skin and any small bones, cut into pieces 1 large egg 1 medium onion, finely chopped 3/4 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill 1 1/2 Tbsp. matza meal 3 cups Quick Fish Stock or vegetable broth Greens, Cooked Vegetables and Dressing 170 to 230 gr. thin asparagus, ends trimmed, spears cut into 2 pieces 110 to 170 gr. sugar snap peas 1 to 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar, or more to taste 1 to 2 tsp. low-sodium soy sauce (optional) Salt and freshly ground black pepper 1 tsp. vegetable oil 1 Tbsp. Asian (toasted) sesame oil or additional vegetable oil, or more to taste 4 to 6 cups mixed baby greens, rinsed and dried 1 green onion, chopped Quick Fish Stock Makes 3 1/2 cups 500 gr. fish heads tails and bones 1 liter water 1 bay leaf 1 fresh thyme sprig or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme 6 parsley stems (optional) 1 onion, sliced (optional) For fish stock: Rinse fish heads and bones thoroughly and put them in a medium saucepan. Add water, bay leaf, thyme, parsley and onion (if using). Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Strain stock. Cool promptly and refrigerate or freeze until ready to use. For salmon gefilte fish balls: Grind salmon in a food processor until very fine. Add egg, chopped onion and measured salt and pepper. Process to blend. Transfer to a bowl. Stir in dill and matza meal. Combine fish stock and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Taste broth and add salt if needed. With moistened hands, shape fish mixture in balls, using about 2 tablespoons mixture for each. Carefully drop fish balls into simmering stock. If necessary, add enough hot water to barely cover them, pouring carefully near edge of pan, not over fish balls. Return to a simmer, cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Let fish balls cool in broth. To cook vegetables for salad: Add asparagus to a saucepan of boiling salted water and cook, uncovered, over high heat for 3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Remove with a slotted spoon, rinse and drain. Return liquid to a boil. Add sugar snap peas and boil uncovered for 2 minutes or until crisp-tender. Remove with a slotted spoon, rinse and drain. Pat peas and asparagus dry. For the dressing: Whisk rice vinegar with soy sauce (if using) and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk in vegetable oil and sesame oil. A short time before serving, cut each gefilte fish ball in half. Put greens in a shallow serving bowl. Add green onion, half the asparagus and half the sugar snap peas. Add dressing and toss lightly. Taste, adjust seasoning, and add more oil or vinegar if needed. Top with remaining asparagus, sugar snap peas, and gefilte fish. Traditional Shabbat chicken with potatoes, capers and olives Makes 4 to 6 servings 700 gr. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thighs, or some of each 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 1 large onion, chopped 3 garlic cloves, chopped 1/2 tsp. turmeric 1 tsp. ground cumin 1 1/2 tsp. paprika Salt and freshly ground black pepper 3 carrots, sliced (optional) 3 boiling potatoes, peeled and diced 1 to 1 1/2 cups water 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice 2 to 3 Tbsp. capers, rinsed 1/4 cup green or black olives, pitted and sliced 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley Cut each chicken piece into 2 or 3 chunks. Heat oil in stew pan. Add chicken in batches and brown lightly over medium heat, removing each piece after it browns. Add onion and garlic and cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until onion begins to turn golden. Return chicken to pan and sprinkle with turmeric, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Add carrots (if using), potatoes and 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally until chicken is tender; breasts will need 20 to 25 minutes, thighs 30 to 40 minutes; check water once or twice during simmering and add 3 to 4 tablespoons if needed so that ingredients are moist. Add lemon juice, capers and olives and heat through. Taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in parsley. Serve hot.