A big, colorful bite

Three new cookbooks offer widely different takes on breakfast, lunch and dinner that you can try out in your own home kitchen.

Apple Pie creps from Secrets of Skinny Cooking  (photo credit: ESTI WALDMAN)
Apple Pie creps from Secrets of Skinny Cooking
(photo credit: ESTI WALDMAN)
This is the kind of cookbook that you’re surprised there aren’t more of already out there. After all, Jews love to eat – every weekend and at every holiday – and that can lead to serious problems with obesity and health.
And while there are some lighter takes on kosher food out there, cookbook author Victoria Dwek and nutritionist Shani Taub are hoping to create a comprehensive look at keeping kosher, observing Shabbat and eating lean in Secrets of Skinny Cooking.
While Dwek and Taub can’t knock the cookie right out of your hand (if only), they’re hoping to give you the tools to create healthy meals for you and your family. All the recipes are already loaded into the popular calorie-counting app MyFitnessPal, which is a nice added touch. Each recipe has calories per serving listed and many offer optional additions or ways to turn a side dish into a main or a whole meal.
More even than the recipes it contains, the book is chock full of tips and basics to get you started on a healthier lifestyle. There are sections on everything from how to caramelize onions without oil to which store-bought snacks are a healthy choice, ways to jazz up non-fat Greek yogurt and how to top your rice cakes. There’s also a sizable section on how to make your own homemade Chinese takeout options, which is a nice addition (and more exciting than a rice cake topped with hummus and Israeli salad), as well as a range of low-calorie salad dressings that can really come in handy. At its best, the book is innovative, with sushi made from cauliflower rice, nachos made from low-calorie tortilla wraps and a lightened-up eggplant parmesan.
It has a bright, cheerful tone, while resigning you to a lifetime of calorie counting and treat deprivation.
Though I wish the pancake recipe didn’t recommend a serving of two and show a photo of four.
There is a lot of Splenda or artificial sweeteners listed in the recipes, which may not please some of the more health conscious. You’d also better love cauliflower, because it’s just about everywhere.
And while I understand that a nutritionist isn’t going to endorse a calorie-laden dessert (even if you try bribes), good luck enjoying – or getting your kids to eat – brownies made with jars of sweet-potato baby food.
Jerusalem native Ronen Seri has been a vegan for years. In 2005, he and his now ex-wife (and co-author and business partner) opened up Blossom, a vegan kosher restaurant that now has two locations in Manhattan. Plus, Seri opened up a vegan waffle and ice cream spot called Gela in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market last year.
Now the pair have turned their talents to a new cookbook, sharing some of their techniques and the restaurants’ most popular dishes. The cookbook, of course, is kosher, as there is nothing vegan that could be problematic when it comes to kashrut.
In the intro to The Blossom Cookbook, Seri says growing up in Jerusalem exposed him to wide range of culinary inspiration, including tastes of Morocco, Turkey, Yemen, Iran, Poland, Hungary and Spain.
While there’s a lot to like and plenty to admire in Seri and Elizabeth’s cookbook, it is unlikely to convert many carnivores to the vegan lifestyle. The book is full of vibrant produce and fresh dishes, but also a lot of “substitutes,” from tofu to tempeh, seitan and more. The book starts with a series of basics that will arm you for the rest of the recipes, including dressings and sauces made from cashews, tofu, coconut milk and brown rice syrup. There are quite a few ingredients throughout that will be more difficult for Israeli cooks to track down, including vegan cheese, vegan bacon and vegan butter. In addition to the less familiar ingredients, Seri and Elizabeth utilize mushrooms, lentils and eggplant in true vegan fashion. The pine-nut-crusted eggplant does have that Middle Eastern flair, and vegan French toast made with egg-free bread soaked in soy milk and maple syrup will definitely hit the spot for some.
Even this omnivore had her eye on the yellow corn and coconut soup, and was practically salivating over the butternut squash gnocchi and the parsnip ravioli.
The book is inviting with nice, fresh-looking and brightly lit photos. It tends toward the healthy, of course, but there is a fair amount of frying involved.
While many of the recipes are innovative and unique, Seri also threw in a standard recipe for the naturally vegan hummus, as well as classic roasted brussels sprouts.
Vegans will find much to love in this book’s pages, and omnivores could be convinced to broaden their horizons – to a point.
British audiences are likely already familiar with Emma Spitzer from her star turn on MasterChef back in 2015. But now the home cook is reaching beyond the TV screen with an ocean-jumping cookbook that explores a wide spectrum of Jewish culinary experiences: Fress: Bold Flavors from a Jewish Kitchen.
Spitzer, who lives in London, said she drew from her family’s background for both her time on the show and her cookbook. She comes from Polish and Russian stock, while her husband has Algerian and Moroccan roots – and all that is on display in this colorful, cheerful tome.
While it is more in vogue these days to focus on the Middle Eastern flavors of the Sephardi Jewish Diaspora, Spitzer gives all Jewish cuisines their due in the book.
From matbucha, hummus and eggplant dips to touches of sauerkraut and pastrami, Fress (which is Yiddish for “to devour”), is a true ingathering of exiles when it comes to cuisine.
Spitzer weaves effortlessly from pierogi, whitefish salad and chopped liver to chicken and pistachio meatballs with coriander tahini, and lamb ghormeh sabzi (a traditional Persian dish).
She isn’t afraid to create modern, sometimes jarring takes on more traditional dishes. Instead of the Hanukka traditional dish, Spitzer has created fennel and potato latkes with lemon and chive aioli. The classic Israeli street food becomes spiced cod falafel. From recipes for homemade lox to house-pickled corned beef to the Algerian dish mahkuda (based on eggs and potatoes), there are innovative ideas on most of the pages. There are also beautiful images on most pages, although around 10% of the recipes go unillustrated.
I’m just about ready to dive into the cumin, potato and harissa boureka sandwich, and I certainly wouldn’t turn down a slice of chocolate, date and pistachio cake (and certainly not if it came with a scoop of black halva and white chocolate ice cream).
When Spitzer hit British TV screens in 2015, she brought to that audience a world of cuisine likely unknown to many of them. Her cookbook continues that.