Fresh flavors: Three new cookbooks invite chefs of all stripes

There are also menu and serving ideas sprinkled throughout the book, which the adventurous hostess will appreciate.

CRANBERRY APPLESAUCE served with latkes from ‘The Joys of Jewish Preserving.’ (photo credit: LEIGH OLSON)
CRANBERRY APPLESAUCE served with latkes from ‘The Joys of Jewish Preserving.’
(photo credit: LEIGH OLSON)
The best way to describe the authors of The Modern Jewish Table would be sassy. The pair of British moms, who repeatedly refer to themselves as princesses, take a decidedly unfussy, home-cook approach to the kitchen.
Tracey Fine and Georgie Tarn’s writing is peppered with Yiddish-to-English translations of their phrases (from schlep to broigus, meshugga and more), as well as a generous helping of phrases like “simply sensational” and “marvelous.” After all, the duo say, “Soup, like your wardrobe, changes with the season.” They offer a range of dishes from different cuisines, but are far from culinary purists. The falafel recipe calls for ginger, pine nuts and self-rising flour, while their take on layered provence lamb includes “kiddush wine” and instant soup powder.
There’s plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor in both the writing and the recipes, including “Jewshi,” a Japanese-themed gefilte fish dish and “Cohen-tucky Fried Chicken,” which is coated in matza meal.
That isn’t to say there aren’t some fresh ideas and flavors involved. From a red cabbage, beet and apple borscht that can be served hot or cold to a salad with adzuki beans, wasabi and bell pepper, or one with persimmon, snow peas, avocado and grapefruit, Fine and Tarn clearly both love to experiment in the kitchen and bring out new flavors and techniques, like baked salmon fish cakes with polenta fries. The fish and cheese blintzes leave me scratching my head, but I won’t knock it before I try it.
While the ladies’ language is colorful, there are decidedly too few color photographs, with less than a third of the recipes illustrated.
There is, however, an extensive dessert section, which always warms my pastry-coated heart. And there is more than just the chapter of “Very Important Pareve” desserts - which includes coffee- bean ice cream and a Scottish flapjack berry cobbler. There are also chocolate orange churros, “Rosh-a-Challah” pudding and a rosewater-flavored cheesecake topped with strands of kanafe and pistachios. If you’re looking for sass, style and some new recipes for your holiday cooking, these princesses might be for you.
It’s a niche topic I’d never really considered before – a Jewish angle on the ancient practice of pickling and preserving. But when you think about it, the idea makes a lot of sense. Jewish foods, especially Ashkenazi ones, have long been tied to the need to preserve foods, from pickled vegetables to herring, jams, jellies and more. In this sweet, homey book, Emily Paster explores the Jewish takes on all these foods that can keep you well stocked through the long winter months.
She starts out with her own personal story, growing up half-Jewish, feeling always connected but not quite there, then later meeting her husband and converting to marry him and building a Jewish home together. Then, of course, she moves on to the wide world of preserves.
“Preserving has played an important role in Jewish cuisine, both Ashkenazi and Sephardic,” Paster writes before proving her words, with dozens of recipes for pickles, jams, syrups, preserves and more. From red-currant and kiddush wine jelly to “shtetl raspberry syrup” – which was once used as a tonic for the sick and now best in seltzer – Paster does an admirable job exploring the many Jewish-themed foods born of preservation.
She offers an apricot poppy-seed jam that is clearly perfect for hamentashen, Russian-style sour cherry preserves, sweet and sour peach ketchup and even a few varieties of eingemacht, which is Yiddish for fruits or root vegetables cooked with honey or sugar. Paster offers several types of jam that will please more modern adventurous cooks, from pomegranate jelly to apple, honey and rosewater jam. And that’s before she even gets to the chapter on pickles, where just about anything and everything gets a brine. From cucumber – of course – to onion, radish, plum, cauliflower, carrots and just about everything in between, there is little that Paster won’t pickle. The final chapter offers serving suggestions for all the preserving you’ve been doing, from latkes to matza brei, blintzes, rugelach and doughnuts. The book is a sweet, very niche take on a not-very explored topic.
There are plenty of nice color photographs of many but not all of the recipes, though some clearly don’t lend all that well to photographs – how different does every jam and syrup really look?
It’s certainly not a book with mass appeal, but those with an interest in storing up summer’s bounty will find much to sink their teeth into.
Leah Koenig’s Little Book of Jewish Appetizers is, well, little. The pocket-sized volume has just 25 recipes in its 136 pages and diminutive height. The book is the first in an expected series of “bite-size” Jewish cookbooks, according to the publisher. It’s a handsome little volume, well-bound and with each recipe illustrated with a full-page matte photo.
The book is divided into two chapters, the first “fresh, toasted, pickled” and the second “cooked, fried, baked.” From a series of dips, including vegetarian chopped liver, sweet potato hummus and tzatziki, Koenig also offers recipes for everything-spice rye crackers and za’atar-garlic pita chips for a rounded starter.
In the second half, you can try your hand at a Persian zucchini and herb frittata, or potato and red onion knishes. There’s also an innovative take on falafel, which calls for shiitake mushrooms, scallions and harissa for a more Asian-inspired take on the Middle Eastern street food.
There are also menu and serving ideas sprinkled throughout the book, which the adventurous hostess will appreciate.
There’s not a ton of new ground covered here, and it’s on the pricier side for a book with just 25 recipes in it. While its small size is cute, it doesn’t make it particularly practical for using in the kitchen, with needing to prop it open and turn the pages multiple times. As a sweet hostess gift though, it’ll be appreciated, but I can’t promise it’ll be used.