From page to plate

If you’re looking for Israeli cuisine, internationally inspired kosher fare or gluten-free bagels and lox, these new cookbooks have something to offer.

Spinach and feta arayes from ‘Israel Eats.’ (photo credit: STEVE ROTHFELD/GIBBS SMITH)
Spinach and feta arayes from ‘Israel Eats.’
Travel photographer Steven Rothfeld had never been to Israel before 2010. But once he arrived, he was amazed and enthralled by the vibrancy of life – in particular the culinary scene. That trip inspired him to return in 2012 and spend several months exploring all the country has to offer, ultimately culminating in Israel Eats: part cookbook, part coffee table photography book and part travelogue.
The book is divided into regions of the country: Tel Aviv-Jaffa; the North; the Center; the South; and Jerusalem and the Judean Hills. In each chapter Rothfeld spins a tale of his travels, the people he met and the meals in which he partook.
His prose is almost as vivid as his gorgeous color photographs – of people, places and dishes – which is why it is frustrating sometimes when a character in his journey goes unphotographed. Rothfeld describes one man as having “a giddy smile, a soft lined face, and short, sandy gray hair,” and another as possessing “arresting blue eyes that permeate a room, even a dramatic room like the one we were in on the edge of the blue Mediterranean” – but neither man made a physical appearance in the book.
The book adequately captures the wide variety of Israeli cuisines and flavors, with many familiar dishes and plenty of intrigue, including mushroom falafel with herb tabbouleh and sweet and spicy yogurt sauce; cauliflower focaccia; flatbread stuffed with fried onion, oregano and sumac and tehina-honey ice cream with almond crumble.
Those recipes without photos are also disappointing, but if Rothfeld had included photos of every part of his travels, the book would be twice as long. Regardless, the photos, stories and recipes included will make anyone want to drop everything and follow in his footsteps around the country.
It’s hard to overestimate the impact Susie Fishbein has had on kosher home cooks. From the moment her first book in the Kosher by Design series came out in 2003, Fishbein elevated the kosher cookbook from a dog-eared synagogue sisterhood collection of untested recipes to a thing of art.
Now, closing the circle, she has penned what she says is her final book in the series: Kosher By Design Brings It Home: Picture-perfect food inspired by my travels.
After her “never-ending book tour” over the last 15 years, Fishbein has culled flavors mostly from her work in France, Italy, Mexico and Israel to create this collection of 115 kosher recipes.
From chicken pasta genovese and arancini from Italy, to tuna ceviche tostados and chicken flautas from Mexico and pistou soup and rosemary lavender chicken from France, there is no doubt Fishbein has learned a lot from her travels. Her time in Israel is not surprisingly the most represented, from kanafe to freekeh pilaf and an only-in-Israel Libyan-Georgian mash-up of shakshuka khachapuri. But during times when the ideas of cultural appropriation and authenticity are much debated, many entries felt slightly less than genuine.
Recipes for bok choy chicken salad and coconut lime pargiyot were noted to have “Asian flavors,” a far cry from real Chinese or Thai cuisine.
Some recipes had a tenuous link to travels – a specific ingredient spotted in a market – while others made no attempt to fit the theme, from kale squash Caesar salad to firecracker turkey burgers and sweet potato coconut casserole. And while I was thrilled to see every recipe got a color photo, some of them were unfortunately dark or slightly out of focus.
Regardless, Fishbein has succeeded once again in creating a unique kosher cookbook for the home cook looking for new ideas – and new flavors – without having to leave the kitchen.
Gluten-free, paleo and approved by bubbe? It may seem farfetched, but that’s the premise behind this cookbook that seeks to take traditionally Jewish foods and make them 21st-century health-food trend friendly. The “paleo” diet, which has gained popularity in recent years, is a weight-loss plan geared to eating only what was available to paleolithic humans, or cavemen – effectively excluding not just all processed foods but also grains, dairy, legumes, alcohol and sugar.
Simone Miller and Jennifer Robins, who have both adopted the so-called lifestyle, have written a book adapting and recreating Jewish classics for the diet. Without chickpeas, hummus is based on roasted butternut squash; matza balls for chicken soup are made with either potatoes or cassava flour; and halla is made with almond flour, arrowroot powder and potato starch. No dairy means you can make cashew cream cheese to go alongside your grain-free bagel and lox, and fill your blintzes with a combination of cashews and coconut milk.
Even for one not keeping to the strict limitations, there are bright points of interest in the book, including balsamic braised short ribs, roasted leg of lamb with mint macadamia pesto and roasted beet salad with pomegranate-infused vinaigrette. Plus the focus on unprocessed foods leads to instructions for curing your own pastrami and lox and pickling your own cucumbers.
Every recipe gets an appealing color photo and a helpful “tip” from one of the authors’ four bubbes, ranging from actual advice to stereotypical whining. On a recipe for caramelized onion and potato knishes, bubbe says: “I know you like to hurry, bubula, but the onions don’t! Don’t rush them, or they won’t be as delicious for your knishes.” And after the instruction for salmon gefilte fish, bubbe says: “What, it’s too much work for you? In my day, the recipe started with ‘catch a fish,’ so quit your kvetching!” If there was ever a niche cookbook, this is it, but those with a variety of dietary restrictions – not just those who choose to eat like a caveman – will find helpful tips here.
At just 22 years old, Aviv Harkov has created an inspiring and intriguing book, chock-full of recipes but way more than just a cookbook. The Israel Navy veteran and former Bnei Akiva emissary to Hong Kong (and, yes, sister of The Jerusalem Post’s illustrious Knesset reporter, Lahav Harkov) has penned A Taste of Torah, containing 54 recipes, each matched up with one of the parshiyot. Each parasha, or weekly Torah portion, gets a recipe, a short, straightforward dvar Torah and a bedtime story for kids. Throughout, the book is clearly geared toward getting children involved and includes tips for ways your “sous-chefs” can help out in the kitchen.
Many biblical passages lend themselves easily to culinary adaptation, like chicken and red lentil stew for Esau’s lentil soup in Toldot, or a salmon, asparagus and roasted pepper salad for the listings of kosher fish in Shmini.
Others, of course, do not, leading Harkov to be more creative and sometimes a little kitschy.
Bereishit, the creation of heaven and earth, gets black-and-white cookies, while Pekudei’s cloud covering the Tabernacle is represented by a lemon meringue cloud cake, and the Nile River turning to blood in Va’era is vividly reimagined as a roasted red pepper soup.
Harkov’s voice is clear and the recipes are straightforward – for adults or kids. Lots of fun photos are sprinkled throughout, including Harkov in the kitchen with her cousins, though the printing quality of some could do with a boost.
Anyone looking to get children excited about cooking, learning the weekly Torah portion – or both! – has found the perfect book with which to do so.
I’ve become pretty cookbook jaded in my line of work; with dozens lining my shelves, I’ve seen it all, and I’m quick to judge. So I didn’t have very high expectations for Celebrate by Elizabeth Kurtz – another kosher cookbook, a name I didn’t know, and a benefit project for Emunah of America at that (a worthy cause, but nonprofit endeavors often don’t produce the highest quality).
So imagine my surprise when, despite my cynicism, Celebrate turned out to be one of the best kosher cookbooks I’ve seen for a while. From the start it is clear Kurtz spent time testing and retesting to perfection – including detailed instructions, extra notes on preparation, yield, ways to adapt for Passover and added helpful tips.
While the word “Shabbos” is featured on the cover, it took me some time to realize that the entire book is devoted to just that one day of the week, and that in fact there are zero dairy recipes to be found. Instead, the book opens with a chapter just on halla, before moving on to kiddush and then more traditional breakdowns, until “shalosh seudas” or the third Shabbat meal (even there, dairy doesn’t make an appearance). Regardless, it would have been nice if recipes were clearly labeled meat or parve.
There are lots of staples to be found throughout the book, making it a good gift for a beginner cook, but also plenty of intrigue even for those more experienced in the kitchen. From pan-seared duck breast with fig-shallot marmalade to sweetbreads with wild mushrooms and rich broth, horseradish meringue-topped salmon, and red lentil soup with dried apricots, Kurtz shows an inventive palate. I bookmarked the everything bagel chicken and red and white quinoa with grapes and pomegranate seeds to try soon.
All the photographs of the dishes are fresh and appealing looking, though not every recipe is photographed.
Thankfully, Kurtz doesn’t skimp on the dessert chapter either, which holds a special place in my heart and hers. Recipes include chocolate caramel pecan pie, red velvet and cream cheese brownies and cinnamon swirl shortbread, plus an exhaustive troubleshooting chart on cookies.
In short, this is a cookbook with something for everyone – from novices to experts.