From Tex-Mex to Rugelach: Four great new cookbooks

Select any one of these latest cookbooks to begin experimenting with new and exciting flavors in the kitchen.

Chicken Thighs in green olive and tomato sauce from ‘The Palomar Cookbook.’ (photo credit: HELEN CATHCART)
Chicken Thighs in green olive and tomato sauce from ‘The Palomar Cookbook.’
(photo credit: HELEN CATHCART)
By Renee Muller
Artscroll Mesorah
272 pages;
From Switzerland to New Jersey Renee Muller has created a beautiful cookbook. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, since she makes her living as a food stylist – prepping dishes and table settings to look appealing in photographs.
But it’s not just the photos in Our Table that look good; the book is well laid out, well organized, and chock full of tasty-sounding dishes. In fact, there’s something about it that’s almost a little too perfect, a little too trying too hard, a little too unattainable.
While the cookbook is an attractive one, there are a bunch of little quirks that rubbed me the wrong way: while most recipes are for 4 or 6, some suddenly jump to feed 16, like stuffed cabbage or lo mein.
Most of the recipes are chock full of extra tips and notes, but Muller throws certain words around that really need more explanation for the average cook: kani are mock crab sticks, PB2 is a powdered peanut butter, arbes is Yiddish for chickpeas and a sterno is what’s used under chafing dishes for reheating.
Overall, the book is just a bit disjointed, with a lot of the recipes and dishes more suited to special occasions than everyday meals; indeed Muller mentions Yom Tov in a significant chunk of the head notes.
Muller grew up in Lugano, Switzerland, an Italian-speaking city just on the border, and later made her home in Lakewood, New Jersey. Those dichotomous cultures are on full display throughout the book, which includes recipes for brown buttered pear salad, roasted chestnuts, kaas ptojes (cheese tartlets), chablis-infused salmon, pretzel dough-wrapped hot dogs and spicy chicken wings.
When it comes down to it, Muller has written an incredibly professional but ultimately personal family cookbook, which she cops to in the intro, when explaining the name: “This book is called Our Table because that is exactly what it is. Our children’s table, our friends’ table, and our loved one’s table.” She also has an engaging voice, and her jokes about hiding cookies in the washing machine or labeling a chocolate cake “broccoli quiche” in the freezer will ring true for many.
Muller has also created video tutorials for a handful of recipes inside the book, showing how to braid halla, make homemade gnocchi or create sea-salt caramel candies.
If you’re up to navigating recipes with both 15+ ingredients – split pea soup with nockerlach, seared tuna cubes over kani salad – as well as recipes with just a handful – malawach pinwheels, baked honey mustard chicken, breaded sweetbreads – and bouncing between different cultures, then this is the book for you.
By Amy Kritzer
Rock Point
96 pages;
Sprinkles and cupcakes galore Amy Kritzer’s enthusiasm is infectious.
Sweet Noshings: New Twists on Traditional Jewish Desserts, the young food blogger’s cookbook debut, is a slim volume jampacked with personality. Of course, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise from someone who made her name on a blog called What Jew Wanna Eat – kitschy, cheesy and irresistible. But twee notions aside (the book is heavily pink, with a handful of glamour shots of Kritzer in sequins), she has created a solid collection of intriguing creations, playing off centuries of Jewish tradition with a decidedly 21st century touch.
From tex-mex chocolate rugelach with a pinch of cayenne (Kritzer calls Austin, Texas, home) to apricot and fig-stuffed halla, peanut butter and chocolate babka, to the almost-blasphemous snickerdoodle bagels, the flavors are head-on, brazen and unashamed. Kritzer even provides a Passover section, complete with Manischewitz wine-flavored ice cream with a brown butter charoset topping. And she doesn’t leave Israeli flavors out of the things, including a recipe for homemade pistachio chocolate krembos – the ultimate Israeli treat.
The book is nicely laid out – though the print is a touch small – and every recipe gets a full-page color photo taken by Kritzer herself. So bookmark a few recipes, and start baking!
Mitchell Beazley
256 pages;
A taste of Jerusalem in London Open the first page of The Palomar Cookbook and you’re greeted with a joke: A waiter walks up to a table of four Jewish women at the end of their meal and asks, “So ladies, was anything OK?” The lighthearted tone continues throughout this Middle Eastern cookbook, as Tomer Amedi notes that every week “we address the Friday night challenge: ‘How are we supposed to eat all that?’” Amedi is the head chef of The Palomar, a London restaurant from the famed Machneyuda group – headed by Israeli chefs Yossi Elad, Assaf Granit and Uri Navon – which claims to serve “the food of modern-day Jerusalem.” Indeed, the cookbook is bursting with a plethora of Middle Eastern flavors, pulling from Lebanese, Tunisian, Persian, Iraqi, Turkish and Moroccan cuisines, without forgetting some Ashkenazi classics like chopped liver, latkes and kreplach. With tehina, sumac and pomegranates popping up all over, the cookbook reliably presents what have become signatures of Israeli cuisine, from shakshuka to labneh with zaatar, falafel and more.
Lamb cutlets with freekeh and cauliflower cream as well as chicken livers in date syrup and bourbon combine flavors and techniques for unique, imaginative dishes.
Machneyuda’s famed polenta makes an appearance, and a whole chapter on seafood – including octopus-topped hummus – makes it clear the chefs have long ago left behind traditional kosher laws (which they acknowledge, especially with the “Bad Jew’s Kreplach” filled with minced pork).
The photos are beautiful and engaging, including those of dishes, those of the UK restaurant and those of Jerusalem, but the layout is clunky, often with ingredient lists jumping a page. The volume is decidedly a restaurant cookbook, with complex, multi-part dishes that could prove daunting to many home cooks. The dessert section is slim, and even further from a home cook’s repertoire – Earl Grey chocolate fondue with whisky pears, cardamom marshmallows, kubaneh croutons and sumac crumble anyone? The book is essentially an intro to Israeli cuisine, which is fast becoming one of hippest on the scene these days. And its fast rise means The Palomar Cookbook is competing on an already-crowded landscape, one which includes the fantastic Michael Solomonov’s Zahav cookbook and Steve Rothfeld’s Israel Eats.
By Miri Rotkovitz
Sonoma Press
225 pages;
A modern bubbe’s menu The best way to describe Miri Rotkovitz’s cookbook is sweet. It’s not flashy or loud or aggressive, it doesn’t shout from the rooftops or call to you from the store shelf. Nevertheless, Rotkovitz has created an understated, sometimes predictable ode to her grandmothers and the culinary heritage they left her.
While the cover photo of matza balls in chicken soup is a bit stereotypical, the recipes inside are widely varied, some with a bit of a stretch to fit the grandmotherly theme. From halla strata with mushrooms and asparagus; to apricot pistachio babka; latkes with ras el hanout and lemon zest; and pumpkin halva bars, Rotkovitz isn’t afraid to draw inspiration from her bubbe while still bringing things to another level. She describes going through her grandmother’s well-worn recipe box as discovering “a time capsule, a fantastic primary source, a chance to reconnect with my beloved grandmother.”
She also found inspiration in her grandparents traveling, imagining that they “might have enjoyed” Thai summer rolls with peanut sauce. Other times she simply shares recipes she’s tried and tested over the years, like fried smashed plantain chips from her college years. Rotkovitz is also a dietician, and a healthy approach to foods is certainly on display, with whole grains, whole-wheat flours and an emphasis on fresh produce. Unfortunately, there aren’t nearly enough photos, most egregiously in some recipes that are just begging for one, like nori and smoked salmon “petit fours.” I’m also not entirely sure why there are a whopping four recipes for charoset.
In a nice touch, Rotkovitz invited wellknown cookbook authors to share stories and recipes from their own grandmothers, which are scattered throughout the book.
So if you’re looking to try a roasted beet salad with ginger and garlic vinaigrette; farro salad with lemony white beans, roasted red peppers and cauliflower; butternut and roasted corn chowder with garam masala; or Moroccan spiced cod with oranges and olives, then dig in.