From Page to Plate

Passover cooking becomes more fun each year with the
publication of glossy new kosher cookbooks brimming with creative suggestions
for elegant and enticing Passover dishes.

Whether you are planning your seder menu, looking for a
memorable Passover gift, or you just want a break from cleaning, salivate over
the scrumptious recipes in these cookbooks from master chefs and food writers.

“The Hadassah Jewish Holiday Cookbook: Traditional Recipes
from Contemporary Kosher Kitchens” (Hugh Lauter Levin, 2003), edited by Joan
Schwartz Michel, is a gorgeously photographed collection of 250 recipes from
Hadassah’s great cooks — Ashkenazic and Sephardic — in America and Israel.
Commentaries on holidays and their foods by Jewish cuisine experts like Joan
Nathan and Claudia Roden precede each section. The extensive Passover section
features seven types of charoset, from a Suriname cherry jam and dried fruit
recipe to the Persian version studded with pistachios, walnuts, almonds,
hazelnuts, dates, apples, pears and gingerroot. Try Traditional Chopped Liver,
Apple-Spiced Brisket or Chicken Marrakesh baked with olives, cumin, thyme,
apricots, figs, brown sugar and pecans. For dessert, whip up an Egyptian
Sephardic-style Orange Cake; or please kids and adults with Matzah Brickle,
Chocolate Pudding Cake and Lemon Squares.  

“Adventures in Jewish Cooking” (Clarkson Potter, 2002)
presents the innovative cuisine of Jeffrey Nathan, executive chef of Abigail’s
Restaurant in Manhattan and host of the PBS series, “New Jewish Cuisine.”
Alongside creative alternatives like Latin American Ceviche instead of gefilte
fish, Nathan offers “heritage” recipes like classic chopped liver. Date charoset
gets an extra kick with the addition of diced mango and quartered red grapes;
chicken soup goes Sephardic with saffron matzah balls; sweet oranges, smoky
trout and raddichio blend in an unusual salad; and wild mushroom-farfel
dressing complements a rack of veal. End on a light note with Banana Cake and
Strawberry Marsala Compote, or go all the way with the crunchy, creamy combo of
Matzah Napoleon with White Chocolate Mousse. Salivating yet?  

“Levana’s Table: Kosher Cooking for Everyone” (Stewart, Tabori
& Chang, 2002), offers 150 recipes from Levana Kirschenbaum, owner of Manhattan’s
kosher gourmet Levana Restaurant. Directions for creating homemade condiments
like preserved lemons and fiery Moroccan harissa will come in handy when adding
pizzaz to the Passover palate. The cookbook is divided by courses
(appetizers/soups/salads and so on, with a section on favorites from the
restaurant and even a kosher wine list), but cull through the book for numerous
recipes that can be made for Passover (some with minor adjustments) like the
nondairy Cream of Broccoli and Watercress Soup and Tricolor Ribbon Salad with
Cider-Shallot Dressing. Her suggested Passover menu: Trout Stuffed With Gefilte
Fish in Jellied Broth; Matzah Ball Soup; Brisket in Sweet and Sour Sauce;
Cider-Roasted Turkey with Dried Fruit Stuffing; Artichokes and Carrots in Lemon
Sauce; Potato Kugel; Almond-Wine Cake; and Poached Pears With Chocolate

Chef Joyce Goldstein explores Sephardic foods in her newest
cookbook, “Saffron Shores: Jewish Cooking of the Southern Mediterranean”
(Chronicle, 2002). As she traces the crosscultural culinary trail of the diaspora,
Goldstein explores the spice-infused dishes of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya,
as well as Judeo-Arabic recipes. Goldstein introduces the book with an
informative history of Jews in Muslim lands, description of kosher laws and a
selection of menus for holidays. Be aware that Sephardim consider legumes and
rice kosher for Passover. Three Passover menus — two for dinner, one for lunch
— include an emerald soup of pureed peas, beans and greens; a vegetable stew of
artichokes, fennel and celery root; a Sabbath stew (akin to cholent) called D’fina;
Tunisian Fish Ball Tagine, Whiting and Potato Pie; Moroccan Carrot Salad with
Cumin. Oranges, dates, raisins and walnuts star in candied desserts and,
strangely enough, there’s a candied eggplant, too. 

“Sephardic Israeli Cuisine: A Mediterranean Mosaic,” by
cooking instructor and author Sheilah Kaufman (Hippocrene, 2002) treads the
same ground, from an Israeli perspective. Following an historical overview,
Kaufman offers tasty recipes, many of which can be made for Passover.
Specifically for the holiday, there are Turkish and Portuguese haroset
recipes-both date-based; Meat and Leek Patties; fava bean Soup; Moroccan
apricot lamb shanks; spinach bake; sweet potato cake, and sponge cake.

“Tastes of Jewish Tradition: Recipes, Activities &
Stories for the Whole Family,” by Jody Hirsh, Idy Goodman, Aggie Goldenholtz
and Susan Roth (JCC of Milwaukee, 2002) provides a complete family-friendly
holiday experience. Before the pages of 125 recipes even begin, parents and
grandparents are invited to delve into each holiday through stories, cartoons,
games, activities, craft ideas and a special “Kids in the Kitchen” page. For
Passover, there’s Matzah Pizza as well as directions for making seder plates, afikoman
bags, frog hats, Burning Bush table centerpieces and more. In the recipe
section, try Sweet and Sour Meatballs, Easy Eggplant Dip; Honey Pecan Crusted
Chicken; Salmon with Brown Sugar and Mustard Glaze; Passover Popovers; Cherry
Muffins; Greens Salad Garnished With Fresh Strawberries; “Macaroni” (i.e.,
farfel) and Cheese; Flourless Chocolate Cake, Mandel Brot and Brownies.

I don’t know about you, but suddenly I’m raring to get into
the kitchen. With these guidebooks and a little creativity of your own,
Passover dishes can be delicious, eclectic, elegant, easy and appetizing.  

Up Front

I love cookbooks, but on lazy summer days, I usually read fiction — few cookbooks are engaging enough to replace a good novel. And when I go into the kitchen at all, it’s usually just to stand in front of the open freezer. But when I do find a cookbook that captures me, cooking with it is just a plus.

Diana Shaw’s newest book, “The Essential Vegetarian” (Clarkson Potter, $22.50), meets all my foodie needs. Shaw, the author of the popular “Almost Vegetarian Cookbook,” is neither a complete vegetarian nor a professional chef. Writing in a relaxed, friendly manner, she makes it known early that she is not part of the food police. Many recipes feature eggs and dairy products, and some things include sugar. But everything is geared to a low-fat diet.

Eating about an 85-percent vegetarian diet myself — as do more and more people who keep kosher — I sometimes forget that there is more to meatless living than veggie burgers. Shaw gives many recipes for soups, risottoes, pastas and soufflés, and she makes them all sound incredibly easy. And her take on Jewish and Middle Eastern standbys such as baba ghanouj, borscht (both cherry and sweet-and-sour), pita bread, tabbouleh, blintz casserole, breakfast kugel and hummus emphasize low-fat, easy-to-follow preparations.

There are plenty of other recipes in this 600-page tome to entice you into the kitchen — Pumpkin Waffles, Artichoke Risotto and Sweet Potato Soufflé — even if, like me, you end up sprawled on the couch, air conditioner blasting, contentedly reading Shaw’s book.

— Tamara Liebman

From top Sydney Weisman, Dr. Judith Reichman, and Dr. Judy B. Rosener.

Coincidence or…?


here do you turn if you really want to find out what’s happening in Los Angeles? Well, there’s “Which Way, L.A.?” on KCRW, there’s Bill Rosendahl’s round tables on Century Cable, and there’s “Life & Times” on KCET.

Now, three new commentators have been tapped to appear on the acclaimed talking-heads show “Life & Times,” joining regulars Hugh Hewitt, Patt Morrison and Kerman Maddox on a rotating basis. The new commentators are Dr. Judith Reichman, a gynecologist and women’s health advocate; entrepreneur Sydney Weisman; and Dr. Judy B. Rosener, professor at UC Irvine’s Graduate School of Management. Reichman will discuss health and medical issues, Weisman will focus on small business, and Rosener will examine issues relating to work.

Up Front can’t help but notice that the three commentators chosen by show producers to dissect modern-day Los Angeles all happen to be Jewish women. Producer Val Zavalla laughed off any notion of intention: These are just three highly competent experts. And congratulations to them.

JTN’s ‘Big Shots’

If Showtime can do it, why not JTN? The Jewish Television Network has taken a page from the book of Showtime, HBO and other cable channels and has begun producing its own made-for-cable movies.

Its original, four-part drama, “Big Shots,” debuted on July 22 and will continue through Aug. 11, with episodes airing on local cable channels each Tuesday evening.

“Big Shots” examines how five fictional characters combine their Jewish identities with their Hollywood careers. Cast members share memories from personal journals, providing insights, says the press release, “into characters’ thoughts, feelings and ultimate career path.” A kind of “Blue-and-White Shoe Diaries,” if you will.

The series stars Ed Asner, Bonnie Franklin, Steve Landesberg, Jonathan Prince and Larry Pressman. Al Rabin directed from scripts by Richard Allen. Funding came from JTN’s board of directors, which includes many people who know a thing or two about entertainment-industry success and being Jewish, among them Jeff Sagansky, Bruce Ramer and Danny Goldberg.

Headquartered in Los Angeles, the not-for-profit JTN is the only Jewish broadcast network in the United States. It is carried in 5 million homes across the country. Call your local cable company to find out when “Big Shots” airs.

An Israeli-Saudi Alliance?

Who wouldn’t want to live in John Briley’s shoes for a while? When a wealthy, well-connected Moroccan businessman commissioned the Academy Award-winning screenwriter (“Gandhi”) to write a sympathetic screenplay about the Arab world, he put at the writer’s disposal a twin-engine French jet, two Swiss pilots, a flight attendant, passport-less entry to every Arab nation and immediate access to everyone, from ministers to camel herders.

When a production company asked Briley to write a film adaptation of the classic story of Israel’s independence, “O Jerusalem!” Briley toured Israel with the book’s co-author, Dominique LaPierre, meeting everyone, from Binyamin Netanyahu to Teddy Kollek to Palestinian leaders to Legionnaires.

The result of all this research is combined in Briley’s just-released novel, “The First Stone” (Morrow, $24), the story of a Jewish UCLA student named Lisa Cooper, who becomes a Mossad mole by marrying into a Saudi family. The plot turns on Lisa’s efforts to bring Israel and Saudi Arabia together on the basis of shared interests and common enemies.

Briley latched onto the idea in a conversation with his father-in-law, who wondered aloud if Israel and the Saudi kingdom shouldn’t form a strategic alliance. Briley ran with it, incorporating insiders’ knowledge of life in a Saudi harem, on an Israeli kibbutz (his daughter spent time on Cabri, in the north) and as a Mossad mole (LaPierre introduced him to several).

But far from being a political treatise, Briley’s book is a quick summer read, as Frappacino-like as fiction gets. True, as Briley said in an interview with Up Front, the inevitable change in the Saudi regime will be a crisis for Israel and the world. And “The First Stone,” amid its double-dagger dealing and steamy desert sex, does make a case for worrying about it. And we will — when summer’s over.