Not pictured: freezer burn. Photo by Tess Cutler

Frozen blintzes are for cowards, so here’s how to make them from scratch

Don’t get me wrong. I have at least four boxes of (Streit’s?) cheese blintzes gathering a third layer of permafrost in my freezer right now. I bought them before the glatt marts could jack up the prices because this is not my first go-round, folks. This is my life.

However! I do not expect to unpackage them this holiday. Or, perhaps, ever. That is because after making my own blintzes with the following recipe I have settled on the conclusion that frozen blintzes are for cowards. You can whip up a batch homemade so easily that to buy the little kosher hot pockets from the store would be to impugn—nay, swear off—your integrity in the kitchen.

Not to mention that the frozen kind never cook evenly and don’t taste that great to begin with. Have I ever had a positive frozen blintz experience? The short answer is no. The long answer is, has anyone? Nothing like biting into a blackened potatoey crust that you are certain is cooked all the way, only for the cool dispassion of stubborn icicles to greet you in the interior. Come on now. Let’s just make them from scratch.

First: go shopping!

Here’s what you need that you might not have: good ricotta cheese, sour cream, a lemon, and blueberries. (I take it you have vanilla.) Everything else is below:

You will need:

…for the crepes

1 cup flour
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
1.25 cups whole milk
1 tbsp vegetable oil

…for the filling

1 lb ricotta cheese (get the good stuff)
3 tbsp sour cream or mascarpone
2 egg yolks
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

…for the win

hella blueberries
a tablespoon (or less!) of sugar

Also get out: a big round frying pan, a saucepan, a mixing bowl, a strainer and a stick of butter to play around with.

After you have all your ingredients together, start by making the crepe batter. Take all the ingredients from the first half and whisk them together in a bowl. This should be a relatively thin liquid, thin enough to drip off the whisk when you hold it over the bowl but thick enough that it doesn’t all run off immediately. Okay, now let it sit.

[The life hack here is to double this part of the recipe and save half the batter for breakfast, when you can cook up crepes any other way you like. Thank me later.]

Next, take a look at the ricotta. Is it good and wet, dripping like a baby fresh out the bathtub? In that case, let it towel off in a colander to drain some of that excess liquid. (You can also dry it out in the fridge.) We’re not trying to make soggy blintzes. That’s what Big Kosher wants us to do.

[It’s important, here that we’re pronouncing ricotta “ree-coatt-ah.” It enhances the taste, I guarantee it. Make sure to get that double ‘t’ sound.]

When the ricotta is ready and at room temperature, combine the filling ingredients in a separate bowl and blend until smooth. You should have a nice, heavy whip going.

Okay, now you’re ready to make the crepes!

Heat a non-stick crepe pan or 8 inch skillet.  Grab that stick o’ butter and slather the pan with it. The pan should froth about it as you are merely teasing the main event. So, deep breath at this point. Next is the part where you showcase your elegance and prove your worth as a chef: pour about a quarter-cup of batter into the frying pan as you tilt the pan to spread the batter thin. You’re making broad, thin circles here, about seven or eight inches in diameter.

It should cook in a flash — no more than twenty seconds on each side if your pan is hot enough. Throw it on a plate to cool and repeat. Make a bunch of these and kill the batter, unless you wisely doubled the recipe for later, in which case kill half of it.

All set? Now take the action to the countertop. Spread a crepe out onto a flat surface (cutting board is fine), and drop a couple of tablespoons’ worth of filling into the bottom third of the crepe. Don’t worry about spreading it out—it’s easier to roll up into a lil’ burrito this way. Roll the bottom flap over the filling and tuck it under, then fold over the side leaves, then roll the whole thing forward like a sleeping bag. Honestly, just make a lil’ burrito. Repeat until all the crepes are filled.

Now heat up that pan and smother it with butter again. (Hey, diets don’t count on chag!) Throw your Hungarian blintzes on there 2-3 at a time and cook on each side until golden. Then you’re done.

Oh yeah! Blueberry sauce: take all those blueberries, throw them in a pot, and throw some sugar on top of it, and then just cook it until you get this oozing pot of succulence that looks like it does on the frozen box of Streit’s blintzes. That takes like 10 minutes? Tops.

I have no idea how many this makes because I eat them as I go. Rob, whose recipe this is, says it’s good for about a dozen. Happy Shavuot!

Edited to add: this recipe makes about eight blintzes.

Hamantashen: As easy as one, two, three corners

What makes the Purim holiday so special? Is it the heroic tale of Queen Esther? The children dressing up in costume to re-create the story? The sweet pastries her story inspired?

For all of these reasons, my family loves Purim! It is a time when our grandchildren and great-grandchildren dress up, attend a Purim carnival and feast at our Purim dinner — a reminder of how our children celebrated when they were young.

This year, we will enjoy the holiday with family and friends at one long table in the dining room. A sampling of our Purim groggers (noisemakers) will be arranged down the center. (We can’t include them all because our collection now numbers almost 100.)

The most popular treats for Purim are hamantashen, three-cornered pastries. They are served throughout the world, filled with poppy seeds, prune jams and more. 

I still remember making my first hamantashen using a recipe I received from my mother. Instead of using the traditional yeast pastry, sold in bakeries, she made them with cookie dough filled with poppy seeds and homemade strawberry jam.

Over the years, I have developed many recipes for making these holiday delights. One year, I added chocolate and poppy seeds to the cookie dough and filled it with a mixture of melted chocolate and chopped nuts, resulting in a decadent treat for chocolate lovers.

Another family favorite is a Poppy Seed Yeast Ring; it’s like a delicious coffee cake that doubles as a hamantashen yeast dough. The dough is covered with a towel and refrigerated overnight, then rolled, filled and served hot for breakfast. Or you can make the dough in the afternoon, refrigerate it for several hours, bake and serve for dessert after dinner.

This year I am including a recipe for a hamantashen pastry filled with vegetables, too. It can be served as an appetizer or a main course for the vegetarians among us.

Remember, the dough and fillings usually can be prepared in advance, and stored in the refrigerator or freezer, then baked when convenient.

Now, go get ready to make some noise — in the kitchen and at the table with your Purim grogger!


– Chocolate Filling (recipe follows)
– 3 cups flour
– 1/2 cup finely ground almonds
– 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1 cup unsalted margarine
– 3 tablespoons hot water
– 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
– 1 egg
– 1 egg white

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Prepare Chocolate Filling; cover and set aside. 

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine flour, almonds, baking powder, salt and sugar. Blend in margarine until mixture resembles very fine crumbs.

Blend water and cocoa in small bowl and beat in egg. Add to flour mixture and beat until mixture begins to form dough. Do not over-mix.

Transfer to flour board and knead into a ball. Chill 30 minutes for easier handling. Divide into 6 or 7 portions. Flatten each with palms of hands and roll out 1/4-inch thick. Cut into 3-inch rounds with scalloped cookie cutter. Place 1 teaspoon of filling in the center of each round. Brush edges with a little water. Fold edges of dough toward center to form a triangle, leaving a bit of filling visible in center. Pinch the edges to seal.

Place on a baking sheet lined with lightly greased foil or a Silpat mat and brush with egg white. Bake in preheated oven until firm, about 20 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool.

Makes about 5 dozen hamantashen.


– 1/2 cup cocoa powder
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1/3 cup coffee, milk or half-and-half
– 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
– In a large bowl, combine cocoa powder, sugar, coffee and walnuts and blend thoroughly.
– Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

In a large bowl, combine cocoa powder, sugar, coffee and walnuts and blend thoroughly.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.


The dough from this recipe also can be used to make Yeast Hamantashen; see below. From “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” by Judy Zeidler.

– Poppy Seed Filling (recipe follows)
– 2 packages active dry yeast
– 1 cup warm milk (110 to 115 F)
– 1/2 pound unsalted margarine
– 2 tablespoons sugar
– 3 eggs yolks
– 2 1/2 cups flour
– Pinch of nutmeg
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 2 tablespoons olive oil

Prepare the Poppy Seed Filling; set aside.

In a measuring cup, dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of the milk. In a large mixing bowl, cream the margarine with 2 tablespoons sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat well.

Combine the flour, nutmeg and salt. Add the yeast mixture to the mixing bowl alternately with the flour. With the back of a wooden spoon, smooth the top of the dough and brush with oil. Cover with a towel and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Divide the dough into 2 portions. Roll out each portion on floured wax paper into a 16-by-20-inch rectangle. Spread half the Poppy Seed Filling over each dough half, leaving a 1-inch margin around the edges. Starting from a long edge, roll up each one, jelly-roll fashion. Bring the ends together to form a ring.

Place each ring in a 10-inch pie pan, sealing the ends together. Brush the top with the remaining milk and sprinkle with poppy seeds. (If you like, you can hold the rings in the refrigerator, covered, for 1 hour.) Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot.

Makes two Poppy Seed Yeast Rings.


– 3 egg whites
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1 1/2 cups canned poppy seed filling

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold in the 1/2 cup sugar and poppy seed filling.

Makes 4 cups.

To make Yeast Hamantashen:

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Roll out the dough and cut it into 3-inch rounds with a cookie cutter. Place a teaspoon of poppy seed filling in the center of each circle of dough. Fold the edges of the dough toward the center to form a triangle, leaving a bit of the filling visible in the center. Pinch the edges to seal.

Place the hamantashen on a baking sheet lined with lightly greased foil or a Silpat mat and bake for 10 minutes; pinch edges again to reseal and bake 10 minutes longer or until golden brown. Transfer to racks and cool.

Makes 3 dozen hamantashen.


– Carrot or Eggplant Filling (recipe follows)
– 1/2 cup unsalted margarine
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 3 eggs
– Grated zest of 1 orange
– 2 cups flour
– 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
– 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Prepare Carrot or Eggplant Filling; cover and set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat margarine and sugar until well blended. Beat in 2 of the eggs and zest, blending thoroughly. Add flour, baking powder and salt, blending until dough is smooth.

Transfer dough to a floured board and divide into 3 or 4 portions for easier handling. Flatten each portion with palm of hand and roll out 1/4-inch thick. Using scallop or plain cookie cutter, cut into 2 1/2-inch rounds. Place 1 teaspoon of filling in center of each round. Brush edges of round with a little water. Fold edges of dough toward the center to form a triangle, leaving a bit of filling exposed. Pinch edges to seal.

Place hamantashen 1/2 inch apart on a baking sheet lined with lightly greased foil or a Silpat mat. Brush with beaten egg. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes in preheated oven, until golden brown. Transfer to racks to cool.

Makes about 5 dozen hamantashen.


– 1 pound carrots, peeled and grated
– 1 1/2 cups water
– 1/3 cup sugar
– 1/3 cup ground almonds
– 1/4 cup golden raisins

Combine carrots and water in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring occasionally until all the liquid has evaporated, about 20 minutes. Add sugar, almonds and raisins. Simmer on low heat until thick and liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Cool.

Makes about 2 cups.


– 1 (1 pound) eggplant, peeled and diced
– Water
– 2 cups sugar
– 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
– 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
– 2 tablespoons lemon juice
– Grated zest of 1 lemon

Place eggplant in a large saucepan and cover with water to cover. Bring to a boil and boil until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Combine sugar, 2 cups water, cinnamon and nutmeg in large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add eggplant. Remove from heat and cover. Let stand 1 hour.

Remove eggplant with slotted spoon. Cover syrup until thick, about 20 minutes. Add eggplant, lemon juice and zest. Boil until syrup forms into a firm ball when dropped into cold water from spoon, 220 F on candy thermometer. Spoon into a bowl and cool.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

JUDY ZEIDLER is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of 10 cookbooks, including “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is

A reminder: Don’t pass over the post-seder meals

Planning Passover meals is always a wonderful challenge. For the seders, most of us focus on traditional family recipes because they are tried and proven, and because everyone likes them (and often asks for these favorites dishes).

But what about the remaining six days of meals? They must be considered.

Once the big seder meals are done, it’s nice to be able to eat healthy, simple and flavorful meals for the rest of the week. An abundance of vegetables, fruits, poultry, meat, fish and fresh herbs can be incorporated into cooking on Passover.

Here are some recipes that I make on Passover because they are easy to prepare and provide flexibility as to when they can be served — not to mention they are quite delicious.

Makes 8 servings

The apple and the ginger give this creamy soup, which is made without any cream, a bit of a bite. The ingredients are always available, so you can serve it in any season at any temperature — hot, cold or room. I must confess, though, that I love it best when the weather is warm.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, quartered
1 3/4 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced, plus 1 extra carrot for garnish
1 small Granny Smith apple, peeled and sliced
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced
5 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion, garlic, carrots, apple and ginger, and saute for 3 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and cook, covered, about 30 minutes, until the carrots are tender.

Cool a little. Puree the soup in a blender, in batches, until smooth. Return it to the saucepan.

Season to taste with lemon juice, salt and pepper.

To prepare the garnish: Steam the remaining carrot until just tender and grate. Before serving, sprinkle each bowl with the grated carrot.

Makes 4 servings

Ceviche is a refreshing appetizer that I make with fresh fish marinated in lime juice. The juice “cooks” the fish in a very short time, allowing it to turn opaque and firm. It can be served on a bed of butter lettuce with slices of avocado. It’s a wonderful alternative to gefilte fish for an appetizer or makes a nice, light lunch.

1 pound skinless halibut cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup lime juice, plus 2 tablespoons
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded, finely chopped
2 scallions, including the green part, thinly sliced
1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
Butter lettuce
Slices of avocado

Place fish in a nonreactive bowl and season with salt. Pour juice over fish and press down so the fish is submerged in the juice. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or until fish is opaque and firm.

Drain off and discard the lime juice. Add peppers, scallions and cilantro to the fish. Just before serving add the remaining 2 tablespoons lime juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes 4 servings

I am always pleased to come up with a dish that is a meal in itself, one that combines either chicken or meat with vegetables. This is one of my favorites. I bake it in an attractive casserole so it can go directly from the oven to the table.

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
9 garlic cloves
Kosher salt
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Leaves from 10 thyme sprigs
Freshly ground black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces each)
5 plum tomatoes
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled, quartered
1/2 cup pitted black olives, quartered

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. With 1 tablespoon of the oil, grease a glass, ceramic or enamel-lined baking pan that can hold all the vegetables in a single layer.

Coarsely chop 4 of the garlic cloves on a cutting board. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and, using a knife, crush them into a paste. Place the paste in a small bowl and combine it with the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the oil, half of the thyme leaves and pepper to taste.

Pat dry the chicken breasts with paper towels and season lightly on both sides with salt and pepper. Coat the chicken with the mixture and set aside.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water; bring the water back to a boil and drain. Core the tomatoes and slip off the skin. Cut the tomatoes in half widthwise and squeeze gently to remove the seeds. (Some seeds will remain.) Cut the tomatoes in quarters.

Thickly slice the remaining 5 garlic cloves and spread them in the prepared baking pan along with the tomatoes, potatoes, olives, the rest of the thyme leaves and the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast the vegetables, uncovered, for 20 minutes, or until almost tender.

Place the chicken breasts on top of the vegetables and bake, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Turn them over, spoon on some pan juices and bake for another 5 minutes, or until the chicken is slightly pink on the inside. Cover with foil for 1 minute.

Makes 4 servings

Roasting is an easy and delicious way to transform this reliable standby into a wonderful dish.

1 medium head cauliflower (about 2 pounds)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400. Line a baking pan with foil.

Cut the stalk and leaves off the cauliflower and discard. Cut the head into small florets. Place the garlic in the baking pan. Arrange the florets on top; drizzle with the oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes, or until tender.

Makes 3 1/2 dozen squares

These meringue squares are like cookies, but they are light, chocolaty and surprisingly low in calories. They can be presented as cookies or cut into individual squares and served with either sorbet or fresh fruit on the side.

1 tablespoon unsalted margarine, for greasing the pan
1/2 pound blanched almonds
6 ounces good-quality imported semisweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
8 large egg whites (see note below)
1 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 350. Line a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan with wax paper and grease the paper with the margarine.

Chop the almonds in a food processor, in 2 batches, until medium-fine. Transfer to a bowl. Chop the chocolate in the processor until fine and combine with the almonds.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Using the balloon whisk attachment, beat at high speed until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and beat until stiff.

With a large rubber spatula, gently fold the chocolate-almond mixture into the egg whites, making a motion like a figure eight with the spatula. Do not overmix.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out almost dry.

Cool on a wire rack. Invert onto a cutting board and peel off the paper. Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares.

Notes: It is easier to separate the eggs straight from the refrigerator, when they are cold. Make sure the whites have come to room temperature before beating.

To freeze the squares, place them side by side in an air-tight plastic container, with wax paper between the layers.

Save the self-pity, choices abound for Passover meals

For the many who feel overwhelmed by Passover because of the demands of cooking without leaven, a word or two: That should not be an obstacle.

After all, on this most celebrated of Jewish holidays, we are allowed to eat fish, meat, poultry, eggs, nuts, fruits, most vegetables and fresh herbs.

All of the recipes featured here  are nutritious, attractive, flavorful and easy to prepare. They emphasize fresh, seasonal ingredients, fewer complicated techniques, and stylish, elegant dishes. What more would you want for Passover?

The seder meals, when we recount the Exodus story, are the most important events of the holiday.  Most people, like myself, favor their own traditional menu. Each year I repeat the seder menu as a way to hold on to cherished family traditions.

The recipes are from the new cookbook “Helen Nash's New Kosher Cuisine” (Overlook Press).

With their magnificent color, delicious flavor and vitamin richness, beets are one of my favorite vegetables. In the summer I serve this soup at room temperature; in the winter I like it hot.

1 1/4 pounds (570 g) beets, plus 1 small beet for garnish
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 McIntosh apple, peeled and sliced
4 1/2 cups (1.08 liters) vegetable broth
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
Kosher salt 
Freshly ground black pepper

Peel and slice the beets (see note below). Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion, garlic and apple, and saute for 5 minutes. Add the beets and broth. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and cook, covered, for about 30 minutes, until the beets are tender. Cool a little.

While the soup is cooking, wrap the reserved beet tightly in foil. Bake in a toaster oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 Celsius) for 30 minutes, or until just tender when pierced with the tip of a paring knife. Cool, slip off the skin, and grate.

Puree the soup in a blender until very smooth. Season to taste with the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper.

To serve, garnish with the grated beet; makes 6 servings.

Note: I always wear thin plastic gloves when I work with beets, as this avoids staining my fingers with beet juice, which can be hard to remove.

This is a colorful and delicious salad with an interesting mixture of textures and tastes. The currants and pine nuts add an unusual Mediterranean piquancy.

1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces/170 g each)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil for greasing the chicken
Kosher salt 
Freshly ground black pepper
1 head radicchio, shredded
1 to 2 bunches arugula, leaves torn if they are large
1/2 cup (20 g) loosely packed flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped


Place the onion slices in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Let stand for 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Place in a large serving bowl.

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and grease with oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Place each chicken breast in the center of a piece of cling wrap and wrap it so that it is completely covered. Place the packages in a steamer, cover and steam over high heat for about 9 minutes. (The inside of the chicken should still be pale pink.) Turn off the heat and let stand for 1 minute.

Remove the chicken and cool, still wrapped. When cool, unwrap the chicken and cut it on the diagonal into thin strips. Place in the bowl with the onions; makes 6 servings.

1/3 cup (80 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup (70 g) pine nuts 
1/2 cup (115 g) raisins or currants
2 tablespoons Marsala wine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the pine nuts and raisins and saute over low heat until the pine nuts are lightly golden. Remove from the heat and add the Marsala and vinegar.
Add the radicchio, arugula, and parsley to the chicken and onions; toss with the dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

This is a variation on the traditional pickled salmon sold in every Jewish delicatessen. The difference: The salmon is more delicate and less vinegary, and has a richer color. It makes a perfect Sabbath luncheon dish.

6 skinless center-cut salmon fillets (about 6 ounces/170 g each)
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil for greasing the pan
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 F (95 C). Grease a glass or enamel-lined baking pan that can hold the fillets in a single layer.

Pat the fillets dry with paper towels and season them lightly on both sides with salt and pepper. Place them in the dish and bake, uncovered, for 25 to 30 minutes, or until cooked to your taste.

Remove the baking pan from the oven, cover with foil, and let cool completely. (The fish will continue cooking outside of the oven.)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons rice vinegar (for Passover, replace with white wine vinegar)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced (see note below)
15 dill sprigs, snipped finely with scissors, plus 2 sprigs, snipped, for garnish

In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar and salt. Add pepper to taste. Pour the marinade over the salmon, add the onion and sprinkle with the 15 snipped sprigs of dill.
Cover the dish with wax paper, then foil and refrigerate for 2 to 3 days without turning.

To serve: Bring the salmon to room temperature. Place on individual plates along with some of the marinade and onions. Garnish with the fresh snipped dill; makes 6 servings.

Note: I use a mandoline to slice the onion, as it makes the cutting easier.

I am always pleased to come up with a dish that is a meal in itself — one that combines either chicken or meat with vegetables. This is one of my favorites, and because it is so easy to make, I often serve it at Passover. I bake it in an attractive casserole, so it can go directly from the oven to the table.

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
9 garlic cloves
Kosher salt 
1/4 cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
Leaves from 10 thyme sprigs
Freshly ground black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces/170 g each)
5 plum tomatoes
1 pound (450 g) Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled, quartered
1/2 cup (67 g) pitted black olives, quartered

Preheat the oven to 450 F (230 C). With 1 tablespoon of the oil, grease a glass, ceramic or enamel-lined baking pan that can hold all the vegetables in a single layer.

Coarsely chop 4 of the garlic cloves on a cutting board. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and, using a knife, crush them into a paste. Place the paste in a small bowl and combine it with the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the oil, half of the thyme leaves and pepper to taste.

Pat dry the chicken breasts with paper towels and season lightly on both sides with salt and pepper. Coat the chicken with the mixture and set aside.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water; bring the water back to a boil and drain. Core the tomatoes and slip off the skin. Cut the tomatoes in half widthwise and squeeze gently to remove the seeds. (Some seeds will remain.) Cut the tomatoes in quarters.

Thickly slice the remaining 5 garlic cloves and spread them in the prepared baking pan along with the tomatoes, potatoes, olives, the rest of the thyme leaves, and the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast the vegetables, uncovered, for 20 minutes, or until almost tender.

Place the chicken breasts on top of the vegetables and bake, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Turn them over, spoon on some pan juices and bake for another 5 minutes, or until the chicken is slightly pink on the inside. Cover with foil for 1 minute; makes 4 servings.

This is a delicious recipe that captures the very essence of spinach. Now that prewashed spinach is available in almost every supermarket, you can prepare this dish in minutes.

20 ounces (570 g) prewashed spinach
1 1/2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Break the stems off the spinach leaves and discard.

Roast the pine nuts in a toaster oven on the lowest setting for 1 or 2 minutes, until they are golden. (Watch them carefully, as they burn quickly.)

Heat a wok over high heat until hot. Add the oil. Add the spinach and stir quickly until it is just wilted, no more than a minute. Season with salt and pepper. With a slotted spoon, transfer the spinach to a serving dish. Sprinkle the pine nuts on top; makes 6 servings.

These meringue squares are like cookies, but they are light, chocolaty and surprisingly low in calories. I often serve them at Passover.

1 tablespoon (15 g) unsalted margarine for greasing the pan
1/2 pound (225 g) blanched almonds
6 ounces (170 g) good-quality imported semisweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
8 large egg whites (see notes)
1 cup (200 g) sugar


Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C). Line a 9-by-13-by-2-inch (23-by-33-by-5 cm) baking pan with wax paper and grease the paper with the margarine.

Chop the almonds in a food processor, in two batches, until medium-fine. Transfer to a bowl. Chop the chocolate in the processor until fine, and combine with the almonds.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Using the balloon whisk attachment, beat at high speed until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and beat until stiff.

With a large rubber spatula, gently fold the chocolate-almond mixture into the egg whites, making a motion like a figure 8 with the spatula. Do not overmix.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out 
almost dry.

Cool on a wire rack. Invert onto a cutting board and peel off the paper. Cut into 1 1/2-inch (4 cm) squares; makes 3 1/2 dozen squares.

Notes: It is easier to separate the eggs straight from the refrigerator, when they are cold. Make sure the whites have come to room temperature before beating.

To freeze the squares, place them side by side in an air-tight plastic container, with  wax paper between the layers.

Making ‘old country’ latkes on this side of the Atlantic

My grandparents really knew how to cook. It seems to me that everyone born in the “old country”—in this case Transylvania—was born with built-in cooking intuition. Somehow they could create the most scrumptious meals using no fancy equipment, or even measuring spoons.

They hosted every holiday humbly, I recall, turning out the expected delicacies with what seemed like the simplest, most relaxed effort. No exotic flavor profiles nor food combos or wine pairings; no attempts at reinventing the wheel, because when the food is that good—make that superb—there’s no need to find a “twist” on the recipe.

On Chanukah we were treated to their potato pancakes, latkes that were classic and simple. My grandfather, a professional chef, wore a manly white waist apron that suited him perfectly. His latkes were made of eggs, onions, potatoes, oil, salt, pepper and a little matzah meal to make them crunchy.

“Corn meal, that’s also good, if you don’t have any matzah meal,” he would say reassuringly, though you knew that he secretly wondered what kind of kitchen would not have a handful of matzah meal somewhere.

The potatoes were hand-grated so fine—almost to a pudding-like consistency—then lightly fried in a pan that looked as though it, too, had just come over from the old country. Applesauce and sour cream traditionally accompany latkes, but who needed them? Crispy on the edges, with a fluffy, buttery smooth center, Grandpa’s version of this Chanukah delicacy could stand alone.

Born on this side of the Atlantic—Philly, to be exact—I lack the natural cooking instincts of my forebears. It’s a long way from Transylvania to Pennsylvania, and somewhere en route centuries of culinary know-how evaporated. When I married, I was “the bride who knew nothing” about cooking, and I do mean nothing. I had a kitchen twice the size of Grandpa’s boyhood cottage, fully loaded with waffle makers, woks, crepe pans, panini presses, espresso brewers, food processors and two ovens—and no idea what to do with any of them.

The first Chanukah after my wedding, I called my grandfather for his latkes recipe. He gave it to me with “measurements” like “a sprinkle of salt, a few spoons of matzah meal, some oil …” All the while, I wished I had watched him in action when he was in his prime. I could have taken notes, measured out the amounts he used, studied his grating technique.

But I was on my own. Tasked with re-creating Grandpa’s latkes, I tried and failed, tried and failed—until I finally produced something that is reminiscent of his glorious, crunchy potato perfection. The recipe went into my first published cookbook, “Quick & Kosher: Recipes from the Bride Who Knew Nothing.” It’s reprinted here, in loving memory of my grandfather.

My husband and kids say these latkes are the best in the world. They are very good—but they’re not Grandpa’s. Maybe it’s my food processor and that fancy-shmancy skillet.


Prep: 12 minutes  
Cook: 18 to 24 minutes
Yield: 8 servings

4 medium Idaho potatoes
6 tablespoons canola oil or olive oil
3 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons matzah meal
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper
Applesauce or sour cream (optional)

1. Prepare a large bowl filled with cold water
2. Peel potatoes, and as you finish each, place in cold water to prevent browning.
3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
4. Cut potatoes lengthwise into halves or quarters so they fit into food processor feed tube. Process potatoes using the blade that creates thin, shoestring-like strips and transfer to a large bowl.
5. Add eggs, matzah meal, salt and pepper; mix well.
6. Drop 6 to 8 spoonfuls of mixture into hot oil. Using the back of a spoon, pat down each latke to flatten it. Put as many as you can in the skillet without crowding. Putting them too close together will make them soggy.
7. Fry 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until golden and crisp around the edges; repeat procedure until finished with all the batter.
8. Blot excess oil with paper towels.
9. Serve warm with applesauce or sour cream, if desired

Corn meal is a great substitute for matzah meal and also will make your latkes nice and crispy.

About the recipe:
Just like they used to do it in the old country! These latkes are not loaded with potato starch, flour, baking powder or other non-essential ingredients. My grandfather shared this recipe with me when I told him that I thought his were the crunchiest, lightest and most perfect potato latkes I’ve ever eaten.

Jamie Geller is the author of the best-selling “Quick & Kosher” cookbook series and creator of the Joy of Kosher with Jamie Geller magazine. Follow more of Geller’s Quick & Kosher cooking adventures on Twitter @JoyofKosher and on

It’s Pat — South African queen of kosher cuisine

Smoked duck with papaya salsa. Wild mushroom turnovers. Chicken roulade with sun-dried tomatoes and spinach. Sushi.
Hungry yet? Good.

You keep kosher? Not a problem.

These are just a few of the elegantly presented gourmet dishes created by Pat Fine, of Pat’s Restaurant and Pat’s Catering.
In the nearly three decades since Fine started serving up her dishes in the Southland, the kosher dining landscape has changed dramatically. As David Kamp chronicles in his book, “The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation,” Americans of all stripes have been tutored in fine dining by a string of successful chefs, food critics, cookbook writers and restaurateurs over the last 30 years. This phenomenon has raised the bar for kosher cooking as well, creating demand for chic kosher dining.

Fine has been — and remains — a kosher cuisine pioneer in Los Angeles. Perhaps Rabbi Meyer May, executive director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and frequent Pat’s customer, sums it up best: “She’s the queen of kosher catering, absolutely top of the line.”

Raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, Fine was one of four daughters. Her mother had very little interest in cooking, so Fine and her sisters were given free reign in the kitchen. Her father, a man who loved to eat, proved an enthusiastic recipient of his daughters’ culinary adventures.

Although had she expressed a desire to become a professional cook, Fine is convinced that her mother “would have freaked.” Cooking was thought of as “such an ordinary job, one that simply wasn’t OK for nice Jewish girls,” Fine said.
As a concession to her parents, Fine went on to university to train and work as a pharmacist.

“I was misguided,” she said. “Someone should have said to me ‘Why don’t you go to chefs school?’ I would have loved to go to Cordon Bleu or somewhere like that. But I didn’t, and I regret that.”

Continuing to live and work in Johannesburg, Fine met her husband, Errol. They married in 1970 and soon started their own family. While Fine’s parents were traditional Jews — they lit candles on Friday nights and celebrated the holidays — her in-laws were more observant.

“They kept kosher, so of course when I married I began to [keep kosher] as well,” Fine said.

As massive riots broke out in Soweto near Johannesburg in 1976, the Fines left South Africa with their three sons to start anew in California.

“I had never left the country until we emigrated; I didn’t even have a passport,” Fine said.

The Fines settled in Los Angeles, where Errol was the financial controller for a chain of men’s clothing stores. Pat was busy at home with their children, but still loved learning about food and creating new recipes, so she spent a lot of time “reading and experimenting on my own.”

Over time, more and more of Fine’s friends asked her to prepare food for celebrations and events.

“I was cooking out of my house. I was doing everything myself — the shopping, cooking, delivery, serving. It became too much,” she said.

Since large trucks were prohibited from frequenting her residential neighborhood, Fine would sometimes send deliveries to her children’s school and then transport items with her own car.

Fine expanded her catering with the purchase of a deli on Pico Boulevard in 1982, which she named Elite Cuisine. She soon opened a second Elite Cuisine deli on Beverly Boulevard near Hancock Park. (Although Fine has since sold both delis, the new owner of the Hancock Park location has kept the name.)

As Fine remembers, “When we started out, there were just places like Nosh and Rye. There was nothing else — just some falafel places, kosher hot dogs, deli food. I would tell people that we’ve got pasta salad and they’d say ‘macaroni salad?’ because that was all they knew.”

When she sold the last of her delis about 15 years ago, Fine consolidated her business, opened the fleishig (meat) Pat’s Restaurant on Pico Boulevard near Doheny Drive and expanded the catering operations. Around the same time, Fine said, she offered her accountant husband a job.

With Errol Fine running the business side — from managing 50 employees to handling details for events as far away as in San Francisco — Pat Fine is free to spend her time focused on food.

“He has a lot of charisma, so he meets with people. I prefer to be in the kitchen,” she said.

“It’s a very good partnership,” she added.

As kosher cooking has become increasingly sophisticated and customer’s palettes have become more refined, Fine said she endeavors to stay ahead of the curve. Inspired by her customers’ knowledge and by other creative chefs, Fine said, “Whatever they’re doing out there, say at Spago’s, we’re doing, but kosher.”

Despite her ongoing love for fine food, one shouldn’t expect an invitation for a home-cooked meal at the Fine residence any time soon. At the end of the workday, her home kitchen is the last place Pat Fine wants to be.

She warned, “If you ask me to make coffee at home it’s a big deal — you’re on your own. The most you’ll get in my house is a bagel and cottage cheese.”

Sinai Dinner Prompts Revamp of Biblical Proportions

In February 2004, chef Ido Shapira of Tel Aviv received an impassioned phone call from the United States.

“I want you to cook for a banquet in Beverly Hills in 2006.” The insistent voice belonged to Irwin S. Field, of Los Angeles’ Sinai Temple, who was planning a lavish dinner-dance to culminate a year of celebrations for the congregation’s centennial celebration.

Although Field, who is also chairman of the board of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, couldn’t reserve the International Ballroom at the Beverly Hilton more than a year in advance, he wanted to make sure that his favorite Israeli chef would be available.

Field’s hiring of this master caterer with a reputation for exquisite innovative cuisine set the bar for the elegance of the evening. The goal was to treat the 765 Temple Sinai members who ultimately R.S.V.P.’d to the most spectacular social event in the temple’s long history.

“I wanted the menu to be as meaningful as the event, so I sought out the best kosher chefs I knew,” said Field, who co-chaired last spring’s event with Julie Platt.

Joining Shapira would be chef Katsuo Sugiura, in charge of the kosher kitchen at the Beverly Hilton, and Jeffrey Nathan, New York chef/co-owner of Abigael’s restaurant, all of whom were adept at orchestrating banquet-sized meals.

Nathan was also well-known, both in the United States and Israel, through his PBS television cooking show where he introduced a whole generation of viewers to what he calls New Jewish Cuisine.

Almost simultaneously, Shapira and Nathan have been reinventing kosher cuisine. Challenged by the strict dietary laws but not satisfied with serving, as Nathan puts it, “chicken on a plate,” they have made a point of creating dishes that use not only a variety of herbs, spices and unexpected ingredients, but modern cooking styles from all over the world.

Before they were even introduced to one another, they were, as they say, on the same page of the cookbook.

Nathan traveled to Israel to meet Shapira, and the two got on immediately.
Sitting with Shapira’s family in Hertzliyah, the pair of culinary iconoclasts began conceptualizing an exotic array of flavors from Israel, Iran and Morocco, combined with sophisticated dishes served in classic, five-star kitchens in the United States and Europe.

“We realized the menu should reflect the population of Sinai Temple, so we set about developing a mélange of Ashkenazi, Persian and other Sephardic dishes,” Shapira said. “We wanted to make this symphony of cuisines come together with flavors as diverse as the people who would be eating it.”

Shapira foresaw some challenges: He would have to cook in a country where some of his favorite herbs, such as zatar and sumac, are not readily available and some cuts of meat are not available as kosher. He practiced the adage “necessity begets creativity” and relied on Nathan’s experience.

“When Jeff returned to the U.S., we continued working on the menu in real time, Shapira said, referring to the half-day’s time difference between Israel and the United States
“I would e-mail him in the morning. I’d get my answer back at night,” he said with a laugh.

Most importantly, they wanted the meal to embody the bittersweet spirituality of the complicated Sephardic cuisine, forged by Jews who wandered all over the world after Spain’s order of expulsion in 1492. Making homes outside of their homeland, these ancestors incorporated the exotic flavors and unexpected combinations from their new countries with Jewish, Moorish and Spanish cuisine.

Shapira’s tabbouleh would not simply call for a cup of lemon juice sprayed over curly parsley and bulghur wheat. Instead, bits of cubed lemon would add unexpected piquancy at first bite. For the parsley, delete “curly” and insert “flat-leafed.”

His beef would not be baked at the traditional 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes per pound; instead it would be roasted three times longer at a temperature below 200, so the juices would stay inside the meat instead of escaping to the bottom of the pan. Forget the expected mashed potatoes; the dish would be accessorized with a puree sweetened by parsnips and made pungent with Jerusalem artichokes.

The sauce for Nathan’s Sea Bass Nicoise wouldn’t settle for any old olives; only juicy kalamatas, swimming in a sauce of brandy, orange zest and saffron threads would do.

They decided the menu would feature biblical food quotations, which would be printed underneath the name of each dish on the menu. Instead of traditional passed appetizers, they imagined a palatial table of fruits and nuts in the Persian tradition, which translated into a long winding table of beautiful seasonal offerings accentuated with orchids and champagne.

On the menu was a quote from the Bible: “The Lord is bringing you into a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey.”

Although this menu was assembled for a beautiful party, these recipes are perfect for a lovely erev Rosh Hashanah feast.

The recipes have been adapted to family-sized servings with the help of chefs Jeffrey Nathan and Ido Shapira.

Sea Bass Nicoise with Saffron Tomato Jus
From Jeffrey Nathan, chef/co-owner Abigael’s On Broadway, New York.

1 bulb fennel, halved directly through the core
12 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
1 pound fingerling potatoes
1 medium red bell pepper

For Sauce:

1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads
1 15-ounce can whole tomatoes in juice (pureed with immersion blende)
1/2 teaspoon toasted ground fennel seed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For Fish:

48 ounces of sea bass fillets
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed
3 tablespoons parsley, chopped coarsely
2 tablespoons thyme, chopped coarsely
2 teaspoons rosemary, chopped coarsely
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
1/4 cup capers

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.Lightly coat fennel in olive oil and place on a greased baking sheet, with the cut side down. Toss garlic cloves, fingerling potatoes and red peppers in olive oil and place on different sections of baking sheet.

Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, until potato is fork tender and fennel, garlic and pepper are fork tender and lightly caramelized. Remove from oven; allow to cool.

To make sauce: In a medium sauce pan combine broth, brandy, orange zest, saffron, tomatoes and fennel seed. Bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper.

Cut baked fennel and red pepper into medium dice, garlic cloves in half, potatoes into 1/2 inch rounds. In a large bowl, combine with olives and capers. Toss with a small amount of olive oil.

To make fish: Place sea bass in a large roasting pan. Dredge one side of fish in fresh herbs. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour prepared vegetables and sauce over fish. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes until fish is cooked through.

Makes four servings.

Moroccan Carrot Salad
From chef Ido Shapira, Cutlet Catering Company, Tel Aviv.

2 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch cilantro, rough chopped
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat a large soup pot of salted water. Bring to a boil and blanch carrots for one minute. Drain and shock the carrots under cold water.

For dressing: In a small bowl, combine olive oil, cilantro, paprika, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper.

Toss dressing with carrots. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Makes eight to 10 servings.

Citrus Pesto
From chef Ido Shapira.
(This is delicious as an accent to vegetables, fish or pasta.)

1 cup flat leaf parsley, stemmed
1/2 cup cilantro, stemmed
3 garlic cloves, peeled
Grated zest from 1/2 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon, strained
1/2 cup olive oil

Prior to preparation chill first five ingredients in refrigerator, along with bowl of a food processor. Place mixture in processor; pulse just long enough so ingredients are thoroughly combined but not mushy. Strain through a chinois into a bowl so pesto remains and escaping liquid can be saved for another use. This pesto may be made ahead of time and kept cold in the refrigerator.

Makes eight servings.

Tabbouleh Salad
From chef Ido Shapira.

2 cups coarse bulgur
1 pound flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 pound mint, chopped
1 bunch chives, chopped
2 red onions, chopped
4 lemons, peeled and cubed
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Soak bulgur in plenty of cold water for 10 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed.

Rinse in colander and toss with parsley, mint, chives, red onion, lemons, olive oil and salt and pepper.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Makes eight to 10 servings.

The Ultimate Taste Test

Inside Kosher World, the recent “for-the-trade” food show, you had to remind yourself you were in Anaheim. To my left, two gentlemen negotiated a deal in animated Hebrew. To my right, wine connoisseurs swirled, sniffed and sipped kosher-for-Passover premium varietals from Israel and 11 other countries. Behind me, hungry visitors, beckoned by the intoxicating aromas of smoked meat grilling, speared six varieties of kosher sausage. And at what other trade show would you find a curtained section designated “Davening Area”?

While this was the third year for Kosher World, it was the first time the show joined with the ethnic and halal markets, under the umbrella of the World Ethnic Market.

“These foods are no longer limited today to specialty suppliers or people of a particular religion or ethnicity,” said show director Phyllis Koegel. “They’re now routinely available at major food retailers, restaurants, hotels and food service operations.”

About 40 companies exhibited kosher products, ranging from wines to cheese to meat and halvah, but there also were cashews from Dan-D-Pack, a product of Vietnam; halal beef franks from Midamar, and salted lassi from Gulf & Safa Dairies of Dubai.

As usual at such shows, I sampled far too much, but what don’t you do in the name of research? My first stop was Neshama Gourmet Kosher Foods, for the best sausage I’ve ever tasted. My personal favorite is the exotic Merguez line, made from beef and lamb.

“For the first time our smoked andouille and country apple will be available kosher for Passover,” announced vice president Evelyn Baran.

I sampled salad dressing from Mistral — loved the soy ginger — and the yummiest individually wrapped Kugelettes — sure, there were Traditional Golden Raisin, but could grandma dream up Green Chile and Cheese with Salsa?

Next I visited Raphy’s booth, where samples of baba ghanoush, stuffed eggplant and a host of other delicacies, all produced in Turkey — the watermelon peel preserves are to die for — were dished up with flair.

Only fine wine could top off this “balanced meal,” so I headed for Royal Wine Corp., the world’s largest producer, importer and distributor of kosher wines. “When people hear ‘kosher’ and ‘wine’ in the same breath, they think sweet,” said Dennis Bookbinder, the company’s director of sales. “Our slogan is: ‘We produce and import premium varietal wines that happen to be kosher.’ Today you’ll find world-class kosher wines from $200 a bottle on down.”

Many of the company’s 300 wines from 12 countries regularly garner awards and top ratings from the world’s foremost wine critics and publications. And with Passover around the corner, expect a flood of new kosher wines. Petit Castel from the Judean Hills is considered the finest wine from Israel, Bookbinder said. Baron Herzog Jeunesse, as well as premium wines from Segal’s, Barkan and Carmel, are just a few he recommended to grace the seder table.

This year’s show also included the Natural Products Expo in the same building, “because people tend to associate kosher food with natural and organic,” said show director Koegel.

According to analysts, only 20 percent to 33 percent of kosher foods produced worldwide is consumed by Jews, and this is one of the fastest growing segments of the food industry. So just who is buying the rest? Muslims, Seventh-day Adventists, Hindus and others who follow similar dietary restrictions, for starters. With 20 percent of the population lactose intolerant and millions calling themselves vegetarians of one sort or another, plus countless others who are health conscious, it is easy to see why kosher products have wide appeal. The mad cow disease scare hasn’t hurt either; because of strict cleanliness requirements and butchering procedures, there has never been a case of the disease found in kosher beef.

So, as the motto on a banner said at the first Kosher World: “Bringing kosher to mainstream and mainstream to kosher.” Truer today than ever, I’d say.

Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish: 652 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family” (Workman, September 2006) and can be found on the Web at

‘Design’-ing Woman Comes to Town

“Kosher by Design,” (ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications, $32.99) “Kosher by Design Entertains” ($34.99) and “Kosher by Design Kids in the Kitchen” ($22.99) by Susie Fishbein.

With the frenzied anticipation generally reserved for the appearance of a rock star — or at the very least, Oprah — the Orthodox community of Los Angeles is abuzz with excitement: Susie is coming!

“Susie” is Susie Fishbein, the effervescent author of the “Kosher by Design” cookbooks, who has turned kosher cooking on its proverbial ear. And no wonder she bubbles over. According to Gedaliah Zlotowitz, Mesorah’s vice-president of sales and marketing, more than 160,000 copies have sold with no end in sight.

Fishbein will be making three exclusive appearances this month in Los Angeles (see box), and those lucky enough to get a reservation will watch, kvell and sample as their idol cooks.

“Susie Fishbein has done for Jewish cooking what [rabbi and author] Aryeh Kaplan did for beginning Judaism,” said Rabbi Shimon Kraft of the 613 Mitzvah Store on Pico Boulevard. “They’re buying her cookbooks en masse. She’s a genius at editing and putting everything all together.”

“Our patrons are meshugah for her books,” echoed Abigail Yasgur, director of the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles. “We have over 30,000 resources here, and the most precious part of our collection is Jewish cookbooks. Hers circulate so robustly. They’re fabulous.”

Just what is this revolution in kosher cooking that Fishbein has spawned? As food columnist, cooking instructor and dinnerware designer Debby Segura explained, “Lots of people used to feel tied to a few kosher cookbooks, but so much has happened in kosher food over the last 20 years that just wasn’t being reflected, and if it was, it was too complicated. Susie gives you food styling, kosher tips, kitchen tips. But the big deal about Susie’s recipes is they work.”

Risa Moskowitz, who chairs the event for Emek, added, “When I booked the event, everyone said, ‘Oh my gosh, I live by her cookbooks!’ There wasn’t one person who said ‘Who?’ People who aren’t kosher don’t realize what’s possible for us now, the variety of foods and the way to prepare them. They think kosher means dried-out, salted meat. Her books have had a tremendous impact.”

Toras Emes chair Sara Leah Beinstock agreed: “These are the ultimate kosher cookbooks. There’s nothing close to them on the market. Her recipes are easy to follow, and the food is appetizing and delicious. It’s very exciting to have gourmet Jewish cookbooks.”

Fishbein, an Orthodox Jew and mother of four children ages 3 to 11, understands that today’s observant Jews want to prepare many of the same exciting dishes found on restaurant menus and serve them with style. Those who grew up on Grandma’s Shabbos brisket now embrace her Rack of Lamb with Fig-Port-Shallot Sauce.

“Kosher food doesn’t have to be simple or bland,” noted Fishbein by phone from her New Jersey home. “Just about every ingredient is available out there kosher.”

The luscious table settings and presentation ideas that party planner Renee Erreich and Fishbein created for these books — and that photographer John Uher shot — fairly leap off the pages. But everything is doable.

“The food looks intimidating, but the recipes are not,” Fishbein said. “It’s not about putting on a show. These are recipes the family will want to eat over and over.” And they do. So popular are these dishes that guests recognize them on each other’s Shabbat tables.

Routinely dubbed the Jewish Martha Stewart, Fishbein squirms at the comparison.

“I’m flattered, but it’s not really accurate,” she said. “Martha Stewart is all about a lifestyle. If you want beautiful flowers, you plant them and this is how you do it. We’re busy. We have kids. We have jobs. We’re in and out of the kitchen trying to make fabulous meals. I take shortcuts she would never take. I’m about cutting to the chase to accomplish our goals.”

Beloria Fink, whose sister will be driving from San Diego to join her for the Emek event, observed, “Susie can take a simple recipe and it looks extravagant and elegant, like you’ve really knocked yourself out. She’s taken the bland, traditional Shabbos meal and turned it into elegant cuisine. She shows you how to set a beautiful table for each holiday so you can create a legacy for your own children.”

“Kosher by Design” marries food to holiday traditions in new ways that resonate with those seeking a deeper Jewish experience for their families.

“When I think back to Passover in my childhood,” Fishbein reflected, “I remember my cousin Jeff scrubbing the maror, my aunt cutting sheets of egg noodles and Grandma Mollie making chremslach, because 10 minutes shouldn’t go by without her feeding us something. These memories are like yesterday. It’s a happy place for me. I want that for my kids.”

To accomplish this Fishbein went way beyond “It’s Rosh Hashanah, let’s have honey.” Case in point: Pomegranate Chicken. “I tell my kids, ‘You know why I made this dish, you guys? Pomegranate has 613 seeds corresponding to the 613 mitzvot in the Torah.’ Maybe it’s not my grandmother’s chicken, but it’s incredibly appropriate.”

Similarly, envelope-shaped Won Ton Wrapped Chicken appetizers for Purim are edible reminders of the lots (purim) Haman drew to select the date for the Jews’ extinction.

For Simchat Torah she incorporates the tradition of eating rolled foods to mimic Torah scrolls.

“I thought stuffed cabbage was overdone,” Fishbein noted, “but I’ve got this awesome Chicken Negemaki. Chicken is rolled around scallion and red pepper strips and tied like a scroll with a blanched scallion. True, God never told us to eat Chicken Negemaki, but he didn’t tell us to eat stuffed cabbage either.”

With “Kosher by Design Entertains,” Fishbein moved on to celebrations — a housewarming, dinner for two, an engagement party — nine in all, with spectacular menus and extravagant serving ideas along with the simple, yet elegant recipes she had become famous for.

Now “Kosher by Design Kids in the Kitchen” offers the dishes kids like to eat — and cook — clearly explained, beautifully photographed and coded for difficulty with one, two or three chefs hats (see story p. 49).

How does Fishbein herself explain the hoopla surrounding her books?

“I think I hit a nerve in the community,” she said. “People clearly have had a creative passion in them that was waiting to be unleashed. I’ve unleashed their inner cook.”

Rack of Lamb with Fig-Port-Shallot Sauce

From “Kosher by Design” by Susie Fishbein.

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
2 teaspoons dried minced thyme
2 shallots
2 racks of baby lamb chops, 8-9 chops per rack; have butcher French the bones
1 cup port wine, divided
8 fresh Mission figs or 6 dried figs, cut into quarters
1/2 cup chicken stock

Preheat oven to 450 F. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, process 2 tablespoons olive oil, rosemary, thyme, and shallots 30-45 seconds or until thick paste forms. Rub herb paste into lamb.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium oven-proof skillet. Add lamb, fat side down, and cook over high heat 5 minutes. Turn lamb and cook an additional minute so that both sides are brown.

Add 1/2 cup port to skillet. Place skillet in the oven and roast 18 minutes.

Remove skillet from oven. Place lamb on a platter; cover with foil to keep warm. Add remaining 1/2 cup port and figs to skillet. Bring to a simmer. Use a spatula to loosen brown bits from pan. Add stock and simmer 3-4 minutes. Sauce will thicken to a nice amber color. Pour sauce over lamb and serve.

Makes four servings.

Additional recipes can be found at ” target=”_blank”>

Susie Fishbein will appear in private homes on:


New ‘Design’ Adds Flair to the Holidays


“Kosher By Design Entertains” by Susie Fishbein (Mesorah Publications, $34.99).

It’s probably already too late. Dishes from Susie Fishbein’s new “Kosher By Design Entertains” are probably gracing Shabbat tables and brunches all over the country. Recipes from her first two books, “The Kosher Palette” and “Kosher by Design,” became ubiquitous, and I fear that when I proudly escort my Glazed Chicken Breasts with Strawberry Salsa to the table, someone will inevitably say, “Oh, page 124, I tried that last week.”

But if you are willing to forego the glow of originality, this fresh and fearless cookbook — which includes a guide for how to make the recipes kosher for Passover — can turn your borscht into Yellow Tomato Basil Bisque.

With flavorful and fun recipes that use ingredients and combinations far from what used to be considered traditional Jewish cooking — think Juniper Berry and Peppercorn Crusted Skirt Steak with Spiced Onions — this book can add flare to a tired repertoire for both connoisseurs and amateurs.

The first “Kosher By Design” (Mesorah 2003), which sold more than 70,000 copies, centered around holiday and Shabbat menus, while “Entertains” tackles lifecycle events or other entertaining opportunities, such as a romantic dinner for two or a housewarming party.

Entertains is a confection of a cookbook, from its frilly fuchsia dust jacket to the polka dots and floral brocades and masculine plaids that frame many of the pages. Flip through the pages of nine sample parties and feel the crisp air at an autumnal picnic spread on a patchwork quilt, or hear the cooing and giggling at a pastel dessert buffet to welcome a new baby, where 4-foot-tall martini glasses filled with jelly beans frolic across the table.

The book is organized by courses or types of food — appetizers to desserts — which makes it easy to use. In between each section are a menu, party plan and set up for different occasions. As always, Fishbein is as concerned with presentation as with taste, so she takes several pages and lots of pictures to describe her techniques for things like creating an heirloom anniversary tablecloth using silk fabric and old photos converted into irons-ons.

While you may not have the time to use colorful clothes pins to clip your Coconut Chicken Strips to disposable wine cups filled with mango and apricot dipping sauces, the selection of recipes offers a wide variety of doable, contemporary dishes that will impress your guests both with the taste and with how great they look on the plate.

Fishbein, a mother of four, has clearly spent a lot of time in a family kitchen, and while some of the recipes are a little involved, enough of them meet my acceptable patschkie (messing around) level, with only three or four steps per recipe. She also favors some time-saving ingredients, like prepared dressing packets or frozen vegetables.

Fishbein also throws in a resource guide that includes Web sites or 800 numbers for unusual kosher ingredients or kitchen tools; a buying guide for the housewares on the book’s tables; a Passover conversion table; and suggested holiday and Shabbat menus using recipes from this book and her previous one.

But you better work fast. I can already smell that Caramelized Apple Cheesecake baking — in my neighbor’s oven.

Cornish Hen With Pistachio Paste
4 (1 pound) baby Cornish hens, butterflied, backbone removed, pressed flat with your palm
2 cups shelled raw unsalted pistachio nuts, finely chopped, divided salt and pepper
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
6 shallots
2 tablespoons fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried
12 ounces chicken stock, plus a little extra
4 basil or other brightly colored flat leaves for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Stuff 1/4 cup of the chopped pistachio nuts under the skin of each of the hens. Massage the nuts under the skin to help spread them out evenly. Salt and pepper both sides of each hen.
Heat the olive oil in two large sauté pans (or plan to sear in batches). Sear the hens, skin side down until golden brown. Remove the hens from the pan and place in roasting pans in a single layer. Set aside. Add the shallots to the pan with the hen drippings. Sauté six to seven minutes. Sprinkle in the thyme. Deglaze pan with the chicken stock, use a wooden spoon to unstick any nuts.
Meanwhile, place the hens, uncovered, in the oven. Roast for 30 minutes or until done.
Prepare the pistachio paste. In a deep container, or in the bowl of a food processor, place 1/2 cup chopped pistachio nuts. Add the shallots and pan drippings. Using an immersion blender or food processor blend into a paste. Thin with a little stock if needed.
Dollop 1 or 2 tablespoons of the pistachio paste on a basil or other flat lettuce leaf, place on the side of the hen. Sprinkle all with the remaining chopped pistachios.

Makes four servings.

Balsamic Braised Brisket with Shallots and Potatoes
1 3-pound beef brisket
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
10 cloves garlic, peeled, divided
3 tablespoons margarine, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
6 whole shallots, peeled
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup red wine
1 14-1/2 ounce can crushed tomatoes

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Season the brisket on both sides with salt and pepper. Using the tip of a sharp knife, make sliver cuts all along the brisket. Cut five of the garlic gloves in half. Place a piece of garlic into each slit. Place 2 tablespoons of the margarine and the oil into a large skillet or pot set over medium heat. When the margarine is melted and hot, add the meat. You should hear it sear on contact. Let it cook for eight minutes, don’t move it around. After eight minutes, lift the meat up, add 1 tablespoon of margarine to the pan and turn the meat over. Sear on the second side for eight minutes. Remove the brisket to a baking pan. Surround the brisket with the potatoes, shallots and five whole garlic cloves.
Add balsamic vinegar and wine to the skillet or pan. Add the tomatoes. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for five minutes stirring to combine. While the mixture cooks down, scrape up the browned bits from the pan; a wooden spoon works well here. Pour balsamic mixture over the brisket and vegetables. Add water to just cover the brisket.
Place in the oven and bake for two to two and a half hours, covered. Allow to cool before slicing.

Makes six to eight servings.

Sweet Potato Wedges With Vanilla Rum Sauce
6 medium sweet potatoes, unpeeled
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher for Passover vanilla extract
1 tablespoon dark rum

Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Cover a large jelly roll pan with parchment paper.
Cut the sweet potatoes in half lengthwise. Cut each half in half again lengthwise. You will have long wedges. Place in a bowl.
In a small saucepan melt the margarine or butter and brown sugar. Stir in the vanilla and rum. Simmer for one minute. Pour over the sweet potatoes and toss to combine.
Arrange the wedges in a single layer on the prepared pan.
Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes to one hour, checking at the 45-minute mark, until potatoes are soft and caramelized.

Makes eight to 10 servings.


It’s All About the Olive Oil


“I like to have fun in the kitchen,” said Susie Fishbein, a stay-at-home mother of four — three girls and a boy — who became an overnight success with the publication of her cookbook, “Kosher by Design: Picture-perfect food for the holidays & every day” (Mesorah, 2003).

While some food writers automatically push the same old latke and brisket menu at Chanukah, Fishbein offers a lighter touch by mixing in Mediterranean fare. And although she tweaks culinary tradition, she honors it. Fishbein believes in presenting beautiful food in unique ways.

Because Fishbein never attended culinary school, she has empathy for the home cook who is working blindly from a stranger’s instructions and, maybe, a picture. Her recipes are easy to follow; even novices can achieve professional results.

Although she is playful and adventurous, Fishbein is serious about finding inspiration.

She talks to lots of people, asking them about their favorite foods. She reads restaurant menus the way some people study the stock market. She’s never just eating; she’s figuring out what ingredients she’s tasting and which flavors compliment each other. Her aim is to keep ahead of the kosher curve.

“Creating recipes is my forte,” she said. To invent novel ways of preparing food, she spends huge amounts of time experimenting in the kitchen. She asks her husband and children to test her creations.

“Through trial and error, I attempted a new dish several months ago,” she said with a laugh. “It went through three phases before my family said: ‘Give it up! It just isn’t any good.'”

With a bubbly personality, Fishbein describes a recent December when a Hadassah chapter on Long Island invited her to demonstrate how to make beignets, a type of French fritter.

“Beignets are fresh and exciting at Chanukah,” she said. “A change of pace from jelly doughnuts.”

Because she expected 200 Hadassah women at the demonstration, Fishbein asked her mother for assistance.

“Ironically, I don’t come from a long line of good cooks,” she said. “My ancestors were amazing women, bold beyond their time. But we gagged on their food.”

Watching Fishbein whipping up the beignet batter and frying fritters, her mother said: “Those aren’t beignets, they’re punchkis!” She then claimed that Fishbein’s grandmother used to make an Ashkenazi rendition of this French confection. “It’s the one thing that Bubbe made well!”

Fishbein found this hiliarious, because she had searched long and hard for this upscale idea. Then, through a series of missteps followed by corrections, she perfected her version of the recipe, only to find something similar had been in the family for decades.

Every Chanukah, Fishbein throws a block party and includes all of her neighbors. Inviting 18 adults and 14 children, she serves many of the recipes from “Kosher by Design,” especially the ones calling for olive oil.

Olive oil, a precious commodity in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period, is at the heart of Chanukah cooking. After the Maccabees prevailed in a series of bitter battles, there was only a 24-hour supply of oil left to light the Temple menorah.

This created a crisis, because it took eight days to replenish lamp oil. But, miracle of miracles, one day’s worth of oil lasted eight days. Paying homage to this joyous event, no Chanukah menu would be complete without food fried in oil.

True to this theme, Fishbein serves family and friends Rigatoni ala Norma, a scrumptious Italian dish made with red sauce riddled with fried eggplant and basil. Her Parmesan Crusted Grouper is a remarkably easy recipe that yields amazingly delicious results.

A perennial favorite, Greek Tomato-Spinach Pizza is surrounded by phyllo dough and layered with fried veggies and ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. Fishbein likes these two dairy recipes because of the role cheese plays in the Chanukah story.

Aware that food is mightier than the sword, Judith, an unsung heroine, entertained an enemy general and plied him with salty cheese. To quench his thirst, he consumed far too much wine. After he fell asleep from the wine, Judith cut off his head with his sword, helping her people prevail against the enemy forces.

Today, the Festival of Lights remains a joyous occasion. In accordance with the holiday’s spirit, there’s a photo of a glittering table flooded with glowing candles and blue and gold accouterments in the Chanukah chapter of “Kosher by Design.”

Fishbein knows how to turn an ordinary dining room into a dazzling scene that impresses guests. She has become the doyenne of Jewish entertaining. As a matter of fact, she’s publishing “Kosher by Design Entertains” in time for Passover.

No matter what your home looks like, Fishbein suggests firing up your imagination when setting holiday tables (see page 50). Last Chanukah, her house was under construction. “We had bare walls down to the studs,” she said. “The place was a disaster zone.” Yet at her annual Chanukah party, she overshadowed chaos with extravagance.

“Would you believe the photo from my cookbook was actually my table — taken during the demolition,” she said. “It goes to show, you can create ambiance anywhere.”

But how do the creatively challenged get started? Fishbein suggests beginning with the best food. Yet, she says, it’s not only what you serve, but how you serve it.

A simple garnish creating contrast, an offbeat tablecloth such as a quilt, an Oriental pot filled with flowering plants — these things elevate the mundane to the magnificent. Search your house for lovely objects long forgotten. Mix and match things representing different styles and adapt them when you entertain.

“Above all, enjoy yourself,” Fishbein said. “Let each meal be a wonderful journey — the sharing of something special with people you care about and love.”

Rigatoni Ala Norma

6 medium Asian eggplants, unpeeled and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices crosswise

Salt to taste

1 1/4 cups or more olive oil

Freshly ground pepper to taste

4 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped

2 (28-ounce or 32-ounce) cans whole plum tomatoes, drained and chopped

1 tablespoon sugar

3-4 fresh basil leaves, chopped, plus ex

tra for garnishing

1 pound rigatoni, uncooked

Paper towels

Lay eggplant slices in a single layer. Lightly salt both sides. Cover with paper towels. Let sit for 20 minutes. Press on paper towels occasionally to soak up water that will come from eggplants.

In a large frying pan, heat 1 cup, or more, of olive oil over medium high heat. Make sure you have at least an inch of oil, so it will cover the slices and eliminate the need for flipping each piece over. When oil is hot, carefully add the eggplant in batches and fry until golden on both sides. Add more oil, if necessary. Transfer to clean paper towels and drain. Season generously with salt and black pepper.

Place 1/4 cup olive oil in a large pot. Add the garlic and sauté until golden. Add the tomatoes and any accumulated juices. Add the sugar and simmer about 15 minutes. The sauce will thicken. Add the chopped basil leaves and simmer three to four minutes longer.

While the sauce simmers, prepare the pasta according to package directions until al dente (chewy). Drain, reserving one cup of the pasta water in case sauce needs thinning.

Toss the pasta with the eggplant and sauce. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.

Makes six to eight servings.

Greek Tomato-Spinach Pizza

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cups chopped onion

3 garlic cloves, minced

3 (10-ounce) boxes frozen chopped

spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

2 teaspoons dry oregano

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

15 ounces ricotta cheese

10 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed

1/4 cup butter, melted

4-6 fresh tomatoes, evenly sliced

1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 400 F.

In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Sauté about five minutes, or until onion is transparent.

Add spinach and saute until all excess moisture has evaporated. Add oregano, basil and pepper. Mix well. Remove from heat. Mix in ricotta cheese. Set aside.

Grease a large jelly roll pan (the kind with a small rim). Lay one sheet of phyllo in it. The phyllo may be just a little bigger than the pan. Brush phyllo with melted butter. Top with a second phyllo sheet and brush with melted butter.

Repeat process until all ten sheets are buttered. Roll the ends of phyllo into themselves to form the “pizza crust.” NOTE: Phyllo dough dries out quickly, so keep sheets covered with a damp cloth until use.

Using a spatula, spread the spinach ricotta mixture in an even layer over the phyllo. Arrange tomatoes over this layer. Sprinkle with mozzarella. Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. When cool enough to handle, cut into squares.

Makes 12 servings.

Parmesan Crusted Grouper

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/3 cup butter, softened but not melted

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 scallions, thinly sliced

4 small (1-inch thick) grouper fillets

1 lemon

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat broiler to high.

In a small bowl, combine Parmesan, butter, mayonnaise and scallions. Reserve.

Place grouper fillets on a lightly greased boiler pan. Squeeze juice from lemon over fillets. Sprinkle with black pepper.

Broil 6 inches from heat for 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Spread tops of the fillets with cheese mixture. Return to oven and broil for two minutes longer, or until topping is lightly browned and bubbly. Remove fillets to platter.

Makes four servings.


4-6 cups vegetable oil

1 cup milk

1 cup water

1 large egg

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons sugar

confectioners’ sugar

Pour oil into a deep pot to a depth of 3-4 inches. Heat oil to 370 F.

In a large bowl with the mixer at medium-high speed, combine the milk, water and egg. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Mix until batter is smooth.

Using a 1/8 cup measure, drop the batter into the hot oil and fry about 3-4 minutes. Don’t make them much bigger or the inside won’t cook properly. The beignets will float to the surface. Turn them a few times, until the beignets are golden on both sides. Remove and drain on paper towels. Use a strainer to sprinkle confectioners’ sugar on all sides. Serve hot.

Makes 20-24 beignets.

Recipes from “Kosher by Design: Picture Perfect Food for the Holidays & Every Day,” by Susie Fishbein (Mesorah).


Give Thanksgiving a Jewish Flavor


“My sister-in-law stuffs Thanksgiving turkeys with a matzah ball mixture,” says Faye Levy, food columnist and author of 14 cookbooks. “Instead of making patties and poaching them, she cooks this tasty mixture inside the turkey.”

This never struck Levy as odd, because her mother used to make noodle pudding on Thanksgiving.

“Her Thanksgiving dinners were almost like Shabbat meals,” she says.

One of Levy’s all-time favorite dishes is Thanksgiving potato kugel with asparagus. “I first tried it at the home of a friend from Colorado,” she says, explaining that it was his grandmother’s recipe.

“In his family, that dish was the essence of Thanksgiving.”

Just as Jewish cooking experienced a revolution in America when brisket discovered ketchup, and noodle kugel met Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Jews have reinvented their recipes, giving Thanksgiving fare a Jewish accent.

Levy, author of “1,000 Jewish Recipes” (Wiley, 2000) has sprinkled Thanksgiving dishes throughout this enormous international compendium. Why did she feel the necessity to include American harvest fare in a Jewish cookbook?

“Because most Jews I know, whether they’re Orthodox or not, celebrate Thanksgiving,” Levy says. “If you think about it, Thanksgiving food is basically kosher. It’s turkey, plus a lot of vegetables and bread.”

Honoring the feast shared by Native Americans and English settlers in the Massachusetts colony so long ago, Jews are naturally drawn to a holiday that revolves around a meal.

While Levy grew up in home that was Ashkenazi and kosher, like other Americans her family always ate turkey and cranberries on Thanksgiving.

“We just skipped the creamed onions,” she says, referring to the Jewish dietary restriction that prohibits serving dairy with meat.

A child of the ’50s, Levy has memories of her mother’s candied sweet potatoes, dripping with brown sugar syrup and topped with melted marshmallows. Popular back then, this dish is still on the Thanksgiving menu in many American homes.

“I hated the marshmallows,” says Levy with a laugh. “They’re too cloyingly sweet, even as dessert.”

Recalling Thanksgivings past, Levy describes an aunt who used to mash sweet potatoes, form them into patties and fry them. Just before serving, she’d melt a marshmallow on top of each patty. Proud of this recipe, her aunt also bestowed it with a name: “Thanksgiving Latkes.”

Today, Levy — a graduate of the famed La Varenne Cooking School in Paris — prefers mixing sweet potatoes with savory spices.

“You can really taste the flavor of sweet potatoes through ginger and hot peppers, as opposed to mixing them with sugary foods.”

Her culinary training has taught Levy to avoid roasting really large turkeys — those over 18 pounds. She’s discovered that while you’re waiting for the inside to cook through, the outside often burns or dries out. You’re also more likely to have problems with bacteria. For large crowds, she recommends roasting two smaller turkeys weighing about 12 pounds each.

Levy says her spiced roasted turkey recipe was inspired by her husband’s Sephardi background.

“This aromatic turkey is seasoned with his Yemenite family’s favorite spice mixture — cumin, turmeric and black pepper,” she says.

This seasoning yields sensational aroma and flavor.

For extra kick, Levy serves this turkey with hot cumin sauce, which is tomato based and accented with spices. She feels that her exposure to her husband’s Sephardi palate has given her an appreciation of piquant flavor.

As a chef, Levy is drawn to the fruits of the season’s final harvest. She seeks Thanksgiving fare wherever she goes. In compiling her book “Feast from the Middle East: 250 Sun-Drenched Dishes from the Lands of the Bible” (HarperCollins, 2003) she included recipes such as Iranian sweet and savory rice stuffing with cranberry toasted almonds.

When it comes to Thanksgiving food, there’s no end to the possibilities one can cull from the canons of Jewish cuisine. Surprisingly, many Jewish foods are easily adapted to complement the holiday’s traditional fare.

If you have leftover challah in the freezer, try making challah stuffing, a light but savory surprise. Levy follows her mother’s custom of creating contrast by introducing peppers, mushrooms and zucchini to slices of sweet challah.

Thanksgiving tzimmes augments the taste of turkey, no matter how it’s prepared. Instead of the usual prunes, dried cranberries lend a colorful note to this saucy combination of carrots and pineapple.

With a crunchy crumb topping, pecan streusel pears are an easy-to-make dessert that is both sensational and pareve.

These days, Levy and her husband usually celebrate Thanksgiving with friends. Even when she’s invited as a guest, she roasts a turkey to have at home. Turkeys are economical to buy in late November, and it’s fun to have one to nibble on and use as an ingredient in other recipes, such as a robust vegetable soup.

“We’re kind of casual about holidays,” Levy says. “Whenever we get together with family and friends — even on Thanksgiving — we do a lot of pot luck. This way, one person isn’t stuck cooking for a lot of people.”

Sometimes this group coordinates who will prepare which dishes; sometimes they don’t. Of course one person is always designated as the turkey roaster.

“After that, you can’t serve too many side dishes, salads, and desserts,” Levy says.

While abundance is a Thanksgiving theme, Jews were already entertaining lavishly centuries before the Pilgrims discovered Plymouth Rock.

Thanksgiving Tzimmes

4 cups canned pineapple chunks

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 pounds carrots, sliced 1/2 inch thick

3-4 tablespoons honey

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

Pinch of ground cloves

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Drain pineapple and reserve 1/4 cup juice. Mix reserved juice with the

cornstarch in a cup.

Combine carrots with 2 cups water and a pinch of salt in a large saucepan.

Bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat about 12 minutes, or until just tender. Remove carrots with slotted spoon.

Add honey to carrot cooking liquid and bring to a simmer, stirring.

Mix juice-cornstarch mixture to blend. Add to simmering liquid, stirring.

Cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until sauce comes to a simmer and thickens.

Stir in carrots, cranberries, pineapple, ginger and cloves. Heat until bubbling.

Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Serves four.

Spiced Roasted Turkey

5 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Salt to taste, optional

One 10-12 pound fresh or thawed turkey

About 2-4 tablespoons olive oil

About 3/4 cup chicken or turkey stock or dry white wine

Preheat oven to 425 F. Remove top rack.

Mix cumin, turmeric, pepper and salt in a small bowl. Rub turkey with olive oil. Rub it inside and out with spice mixture. Truss turkey, if desired, or close it with skewers.

Put turkey on a rack in a large roasting pan. Pour 1/2 cup stock into pan.

Roast turkey 30 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 F. Roast turkey 1 1/2 hours, basting with additional olive oil or with pan juices every 30 minutes. If pan becomes dry, add 1/4 cup stock.

Cover turkey loosely with foil and continue roasting 20 to 30 minutes, or until meat thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 180 F, or until juices run clear when thickest part of thigh is pricked.

Transfer turkey carefully to a large board. Discard trussing strings or skewers.

Baste turkey once with pan juices and cover it. Reserve juices to add to Hot Cumin-Tomato Sauce (below).

Let turkey sit for approx. 20 minutes

Carve turkey and arrange on a platter. Serve hot, with hot cumin-tomato sauce.

Serves six-eight.

Hot Cumin-Tomato Sauce

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

l large onion, minced

4 large cloves garlic, chopped

2 or 3 jalapeno peppers, ribs and seeds removed and minced (See note at bottom)

Three 28-oz. cans tomatoes, drained and chopped

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2-1 cup pan juices from turkey (optional)

2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste

1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (optional)

Salt to taste

Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add onion and saute over medium heat about 7 minutes, or until beginning to brown. Add garlic and jalapeno peppers and sauté 30 seconds.

Add tomatoes, tomato paste and turkey pan juices. Bring to a boil, stirring.

Add cumin, turmeric, black pepper, pepper flakes, and salt. Cook uncovered over medium-low heat 20 minutes, or until thickened to taste. Season with salt and pepper.

Note: Wear rubber gloves when handling hot peppers. If not using gloves, wash hands well after touching hot peppers.

Challah Stuffing

12 slices stale challah

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 medium onions, chopped

2 red or green bell peppers, chopped

8 ounces mushrooms, chopped

4 medium carrots, coarsely grated

4 medium zucchini, coarsely grated

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 large eggs, beaten

Soak challah in water. Squeeze out water. Mash challah in a bowl.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet. Add onion, pepper and mushrooms and sauté. Stir occasionally for about 7 minutes, or until onion begins to turn golden.

Add vegetable mixture to bowl of challah and mix well. Add carrots, zucchini, salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings. Add egg and mix well. Cool completely before spooning into turkey.

Note: For safety reasons, if cooking stuffing in turkey it’s important to make sure stuffing reaches an internal temperature of 165 F by testing the center of the stuffing with thermometer.

To bake stuffing separately, preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-inch square baking dish. Spoon stuffing into dish. Drizzle with remaining oil. Bake about 30 minutes, or until firm.

Serves about eight, 8-10 cups.

Pecan Struesel Pears

2 pounds pears

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 cup light brown sugar, divided

1 tablespoon strained fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons margarine, chilled and cut into bits

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup rolled or quick-cooking oatmeal (not instant) — uncooked

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Peel and slice pears. Put them in a bowl. Mix cornstarch and 1/4 cup of the brown sugar in a small bowl. Add to pears. Add lemon juice and toss to combine.

Grease a shallow, square 9-inch baking dish. Spoon mixture inside.

Mix remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar with flour in a small bowl. With two knives, cut margarine into mixture until coarse crumbs form. Add pecans and oats. Stir lightly with a fork. Sprinkle mixture evenly over fruit.

Bake about 30 minutes, or until topping is golden and pears are tender. Serve warm or cool in bowls.

Serves six.

Recipes from “1,000 Jewish Recipes,” by Faye Levy.


Not Your Grandma’s Honey Cake

It wouldn’t be the second night of Rosh Hashanah if our friends didn’t come for dinner, contributing a cornucopia of dishes, especially divine desserts. There are enough pastries covering the buffet to keep judges at the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest busy for a week.

I always bake a chocolate and yellow swirl bundt cake, my daughter’s favorite dessert. One year, a friend came with an apple pie and a plum torte, which she placed on the buffet next to my cake. A towering pyramid of brownies vied for attention with white chocolate chip cookies and a plate of lemon squares. The intoxicating smell of a warm pear crisp tempted people who were piling their plates with pastries. When they reached the homemade honey cake, though, they made bee-lines back to their seats. Feeling embarrassed for Alice, who’d baked this wallflower, I moved the honey cake to a more prominent position and cut it into slices. Still there were no takers.

“I told you not to bring it,” Alice’s 8-year-old daughter cried. “Honey cake is boring. Nobody wants it.”

To be kind, I took a couple of slices. But Alice’s daughter was right. The cake tasted overbaked. I had been warned that dryness is a problem with honey cake, which is why I never attempted to make one. Yet I felt guilty shunning the only Rosh Hashanah dessert on the buffet. I realized honey cake had become the dowager of New Year’s celebrations, revered but seldom consumed.

“A dry honey cake will send people away for years,” said Marcy Goldman, author of “Jewish Holiday Baking” (Broadway Books, 2004). Conventional wisdom on the subject maintains that if honey cakes are removed from the oven at exactly the right time –whatever that is — the dreaded dryness will be avoided. But Goldman disagrees, explaining that many recipes call for only one-quarter cup of oil, which is not nearly enough fat to yield chewy, moist texture.

And so she began experimenting with different honey cake recipes. First, she upped the fat content. Then she realized that she had to add some sugar; using enough honey to sufficiently sweeten the cake can make it too sticky to rise. Later she addressed flavorings, adjusting their levels depending on which type of honey cake she was baking.

“If I make one honey cake, then I have to make 10 different kinds,” she said. Among her repertoire, Goldman has developed a Chocolate Velvet Honey Cake, an Eastern European Bee Sting Tart and a Definitive Moist and Majestic Honey Cake.

The whole honey cake hullabaloo started because Goldman is fussy about honey and will not buy just any kind. In recent years, she has enlisted Elmer, a retired stockbroker-turned-beekeeper, to fill her honey needs. Elmer produces a nonpasteurized kosher honey, known to taste exquisite.

“Most honey is just sweet; it lacks rich honey flavor,” Goldman said.

Honey comes in thousands of varieties. There are more than 300 such varieties in the United States alone. They range in color from pale blond to dark walnut, and in flavor from mild and floral to herbal and robust.

The taste of this natural sweetener depends on the types of flowers its black-and-yellow creators frequent. In the United States, the most common floral destination for bees is clover, but the possibilities are endless, depending on climate and growing conditions. Like wine, honey is a truly local product that varies from region to region.

Equally enthralled by the range of honey flavors, food writer Jayne Cohen takes her family on vacation every August with a mission. As a segue between the carefree days of summer and the fall holidays to follow, they spend their vacations searching market after market for honey.

“We always bring a fragrant honey back from every trip,” said Cohen, who, along with Lorie Weinrott, is co-author of “The Ultimate Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebration Book” (Clarkson Potter, 2004). She joyfully describes creamed lavender honey from Provence, wild blueberry honey from Maine, chestnut honey from Italy and honey scented with hibiscus and frangipane from Bermuda.

“Every year, we open a lovely new honey, and that has become our Rosh Hashanah tradition,” she said.

Last year her family vacationed in Sicily, where they found the most marvelous honey carrying the aroma of pistachio flowers.

“I prepared an elaborate Rosh Hashanah dinner for family and friends,” Cohen said. “But nobody could stop dipping apples and challah in that pistachio honey.”

It was so popular that three of her friends later visited Sicily and returned with jars of honey of their own.

While in Sicily, Cohen’s daughter, Alex, purchased a three-pack of honeys: chestnut, wild flower and thyme. Attending college in California, Alex couldn’t come home for Rosh Hashanah. Instead she bought a challah and went to a farmer’s market for tart apples. Inviting friends to her dorm room, they dipped the challah and apples into the three Sicilian honeys.

“Alex liked the idea of beginning the school and Jewish year wishing for sweetness,” Cohen said. “It was nice to see her repeating our family tradition.”

Honey has long been important to the Jewish people. Since biblical times, honey has been a symbol of abundance. Addressing Moses from the burning bush, God announced his plan to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt to a land flowing with “milk and honey.”

Back then, “milk and honey” were dietary staples, so in essence God was saying that Canaan would be a promising place to settle. In fact, the land was teeming with goats and swarming bees abounded. Canaan’s fertile soil supported grapevines and date trees, which produced a syrup also known as honey. Date syrup is similar in viscosity and texture to honey, and is equally sweet.

This abundant land offered prosperity and sweetness, which have come to represent Rosh Hashanah ideals.

During her career, Cohen has specialized in tweaking traditional Jewish recipes to create marvelous alternatives. With Rosh Hashanah in mind, she developed Honeyed Cigars with Date-Pomegranate Filling, a phyllo pastry with a Sephardi influence.

“Besides being a traditional Rosh Hashanah fruit, pomegranates have a tart taste,” said Cohen, adding that you don’t truly appreciate sweetness without contrast. For that reason, Jews from some Sephardi cultures mix pomegranates with honey. Cohen’s recipe calls for pomegranate molasses, which can be found in Middle Eastern, specialty-food and gourmet markets.

Cohen highly recommends baking with a quality honey, preferably one that carries a flavor you find pleasing. Look for honeys such as orange blossom or lime blossom at farmer’s markets. At specialty stores, you can sometimes find Greek thyme honey or lavender honey.

If you can’t locate fragranced honey, mix flavors you like into commercial honey. Almond extract or a small amount of strawberry jam work well, also.

While the Rosh Hashanah dessert course should be the moment for honey to shine, it has lost out to Blondies and Mississippi Mud Pie over recent decades. There was a time when Ashkenazi Jews eagerly anticipated the holiday because it promised honey cakes galore. Every family had a bubbe or aunt who baked them. Yet a dwindling number of people recall this distant memory.

Now, just in time for Rosh Hashanah,
“I love baking,” Goldman said. “But even better than that, I love it when someone else derives pleasure from repeating my recipes, because with Jewish cooking and baking, you’re talking about more than just a recipe. You’re passing on your whole culture.”

Along with the chocolate desserts people crave, this Rosh Hashanah try baking a pastry so full of nectar that even the most ardent honey cake haters will have to admit they’re wrong.

For more tempting Rosh Hashanah baking ideas, visit Cohen’s Web site,, which features Apple Challah Bread Pudding, along with other seasonal pastries.

Goldman revives honey cakes and other holiday confections on her Web site:

Marcy Goldman’s Definitive Moist and Majestic Honey Cake

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup honey

11/2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

4 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup warm coffee or strong tea or Coca-Cola

1/2 cup fresh orange juice

1/4 cup rye or whiskey (or substitute orange juice or coffee)

1/2 cup slivered almonds

This cake is best baked in a 9-inch angel food cake pan, but you can also make it in one 9- or 10-inch tube or bundt cake pan, a 9-by-13-inch sheet cake, or two 5-inch loaf pans.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly grease pan(s). For tube and angel food pans, line the bottom with lightly greased parchment paper, cut to fit. Have ready doubled up baking sheets with a piece of parchment on top

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and allspice.

Make a well in the center. Add oil, honey, white sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, coffee, tea or cola, orange juice and rye or whiskey.

Using a strong wire whisk or in an electric mixer on slow speed, stir together well to make a thick, well-blended batter, making sure that no ingredients are stuck to the bottom.

Spoon batter into prepared pan(s). Sprinkle top of cake(s) evenly with almonds. Place cake pan(s) on two baking sheets stacked together. (This will ensure that cakes bake properly.)

Bake until cake springs back when you gently touch the cake center. For angel and tube cake pans, 60-80 minutes; loaf pans, about 45-55 minutes. For sheet-style cakes, baking time is 40-45 minutes.

Let cake stand 20 minutes before removing from pan.

Marcy Goldman’s Chocolate Velvet Honey Cake

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cocoa

1 tablespoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup honey

1 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

3 eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla

1 cup Coca-Cola

1/2 cup coarsely chopped semi-sweet chocolate

1/3 cup slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350F. Generously spray a 9- or 10-inch tube pan or angel food cake pan with cooking spray. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves.

In a food processor, add in the oil, honey, white sugar, brown sugar. Blend well about 30 seconds. Add in the eggs, vanilla, and Coca-Cola. Blend well for another minute.

Fold in the dry ingredients and blend for about two minutes, until smooth, stopping the machine once or twice to ensure that ingredients are all blended and not stuck at the bottom.

Fold in chocolate chips. Spoon or pour batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle with almonds. Place cake on baking sheet and bake until done, about 60-75 minutes, until cake springs back when gently pressed with fingertips.

Cool 10 minutes before unmolding from pan.

Dust cake with confectioner’s sugar, or cocoa. Or, drizzle on melted, semi-sweet chocolate.

Garnish with confectioner’s sugar, cocoa, drizzled melted semi-sweet chocolate, or the decadent Microwave Ganache Glaze (recipe below).

Microwave Ganache Glaze

1/2 cup water or heavy cream

1 cup coarsely chopped, semi-sweet chocolate (the best quality you can find)

1 tablespoon honey

Place water or cream in a microwavable bowl and heat on high until bubbly.

Remove from microwave and whisk in the chocolate and honey, blending until smooth and glossy.

Refrigerate about two to three hours until it has thickened but is still spreadable. If it is quite stiff, warm it slightly until you can drizzle it on the cake. You can also add one-two tablespoons of unsalted butter or margarine to make it more pliable.

Jayne Cohen’s Honeyed Cigars With Date-Pomegranate Filling


About 12 sheets of frozen phyllo, plus several extra to allow for tearing

1/2 cup light, fragrant honey

1/2 cup avocado, sunflower, walnut, or other mild oil

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon


1 1/2 cups (tightly packed) Medjool or other soft, moist dates, pitted and coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons avocado, sunflower, walnut, or other mild oil

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

1 tablespoon hot water

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 pinch of salt

1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped, plus extra for sprinkling

Additional honey to brush on after baking

Thaw phyllo sheets slowly in the refrigerator overnight. Remove the unopened package from the refrigerator two hours before you begin the recipe to allow sheets to come to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment.

In a small saucepan, warm 1/2 cup honey. Slowly add 1/2 cup oil, stirring until well incorporated. Stir in cinnamon. Remove pan from heat.

Prepare the filling. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, blend dates, oil, pomegranate molasses, hot water, cinnamon, and salt to a smooth paste. Add walnuts, and pulse until just combined. Transfer to a bowl.

Remove phyllo sheets from the package and carefully unroll them on a damp kitchen towel. Using kitchen scissors or a sharp knife, cut the stack of sheets in half from short end to short end, forming rectangles approximately 6-by-17-inches (exact size will depend on brand of phyllo used). Immediately cover the cut phyllo sheets with a large piece of plastic wrap and another damp towel to prevent them from drying out.

Work with one sheet at a time, keeping the rest covered with the plastic wrap and a towel. Remove one sheet from the stack and brush it lightly and quickly with the honey-oil mixture. Carefully fold the sheet in half, bringing the short ends together and pressing down gently. Brush the new surface, now exposed, with the honey-oil.

Scoop a heaping tablespoon of the filling, roll it into a little sausage, and place it along the short bottom edge of the phyllo, leaving a one-inch border at the sides. Fold the bottom edge toward the center so that it just covers the filling, then fold the sides in, so the filling won’t ooze out. Brush the new phyllo surface that is exposed with more honey-oil, and continue to roll, jelly-roll fashion, brushing each new, dry phyllo surface with more honey-oil as you go.

Brush the finished cigars lightly over all surfaces with the honey-oil and place seam-side down on the prepared cookie sheet. Sprinkle lightly with chopped walnuts. Keep the cookie sheet lightly covered with plastic wrap as you work.

Continue making cigars with more phyllo and filling, stirring the honey-oil mixture when necessary if it separates. (You can refrigerate the unbaked cigars at this point, well wrapped, up to one day before baking.)

Bake the cigars for about 20 minutes, or until golden and crisp. While still hot, brush them very generously with honey. Let cool. Serve as is or cut each cigar on the diagonal into thirds.

Yield: 20-24 cigars, or if cut, three times as many bite-sized pieces.

A Buffet Fit for Your Kings and Queens

My family loves Purim. It is a time when our grandchildren dress up in biblical costumes to act out the story of Esther and attend Purim carnivals, just as our children did when they were young. As in most holidays, we all look forward to the traditional foods that are part of the celebration. During Purim, hamantaschen, the three-cornered pastries filled with poppy seeds or fruit preserves, are always served.

This year, the family is invited to an “after-the-Purim-carnival buffet” inspired by the elaborate banquets that were served in biblical days. One long table in the dining room will be set for all the guests, and our collection of Purim groggers (noisemakers) will be arranged at each place setting for everyone to use during the retelling of the Purim story.

This dairy menu will feature hot, crispy Cheese Kreplach, a savory version of hamantaschen using a quick pizza dough, filled with three cheeses and flavored with fresh herbs.

A big bowl of Hummus will take center stage, accompanied by pita bread and an assortment of fresh vegetables for dipping. This garlicky dip, which originated in the Middle East, is based on chickpeas, one of the earliest Purim foods. Using a food processor, this is a quick and easy dish to prepare, just combine all the ingredients in the recipe and blend. The results can be as smooth as you like.

Include platters of grilled mushrooms in your buffet. I still remember when mushrooms were not easy to find. But, with the wonderful array of fresh mushrooms now available at the local open-air markets, it’s fun to create your own unusual mushroom recipes The Grilled Stuffed Mushrooms have an intense flavor as well as a slight crunch. Prepare them in advance and broil just before serving.

Forget chopped liver, instead, serve healthy Fennel “Caviar,” a fresh fennel pâté with a delicate anise flavor, easy to prepare, and delicious when spread on toast. On the buffet table include Skewered Eggplant, a dish that I discovered on a trip to Bali. It will lend an exotic touch to your buffet table. Drizzle the Peanut Sauce over the eggplant or serve it on the side.

This buffet will appeal to everyone, especially the children because they can make their own selections. Also, this menu is especially appropriate for Purim because it reminds us that Queen Esther, in order to eat only kosher food in the king’s palace, followed a vegetarian diet, which consisted primarily of seeds, grains, nuts and beans.

Purim would not be complete without hamantaschen, filled with as many interesting mixtures as your imagination allows. Besides the classic poppy seed filling, my family likes an apricot-nut mixture and a pureed prune filling. Below you will find an easy-to-prepare recipe with a filling of pecans, figs and raisins.

Cheese Kreplach

(Quick Pizza Dough)

1 recipe Quick Pizza Dough (recipe follows)

1¼4 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons cornmeal

2 cups mozzarella cheese, julienned

8 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon fresh oregano or 2 teaspoons dried oregano

Freshly ground black pepper

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Prepare the Quick Pizza Dough.

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Brush a 10×14-inch baking sheet with olive oil and sprinkle with cornmeal.

In a bowl, combine the three cheeses, oregano and pepper and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside. Divide the dough into four pieces. Roll out each piece and cut into 4-inch rounds with biscuit cutter or the rim of a glass. Place the cheeses on one half of each round, sprinkle with herbs, and season with pepper. Drizzle with a few drops of olive oil. Brush the edges of the rounds with the beaten egg. Fold the dough over the filling to form a half-moon and press the edges of the dough firmly together. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Makes about 12 (6 servings).

Quick Pizza Dough

2 packages dry yeast

Pinch of sugar

11¼4 cups warm water

1¼4 cup extra virgin olive oil

31¼2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, and 1¼2 cup of the warm water. Set aside until yeast becomes frothy, two to three minutes.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, or using a hand mixer, combine the remaining 3¼4 cup water, olive oil, and the yeast mixture. Add 1 cup of the flour and the salt, blending well. Add the remaining flour, 1 cup at a time, gradually blending until a rough ball forms. Transfer to a floured board and knead until the top of the dough is smooth and elastic, and springs back when pressed with a finger. If using immediately, cover with a towel and tear off desired pieces of dough. Or at this point, place in a plastic bag, seal and refrigerate; (it will keep for up to four days.)

Garbanzo Bean Hummus

Hummus is a simple, wonderfully flavorful dip or spread made from garbanzos (chick peas) and tahini (sesame seed paste). Its texture is velvety, rich and firm enough to scoop up with wedges of pita bread or crisp vegetables. The taste is robust, nutlike, garlicky and so satisfying that you won’t be able to stop eating it.

l can (15 ounce) garbanzos, with liquid

1 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)

1¼2 cup lemon juice

4 garlic cloves, peeled

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1¼3 cup olive oil

6 fresh parsley sprigs, stemmed

1 to 2 teaspoons salt

Place the garbanzos in a processor or blender and process until coarsely pureed.

Add the tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and cumin, then process until smoothly pureed. Add olive oil in a thin stream. Blend in the parsley leaves and l teaspoon of salt. Add additional salt to taste. Serve with hot pita bread and sliced vegetables such as carrots, zucchini, mushrooms and jicama.

Note: Tahini (crushed sesame seeds) is available at natural food and Middle Eastern grocery stores and at most supermarkets.

Fennel “Caviar”

2 medium fennel bulbs

1¼4 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 shallot, minced

2 tablespoons minced yellow onion

Pinch of fresh thyme, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Toasted rounds of French bread

Cut off the feathery tops of the fennel bulbs, and remove any tough outer layers. Cut the fennel into 1¼4-inch dice, to yield about 3 cups.

In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil and sauté the garlic, shallot, and onion about four minutes, or until soft. Add the fennel and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the thyme, salt and pepper, and let cook for five more minutes. Transfer to a wooden board and chop until well blended, or place in a food processor and pulse once or twice for a finer consistency. Spoon into a covered bowl or crock and refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with toast rounds.

Makes 2 cups (about 16 servings).

Skewered Japanese Eggplant with Peanut Sauce

Japanese eggplants are very small and tender and usually come in a beautiful lavender shade, although you may find white and purple skinned varieties. If you don’t have time to make the peanut sauce, pick up a kosher version available at some markets.

Peanut sauce (recipe follows)

1 cup flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

4 Japanese eggplants, unpeeled and sliced 3¼4-inch thick

Olive oil, for sauteing

Cilantro sprigs, for garnish

Prepare the Peanut Sauce; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

In a shallow medium bowl, mix the flour with salt and pepper. Dip the eggplant slices on both sides in the flour and shake to remove excess. In a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat the olive oil and brown the eggplant rounds on both sides about two to three minutes, or until tender. Thread two or three eggplant slices through wooden skewers, lollipop fashion. Arrange on a large platter, garnish with cilantro, and serve with Peanut Sauce.

Makes about 4 servings.

Peanut Sauce

2 tablespoons minced yellow onion

1 garlic clove, minced

1 stalk fresh lemongrass, white

stem only, minced (optional)

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1¼2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1¼8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1¼2 cup vegetable stock

1¼2 cup chunky peanut butter

1 cup coconut milk

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small saucepan, combine the onion, garlic, lemongrass (if using), brown sugar, coriander, pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, vegetable stock, peanut butter, coconut milk, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until smooth; reduce heat and let the sauce simmer four minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into a medium serving bowl. Cool and cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate up to four hours. Bring to room temperature before serving. Add additional vegetable stock if needed to thin the sauce.

Makes about two cups.


1¼2 cup vegetable oil

11¼2 cups sugar

3 eggs

1¼2 cup orange juice

6 cups flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch salt

Fig-Pecan Filling (recipe follows)

1 egg white

In the bowl of an electric mixer, blend oil, sugar and eggs, until light and fluffy. Add orange juice a little at a time until completely blended. Add flour, baking powder, and salt to oil mixture and blend well. (Do not over-mix.) Divide into four parts and knead each part into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for several hours.

Flatten each portion with the palms of your hands and roll out to 1/4-inch thickness on a floured board. Cut into 3-inch rounds with a cookie cutter. Place 1 heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of each round. Fold the edges of the dough toward the center to form a triangle, leaving a bit of the filling visible in the center. Pinch the edges to seal.

Place the hamantaschen on a lightly greased foil-lined baking sheet and brush with egg white. Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer to racks to cool.

Makes about six-dozen hamantaschen.

Fig and Pecan Filling

4 cups dried figs

1 cup raisins

Apple juice

1 cup toasted chopped pecans

In a large bowl, place figs and raisins with enough apple juice to cover. Refrigerate for three hours or overnight. Place fig mixture in medium saucepan and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until soft, about 10 minutes. Cool and drain, reserving syrup. In food processor, blend figs and raisins with 1¼4 cup of reserved syrup. Transfer to a bowl and mix in pecans. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to fill hamantaschen.

Makes about 6 cups.

Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” and “The 30-Minute
Kosher Cook.” Her Web site is

Here Comes the Bridal Shower

Something old, something new,

Something borrowed, something blue,

And a lucky sixpence in her shoe….

— Anonymous

For years this adage has sent mothers of the bride, maids of honor — even well-meaning machatanim (in-laws) — scurrying about town to locate the perfect antique veil, virginal wedding dress, secondhand handkerchief and baby-blue garter to bestow upon the bride on her breathless walk down the aisle.

But the Jewish bride needs her embroidered challah cover, her art nouveau menorah, and her hand-painted porcelain Passover plate. That’s where the bridal shower comes in. And you were nice enough to host a luncheon. Oy gevalt!

Instead of spending upwards of $30 per person and having the whole family kvetch about “prosaic pasta” and “commonplace chicken,” or spending even more money hiring a caterer to tramp through your house and schmutz up your kitchen, how about making our delicious, do-able menu and toast the bride with a heartfelt “mazel tov!” and a glass of Champagne in your garden?

You’ll not only save your gelt, you’ll kvell about your cleverness. Hosting the perfect party for your favorite bride will not only bring her nachas and a ladleful of luck, she’ll get everything she registered for.

Since Los Angeles cooking teacher and party coordinator Jean Brady has catered over 500 wedding events, we asked the expert. We visited Brady in her gadget-filled kitchen in Rustic Canyon. She prepared some of her favorite recipes and offered us a sip of Roasted Yellow Pepper Soup, a bite of Rosemary Bread With Dried Cherries, a taste of Pot de Crème au Café. In between spoonfuls, she reveals tricks of her trade so we can host a shower that looks like she did it for us. Now, that’s a mitzvah.

Getting Started

Decide on a theme. Since showers are all about bestowing gifts for the bride’s new home, why not take your cue from her taste — whether it be Victorian, country or modern — and design the flowers, the decorations, even the music, accordingly.

Choose your menu, then make a timeline of what to do when, including shopping, preparing, cleaning the house and setting the tables. In Brady’s suggested menu, most items can be prepared in advance.

Make a list of dishes, flatware and glassware for each person, and platters, bowls and serving pieces for each dish. Be prepared to beg, borrow or shop.

Flower Arrangements

Because we love the idea of designing the shower according to the bride’s taste, we called Carlos Camara, head designer at Century City Flower Mart, for some advice. There are three basic styles:

  • Victorian — This is the most popular style. Arrangements are feminine, romantic and look best in baskets. Use pale colors such as light pink or lavender combined with white. Since roses and Victorian are synonymous, his favorite summer varieties are the lavender bluebird, which is gorgeous, gigantic and will last a long time; charming Cecil Bruners, which are pale pink and petit, and the silver rose, which is not only beautiful, it smells wonderful. Combine roses with lavender or white hydrangea, Casablancas (big white lilies) or pale pink, orange or white sweet peas. Victorian arrangements have more flowers than greens but some ivy flowing out of the baskets to compliment the roses looks lovely.
  • Country — This look is more casual. Arrangements look good in baskets, aluminum containers or terra- cotta pots. Colors are upbeat and bright, mainly orange, yellow and purple. Fruits such as lemons, apples and grapes (attached with wires or sticks) are often combined with the flowers. Lots of greens, such as rabbit tails, are used in these designs, also herbs with delightful aromas such as mint, rosemary and lavender. The most popular bouquets are of sunflowers, which are available in different varieties and colors, along with multicolored daisies and lavender statis.
  • Modern — Many brides love this fashion, which is high styled, sophisticated, and brightly colored. The form is geometric as are the ceramic, glass or metal vases. Use tropical flowers such as birds of paradise, ginger, antheriums, leacris (purple skinny branch) tiger lilies or stargazers. Complement them with modern looking, tropical leaves and branches such as tea leaves, gaylax or moss branch.

Jean Brady’s Helpful Hints

Tablecloths and napkins can be matching or contrasting. A pretty way of presenting napkins is shaking it down the middle, then tying it with a ribbon, variegated ivy, and a rose. Or fasten it with a ribbon and a sprig of herbs.

A wonderful party favor is a cruet or wine split of homemade blackberry vinegar tied with raffia. If you attach a name tag to each one, it serves a double purpose.

Serve butter in individual soufflé dishes with an herb sprig on top. Rosemary, basil or Italian parsley are pretty and smell wonderful.

Decorate a separate table, designate it for the gifts.

Have a table of simple appetizers available for guests when they arrive. We packed wide-mouthed vases with cherry tomatoes and black olives and filled dishes with pistachios, almonds and cashews.

Time Savers

  • Soup — Can be made up to three or four days in advance and refrigerated. Make sure chicken broth is very fresh and don’t add cream until the last minute.
  • Salad — Vegetables can be prepped several hours before the luncheon and placed in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel.
  • Avocado — Peel two to three hours in advance but don’t slice. Wrap in plastic until ready to use.
  • Asparagus — Blanch, cut and leave at room temperature for a few hours before serving.
  • Baby lettuce — Just before serving, submerge in ice water for a few minutes until cold and crisp, then either spin dry in salad spinner or blot with paper towel.
  • Mango — Remove skin with peeler, score lengthwise and crosswise, then cut as close to pit as possible to release. Place chunks in covered bowl in refrigerator several hours before serving.
  • Salmon — Grill right before serving and serve warm, or cook the day before, refrigerate, and serve cold.
  • Tarragon — Should be as fresh as possible. Wash well to loosen dirt.
  • Grapes –Wash well to get rid of pesticide residual. Keep in refrigerator until just before assembling salad.
  • Bread — Can be baked up to three weeks in advance, frozen, then defrosted at room temperature.
  • Pot de Crème — Can be made two to three days in advance, and set in coldest part of refrigerator. Let sit outside refrigerator 1/2 hour before serving.

Wedding Shower Recipes

The following recipes by Brady are for 20 people.

Roasted Yellow Pepper Soup

Since our soup is served at room temperature, it can be poured, placed on the tables, waiting for guests to arrive. Serve in individual soup bowls, preferably with handles, with matching or contrasting liners. The pale orange of the soup garnished with purple violas, violets or pansies looks like a painting. When eating flowers always make sure they are unsprayed.

15 roasted, peeled yellow peppers, sliced thin

8 carrots, scrubbed and diced

8 shallots, peeled and diced

4 onions, peeled and coarsely chopped

4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1 stick unsalted butter for sautéing

11¼2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped

8 cups chicken stock

Salt and pepper to taste

Dash ground chili powder

11¼2 to 2 cups cream

20 edible violets, violas or purple pansies for garnish

Sauté vegetables in butter until carrots are tender. Add stock, salt, pepper and chili powder. Simmer, covered, about 20 minutes. Puree vegetables; add cream to achieve desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings. Just before serving, place a flower in the center of each bowl. Makes 20 servings.

Rosemary Bread With Dried Cherries

Be careful when warming the bread; it dries out easily. To save your sanity serve at room temperature — it tastes fine. These proportions are for one loaf, which will serve 10 people. For 20 people either double the recipe or make two separate batches.

41¼3 cups all purpose unbleached flour and more to shape.

11¼2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1¼4 cup fresh rosemary, chopped

2 teaspoons instant yeast

11¼3 cups warm water

1¼4 cup good quality olive oil

1¼2 cup dried cherries

Mix together 4 cups flour with salt, sugar, rosemary, and yeast. Add olive oil and water to make a sticky dough. Knead by hand or in a mixer with a dough hook for 3-4 minutes — the last 2 minutes add cherries and last 1¼3 cup flour. Cover with plastic wrap; allow to double in size, about 1 to 11¼2 hours. Shape into large round or oval loaves; place on parchment-lined sheet, attractive side up. Preheat oven to 425. Allow dough to double once again, for about 45 minutes. Slash top of loaf with razor sharp knife or razor blade in 3-inch “X.” Place in oven. Bake 45 minutes; cool on rack for at least an hour. Makes one loaf.

Champagne Tarragon Salad

30 cups mixed baby greens

2 bunches fresh tarragon, stemmed and coarsely chopped

20 (4-ounce) grilled salmon filets

8 mangoes or papaya, peeled and diced

5 large, ripe Haas avocados, peeled, sliced

2 cups celery hearts, chopped

2 cups very fresh hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

11¼2 pounds small seedless grapes

60 baby asparagus spears, blanched and sliced into 2-inch pieces

For Salad:

One large platter heaped with salad at each table is gorgeous, or make up individual plates. Serve salad dressing in attractive cruets or sauce boats with a ladle. Don’t dress the salad in advance; your crisp greens will turn irrevocably soggy.

Champagne Tarragon Vinegar

1 pint champagne vinegar

1 cup champagne

3 sprigs of tarragon

6 sprigs Italian parsley

4 whole cloves garlic, peeled

8 whole peppercorns (white, red, and black)

Sterilize wide-mouthed or decorative jar. While jar is still warm, add vinegar and champagne, along with tarragon and parsley sprigs, garlic and peppercorns. Store in cool place for two or three weeks. Drain vinegar. Taste; if herb infusion isn’t strong enough, add new herbs and let sit until flavor pleases you.

Champagne Tarragon Vinaigrette

All ingredients for vinaigrette should be at room temperature.

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/4 cup orange juice

2 teaspoons orange zest

1/ cup champagne tarragon vinegar

Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed

3 shallots, peeled and finely minced

11/2 cups light olive oil

1 tablespoon hazelnut oil

Mix together all ingredients except oil. Gradually drizzle oils into mixture and whisk together. Vinaigrette tastes best if made 1 day in advance and left at room temperature.

Pot de Crème au Cafe

7 1/2 cups whipping cream

1/4 cup ground espresso beans

3/4 to 1 cup granulated sugar, to taste

18 egg yolks

20 chocolate covered espresso beans

Preheat oven to 300. Heat sugar, cream and espresso beans over low heat until sugar dissolves. Beat into yolks. Strain through fine strainer or cheesecloth. Divide into 20 individual china cups, pots de crème cups or ramekins (custard molds). Set containers into a bain-marie (large pan of boiling water) in bottom third of oven. The hot water should come halfway up outside of cups. Bake 25 to 40 minutes, until just set. To determine doneness insert a sharp, thin bladed knife or toothpick one inch from outside of container. If it comes out clean, remove from water and cool. Chill in refrigerator. Take out 1/2 hour before serving.

Baking this luscious dessert in antique porcelain cups or cups to match theme of luncheon adds to the decor. You can surprise the bride by baking hers in a cup from her china pattern. Remember the cups don’t have to match. Often it’s more interesting to see a variety of patterns on the table.

Book Helps ‘Design’ Delicious Simchas

“Kosher by Design: Picture Perfect Food for the Holidays & Every Day” (Mesorah Publications, $32.99).

If Pesach signals the emergence of spring, with Shavuot, the season bursts forth in a riot of color and luscious flavors. “Kosher by Design” by Susie Fishbein, captures the beauty of every holiday with a feast for the eye as well as the palate.

“The original concept for the book was based on a Shavuot idea,” said the effervescent Fishbein, who edited the wildly successful “The Kosher Palette.” And no wonder she bubbles over. In the first week, “Kosher by Design” sold 24,000 copies.

Each holiday is photographed as if it were a party. To celebrate Shavuot, Fishbein visualized a cascading flowerpot salad bar and intereviewed party planners to help execute the setting.

“There was a glimmer in one woman’s eye as she started to rattle off ideas to make the salad bar even more spectacular and I canceled all my other appointments,” Fishbein said. “I knew she was the one.”

“The one” turned out to be Renee Erreich, and the luscious table settings and presentation ideas she and Fishbein created — and photographer John Uher shot — seem to leap off the page. Set in spectacular Manhattan apartments, the photos inspire rather than intimidate. Everything in this book is doable.

Take the edible individual challah napkin rings. Never baked bread in your life? You can create these with any challah dough, suggests Fishbein. Why not frozen?

“The recipes and serving ideas require a minimum of fuss to achieve the maximum aesthetic impact,” Fishbein said. “I don’t aim for the level of chef. I’m not a chef myself. No one I know cooks like a chef. I’m aiming for the person who cooks on an everyday basis, every Shabbat basis, every holiday basis; people who want things to look elegant and different, but don’t want to spend seven hours in the kitchen.”

The Flowerpot Salad Bar for Shavuot, while elaborate, is not that hard to duplicate. To create the garden effect, clay flowerpots are lined with purple cabbage and filled with colorful salad ingredients, then displayed at varying heights.

“The Midrash tells us that although Mount Sinai is in the desert,” Fishbein writes, “it suddenly bloomed with fragrant flowers and grasses on the morning that the Torah was given to the Jewish people. The custom of decorating our homes and synagogues with leafy branches and flowers is based on this miracle.”

Beginning with Shabbat, the book is divided by holiday. Fishbein explains the origin and customs of each, then offers a sample menu as well as unique and exciting ideas for presentation.

“Food is so much a part of the Jewish holidays that it enriches the experience to kind of tie the food into the holiday traditions,” Fishbein said. “That’s what this book does, without being overly biblical. It’s not like we thought, we need a soup, let’s put one here. We really tried to pair the food with the holiday. However, any recipe can be for any day, any night, any Shabbat. I picked recipes for specific menus if they fit in a fun or interesting way.”

Most of us think of Shavuot first as the dairy holiday, and even the Baby Blintzes are easy but showy. No rolling here! A cheesy batter is baked in muffin tins and crowned with berries. A mascarpone filling for an nontraditional Tiramisu Cheesecake snuggles in a ladyfinger and chocolate sandwich cookie crust.

“Wherever I can, I try to keep in mind all levels of expertise,” Fishbein said. “Many people don’t have a lot of confidence in the kitchen. I want to give them that confidence. Cooking is fun. I don’t want it to be frustrating.”

Baby Blintzes

8 ounces farmer cheese (regular,

not unsalted)

8 ounces cottage cheese

(2 percent or 4 percent milk fat)

2 tablespoons sour cream

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose baking mix,

such as Bisquick

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons melted butter

3 large eggs

12 raspberries

24 blueberries

Cinnamon/sugar mixture

Sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 F. Heavily grease a muffin tin with butter or nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, mix the farmer cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, sugar, baking mix, vanilla, melted butter and eggs with an electric mixer at medium speed. Fill each of the muffin compartments halfway with the mixture. Place one raspberry and two blueberries on top of each muffin. Bake 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven. Before serving, sprinkle each baby blintz with cinnamon/sugar mixture and a small dollop of sour cream.

Makes 12 servings.

Tiramisu Cheesecake

14 chocolate sandwich cookies

2 tablespoons butter, melted

12-14 soft sponge ladyfingers

(3-ounce package)

1 teaspoon instant espresso

powder or instant coffee

2 tablespoons whole milk

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

1 (8-ounce) package mascarpone

cheese, softened

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 large eggs

1 (8-ounce) container sour cream

Milk chocolate bar, for grating

Preheat oven to 350 F. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, process the cookies until they are finely crushed into crumbs. Add the butter and mix to moisten.

Press the crumbs into the bottom of an ungreased 9×9-inch Springform pan. Cut the ladyfingers in half, crosswise. Line the ladyfingers around the side of the pan, rounded side out and cut side down.

In a small cup or bowl, mix the espresso powder in the milk, stirring to dissolve. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese and mascarpone until combined and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar. Beat on medium-high until smooth. Turn the speed to low and beat in the cornstarch, vanilla and eggs until just combined. Stir espresso mixture into the batter.

Pour the batter into the ladyfinger-lined pan. Place the pan on a baking sheet. Bake for 45-50 minutes. Center will appear nearly set when gently shaken. Remove from oven. Immediately spread the sour cream on top, starting at the center and going almost to the edges.

Cool in pan for 15 minutes. Use a small knife or spatula to make sure the ladyfingers are not sticking to the sides of the pan. Cool at least one hour. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least five hours. Sprinkle grated chocolate over the top of the cheesecake.

Makes 12 servings

Judy Bart Kancigor, the author of “Melting Pot Memories” (Jan Bart Publications, $19.95), can be found on the Web at

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.  

A ‘Cheesy’ Holiday

My father never missed a chance to eat cheesecake. He was a furniture salesman whose territory covered the New York metropolitan area, and whenever he called on stores near a bakery, he purchased a cheesecake. While my mother and brother avoided cheese in any form, he knew he could count on me to join him at the kitchen table after dinner to sample his latest discovery.

“I like the consistency of this one,” I said one night, feasting on a slice of creamy cake from a Brooklyn bakery. We felt the best cheesecakes came from places densely populated by Jews and Italians. “But the crust is wimpy,” my father said. “A good crust should be crunchy and thick.”

“The cake could be tarter,” I said. “It’s a bit bland.”

“Yet it’s perfectly moist.”

We had no use for dry cheesecakes. Full-blooded Ashkenazi Jews, we were equal-opportunity cheesecake lovers. We adored the zesty citrus flavor infused in the ricotta cheesecakes that my father purchased in Italian neighborhoods.

“But Rueben’s really makes the best cheesecake,” my father always concluded after we consumed several slices. Since his office was close to the famed Reuben’s delicatessen, he frequently brought home their decadent cakes. Four decades later, I’m still working off the calories.

We didn’t wait for the late-spring celebration of Shavuot to partake in our favorite luxury. Reform Jews, we called Shavuot “the cheesecake holiday,” but knew little else about it.

Shavuot is an important late-spring observance that commemorates the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. It is often celebrated with all-night study and by the eating dairy foods, particularly cheese.

In Psalms 68:16-17, Mount Sinai is called by several names. One of them, mountain of peaks, Bar Gavnunim in Hebrew, shares the same root as gevinah, the word for cheese. Some historians speculate that after receiving the Ten Commandments, the ancient Israelites had been gone from their campsite for so many hours that their milk had soured and was becoming cheese. It’s possible that they fasted while receiving the Ten Commandments and returning hungry, reached for milk, a biblical version of fast food.

Accordingly, Shavuot arose as a dairy holiday. For centuries people have indulged in creamy confections for dessert, and cheesecake became the pastry of choice among Jews from Central and Eastern Europe. In the Old Country, recipes called for curd cheeses, such as pot or cottage cheese, which created disappointing results by today’s super-rich standards.

Cream cheese was the ingredient that turned a dry cake into a touch of heaven. When farmers in upstate New York invented cream cheese to duplicate French Neufchatel cheese, they never expected enterprising Jewish delicatessen owners in Manhattan to buy the product in bulk for baking.

Arnold Reuben Jr., a descendant of immigrants from Germany, claimed that his family developed the first cream-cheese cake recipe. At a time when other bakeries relied on cottage cheese, Reuben’s, then on Broadway and later on Madison Avenue and 58th Street, began baking cheesecakes with Breakstone’s cream cheese. In 1929, Reuben’s cheesecake won a Gold Metal at the World’s Fair.

Unaware of his destiny, a young go-getter named Leo Linderman left school at age 14 to apprentice in a Berlin delicatessen. In 1921, eight years after arriving in America, he opened Lindy’s, a delicatessen that he promoted by creating super-sized sandwiches with flamboyant names.

In the 1930s, this marketing genius developed a cheesecake recipe inspired by Kraft’s Philadelphia Supreme Cheesecake, and began selling a confection that competed with Reuben’s. For decades rumors circulated that Leo Linderman had stolen the Reuben family recipe after luring their German chef into his employ.

Whether the story is true or not, there were differences between the two cakes. Those old enough to remember will tell you that Reuben’s cheesecake was simple and delicious, while Lindy’s cake, as showy as its inventor, was topped with strawberries in a syrupy gel. In addition, Lindy’s crust was doughy, and not to my father’s liking.

Unfortunately, my father passed away by the time I married. But fate shined on me the day I met my husband and fell in love with his mother’s cheesecake. It is delicate and refined with a smooth texture, deep vanilla flavor and crunchy graham cracker crust.

For a change of pace, there’s nothing like a slice of airy ricotta cheesecake with its divine lemon essence. I fashioned this recipe after a cheesecake I enjoyed in Trieste, Italy, visiting my husband’s aunt. Sadly, she passed away before I asked for her recipe. For contrast, I added a gingersnap crust.

It’s impossible to discuss recipes without paying homage to the delicatessens that made New York as famous for cheesecake as for the Statue of Liberty. Since Reuben’s and the original Lindy’s restaurant have closed their doors, people who adored their luscious cakes are still haunted by delicious memories. Let’s face it — it’s been a loss for the Jews.

In the ensuing decades, I’ve tried to conjure up the qualities of the quintessential New York cheesecake: a graham cracker crust, creamy texture, distinct lemon flavor, and firm but light density. It must be taller than the tines of a fork and slightly sweet but with a little kick. The recipe below delivers on all counts. Yet authentic as it is, nothing compares to those evenings when my father indulged me with wondrous cheesecakes from the bakeries of New York.

Classic New York Cheesecake


Heavily coat 10-inch springform pan with cooking spray

11/2 cups commercial graham cracker crumbs

5 Tbsp. butter

1 tsp. honey

1/4 cup sugar

Mix ingredients together with hands until well blended and crumbs appear moist. Pour into pan. With hands, spread evenly across the bottom and pat down firmly.


5 8-ounce bars cream cheese, at room temperature

2 Tbsp. flour

1 Tbsp. confectioners’ sugar

11/2 cups sugar

grated rind of 1 lemon

1/2 tsp. orange liqueur

3/4 tsp. vanilla

2 egg yolks at room temperature

5 eggs at room temperature

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

  • Place first five ingredients in large mixing bowl and beat on high until they are completely blended.

  • Add vanilla and 2 yolks, and beat again.

  • Add eggs one at a time, beating well.

  • Pour into prepared pan. Batter will fill pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Top will be golden. Lower oven temperature to 200 degrees and bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until top browns, cake feels bouncy to the touch, and a toothpick tests clean. Cool to room temperature. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate.

  • Bring to room temperature before serving.

  • Yield: 16-20 slices

Give a Fig!

One of the most memorable dishes I enjoyed in Israel was chicken-stuffed figs in tamarind sauce, at chef Moshe Basson’s Eucalyptus restaurant in Jerusalem. Tamarind concentrate is sold in blocks at Asian markets. To save time, you could use ground chicken or turkey.

Moshe Basson’s Chicken-Stuffed Figs

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped

  • 2 chicken breasts, finely chopped

  • 3/4 teaspoons freshly ground cardamom

  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

  • Salt to taste

  • 1-2 tablespoons tamarind concentrate

  • 2 cups water

  • 2-1/2 tablespoons brown sugar

  • 24 fresh or dried figs

In a wok, heat the onion in the oil until golden brown. Add the chopped chicken breast and half of each spice, stirring well and turning until white (about three minutes). Turn out into a bowl and cool.

In the same wok, without cleaning it, add the tamarind, sugar and the remaining spices in water, stir well and bring to boil. Lower the heat and stir until sauce is smooth and velvety. Set aside.

With fresh figs, make a small incision in the upper part, so it can be closed back after stuffing. With a very small spoon, dig out the flesh and stuff the fig with about 1 tablespoon of the chicken mixture.

Take dried figs and make a small indentation in each with a finger and push in a small amount of the chicken breast mixture.

Place the figs into the sauce in the wok, cover and bring to boil. Lower the heat and boil gently for 15 minutes. Serve with white rice or couscous. Serves four.

Shakshuka a la Dr. Shakshuka

The specialty of the well-known Dr. Shakshouka restaurant in Jaffa is the egg and tomato dish that gives the establishment its name. I enjoyed this dish on my last night in Israel, a perfect finale.

  • 2 pounds fresh tomatoes, unpeeled and cut in quarters, or 28-ounce of can tomatoes

  • 6 garlic cloves, roughly diced

  • 2 teaspoons salt or to taste

  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika

  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

  • 6 large eggs

Place all ingredients, except the eggs, in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered over low heat until thick, for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle the tomato sauce into a greased 12-inch frying pan. Bring to a simmer and break the eggs over the tomatoes. Gently break the yolks with a fork.

Cover and continue to cook for about three to four minutes, until the eggs are set. Bring the frying pan directly to the table, set on a trivet and serve. Serves six.

These recipes and others are found at

A Thousand Recipes (But Who’s Counting?)

It’s not a stretch to call Woodland Hills-based author Faye Levy’s 625-page “1,000 Jewish Recipes” a culinary bible. It may be the only Jewish cookbook you’ll ever need.

It begins with recipes for the Jewish holidays, starting, oddly enough, with Passover instead of Rosh Hashana. Holidays are the focus of about 300 of the dishes here. The rest are categorized by course, from appetizers to desserts.

Levy, who has written a number of reliable cookbooks, both kosher and non-kosher, alternates between Sephardic dishes and the Ashkenazic cuisine of Northern Europe and Russia, explaining the characteristics of each style. She takes advantage of the luxury she has in this volume (IDG Books Worldwide, $35) to unbutton her rich creativity and offer variation upon variation for classic dishes.

Tired of the same old potato or noodle kugel? You’ll find more than 20 kugels here, including a lush double-corn version, like a corn pudding, which I loved. Another one amounted to macaroni and cheese. For knishes, tzimmes, challah and latkes there are also dozens of options.

Yet some of the dishes, especially the salads, offered variations that seemed so subtle they hardly merited separate recipes. The corn, sweet pepper and green bean salad for Rosh Hashana is almost the same as the corn, green bean and zucchini salad with tomatoes for Shavuot. But then, the author had that 1,000-recipe challenge.

Her potato kugel with Parmesan, eggplant stuffed with rice and pine nuts, apple bread pudding made with challah, and fish fillets baked with olive oil, vinegar, white wine and pine nuts are dishes I will make again for many occasions. The old-fashioned cinnamon coffeecake could have used more filling for my taste, but its flavor and light texture took on more character after it had been set aside, well wrapped, for a day.The introduction provides a thorough explanation of the requirements of kosher food, like making sure meat is cooked until well done so there is no blood. Taking this into account, Levy wisely omits recipes for beef steaks and roasts that usually taste best when cooked medium rare.

Kosher meat is cut only from the forequarters, so the tender loin cuts are not used, and it is also not aged, which is another method for tenderizing. That makes braised and stewed dishes, like the ones included in this book, preferable to roasts or grills.

Levy’s fish dishes are also thoroughly cooked, a preference that has nothing to do with the dietary rules, so if medium-rare salmon is to your taste, simply reduce the cooking time called for.