February 22, 2019

Up Front Books that Cook

You can write a decent Jewish cookbook by collecting the recipes of decent Jewish cooks, or you can write a truly fine Jewish cookbook by compiling the recipes of fine cooks who happen to be Jewish. Make sense? It will when you consider two of the newest entries to the Jewish cooking market.

“The Low-Fat Jewish Cookbook” (Potter, $24.95), by Faye Levy, takes both its titular subjects seriously. Levy, who lives in the San Fernando Valley, is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in Paris, a contributor to the magazines Gourmet and Bon Appetit, and a author of some 15 cookbooks, including one of my favorite Jewish ones, “International Jewish Cooking.”

Remarkably, this book doesn’t seem to repackage a single recipe (has the Levy family, we wonder, ever eaten the same meal twice?). Levy knows that the secret to great low-fat cooking is to focus on recipes that are naturally low in fat. She resists the substitution game (fake sour cream for the real artery-clogging goods, etc.), instead relying on cuisines and dishes that use less fat. There’s not an ort of oil in Cornish Hens with Couscous and Figs, but you don’t miss it — the dish is amped with fresh lemon rind, green onions and black pepper.

Country Vegetable Tart, in a yeast-raised torte-like crust, uses 1-percent milk and an eyedropper of vegetable oil but offers all the color, flavor and richness of a favorite dairy dish.

Desserts such as Pear Blintzes with Pear Honey Sauce neatly overcome the Sumptuous Dessert for a Meat Meal dilemma that has plagued Jewish homes from time immemorial. And for dairy desserts, the Double Chocolate Ice Cream Cake, with good, quality low-fat ice cream smoothed between thin layers of meringue, combines everything cookbook publishers love: It’s fast, simple, low-fat and really, really good. You’ll find Levy’s book at most bookstores or Cook’s Library, West Third Street, Los Angeles.

“The Great Chefs of America Cook Kosher” (Vital Media, $36), edited by Karen MacNeil: Why didn’t anyone think of this before? This book, a companion to a public television series, compiles recipes from some of America’s greatest chefs, Jewish and non-Jewish, that are unique, inventive and kosher. The recipes are mostly reworkings of famous or signature dishes — in some cases, they are just exact reprintings. The point is, you don’t have to keep kosher to cook kosher.

Case in point is the Grilled Salmon in Saffron Sauce by Julian Serrano of San Francisco’s Masas. The essentially Spanish combination of flavors rarely turns up in kosher or Jewish cookbooks — but why not? There’s also Warm Leek and Potato Soup from Nancy Silverton and Mark Peel at Campanile, Tortilla Soup from the Mansion at Turtle Creek in Dallas, and Double Lemon Mille Feuille by Charles Palmer at Aureole. In all, there’s 160 pages of recipes, ranging from easy-to-duplicate to requires-a-staff-and-a-Bristol Farms-gift-certificate.

There are missteps. Palmer’s Warm Grilled Venison with Red Onion Salad and New Potatoes is kosher in name only — just try to find ritually kosher venison in this country — or on this planet. Same goes for Barbara Tropp’s (China Moon Cafe) Wok-seared Duck Breasts. Kosher duck is too small to yield enough breast meat for this recipe, and, because kosher duck, like all kosher poultry, is pre-salted, the 1/4 cup of soy sauce she marinates it in will make this dish saltier than a bar snack. Never mind.

With that caveat, plunge in. Whether you keep kosher or not, you’ll find joy and inspiration among the best and brightest of America’s chefs. Available at Cook’s Library (213) 655-3141. — Robert Eshman, Associate Editor

Keep your eyes open the next time you’re sipping a latte at Starbucks, munching a bagel and lox at Noah’s or perusing the stacks at Midnight Special Books on the Third Street Promenade.

The Jewish Journal is coming to coffeehouses, bookstores, video stores, delis and such all over town — not to mention a variety of synagogues and Jewish community centers.

You’ll find the papers at 200 Westside locations, from Brentano’s Bookstore to Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills. Starting on July 18, you’ll also find The Journal in roughly 200 locations in the San Fernando Valley (there will be a few in the Conejo Valley). Just look at your shul, for example, or where you’d usually find the L.A. Weekly.

It all began late last year, when The Journal teamed up with the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles to get the newspaper to synagogues, community centers and also to the young-and-unaffiliated — baby boomers and Generation Xers, who would rarely frequent a Shabbat service or a Jewish lecture.

These twenty- to fortysomethings are now able to pick up a Journal they happen to see at Starbucks or when taking in a film at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills. And by perusing The Journal, perhaps they might find interest in the larger Jewish community. That’s the reasoning behind the policy.

So how do you distribute 18,500 copies of The Jewish Journal both to Jewish groups and to unaffiliated young Jews every Friday morning? You hook up with Mike Menza, the guy who handles distribution for the L.A. Weekly, says Joyce Sand, the Federation’s director of marketing and communications, who was the guiding figure in the endeavor.

Sand and her staff talked with Jewish Journal editors and studied U.S. census reports to determine the densest Jewish areas in town; then they brainstormed with Menza to come up with the list of drop-off sites.

One hundred indoor racks were purchased to hold some of the papers, while others would be placed in stacks upon the floor; the indoor racks are far less expensive than outdoor kiosks, which can run up to $200 and require city permits, Sand explains.

So now you can pick up your Journal while attending a summer activity at the Bay Cities Jewish Community Center or even while shopping at the Sport Chalet on La Cienega Boulevard — although the list of locations isn’t necessarily permanent. — Naomi Pfefferman, Senior Writer