Reviewed by Carrie R. Beylus
I read cookbooks. Yes, I read them, cover to cover, page by page. I love to read about why the author has written or compiled specific recipes. I love to discover new tricks and techniques. I love to learn about new tastes and cultures. . . even if my family won’t taste a morsel.
“I read cookbooks” has been a patent answer for as long as I can remember: “Why do you need another cookbook?” (the husband). “What did you do all Shabbat afternoon?” (the mother). “Where did you get this recipe, and do I really have to taste it?” (the seven-year-old).
I read cookbooks before cookbooks were “fashionable”; before there was a plethora of kosher cookbooks to choose from; before the Food Network, Cooking Channel and DIY. Cookbooks have more than recipes. They have stories, histories and methodologies and they offer invaluable insights into cooking styles, cultures, ingredients and flavors.
The recipes in Helen Nash’s latest offering, Helen Nash’s New Kosher Cuisine: Healthy, Simple & Stylish are just what the title promises. Using unique ingredients, some new to the kosher market, Nash presents elegant and hearty fare in a clear and concise format with practical hints and suggestions for both the novice and seasoned home cook.
“Tuna Tartare with Avocado,” “Celery Root and Porcini Soup,” “Sake Steamed Chicken” and “Tuscan Cake,” a beautiful yeast cake topped with crisp pine nuts, are placed side-by-side with more familiar recipes for “Hamentashen” and “Beet Soup.” Nash’s “Flourless Chocolate Nut Torte” would complement any Passover Seder menu.
The cookbook is laid out beautifully with each section—Hors d‘Oeuvres, Appetizers, Soups, Salads, Vegetables, Potatoes & Legumes, Pasta, et cetera—further categorized as Dairy, Meat and Pareve. Unfortunately, there are some instances where recipes run over to the next page, making it difficult to manage the book in the kitchen. In future editions, it might be less confusing if recipes were limited to a single page or to two facing pages.
Almost as important, though, are the Helpful Tips, Notes on Ingredients, Notes on Equipment and Notes on Technique pages. The indispensible advice in these pages, along with the family-friendly recipes presented with advance prep and freezing possibilities, make this book a uniquely useful “kitchen tool.”
With its Pesach Possibilities (from the year-round collection) listings, Temptations, a new book of “modern kosher recipes for every occasion” by the Sisterhood of Congregation Keter Torah in Teaneck, New Jersey, sets itself apart from other kosher cookbooks. In addition to its Pesach recipe section, the book’s two-page spread— “Pesach Possibilities”—allows the reader to pinpoint recipes throughout the book that are either kosher-for-Passover or can be ever-so-slightly adjusted to adhere to the holiday’s unique restrictions. The graph-like pages provide the page number, recipe and suggested substitutions when necessary.
With inviting photos and appealing recipes made up of readily available and healthful ingredients, Temptations is chock-full of simple, go-to recipes.
Each page offers a meat, dairy or pareve designation, a foolproof list of instructions, tips for freezing, variations on preparation and suggested wine pairings, when appropriate.
With an emphasis on tempting and tasty foods, these recipes, while familiar, kick it up a notch with choices like “Tomato Curry Soup,” an elegant braided “Deli Roll,” “Brisket with Orange Wine Sauce,” “Wheatberry Salad with Red and Green Onions” and “Peanut Brittle Ice Cream Delight with Meringue Topping.”
With its sheer size and presence, the new Bais Yaakov Cookbook could easily pass for a decorative coffee table book—a rather unwieldy challenge in most kitchens. But dozens of attractive photographs accompanying hundreds of original recipes, a moving and inspiring history of the Bais Yaakov movement and the drive of its founder Sara Schenirer make up for this “little” inconvenience.
Unique to this book is its extensive and comprehensive Halachic Guidelines. Covering topics from preparation of food on Shabbat to bishul akum to berachot on “problematic” foods, this book is a one-stop guide for the kosher cook.
The book is lovingly dedicated to Rebbetzin Batsheva Esther Kanievsky, a”h, whose sudden passing right before its publication saddened the Jewish world. There is a beautiful, handwritten berachah to bnot Yisrael by the rebbetzin that accompanies her famous challah recipe published in the book.
Each recipe, while seemingly simple, is presented with options for enhancing its flavors, staging and overall appeal. The “Crispy Potato Roast” with vertically aligned, paper-thin cuts of potato is not only delicious but so much simpler to prepare than the daring architectural feat it appears to be. The “Hearty Vegetable Soup” offers a fabulous tip for preparing butternut squash bowls for service. Corned beef, salmon and chicken cutlets are presented with multiple glazes and marinades to please any palate.
While most every kosher cookbook out there highlights the word kosher in its title, Dash, published by Far Rockaway’s Torah Academy for Girls, is a creative standout. Although in cooking, “dash” refers to a “very small amount,” there is nothing small about this book.
Its bold graphics and layout is commanding, if a little hard to read on certain pages where purple, green and red type conflict with the page’s black background, but its emphasis on presentation is unrivaled. “Sweet Potato Crumble in Orange Cups,” a molded “Rainbow Rice Dome” and “Lasagna Wonton Stacks with Tomato Basil Sauce” are just a sampling of the creative varieties included.
While I miss the dairy, meat and pareve designations, this dynamically designed project offers a welcome emphasis on fruits and vegetables in all categories, like the “Cheese and Fig Tartlets with Walnut Streusel and Pomegranate Syrup” and the earthy combinations of its “Smoky Apple Chestnut Bread Pudding.”
Although most kosher cooks—male or female, young or old—are too busy or have other recreational interests and cannot just sit around reading cookbooks, I recommend you dust one or two off your shelves, or better yet, invest in one of those described above. Read it, use it, learn from it. You won’t find any intrigue or deep plot lines like in a good novel, but I promise it’ll be more entertaining than a college textbook—and you might even solve a kitchen mystery or two along the way.
Carrie R. Beylus is a self-proclaimed cookbook junkie who lives in Woodmere, New York. She is also the marketing manager of Jewish Action.
To hear an interview with cookbook author Helen Nash, visit http://www.ou.org/life/food/kosher-healthy-delicious-helen-nash-stephen-savitsky/#.US-bdazMOIA