Top Jewish Chefs, Back In The Kitchen
Tue, 11/16/2010
Editorial Assistant
Kosher cooks have a plethora of options for new cookbooks, from established names like Joan Nathan.
Kosher cooks have a plethora of options for new cookbooks, from established names like Joan Nathan.

Whether they want to prepare haute cuisine or instant kugel or or vegan cholent, kosher cooks looking for recipes and inspiration today have plenty of new books to pick from — thanks to several top Jewish chefs.

Fans of Susie Fishbein’s “Kosher by Design” series will be eager to pick up her latest offering, “Teens and 20-somethings: Cooking for the Next Generation” (Artscroll, October). “It’s about being able to cook for yourself,” said Fishbein, the mother of four. “It’s a skill that if you don’t have, you’re going to end up going the pizza and fast food route, that will start you off in a very unhealthy way.”

The youngest chefs-in-training will be eager to try out chocolate fluffernutter quesadillas, pita pizzas or spicy carrot sticks. Teens will be drawn to Mexican pizza empanadas, pastrami burgers and homemade Chickies’ sandwiches (recreated from the fast food joint in Teaneck, N.J.). Even adults will bookmark dishes like chicken tabbouleh salad, orange butternut squash soup and mushroom-crusted roast beef.

Fishbein’s four children are undoubtedly the inspiration for this newest book, and many of them like to join her in the kitchen. When her youngest turned 8 last week, “He woke up on his birthday and said, ‘You told me when I turned 8 you’d tell me how to turn on the gas.’”

Ultimately, Fishbein believes that starting kids young creating their own meals will set them for life. “If you give them the skills, they can kind of go off page and learn what they like,” said Fishbein. “The only way to start is learning how to follow recipes, and then you can break free.”

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Busy moms who are looking to break free from cooking every night will want to pick up a copy of “Quick and Kosher: Meals in Minutes” (Feldheim, November). After her first cookbook in the “Quick and Kosher” series came out, Jamie Geller was dubbed the “kosher Rachael Ray.”

With her second, Geller might also become known as the kosher Sandra Lee (of “Semi-Homemade” fame).

Divided into meals that can be on the table — prepped, cooked and served — in 20, 40 or 60 minutes, the book offers up over 90 quick dinner ideas along with wine recommendations for each. The timesaving meals require some pricier ingredients to cut prep time, like pre-sliced fruit, bottled dressings and marinades, or store-bought guacamole and frozen veggie burgers.

“When it comes to cutting corners, if you sacrifice on time, you have to make it up somewhere else,” said Geller. But the volume offers plenty of family-friendly meals, like chicken tacos (20 minutes) lamb meatballs in pita with cucumber, tomato and avocado relish (40 minutes), and chicken pot pie with herbed drop biscuits (60 minutes).

More sophisticated palates will enjoy bowties with salmon and peas in lemon dill sauce (20 minutes), panko-crusted tilapia with chili mango pasta (40 minutes) and lentil dal with chicken and jasmine rice (60 minutes).

“I’m still the only cookbook author who wants to get you out of the kitchen,” said Geller, the self-proclaimed “bride who knew nothing.” Except this time, you have a choice how long you’re there.

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Renowned chef and cookbook author Joan Nathan spent less time in the kitchen than on the road for her new book, “Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France,” (Knopf, October). It is part recipe guide, part history text and part story book. Nathan, a Jewish cooking icon, has focused on American cuisine in the past, with “Jewish Cooking in America” and “The New American Cooking,” but she traveled across the world — to the country she first fell in love with as a teenager — to write her newest volume.

While French cooking seems unapproachable to some, “it’s just people in their homes — traditional cooking, holiday cooking,” said Nathan.

Nathan takes readers on a journey through the Jewish community of France, from several hundred years ago to today. And it is hardly just French — “it’s Russian Jewish French or it’s Spanish Jewish French or Alsatian Jewish French,” said Nathan. Today the biggest influence in the community comes from northern Africa, the origin of over 250,000 Jewish immigrants in the ’50s — who now constitute the majority in the French Jewish community. Those looking through Nathan’s book for that Moroccan or Tunisian flair will enjoy the North African brik with tuna and cilantro — “a flaky, crispy appetizer” or salade Juive (literally, Jewish salad), a confit of tomatoes and peppers that Nathan picked up at a restaurant outside the city of Gordes. Readers will also find eggplant caviar, a dish brought to France by Romanian immigrants, and terrine de poireaux (leek terrine), a dish common to the Alsatian region of France. Those looking for traditional French cooking won’t be disappointed with Friday-night chicken Provençal with fennel and garlic, or gâteau à la crème de marron — chestnut cream cake.

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Those looking to combine their religious rituals with food activism should pick up “The Shabbat Vegetarian Cookbook,” (Micah, September) by Roberta Kalechofsky and Roberta Schiff. The book is packed with over 150 vegan recipes, from stuffed cabbage with squash to crockpot goulash and curry mango baked tofu.

Kalechofsky, who didn’t want the word “vegan” to make anyone “feel intimidated,” argues that recipes and dishes without animal products are ideally suited to Shabbat cooking. “These foods are wonderful to eat for Shabbat, because most of them can be cooked Friday morning – and vegetarian dishes keep very well,” said Kalechofsky, “unlike meat which has to be reheated.”

Keeping a vegetarian diet, and trying dishes from the book like linguini with Moroccan lentil sauce or spicy black beans and sweet potatoes, can also have an added benefit for religious Jews. “A lot of my Jewish friends who are observant, frankly kicked up their heels and said, ‘I feel as if I’ve been liberated from the kitchen for the first time in my life,’” said Kalechofsky. “I don’t need two sets of pots, or two sinks and two dishwashers… Vegetarianism simplifies cooking for Jews — aside from what it does for the environment, and aside from what it does for animals.”

While the international food activist community is promoting ‘Meatless Mondays’ to encourage people to give up meat for at least one day a week, Kalechofsky sees Shabbat as ideal for once-a-week vegetarianism.

“Jews, actually, if you go back to biblical times, did not eat meat on the Shabbat,” said Kalechofsky. “Jews really have the longest conversation about the ethics of diet of probably any people in the world today. … We should be at the forefront of this movement.”

E-mail: amy@jewishweek.org