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October 20, 2014 / 26 Tishri, 5775
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The Open Kitchen: Bursting With Flavor

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Turning the pages of The Open Kitchen cookbook, a full color compilation of over 200 recipes contributed by 202 parents at Riverdale’s SAR Academy, the first thought was that this cookbook destroys three commonly held beliefs.

The first: Jewish cooking is heavy, unhealthy and outdated. Subtitled A Fresh Approach to Cooking Kosher, The Open Kitchen is all about using natural ingredients and letting their flavors shine through. Loaded with recipes that utilize a veritable potpourri of fresh produce, it offers choices that are not only healthy, but also incredibly and amazingly delicious.

The second stereotype to be busted here is that you can either cook beautiful, scrumptious meals that take forever to prepare or you can make food that is less time consuming but will be short on both taste and appearance. Given that the focus is on fresh, uncomplicated ingredients, the recipes are anything but complex and you won’t need to stay up until 2:00 a.m. on Thursday night to prepare a meal that will dazzle your Shabbos guests.

Lastly, in our minds newer equals better and our trusted cookbooks often get shelved when the latest offering turns up at the local bookstore. Given just how timely the are, I was more than a little surprised to note that this cookbook was actually published in 2011.

With over 300 pages of beautiful recipes and sprinkled with stunning color photographs, The Open Kitchen is so appealing you practically want to eat the pages as you turn them. While I wasn’t surprised that recipes like Lemon Basil Granita and Roasted Spiced Chickpeas, which contain some of my favorite ingredients, called to me, I found myself ready to go into the kitchen and start preparing recipes with ingredients I have always avoided (celery root, kale, Swiss chard and fennel) as well as those I don’t even like (olives, asparagus, beets and lamb), because the recipes were all so incredibly appealing. The recipes are broken down into eleven chapters and the six-page, easy-to-read, logically arranged index is a welcome addition when you are trying to find a recipe based on what ingredients are currently in your pantry/fridge/freezer.

Given that I started writing this article when there were no leftovers waiting to be used up in my refrigerator, I had the opportunity to really test drive The Open Kitchen, making three new recipes within a 24-hour period, each one of which was a resounding success. If you have ever tried to improvise a meat-based lasagna by throwing ground beef, marinara sauce and lasagna noodles into a pan and popping it into your oven, you will be totally blown away by the taste of the one featured here, which includes sausage, a crunchy herbed panko topping and homemade tomato sauce with oregano, thyme, basil and red wine. Amazingly flavorful and ready in just a little more than an hour, this is definitely a recipe that I plan on making again. And again. The juicy, crunchy, lime and honey flavored Mango, Jicama and Cucumber Salad screamed summer to me, and is the perfect side dish for those days when you can’t stand the thought of cooking or eating anything hot or heavy. Ready in under an hour, the Spicy Red Lentil Soup was a fabulously nutritious way to round out a weeknight supper and, despite its name, the combination of turmeric, cumin and cayenne pepper made for a soup that was delightfully seasoned without being overly hot.

Interestingly enough, there is no separate section for dairy items. Instead, they are interspersed among the other recipes in the appropriate sections. So while leafing through the Hors D’Oeuvres and Appetizers section, you’ll find both the Goat Cheese and Honey Roasted Pecan Topped Stuffed Figs and Apricots alongside meat offerings like the intriguing Thai Beef Lettuce Cups and the heavenly looking and very pareve Crispy Polenta with Mushroom Ragout. Other dairy recipes can be found interspersed in the Soups, Salads, Breads, Grains and Pasta, Fish, Vegetarian Entrees, Desserts and Shabbat and Holiday sections.

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