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The first: Jewish cooking is heavy, unhealthy and outdated.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.
So many recipes in The Open Kitchen beg to be made immediately if not sooner. Maple Roasted Parsnip Soup sounds elegant but looks simple to make, a great choice for a simcha or even a Yom Tov meal when you don’t want to face yet another bowl of chicken soup. Avocado and Pink Grapefruit Salad dressed with white grape juice, lime juice and shallots, among other things, sounds like my idea of heaven: low in calories and dripping with yumminess. Smoky Braised Portobello Mushrooms, marinated in soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, maple syrup, liquid smoke and garlic is the kind of dish I would want to double, because I know without a doubt that half of them would get devoured before it ever got to the table.
Having always heard how complicated it is to make risotto, Easy Risotto sounds like an oxymoron, yet I am already making a mental note to buy Arborio rice so I can try it out. Asian Seafood Sliders, which includes recipes for both spicy and avocado mayonnaises, looks like a fabulous, lighthearted alternative to the popular beef ones. Looking for some serious comfort food? Chicken Pot Pie, a great way to use up leftover roast chicken or turkey, cooks up in just one pot with chunky vegetables and can be topped with your choice of biscuit dough, pie crust or puff pastry. In case the thought of Veal Marsala, prepared with shallots, mushrooms, garlic and, obviously Marsala wine, isn’t enough to make you start salivating, the magnificent picture will have you running to the nearest store to pick up a package of veal. Kudos to the editors for offering two varieties of drool-worthy lemon mousse, neither of which contains any raw eggs, and one variation being totally egg free.
While so many of the recipes seem to speak to today’s culinary trends, the basics are here as well – four different challah recipes; a from-scratch gefilte fish recipe; a recipe for deviled eggs; an overnight potato kugel and recipes for chicken, beef and vegetable stocks. No matter what you are looking for, you will likely find it here.
The Open Kitchen is available at select Jewish bookstores, online at openkitchencookbook.com and at the SAR Academy at 655 West 254th Street in Riverdale. For more information e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call SAR at 718-548-1717.
The Open Kitchen. This one’s a keeper.
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A delicious Italian-inspired bread; perfect with pasta and wine.
2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 cup unbleached bread flour
2 tsp salt
½ tsp yeast
2 cups cold water
2 cups pitted black olives
3-4 tbsp rosemary leaves from 3 stems
- In a large mixing bowl, combine flours, salt, yeast and water; mix well. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and then with a clean towel. Place in a cool, dry place to rise for 18 hours.
- When dough has almost tripled in size, stir in olives and rosemary leaves. Dough will be stringy.
- Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
- Spray a loaf pan or pot with olive oil spray.
- Transfer dough to prepared pan. Cover with foil and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake for an additional 30 minutes until bread is golden brown.
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Grilling the salmon outside takes the heat out of your kitchen in those hot summer months.
1 Alder or cedar wood grilling plank per salmon fillet
1 (3 pound) salmon fillet with skin
1 tsp coarse sea salt
1.5 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp mustard seeds (optional)
- Soak wood plank in water for at least 30 minutes.
- Preheat gas grill to medium-low heat (160-180 degrees).
- To prepare dry rub, combine salt, sugar, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper and mustard seeds.
- Place salmon, skin side down, on soaked plank and work in dry rub,
- Place plank in a covered grill and smoke for at least 2 hours, checking after 60-90 minutes for doneness. Fish is done when it flakes with a fork, and it should not be too salty. As fish smokes, the salt content reduces. Adjust the cooking time and salt to your taste.
Note: Smoking fish can take between 2-6 hours, depending on personal taste, the size of the fillet, and the fat content of the fish.
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Egg-free. This is a fabulous cake to make even when your guests can eat eggs – it’s beautiful, flavorful, and a little zesty. Variation: Use vanilla or almond extract in place of lemon extract and leave out orange zest for a subtly different flavor.
¼ cup silken tofu
½ cup water
¾ cup fresh orange juice
½ cup canola oil
1 tsp lemon extract
2½ cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 ½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
Zest of 1 orange or 1 lemon
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Zest and juice of 2 oranges
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Lightly oil Bundt pan.
- In a blender, combine tofu, water, orange juice, oil, and extract; blend until smooth.
- In a separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and zest. Pour dry ingredients into wet. Stir until combined. Do not over mix. Fold in blueberries.
- Pour batter into Bundt pan. Bake 50-60 minutes in preheated oven.
- To prepare glaze, mix ingredients and pour over cooled cake. Garnish with fresh orange slices and blueberries.
About the Author: Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and many private clients. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
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