Photo Credit: Jewish Press

With Purim just days away, I could start this article by saying how all the upcoming yomim tovim make this an ideal time of year to talk about new cookbooks, but let’s be perfectly honest, holidays are just a convenient excuse to indulge in our favorite activity – eating. So without any further ado, let’s jump right in and see if we can’t scare up some truly incredible edibles, perfect for serving not just on holidays, but every day of the year.

The Bais Yaakov Cookbook 2: The original The Bais Yaakov Cookbook became an instant classic when it debuted in 2012. With recipes that were approachable without being too overly complicated, it sold like hotcakes, prompting plenty of smiles and cheers when Feldheim announced the upcoming release of volume two, this one timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Bais Yaakov movement.

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Like its predecessor, The Bais Yaakov Cookbook 2 (henceforth to be known here as TBYC2) is chock full of information, with a full third of the book dedicated to useful information, including an expanded halacha section addressing issues such as allowable ways to add water to your cholent on Shabbos and how to correctly dispose of leftover bread or challah. A culinary tips chapter offers advice on cutting challenging items including watermelon, onions, avocados and mangoes, and there are a full ten pages providing clear details from the Chicago Rabbinical Council on checking fruits and vegetables for insects. Don’t miss the wine-buying guide and the fruit and vegetable chart with tips on ripeness indicators, storage methods and which produce can be safely frozen.

As for the recipes, there is so much to love here. In addition to full-color, step-by-step instructions on folding blintzes and braiding challah, there are 150 gorgeous recipes with full-color photographs.

Start your meal off with the truly gorgeous coconut crusted tilapia skewers with dill dip or dig into the meat and chumus platter that will transport you straight to Jerusalem without having to be squashed on a crowded airplane for ten hours. Salads turn into full meals here with the addition of marinated skirt steak, crispy corned beef, pistachio chicken and quinoa, and there is even a spinach salad with blueberries, strawberries, kiwi, peaches and mango whose bright colors and amazing flavors will likely fool your taste buds into thinking they are enjoying a decadent dessert. Be sure to check out the adorable lasagna cupcakes which use wonton wrappers instead of traditional noodles, turning everyone’s favorite Italian dish into an easy-to-make personal-sized entrée, which can be a new lunchbox favorite for your kids. And don’t forget the Pesach-friendly cabbage kugel, pesto salmon, minute steaks in mushroom wine sauce and the garlic roasted potatoes with pastrami, a must-try dish involving a minimum of work that is guaranteed to generate maximum compliments.

It comes as no surprise that the first printing of TYBC2 sold out shortly after its release, leaving many hopefuls counting the days until the second printing made its way to suppliers. A project of The Fund for Jewish Education, with all proceeds going to tzedakah, TYBC2 will inspire and educate and, yup, help you put lots of yummy stuff on your table.

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The Healthy Jewish Kitchen: Paula Shoyer has made a name for herself in the Jewish cooking world, first with a pair of great baking cookbooks and then last year with The New Passover Menu. But in this, her fourth book, dedicated in memory of her parents, Shoyer takes on the notion that kosher fare has to be laden with fat and sugar and that healthy food has to taste like cardboard in a cookbook that pairs kashrus and wellness, with delicious results.

Jewish classics and international favorites both get contemporary facelifts here. Shoyer relies heavily on baking instead of frying and gives the heave-ho to some major outlaws of the nutritional world, including margarine and puff pastry dough. The Healthy Jewish Kitchen kicks off with a “healthier pantry” section full of easy-to-implement practical ideas. Noting that you can always add it in later if needed, Shoyer advocates for minimizing salt to lessen the risk of heart attacks and strokes and suggests using sugar and honey, albeit in smaller amounts, in lieu of chemical-laden sugar substitutes. Grains and a variety of oils such as avocado, canola, coconut, olive, sunflower and safflower all get high praise and, in addition to discussing different types of grain-based flours, Shoyer recommends making almond flour in a coffee grinder, a cost-saving measure that also yields super-fresh, gluten-free results. Meal planning figures prominently as an important part of a commitment to healthy eating and, if developing menus isn’t your thing, Shoyer has a great selection of menus for Shabbos, holidays and even (hang on to your hats, ladies and gents) healthy barbeques.

If you thought healthy was boring, prepare to eat your words in addition to some very inspired dishes. Coleslaw takes an unexpected twist with the addition of Napa cabbage, mango, and jalapeno pepper, and get ready to fall in love with Shoyer’s Brussels sprouts salad studded with chunks of apple and butternut squash and seasoned with allspice, garlic, maple syrup and cinnamon. For me, bouillabaisse was something I only read about in books since it is typically made with shellfish, but Shoyer substitutes flounder in a truly spectacular soup that includes leeks, fennel, bay leaves, orange zest, saffron threads and licorice-flavored liqueur, garnished with artichoke hearts, red peppers, colorful potatoes, fish chunks and fennel fronds. Fasten your seatbelts and take a trip around the world with Japanese lamb chops, Brazilian cholent, Moroccan lentil soup, Indian-spiced rice pudding and Korean bibimpap with tofu – a true culinary adventure that you can enjoy from the comfort of your own kitchen.

Because she makes significant use of white flour alternatives including nuts and quinoa, there are quite a few recipes that are Pesach-friendly. Shnitzel is oven-baked and coated with a blend of ground pistachios, almonds and hazelnuts, the flavor further kicked up with the addition of turmeric, cumin, paprika, ginger, garlic, cayenne, salt and pepper. And if you really want to expand your culinary horizons, check out Shoyer’s chocolate cake that uses pureed cooked quinoa, cocoa and potato starch instead of flour.

For those of you who, like me, couldn’t bear the thought of a breadless existence, Shoyer includes several great recipes including gluten-free, sourdough and whole wheat-onion challahs as well as a truly beautiful rosemary focaccia.

Healthy and yummy really can go hand in hand, as Shoyer proves in each of the 80 beautiful recipes in The Healthy Kosher Kitchen¸ a book that was clearly a labor of love and one that will be a great resource to those who refuse to sacrifice taste on the altar of nutrition.

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Pumpkin Hamantaschen
Parve • Makes 3 dozen

Purim is one of my favorite Jewish holidays, and I love to invent new flavors of hamantaschen every year. These taste best when they are baked until firm.

PREP TIME: 10 minutes; 1 hour to chill dough; 15 minutes to roll out and shape

BAKE TIME: 14 minutes

ADVANCE PREP: May be made 2 days in advance; avoid freezing

EQUIPMENT: Measuring cups and spoons, can opener, large bowl, electric mixer, silicone spatula, plastic wrap, medium bowl, 2 jelly roll pans or cookie sheets, parchment paper or silicone baking mats, rolling pin, small drinking glass or round cookie cutter (2 to 3 inches [5 to 7.5cm] in diameter), long metal flat-blade spatula

 

Dough:

3 large eggs
1 cup (200g) sugar
½ cup (120g) sunflower, safflower, or canola oil
½ cup (113g) pumpkin purée
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1¾ cups (220g) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1¼ cups (163g) whole-wheat flour
Dash salt

 

Filling:

1 cup (225g) pumpkin purée
¼ cup (55g) light brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1 large egg yolk

 

Directions:

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to mix together the eggs, sugar, oil, pumpkin purée, and vanilla and mix well. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, and salt and mix until the dough comes together. Form the dough into a round ball, then cover it with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for 1 hour or overnight to firm up.

Prepare the filling. In a medium bowl, place the pumpkin purée, light brown sugar, cinnamon, maple syrup, and egg yolk and mix well. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to roll out the dough.

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line 2 to 3 cookie sheets or jelly roll pans with parchment or silicone baking mats. Divide the dough in half.

Cut off 2 pieces of parchment paper and sprinkle all-purpose flour on one. Place a dough half on top of the parchment paper, then sprinkle flour on top of the dough. Place the second piece of parchment on top of the dough and, using a rolling pin, roll over the top of the parchment paper. Roll out the dough until it is about ¼-inch (6-mm) thick. After every few rolls, peel back the top parchment and sprinkle a little more flour on the dough. Once or twice, flip over the parchment-dough “package” and peel off the bottom parchment. Sprinkle a little flour on top of the dough, place the parchment back on top, and then flip it over.

Lift off the top parchment. Using a small drinking glass or a round cookie cutter, cut the dough into circles. Using a long metal flat-blade spatula to lift the cookie circles and place them on a piece of parchment paper sprinkled with a little flour. Place ¾ to 1 teaspoon of filling in the center of each dough circle, and then fold in the three sides toward the middle to form a triangle, leaving a small opening in the center. Pinch the three sides together very tightly. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets. Repeat the process with the remaining dough. Roll and cut any extra dough scraps, making sure to sprinkle a little flour under and over the dough before you roll it out.

Bake the cookies for 14 minutes, or until they are lightly browned. These cookies taste best when they are crunchy. Slide the parchment and cookies onto wire cooling racks.

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Seared Tuna Quinoa Bowl
2 servings

The latest trend is dinner/lunch in a bowl, with a perfect balance of vegetable, protein and starch. The following recipe is a superb blend that is sure to be a hit. Do not let the multiple steps discourage you as each one is short on time and very simple. We thank Chef Kevin Gooulde from Shemtov, in Miami Beach, FL, for sharing this fabulous dish with us.

 

Ingredients:

½ cup cooked quinoa

 

Herbed Vinaigrette

1 shallot, finely chopped
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon dried basil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon sherry wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
¼-½ teaspoon ground black pepper
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

 

Sautéed Spinach

1 cup baby spinach leaves
1 teaspoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
Pinch ground black pepper

 

Pickled Beets

1 fresh beet, peeled
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon white vinegar

 

Seared Tuna

1 4 ounce tuna steak
Salt
Ground black pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil

 

Frizzled Onions

1 onion, sliced very thinly, lengthwise
Oil, for frying

 

For Salad

½ cup almonds
2 scallions, sliced diagonally
1 avocado, sliced

 

To make herbed vinaigrette: Whisk shallots, Dijon mustard, thyme, basil, lemon juice, sherry wine vinegar, kosher salt, ground black pepper and olive oil in a small bowl until combined. Set aside.

To sauté spinach: Heat skillet over high heat. Add spinach and drizzle with olive oil. Add salt and ground black pepper. Cook and stir for 2 minutes until spinach begins to wilt. Remove spinach from pot and set aside.

To pickle beets: Place beet in small saucepan with water to cover. Add lemon juice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 45 minutes. Place pot under running water until beet is cooled; dice. Combine diced beet, sugar, sea salt, rice wine vinegar and vinegar in an airtight container. Allow mixture to sit 30 minutes. The pickled beets will stay fresh for 1 week, refrigerated.

To sear tuna: Rinse tuna and pat dry. Lightly season with salt and ground black pepper. Heat olive oil in skillet over high heat. Sear tuna 2 minutes each side until slightly cooked or desired doneness. Remove from skillet and set aside.

To frizzle onions: Heat 2 inches oil in 2 quart heavy saucepan over medium heat until thermometer registers 340 F. Fry onion in 6 batches, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 1 to 1 ½ minutes per batch. (Watch closely; onion can burn easily.)

These onions can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week and are a great salad topper.

To toast almonds: Preheat oven to 350°F. Place almonds on baking sheet. Toast 5-7 minutes until fragrant.

To construct the bowl: Place quinoa in a large bowl and drizzle with 2 tablespoons vinaigrette. Then layer sautéed spinach, sliced avocado, pickled beets and sliced tuna. Drizzle 2 more tablespoons vinaigrette and add toasted almonds. Top with frizzled onions.

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