Photo Credit: Jewish Press

With the yomim tovim slowly (or not so slowly) sneaking up on us, getting a jump on the cooking, or at least the menu planning, will definitely make the pre-holiday crush that less hectic. This time of year, we all have our traditional favorites, the ones that everyone at your table looks forward to seeing, but it’s always nice to round things out with some creative, new ideas. So pour yourself a cold drink, pull up a chair and check out two recently released cookbooks loaded with plenty of inspiration – whether you are looking to shake things up with some innovative flavors or lighten things by going the healthy route.

 

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Millenial Kosher (Artscroll)

Is it a bad thing that I don’t care for chicken soup, gefilte fish or sponge cake?

I know that these traditional foods were likely eaten by my grandparents, their grandparents and who knows how many previous generations of grandparents before them but, to be honest, none of those iconic Jewish foods really inspire me. Much like I need to find a new pair of cute black flats every year or two and I find myself switching to a different colored cell phone case just about as often, I can’t see myself eating the exact same foods over and over again. There are a few notable exceptions, of course, classic foods that I never tamper with, like the Hershey’s brownie recipe my mother gave me when I got married, or my mother-in-law’s sweet lokshen kugel with a full quarter cup of vanilla, but for the most part, much like we update our wardrobes to stay fashionable, there is something to be said for tapping into the latest food trends to keep our meals fresh and exciting.

Which is pretty much the theory behind Millennial Kosher, a relatively recent addition to the ever-growing world of kosher cookbooks. Engagingly written by Chanie Apfelbaum, whose Busy in Brooklyn blog has a huge following, the 320 page book is a treasure trove of gorgeous pictures and 150 recipes that are intriguing without being too “out there.” Understanding that we have graduated from thinking of onion soup mix and duck sauce as G-d’s gifts to the kosher kitchen, Millennial Kosher is all about using a wide variety of herbs and spices, taking advantage of market fresh ingredients, highlighting savory flavors and reinventing traditional favorites in ways that are very today.

Assuming nothing about her readers’ culinary backgrounds, Apfelbaum opens with a well thought out list of useful kitchen tools and appliances as well as a run down of useful pantry, fridge and freezer items, so that those who are first starting out can get a good idea of which items deserve space in their kitchens and which should be left behind in the grocery. She also does a great job demystifying the sometimes-confusing world of oils, vinegars and sauces so that readers understand the best usage for each one.

Flipping through the pages you can almost imagine Apfelbaum starting out with a basic recipe and brainstorming a way to kick it into high gear, so traditional honey cake like Grandma used to make becomes retro-cool when baked in a mason jar, and rotisserie chicken turns extra moist when cooked perched vertically on a pineapple core. Some of the recipes go one step farther with an extra layer of creativity: plain jane blintzes are reinvented as twisted phyllo dough bundles stuffed with a cheesy baklava center and humble chocolate cake takes a walk on the sophisticated side by being upgraded with a dose of red wine, a coconut milk ganache and a spiced-merlot poached pear topping.

Other truly intriguing ideas in this beautiful book? Honey za’atar granola clusters, a crunchy snack that combines savory and sweet with fabulous results, a very grownup breakfast toast slathered with silan and tahini and a lightened up version of that Canadian favorite poutine with cauliflower smothered in a cheesy gravy. Be sure to check out Apfelbaum’s simplified risotto recipe that achieves a perfect creamy texture without endless stirring by swapping out rice for barley.

Just remember: you don’t need to be a millennial to enjoy Millenial Kosher!

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Secrets of a Kosher Girl (Post Hill Press)

As the old joke goes, Jewish holidays tend to have a common theme: they tried to kill us, we managed to survive, let’s eat. Yup, as Jews, our lives often seem to revolve around food, so given that preoccupation with all things yummy, registered dietitian-nutritionist Beth Warren presents her 21-day weight loss plan, that will hopefully lead to a lifetime of better habits that can boost metabolism. Divided into four parts, Secrets of a Kosher Girl explains how to psych yourself up for dieting success, discusses the important of physical fitness, offers recommendations for maintaining positive results and, most importantly, gives a full 21 day plan that includes recipes so that you can actually make it all happen without ever having to stop and wonder what you can eat without torpedoing your diet.

It is clear that Warren very much wants her readers to succeed in their quest to physical fitness and her book is filled with healthful tips, shopping advice and exchange lists so that you have options and aren’t stuck eating foods that you don’t like (here’s looking at you, rutabaga and turnips – I’m so glad I can swap you out for butternut squash and baby carrots). But, of course, what fascinated me most was the impressive selection of recipes so that you can follow the plan without having to invest in pricey prepared foods.

Warren has a full array of allowed salad dressings, including honey mustard, lemon cumin, miso, tahini and balsamic, and even better are her “clean treats” such as black bean brownies (don’t knock ‘em until you have actually tried them because you might just find yourself pleasantly surprised) and almond and coconut flour-based biscotti, weighing in at just under 50 calories a slice. Of course, treats are exactly that, and Warren’s every day fare is filled with practical choices with clear preparation instructions. Take this sample menu from day 14: after starting your morning with a glass of hot water laced with lemon and mint leaves, enjoy a three egg white-one yolk omelet and a peach, followed by a mid-morning snack of celery stalks topped with a tablespoon of almond butter. Lunch is two black bean burgers with a large non-starchy vegetable salad and half a sweet potato, and after an afternoon snack of roasted chickpeas, you can dig into a quinoa crust pizza topped with non-starchy vegetables for dinner.

Hats off to Warren for including preparation tips that will speed up your cooking times and help you get food on the table faster, something every cook, whether they are dieting or not will always appreciate.

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Lachmagine Flatbreads

Yields 8 servings

One of the perks of having a Syrian mother-in-law is all of the amazing family recipes that she cooks and shares with love. My mother-in-law’s lachmagine is not classic, yet it’s one of the best I have ever had. Instead of using prune butter or tamarind in her meat pies, she cooks her ground beef with dried apricots for a version that’s sweet but slightly tangy. Flatbreads are all the rage right now so I simplified her recipe and turned it into a party-friendly dish that’s even more appetizing when topped with a runny egg.

Ingredients:

¾ lb ground beef
¼ cup finely diced onion
½ cup apricot jam
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 6 oz can tomato paste
¼ tsp allspice
Salt to taste
1 lb pizza dough
2 eggs
¼ cup toasted pine nuts, for garnish, optional

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine ground beef, onion, apricot jam, lemon juice, tomato paste, allspice and salt.

Divide the pizza dough in half; roll each half into a rectangle about 11×7 inches, about ¼ inch thick. Place the rectangles side by side on prepared baking sheet; spread half the meat mixture over each.

Bake on the bottom rack of the oven for 20 minutes; remove from oven.

Break an egg into a bowl; slide onto the center of a flatbread. Repeat with remaining egg and flatbread.

Return to the oven for 6 minutes or until egg is set.

Garnish with pine nuts, if desired. Serve immediately.

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Wheatberry Salad
Yields 4 servings

Ingredients:

For the Wheatberries:

½ cup wheatberries
1½ cups of water, plus more to cool
½ tsp salt, divided

For the Vinaigrette:

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Zest of half an orange
½ tbsp fresh orange juice
¼ tsp agave syrup
½ tsp Dijon mustard
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp curry powder
Pinch of cayenne, ground ginger, and black pepper

For the Salad:

2 ½ ounces baby kale
½ cup seedless red grapes, halved
½ cup seedless green grapes, halved
1 orange, peeled, pits removed, and segmented
Salt and pepper, to taste
¼ cup raw unsalted walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Directions for the Wheatberries:

Rinse the wheatberries and place them in medium pot with 1½ cups of water and ¼ tsp salt.

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

Cook, covered, about 1 hour until the wheatberries are tender.

Add a few cups of cold water to the pot, stir, and drain.

Place the wheatberries in large bowl to cool.

 

Directions for the Vinaigrette:

In small jar, combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, orange zest, orange juice, agave syrup, Dijon mustard, ¼ tsp salt, curry powder, cayenne, ginger, and pepper.

Seal tightly and shake vigorously to combine. Set aside.

Directions for the Salad:

Combine cooled wheatberries with the kale in large bowl.Toss with half of the dressing, add the grapes and orange segments, and more dressing.

Toss again.Toss in walnuts right before serving. Season with salt and pepper.

Per serving: (½ cup): 180 calories, 12g fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 310mg sodium, 19g carbohydrates, 4g ber, 3g protein

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