There is nothing like three sets of three-day yomim tovim to strike terror in the hearts of meal planners everywhere as they struggle to plan a staggering quantity of delicious, varied and attractive meals for potentially large numbers of people. While they can’t help you find room in your refrigerator to stash your edibles or to wash the never ending barrage of pots, pans and cooking utensils, two recently released cookbooks can make the job of deciding what to prepare this inordinately busy time of year a whole lot less stressful.
Starters and Sides Made Easy, the second volume in the “Made Easy” series introduced this past Pesach by cooking stars Leah Schapira and Victoria Dwek, is a true gift. Am I the only one who doesn’t want to see gefilte fish as a first course at every single meal? While traditionalists like my father and several other members of the clan insist that the only possible substitute for gefilte fish is either chopped or sautéed liver, my tastes tend to wander towards the lighter, more whimsical and un-boring – and while I don’t mind serving cholent, potato kugel, cucumber salad and coleslaw, I don’t want to see (or prepare or serve) these same items week after week after week.
With sixty uncomplicated yet original recipes, some inspired by submissions on CookKosher.com, Sides and Starters is a treasure trove of ideas for those who like to think (and eat) outside the box. Once again, the authors have pooled their talents to produce an enticing array of recipes that reflect their Ashkenazic and Sefardic roots, bundled together with mouth-watering photographs, time saving “Ahead” tips designed to take the stress out of food prep and “Plate It” suggestions for those who are looking to up the “wow” factor in the presentation of their culinary creations.
A four-page spice guide takes the mystery out of seasoning and offers helpful practical advice. Ever wondered when you should use table salt versus sea salt versus kosher salt; the difference between freshly ground, fine black pepper, coarse black pepper and their proper usage? Been mystified by mace, za’atar or turmeric? You’ll find the answers here plus an illustrated Building Blocks section that tells you everything you always wanted to know about mashing and roasting vegetables as well as tips for foolproof rice. Finally, the “Make It a Main” page at the end of the book offers tips on transforming fourteen recipes into full blown main courses with little or no extra effort.
Broken down into sections – Vegetables, Grains, Meat and Chicken, Fish, Dairy and Sweet, Starters and Sides – has something for every palate and for cooks of all skills. Several recipes jumped out at me while I was flipping through the pages: Coleslaw Balls with Jalapeno Dip – can you really make coleslaw into balls and deep fry them? (Apparently you can.) Kishka and Zucchini Towers – there is no doubt that my men folk, who need no excuse to include kishka in any meal, will ask me to make this one repeatedly. Corned Beef and Spinach Spring Rolls looked mighty appealing, especially since they are baked, not deep-fried and could potentially be a great way to use up those leftover Shabbos cold cuts. Shawarma Egg Rolls not only look amazing but includes a recipe for making your own shawarma spice blend, practically a staple in my house, but obviously more economical when made at home. And Peach Cracker Crumble looks like my favorite kind of side dish, one that can double as dessert, but doesn’t count as a splurge since it is served on the same plate as the chicken.
Best of all, while the 128 page Starters and Sides is priced at a very skinny $15.99, making it an inexpensive yet invaluable addition to any kitchen. Published by Artscroll’s Shaar Press, it is available online at www.artscroll.com and in Judaica stores everywhere.
And Then There Was Cake – Seriously, doesn’t the name of this magnificent cookbook published by the Hebrew Academy of Montreal say it all? It doesn’t matter how stuffed we are, when it comes to dessert, somehow we always manage to find room to eat just a little bit more. (Or in some cases, quite a lot more!) Subtitled “Desserts to Enjoy and Impress,” And Then There Was Cake features a wide array of baked recipes for the novice to the advanced.