It’s a bit funny to review a cookbook, isn’t it? It is, in the truest sense, a matter of taste. And in cooking for oneself, the little idiosyncrasies of individual taste may conflict with someone else’s; as a matter of course, I tend to double the amount of garlic any recipe calls for.
Leah Koenig’s “The Jewish Cookbook,” out this month, is another variation on the theme of many modern Jewish cookbooks. Her recipes, rather than simply giving you some new ideas about tzimmes (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), draw from the kitchens of Jews the world over. The food of Italian Jews, Iraqi Jews and Bukharan Jews is all represented, among that of many others.
The result is a beautifully bound collection, complete with the elusive luxury of two bookmarks and a well-ordered index. Bonus recipes from Michael Solomonov and other Jewish chefs are sprinkled throughout, and the full-page color photographs help to visualize some of the more difficult-to-conceive recipes. There are also little markers for recipes that are dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, use five ingredients or fewer or take less than 30 minutes to prepare.
Speaking of recipes! Here are a few I took a crack at over the last few weeks, re-printed with permission from Phaidon.
Jewish-Style Braised Fennel
Where you aware that there was such a thing as Jewish-style fennel? I certainly wasn’t. I didn’t even eat fennel until 2018. Always thought it was a real adult vegetable. The fennel lobby needs whoever helped cauliflower and Brussels sprouts to step in here, because it was delicious – tender, filling and unique.
3 pounds fennel bulbs, stems trimmed off
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 ½ cups vegetable stock
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Finely chopped fennel fronds, for garnish
Cut each fennel bulb in quarters (or eights if large), removing most of the woody core, but leaving just enough to keep the fennel wedges intact. In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Working in batches if necessary, add the fennel pieces in a single layer and cook, turning occasionally, until slightly softened and lightly browned, 8-10 minutes.
Return all the browned fennel pieces to the pan, add the garlic, and cook, gently stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the stock, salt and pepper. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the fennel is tender, 15-20 minutes.
Transfer the fennel pieces to a serving plate. Increase the heat under the pan to medium high, add the honey and orange zest, and cook, stirring often, until it reduces slightly, 5-10 minutes. Taste and add more salt, if desired. Pour the sauce over the fennel pieces and sprinkle with fennel fronds. Serve hot.
Serves 6. Prep time is 10 minutes. Cooking time is 45 minutes.
This beef stew recipe comes to us from Georgia (the country, not the state). It was a blessed 45 degrees when I woke up this morning, and there could not be a more appropriate temperature for this dish than this time of year. The number of vegetables, plus the other elements — pulverized walnuts and rice — made the catch of each spoon-submersion a little surprise. And even if you come up empty-handed, the broth is rich enough to sustain you until your next dive.
1⁄3 cup walnut halves
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds beef chuck, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
¾ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon dried mint
½ teaspoon crushed pepper flakes
1 cup canned crushed,
finely diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tamarind paste or
8 cups beef or vegetable stock
¼ cup long-grain white rice, rinsed well and drained
Freshly ground black pepper
Roughly chopped fresh cilantro and dill, for serving
Pulse the walnuts in a good food processor, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice, until nuts are finely ground with a few slightly larger pieces. Set aside.
In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the beef and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add a drizzle more oil if the pot begins to look dry. Transfer the beef to a plate.
Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion, carrots, garlic and a pinch of salt to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned 8-10 minutes. Add the paprika, fenugreek, coriander, mint and pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Stir in the tomatoes, tamarind paste, browned beef and stock. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beef is very tender, about 1½ hours.
Stir in the ground walnuts, rice, salt and a generous amount of black pepper. Continue cooking, covered, until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if desired. (The amount of salt needed will depend on how salty the beef and stock are.) Serve hot, sprinkled with chopped cilantro (coriander) and dill.
Serves 6-8. Prep time is 20 minutes. Cooking time is 2 hours and 15 minutes.
In addition to these recipes, I also tried my hand at roast chicken with thyme and honey, cooked over carrots, parsnips and onions, as well as a recipe for curried sweet potato latkes. My review: yes. JN
Jesse Bernstein is a staff writer for the Jewish Exponent, a Jewish News-affiliated publication.