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Review: The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen: A Fresh Take on Tradition by Amelia

By Abby Weingarten

seasonal kitchenThink you’ve already absorbed everything there is to know about Jewish cooking? Well, even my Bubbe could learn something from this book.

Amelia Saltsman’s fresh take on traditional, authentic and old-fashioned recipes brings Jewish cuisine into the modern age. As our culture moves into a locavore mindset, this book is the perfect complement to that contemporary culinary way of thinking. It is an educational guide to local, seasonal ingredients, and it offers methods for crafting these indigenous items into true comfort foods.

Inside this stunning compilation are 150 recipes inspired by the farm-to-table philosophy, and history lessons are intermixed with mouth-watering photographs.

From the get-go, Saltsman asks readers, “What is Jewish food?” Her answer: “In a literal sense, Jewish food is a cuisine defined by the religious dietary laws of kashrut. But that only begins to tell the tale. One thing is certain: one person’s Jewish food—matzah ball soup, pastrami on rye—is not necessarily someone else’s—couscous, tagine. There are as many true and opinionated interpretations as there are Jewish communities (which are pretty much everywhere in the world).”

For those of you who grew up with Ashkenazic cuisine (like I did), this book will broaden your perspective from simply Eastern European ideas about food to more Israeli concepts. It turns out Saltsman’s mother was Romanian (just like my Bubbe) and her father was Israeli, so she grew up with the best of both Jewish worlds; readers can benefit from this cultural combination and the recipes Saltsman inherited.

Saltsman used the Jewish lunar calendar to divide her book into six micro-seasons and paired her recipes accordingly. She provided menu suggestions for Rosh Hashanah, Tu b’Shvat and Purim, and grouped the dishes into categories such as meat, dairy and Pareve/vegan. Read about Saltsman’s Iraqi grandmother’s savory Kitchri (a slow-cooked mix of red lentils, rice and garlic) and sweet desserts like the Olive Oil Polenta Upside-Down Cake.

The descriptions that precede each of Saltsman’s recipes convey their delectability so well that you can practically eat her words. Enjoy.

 

FISH FILLETS WRAPPED IN LEAVES
(makes 6 to 8 servings)

Fresh fig or grape leaves add a tart note while keeping fish fillets moist on the grill, a technique especially helpful with fish that dries out quickly, such as halibut. No leaves? Make camp-style foil packets instead.

6 or 8 fish fillets, each about 1 inch thick, 1½ to 2 pounds
Sel gris and freshly ground black pepper
8 large fresh fig leaves, or 16 to 20 fresh grape leaves
Extra virgin olive oil

fish-wrapped-in-leaves

Photo Credit: http://www.thinkeatdrink.com/

Pat fish dry and season with sel gris and pepper. Snip off the stem at the base of each leaf. Place a fig leaf, dull side down, on a work surface and smear with olive oil. Lay a fillet across the leaf, about 2 inches from the bottom. Fold the bottom of the leaf up and over the fish. Fold in the sides and then roll up the fillet in the leaf. Place seam side down on a plate or sheet pan. Repeat with remaining fillets and fig leaves. If using grape leaves, overlap 2 or 3 of them, dull side up, to make a rectangle larger than the fillet. Brush with olive oil and lay a fillet across the leaf rectangle. Fold in the sides, then roll up the fillet, bottom to top. Refrigerate for 10 minutes or up to 1 hour. Heat the grill to medium-high. Place the packets, seam side down, on the grill and cook, turning once halfway through the cooking, until the fish is cooked through, about 5 minutes on each side. Serve the fish in their packets.

 

GRILLED CORN WITH ZA’ATAR
(makes 8 servings)

corn

Photo Credit: http://www.busyinbrooklyn.com/

Vendors on Israel’s beaches used to sell steaming ears of deep yellow corn from big metal drums. They seasoned the corn with coarse salt and served it up on a piece of husk to protect customers’ fingers. I like to boil ears of corn briefly to plump the kernels and then finish them on the grill, mopping them up with a blend of za’atar, salt and olive oil. Super sweet white corn is all the rage, but I prefer a meatier white-and-yellow calico type.

8 ears corn
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons za’atar
1½ teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Shuck the corn and save some of the husks, if you like. Drop the corn into the boiling water and cover the pot. When the water returns to a boil, turn off the heat. Let stand for a few minutes, then remove corn from the water, and pat dry. Heat the grill to medium-high. In a shallow dish or pan large enough to accommodate the corn ears, stir together the olive oil, za’atar, and salt. Roll the corn in the oil mixture, making sure some of the za’atar adheres. Grill corn, turning as needed, until nicely browned in places, 10 to 12 minutes.

Brush hot corn with additional za’atar oil, then mound on a platter or serve on the reserved husks (use remaining oil as a dip for bread).

 

The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen: A Fresh Take on Tradition by Amelia Saltsman (Sterling Epicure; August 18, 2015)

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