“It’s not very Jewish,” a friend commented, leafing through Jason Prangnell’s New Jewish Cooking, (Absolute, cloth, $37.50). But that’s half the point of these meat and parve recipes from London’s Bevis Marks Restaurant. Kosher cookbook authors have long extended “kosher” past the kugel, kasha varnishkes, bumuelos, or other cuisine of our parents’ or grandparents’ kitchens, and Asian and Middle Eastern influence abound.
The famed Bevis Marks restaurant is attached to the Sephardic synagogue of the same name. Its owners wanted to show that a kosher restaurant could serve cuisine as fine as any Continental restaurant with food that could be enjoyed by Jews and non-Jews alike. Pragnell takes inspiration from many cultures and alongside the meat recipes, provides lots of side dishes, desserts, syrups and even a few pages of cocktails, for which you’ll need the syrups. Rosemary gnocchi and vegetable tart share pages with Jewish classics such as dill latkes and “aubergine (eggplant) rice” from Turkey. Measurements are given in weight as well as volume, and recipes are surprisingly simple. Start by making the chicken or vegetable stock, as many of these recipes start with that basic ingredient.
Lavender shortbread was delicious, as was a perfect summer pea and corn bulgur pilaf, but a note of caution: Prangnell’s kasha “pilau” (pilaf) skips the usual step of coating uncooked groats in egg before cooking. This doesn’t work, unless you like mushy kasha, so keep the grains firm and keep the egg.
It’s good news-bad news that we have a new cookbook from the queen of kosher cooking, Helen Nash. The good news is New Kosher Cuisine: Healthy, Simple and Stylish (Overlook, cloth, $35). The bad news is that her husband had to have a stroke to give her the time she needed to stay home and go through the “arduous process” of developing and testing recipes for a book, while she cared for him. She lets us know in her introduction that she never intended to publish another cookbook, but it’s our gain.
With their European and Asian influences, Nash’s recipes produce food both for every day or special occasions that tastes good and is fun to eat. The shredded sweet potato with cumin salad was fresh and different, and the sesame-thyme chicken marinade is a guaranteed success. There are no Jewish holiday recipes here, but you’ll find plenty in her other books.
Despite the deceptively lavish photos, Esther Deutsch gives us equally fundamental and delicious recipes in Chic Made Simple: Fresh, Fast, Fabulous Kosher Cuisine (Manna11, cloth, $36.99). Deutsch, a New York-based food stylist, columnist and food editor of Ami magazine, relies on a combination of fresh and prepared ingredients, especially sauces, to simplify recipes. Her salads are especially creative. With summer fruit in season, try “spring mix with candied hazelnuts and pecans and balsamic-strawberry vinaigrette.” The kani (imitation crab) slaw was a hit at my house. As far as her presentation goes, enjoy the pictures, but don’t try this at home. It would take all the simplicity out of the preparation.
While those new kitchen experiments are cooking or cooling, settle in with Elissa Altman’s delightfully touching and funny memoir, Poor Man’s Feast: A Love Story of Comfort, Desire, and the Art of Simple Cooking (Chronicle, cloth, $27.50).
Drawn from Altman’s blog of the same name, it’s more of a series of connected vignettes, each followed by a recipe or two (not kosher!) reflecting the author’s evolution as a cook, journeying from an obsession with the complex to appreciation of the basic.
We also learn about her parents’ complicated relationship with each other and with food. Her mother is a rail-thin fashionista who pushes food around her plate while her father sneaks Elissa out for steak dinners at New York’s best restaurants. This is also the story of love found, and the other thread here is her growing relationship with her partner Susan, a small-town Connecticut Yankee who grows her own vegetables and won’t turn on the air conditioning. This is a very sweet book with some marvelous — and simple — recipes.