- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2003

I exchange phone calls with a strictly kosher friend in Brooklyn, N.Y., when each Jewish holiday approaches. We ask each other about family, and then, of course, we turn to food. Sometimes, we swap recipes.

When I ask her what new ones she has discovered, she always says that she has found some wonderful new recipes in mainstream magazines or cookbooks. “You don’t have to be brilliant to figure out how to change recipes for the kosher kitchen,” she says. “A good cook just needs good recipes.”

My friend uses soy milk for meat recipes calling for cream and substitutes kosher cuts for non-kosher cuts of meat. Consequently, her menus are always exciting. With a dozen children, she cooks a lot. So, recently she asked me to recommend some new books coming out in time for Hanukkah, which begins Friday.

When I select cookbooks, I look for good recipes, too, so I have been eagerly awaiting two books from writers who are great cooks and take all the time necessary to write their books with full flavor.

My mouth watered when I saw Paula Wolfert’s “The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook” (John Wiley and Sons). Ms. Wolfert, whose food I first tasted when she gave a class for a friend’s 40th birthday many years ago, made her mark with her classic cookbook, “Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco” (HarperCollins), introducing Americans to Moroccan food after having lived in the country for many years. Since then, she has written other cookbooks with authentic recipes from Mediterranean countries.

Unlike most cookbook writers, Ms. Wolfert actually goes to live in the areas she’s researching. She then returns to her California home and spends months working on each recipe. A year or so ago, when we were filming my PBS television series “Jewish Cooking in America,” she prepared a recipe for artichokes with orange and mint from her new book. It just happened to be a Tunisian Jewish dish and one of the finest taste sensations I have ever experienced. The hard-to-please crew agreed.

Going through the new volume, I found truly great recipes: quail with red grape sauce; pan-grilled duck breasts with chanterelles, dried apricots and almonds; veal meatballs with spinach and chickpeas; and slow-cooking stews with fruits and vegetables. I also found a new version of a favorite Jewish Moroccan salad, a sort of Mediterranean ratatouille. Each North African Jewish community has its own version, and this rendition of marmouna was superb.

I thought Ms. Wolfert’s slow-cooked Mediterranean recipes would complement the classic potato latkes in a second new book: All of us know Parade magazine food editor Sheila Lukins’ “The Silver Palate Cookbook,” of which she is a co-author. I had been awaiting her latest book, “Celebrate” (Workman), and this, again, did not disappoint.

It is a step-by-step guide to creating a feast for each of the annual festivals and holidays with family and friends. For a small party on Saturday night, she creates a menu of grilled lamb with Asian flavors, pineapple rice, spiced broccolini, minty orange salad and party lemon sorbet.

Because Sheila Lukins is foremost a devoted cook, I knew she was going to divide this book into celebrations and would have a delicious take on the Jewish holidays as well. I was not disappointed: crispy latkes, sweet-and-sour short ribs and apple cake for Hanukkah. For Passover, she offers her signature tzimmes, salmon croquettes, her niece Marcie’s fluffy matzo balls and a flourless chocolate cake. Ms. Lukins’ recipes are flavorful and easy to execute.

Both these books make great gifts. If you use any of the recipes at Hanukkah or throughout the year, your guests will not be disappointed. More important, neither will you, whether strictly kosher or not.

Hanukkah latkes

This recipe was adapted from “Celebrate”

4 russet potatoes, peeled (about 2 pounds total)

1 large onion, peeled

3 tablespoons snipped fresh chives

Coarse (kosher) salt, freshly ground black pepper

1/4 to 1/2 cup vegetable oil, or more if necessary

Applesauce and pareve sour cream

Coarsely grate potatoes and onion into a large bowl. (Work quickly so the potatoes don’t discolor. The potatoes will give off a starchy liquid, but do not drain.) Then add the chives, season to taste with salt and pepper, and mix well.

Working with two large nonstick skillets, heat 2 to 4 tablespoons of the oil in each skillet over medium heat. Add about 2 tablespoons of the potato mixture for each latke and cook, pressing down with a spatula, until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. As you continue to cook latkes, add more oil as necessary. Serve hot, with applesauce and pareve sour cream. Makes 30 latkes.

Note: If you are not serving them immediately, reheat the latkes in a 400-degree oven for about 7 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels, then serve immediately.

Short ribs sauerbraten

This recipe was adapted from “Celebrate”

6 to 8 meaty short ribs of beef, cut lengthwise between the bones and trimmed of excess fat

21/4 cups cider vinegar

2 large cloves garlic, lightly crushed

1 cup sliced onion

2 bay leaves

6 black peppercorns

5 whole cloves

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

11/2 cups beef broth

2 cups high-quality chili sauce

1 cup dry red wine

Zest of 1 lemon, removed in 1 long strip with a paring knife

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Salt, freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup flour

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill leaves

8 small sprigs fresh dill, for garnish

Place short ribs in a large bowl. Combine 2 cups of the vinegar with 2 cups water, the garlic, onion, bay leaves, peppercorns and cloves in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium, and simmer to blend the flavors, 5 minutes. Pour this over the ribs. Allow to cool to room temperature; stir to redistribute the ribs. Cover, and refrigerate overnight.

To prepare the sauce, combine remaining 1/4 cup vinegar and the brown sugar in a small, heavy saucepan, and bring it to a slow boil over medium heat. Cook until thick and bubbling, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the broth. Add the chili sauce, wine, lemon zest, ginger and cinnamon. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer over medium-low heat to blend the flavors, 10 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature, then transfer to a container and refrigerate, covered, overnight.

The next day, remove short ribs from marinade, and pat them dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and then dust with flour. (Shake it through a fine-mesh strainer.) Shake off any excess. Set ribs aside. Strain marinade and set it aside, covered, in the refrigerator.

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy, flameproof casserole over medium heat. Brown ribs well on all sides, in batches if necessary, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer them to a plate. Discard oil in the casserole, and return the ribs to it.

Cover ribs with the sauce you made the day before. Bring ribs and sauce to a boil over medium heat. Cover pot and bake in 350-degree oven for 2 hours, occasionally skimming off any excess fat that accumulates on the surface with a metal spoon. Uncover, and bake until the meat is falling off the bones, about 30 minutes more.

Remove ribs from sauce, and when cool enough to handle, remove and discard bones and any excess gristle or fat. Pour sauce through a gravy separator to remove the fat and return the defatted sauce to the pot. If sauce seems too thick, add some of the reserved marinade to thin it.

Return ribs to the pot, and cover them with the sauce. Reheat over medium-low heat and, just before serving, stir in the chopped dill. Garnish each serving with a dill sprig. Makes 8 servings.

Note: You can make the sauerbraten up to a day in advance. Store, covered, in the refrigerator, and reheat in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes, thinning the sauce with some of the reserved marinade if it’s too thick. Stir in the chopped dill just before serving, and garnish each serving with a dill sprig.

Artichoke and orange compote

This recipe was adapted from “The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook.”

11/2 lemons

4 large artichokes

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for finishing dish

2 garlic cloves, sliced

⅓ cup fresh orange juice

Salt, freshly ground pepper

2 thin-skinned oranges, peeled and sectioned

Pinch of ground coriander

1 tablespoon sugar

4 sprigs mint

Place about 4 cups cold water and the juice of half a lemon in a bowl. Clean the artichokes, and cut off the tips. Quarter, and remove the hairy chokes. Rub with what’s left of the lemon half, and drop the artichokes into the cold, acidulated water.

Heat olive oil in a shallow, flameproof earthenware dish or stainless-steel saucepan. Add garlic, and saute gently for 1 minute. Stir in orange juice, the juice of 1 lemon (reserving a few drops to finish dish), 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Drain artichokes, and add to the pan with 1/4 cup water. Cover with crumpled wet parchment paper and a tight-fitting lid, and set over the lowest heat to cook 30 to 45 minutes. Remove artichokes to a side plate. Reserve the cooking juices.

In a skillet, combine orange sections and any collected juices, the ground coriander and the sugar. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring until orange sections are glazed, about 10 minutes.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the oranges to a serving dish. Add the artichokes to the skillet and cook, stirring, until glazed all over. Transfer the artichokes to the serving dish. Add reserved artichoke cooking juices to the skillet. Boil quickly until reduced to a few tablespoons, season with salt and pepper to taste, add a few drops of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil, and pour over the artichokes and oranges. Garnish with mint. Serve cool or chilled.

Marmouna

The recipe for this compote of red peppers, zucchini and tomatoes also was adapted from “The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook.”

13/4 to 2 pounds red ripe tomatoes (about 7) or 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes

1 pound Italian green frying peppers

1 small red bell pepper

1/2 pound zucchini

7 large garlic cloves

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

⅛ teaspoon cayenne, or to taste

2 pinches of ground coriander

2 tablespoons capers, drained

Halve fresh tomatoes, and gently squeeze out the seeds. Place the fresh tomatoes, cut sides down, on paper towels. (If using canned tomatoes, disregard this step.)

Core and seed the peppers, and cut them into 1-inch pieces. Quarter the zucchini and cut into thin slices. Peel the garlic but leave whole.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet and, when hot, add the tomatoes, cut sides down. Place peppers, zucchini and garlic on top, and cook uncovered without stirring, 5 minutes. Add the salt. Cover, and cook the vegetables for 15 minutes longer.

Carefully pick out the tomato skins, if using fresh tomatoes, and discard them. Continue to cook the mixture until all the moisture has evaporated and it starts to fry in the released oil, about 1 hour. If necessary, use a few drops of water to scrape up any caramelized bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, and fold them into the vegetables.

Stir in the sugar, cayenne and coriander, and continue to fry, stirring, for 10 minutes. When everything is very thick and has reduced to about 11/2 cups, remove from the heat and drain in a colander. (About 21/2 tablespoons oil can be recouped from the draining; reserve this oil for cooking or for sprinkling over the vegetable mixture.) Garnish with capers just before serving. Makes 11/2 cups.


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