There are no shortage of Jewish cookbooks out there these days, and Passover is no exception. With the holiday fast approaching, I am furiously recipe testing, menu planning and pouring over the stack of Passover cookbooks that has collected on my desk.
Here are a few of my favorites and a few new releases special for Passover 2014.
This e-book cookook exclusive is the collaborative effort of four prominent Jewish food bloggers including Liz Rueven of Kosher Like Me; Amy Kritzer of What Jew Wanna Eat, Whitney Fisch of Jewhungry and Sara Lasry of The Patchke Princess. The photos are beautiful and the recipes are innovative. And at less than $5, you’re not likely to have buyer’s remorse.
Passover Made Easy, Leah Schapira and Victoria Dwek
The first thing I noticed about the Passover Made Easy cookbook was how beautiful it was. The second thing I noticed was that there is potato starch in nearly everything, which is not my my personal preference in how I approach Passover cooking.
I like some of the special touches in the cookbook such as a brief wine guide at the beginning, some pretty plating ideas for Seder dinners and a replacement index to provide alternatives to different ingredients. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of meatballs in blueberry sauce, which sounds like something my 2 year old might suggest for dinner, so I probably won’t be giving that one a try.
But the brisket egg rolls, citrus beet salad and potato flanken kugel sound like my cup of tea, so can’t wait to try them out.
Tired of potatoes during Passover? Aviva Kanoff was too which is why she wrote the No Potato Passover cookbook. The recipes are no frills, but simple enough for most cooks. The photos of Aviva’s recipes and travels are stunning. You can read more here about Aviva’s journey as a cookbook author and check out her recipe for Spaghetti Squash Kugel.
A Taste of Pesach, multiple contributors
If your family loves meat and kugel, then this is the cookbook for you. There are so many kinds of roasts, steak and kugel in this cookbook, it will keep you busy all week long. The dessert selection features several mousse recipes, a personal favorite during Passover as well as an intriguing Tri-Color Sorbet Ring that is striking if only in appearance. And while many of the recipes seem like they could also have featured prominently in a Sisterhood Synagogue cookbook, there are also some surprising recipes like the White Velvet Soup with Honeyed Chestnut Garnish and Rhubarb Compote.
Aviva Kanoff, author of No-Potato Passover, and I have “known” each other for years, but never actually met until last week. I had followed her career as a cookbook author the past few years, partially because I loved her approach to fresh cooking for Passover and her mouth-wateringly beautiful photography, and also because we have several mutual friends in common – such a small world!
We finally had the chance to sit down for coffee together last week so I could hear about her latest project, Gluten Free Around the World and talk all things Passover.
Where did the idea for No-Potato Passover come from?
Several years ago I came up with the idea to do a no-potato Passover challenge with my family. I thought: what would happen if we didn’t use ANY potatoes this year during Passover!? And because I am the kind of person who likes to really do things full-force, this wasn’t going to be just a Passover with limited potatoes: it would be literally no potatoes. When I told my mom she had a heart attack. But finally she came around. I did let my family have a few potatoes for carpas.
When I went shopping for the no-potato Passover Seder, it was like I was seeing color for the first time: green brussel sprouts! Purple eggplants! Red beets! Prior to that year I had had potato tunnel vision. I felt very excited at this challenge. It was like an adventure.
So how did the book come about?
I actually have a degree from the French Culinary Institute, but it wasn’t necessarily something I wanted to pursue professionally. At least not being a restaurant chef. But I also would never have pictured myself as a cookbook author. Now in hindsight it makes perfect sense; it seems so obvious. I love cooking, food, travel and photography. Writing a cookbook really combined all my passions.
After that first no-potato Passover with my family, I gave myself a year to write the book and said if I could get it done I would try to publish it myself.
How has the cookbook influenced you and your cooking?
I actually now want to be a food educator after writing these two cookbooks. I have realized that I love turning people on to new foods that they never would have tried otherwise. My family didn’t even eat brussel sprouts until two years ago, and now they love them!
Too many people think that healthy eating is expensive and time-consuming. I want to educate people about accessible, healthy eating. I think people don’t want to believe that healthy cooking is so simple because then they don’t have an excuse.
I mean, my dream is to swim around in a large pot of pappardelle pasta with butter. But who can do that?! Just because it’s yummy doesn’t mean it’s good for you. And I want people to choose more foods that are good for them.
How do you plan your Passover menu?
I always have a tentative menu, which I print out and put up on the front of the fridge. But even after I write it up, it varies. I will leave room for changes and improvising especially because I like to see what’s fresh at the supermarket. I will go shopping and get carried away with beautiful artichokes or purple cauliflower, and then suddenly we have an addition to the menu. I get distracted by beautiful produce like a kid in a candy shop.
I also like to make sure my menus are inclusive. I am sensitive towards special diets and preferences, so I always try to incorporate dishes that everyone can eat.
What’s your favorite dish to make during Passover?
My coconut-crusted chicken with plum dipping sauce. I was always envious when I saw coconut-crusted shrimp and so I wanted to make a version I could eat. The plum dipping sauce is a great way to use up fruit that is starting to go bad so it doesn’t go to waste.
So what’s next in the world of Aviva Kanoff?
My next cookbook is coming out in June 2014 – Gluten Free Around the World. With this cookbook I wanted to create something beautiful for people with gluten free diets. But I didn’t want it to be negative. I wanted this to be a gluten free “adventure” instead of “dealing with your disease.”
I have been following Whitney Fisch, aka Jewhungry, for the past 6 months on instagram, and eventually started reading her blog as well. I love her fresh, kosher recipes and the stories she shares about being a mom and a middle school counselor at a day school in Miami. So when she and I finally got to catch up on the phone last week I was absolutely thrilled. Read more below to hear how she got into cooking (hint: it all started in Jerusalem!) and about an exciting Passover cookbook she has in the works.
Why did you start blogging?
I started blogging about three years ago, initially with my friend Jeremy, mostly about cultural Jewish stuff and some food. I was working all the time and I really needed an outlet that allowed me some escape from my busy work life. It didn’t start as a food blog, and I actually took some time off from blogging all together while I was pregnant because the smell of all food made me nauseous.
After my pregnancy, Jeremy and I, though still very close friends, decided he would focus on other writing opportunities so I ended up taking over the blog, and it organically took on a new direction: parenting stories, stories about being a social worker and a counselor as well as stories about growing up in the South and living in Miami. And of course, I was writing about what I was cooking and eating.
Have you always loved cooking?
No not even a little bit!
I tried so hard to cook after college. And I had some tragic mishaps along the way. For example, when I was 22 I tried to make potato salad, but it didn’t dawn on me that I had to boil the potatoes first. I tried to serve it at a backyard picnic…well, it was not successful.
It wasn’t until I moved to Jerusalem and I was a stone throw’s away from the shuk that I started experimenting with cooking. It happened that I also met my future husband at that time and he let me use him as a guinea pig for my cooking. There was actually one time he made roasted potatoes with onion soup mix – how “Ashkenazi mom” of him – and I thought it was a culinary revelation. This shows you how much I was food illiterate.
It was through being in Jerusalem, having the time to cook in the evenings and being so close such amazing, fresh food that I really started cooking.
Has living in Miami influenced your cooking?
Absolutely! I am influenced both in terms of taste and visually. The colors that I choose, props I use on the blog – everything. I use lime and cilantro in at least half my dishes – those flavors are so prevalent here.
And the weather here really influences my cooking. I am not making cholent, stews or heavy meats. It’s 85 degrees! So I want to eat fresh.
You didn’t always keep kosher. Is there anything you miss?
I wouldn’t say there is anything I miss per say. It is more about foods I am curious about that I have never eaten. For example, I want to try full-on French food. I read all of Julia Child’s books. And then I read all of Ruth Reichl’s books. So it’s more about what I am curious about eating more so that any single food that I miss.
What have you learned from blogging?
Early on I was advised by someone who told me I should write less, and I am glad I ignored that advice. I get amazing letters from people that read and really enjoy the stories I share.
So while I have continued writing, at some point I stopped doing complicated recipes and starting cooking more simple things, because that’s what I had time for and also those are popular with people. Sometimes people just want a good veggie chili recipe, etc.
What has been the best thing that has happened as a result of blogging?
Definitely the connections between people – the friends I have made online, especially with other bloggers. For example, I had a google hangout this morning with Amy Kritzer, Liz Rueven and The Patchke Princess talking about the Passover cookbook we are working on! I feel like we are supportive of one another, not competitive.
I have made so many friends through the internet and blogging including unexpected friends like The Rural Roost, who is neither kosher nor Jewish. But how exciting is it to connect with someone from Montana who I may not have ever met otherwise!
What advice do you have for someone else who wants to start a food blog?
Make sure you figure out your voice and where you want to go with blogging. Once you figure out your voice, you need to make sure you are connecting with other bloggers who share a similar focus as you. It helps build a community through like-minded bloggers.
What’s on the horizon for Jewhungry?
A lot!I am moving to Los Angeles where, among other things, I will be doing recipes and parent blogging for JkidLA. I am also working on a redesign for the blog and of course the Passover cookbook I mentioned.
It may come as a surprise that food bloggers like to get to know…other food bloggers. Who else can relate to the frustration of food photography, keen interest in food trends and a generally obsessive interest level in, well, food?
I love getting to meet other food bloggers, and a few weeks ago I had the chance to sit down at NYC’s midtown Macaron Café (a favorite spot of mine, and not just because the macarons are delicious and kosher) with fellow food blogger Liz Rueven of Kosher Like Me.
What was the inspiration for starting to write Kosher Like Me?
Not everyone keeps kosher quite the same way. Many Americans keep “kosher like me,” meaning, they will eat in non-kosher restaurants, but only strictly vegetarian dishes. And so I wanted to share the research I was already finding about non-Kosher restaurants that had vegetarian-friendly dishes and menus. In the past I would tell waiters at restaurants that I was vegetarian. But when I wrote this blog, I didn’t want to write about being vegetarian – I wanted to write my “Kosher Like Me” truth. About one third of my readers are vegetarian, also looking for veggie-friendly restaurants and recipes; one third of my readers are “Kosher Like Me” eaters; and one third are just health-conscience people.
What has been the most exciting thing to occur as a result of blogging?
Last year I was invited to speak on a panel at the Hazon Food Conference. It was exciting to be surrounded by people passionate about about kashrut and food grounded in Jewish tradition and a sustainable approach to the land and animals.
What has been the most surprising thing about writing your blog?
I never expected to encounter so many personal stories about kashrut and food, especially in unexpected places. Restaurant chefs often have a story that surprises me, including the owner of Macaron Café. When I met her I asked, “why did you make your macarons kosher?’ She explained that when she first had a business it was located in the garment district of New York City, where a lot of Orthodox Jews also work. She had many requests to make her Parisian macarons kosher, and so she did.
What is your favorite NYC-area restaurant that you keep coming back to?
Like-minded eaters have the easiest time facing a menu where all is fair game, and that means any of the great vegetarian restaurants in NYC. Candle Cafe is close to my apartment so we order in from there or I eat at the counter if I am solo. I love Dirt Candy for Amanda Cohen’s more refined and innovative treatment of veggies, too. I also love Hangawi, which is Korean and vegan.
My favorite non-vegetarian restaurant is Rouge Tomate on the Upper East Side of New York City. The food is always inventive and exquisitely plated but be prepared for smaller portions. They have plenty of vegetarian and fish choices and most often use veggie broth . The waiters are well trained to answer honestly and patiently when questioned about ingredients.
Got any advice for someone who wants to start their own food blog?
If you are thinking about starting your own blog, you should start by reading the blogs that interest you regularly and consider why you admire them or find them useful. Ask the editor of one of those blogs if you might contribute. Suggest a few ideas or an area of that blog’s content that you would like to add to. Editors are always looking for content and will likely welcome your inquiry. It’s a great way to check out what a blogger’s world is really about.
What’s on the horizon for Kosher Like Me?
I am on the verge of re-designing the blog in order to make it more user-friendly. After two and a half years, a lot has changed about what I want to share with my readers!
You can read more about Liz Rueven here and check back tomorrow for her recipe for hearty lentil soup.