Two Great Cookbooks for Hanukkah 2014

My private cookbook collection can't compare to that of many of my colleagues -- my 500 or so seem paltry next to collections in the thousands. But at this stage of life, I carefully curate the books I want around forever. Here are two of them -- both recently published and perfect gifts for Hanukkah. 2014-12-01-61er1osP9gL.jpg Jewish Soul Food: From Minsk to Marrakesh by Janna Gur Schocken Books, New York NY 2014 $35.00 ISBN 978-0- 8052-4308-6

This is a rave. With striking photos and vibrant spirit, here is a cookbook that reads like a luscious travelogue built around the culinary narrative of the Jewish diaspora. The book's author, Janna Gur, is among the most knowledgeable representatives of Israeli cuisine (her first book, The Book of New Israeli Food, 2007 is already a classic) and of Jewish food and identity around the globe. Her new book, Jewish Soul Food: from Minsk to Marrakesh, is both prequel and sequel to Jerusalem by Ottolenghi. In a world cluttered with cookbooks, hers is a standout, a poignant journey of enforced migration and authenticity cast in a contemporary light. There is much to learn. I have never seen, eaten, or made many of these dishes: Her sabich (an egg and eggplant sandwich often eaten for breakfast) is gorgeous, as is hamim macaroni, mafroum (meat and potato "sandwiches"), Bulgarian feta-stuffed pepper "cutlets," and tantalizing fluden, made with poppy seeds, walnuts and apples, for dessert. Its diverse recipes paint much of Israel's culinary landscape, where Ms. Gur resides and publishes, with her husband, Israel's most prominent food and wine magazine called Al Hashulchan (At the Table). Born in the former Soviet Union, Ms. Gur emigrated to Israel in 1974 and since that time has scholarly untangled the global threads woven into the Israeli kitchen.

Some of my favorite dishes include sabzi polo, rice pilaf made with equal amounts of basmati rice and fragrant fresh herbs, and addictive ijeh b'lahmeh which are herb and meat latkes perfect for Hanukkah. Also appropriate for the holiday are bimuelos, a Sephardic dessert of fried dough, drizzled with cinnamon-scented honey syrup and garnished with walnuts. I look forward to making her orange flower butter cookies studded with almonds for gift-giving this season.

This book is important because of Janna's strongly held belief: The only way to preserve traditional cuisine for future generations is to cook it. Without her careful attention to this repertoire of priceless artifacts -- recipes from vanquished times and cultures -- these hand-me-downs would be all but lost. Jewish cuisine is unique because it reflects the histories of so many nationalities, wars and displacements. How Ms. Gur captures its essence in 100 recipes is the magic of this book.

2014-12-01-Delancey.jpg Eating Delancey: A Celebration of Jewish Food by Aaron Rezny and Jordan Schaps powerHouse Books, Brooklyn, NY 2014 $35.00 ISBN 978-1-57687-722-7

I don't know exactly where my grandparents lived as Hungarian immigrants in the early part of the last century, but they certainly climbed tenement steps and shopped on Delancey Street, as depicted in this sumptuous book with lovely essays by famous fressers (eaters) -- Calvin Trillin, Paul Goldberger (architecture critic of the New York Times), food maven Arthur Schwartz, legendary graphic designer, Milton Glaser -- and mouth-watering recipes. There are spectacular images of food, people, storefronts, and culinary ephemera, and an unexpected black-and-white photo of Janis Joplin smoking a cigarette at Ratner's, which is fabulous.

Eating Delancey, is Mr. Rezny's personal homage to the vanishing flavors of his youth. Similarly, Mr. Schaps waxes nostalgic about his bubbe Ethel Raben and the meals he consumed in her Russian-Yiddish-American kitchen. Mr. Rezny photographs the semaphores of their combined history -- bagels, halvah, knishes, seltzer bottles -- with the same intention. The photographs of iconic quaffs -- a bottle of Cherry Heering, Slivovitz, a bottle top of Cel-ray soda, tea in a glass are stunning in their simplicity. And the luster of the finished dishes -- a slice of creamy cheesecake, Schwartz's sweet and sour flanken, even matzo brei, a monochrome dish if there ever was one, here looks sensuous.

Joan Rivers would have kvelled from this book. Her poignant introduction, which in itself is poignant, is brilliantly alive with affection for Jewish food. She describes her mother, "a chic woman, very well read, a great hostess, and a horrible cook" and goes on to confess her love of singed chicken feet and gefilte fish with freshly grated horseradish.

Many books have delved into the psyche of Jewish people through their food -- but this book succeeds as a true work of art. I, for one, regret not knowing more about my grandparents' path, that of Joseph and Louise (Goldstein) Gold, who walked and ate with the best of them. More nostalgia: My best friend threw me a surprise wedding shower at Sammy's Roumanian on Chrystie Street -- imagine how classy that was -- a place where chicken fat is poured from a pitcher, garlic fills the air, and where time, for a moment, stands still.

A Radically Joyous Hanukkah

NEWEdible.Latke.hiresThis year Hanukkah is going to be a little different.  First of all I'm going to be a judge at a big deal latke competition with other Brooklyn foodies at BAM on December 10th.  I was honored to be asked by Liz Neumark, creator and impresario of Great Performances and owner of Katchkie Farms and Sylvia Center.  Everything she touches is magical and meaningful. I'm thrilled to be joining Leonard Lopate, Gabriella Gershenson from Saveur, and Lee Schrager from the New York Wine and Food Festival. We will be sampling 17 different kinds of latkes and you can join me!  Just reserve your spot by clicking here.  Even though I'm not a maven, Hanukkah has always been special.  My family was once featured in a cover story in Gourmet Magazine about my three-ingredient Hanukkah celebration at home.  This month, I have written a story about Hanukkah in my Cooking Light column called Radically Simple.  You can check out the recipes below.  And on December 14th, along with the true food maven Arthur Schwartz, I will be a judge at an applesauce! tasting at Park Slope's very cool synagogue Congregation Beth Elohim.  As most of you know, Hanukkah is a holiday filled with illuminating rituals:  Eight nights of candle-lighting and gifts, and foods fried in olive oil!   The former refers to the miracle that happened during the rededication of The Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BC, when a tiny bit of oil, enough to last only one night, lasted eight. The latter are edible expressions of the miracle:  Crispy potato pancakes, known as latkes, and jelly doughnuts (known as sufganiyot), traditionally top the list.  But this year, a few new dishes will grace our table at home: nuggets of cauliflower fried in olive oil and served with tahini & pomegranate seeds, and radically simple latkes made with three root vegetables. Every household prepares latkes differently but grating a little of one’s knuckle into the mixture is often a reality!  Once upon a time, latkes were made from potatoes only but this year, ours include sweet potatoes and parsnips, and a bit of exotic perfume provided by ground cumin.  Another twist?   Instead of ubiquitous applesauce as an accompaniment, I serve these crispy latkes with a dazzling beet puree meant for dipping or drizzling.

For dessert, there is no simpler offering than fleshy dried Calimyrna figs and Medjool dates served…frozen!  They taste like candy and are a delicious with morsels of bittersweet chocolate or gold-foiled Hanukkah gelt, to be eaten one-by-one. Come to the latke tasting!  Try my latke recipes in Cooking Light!  And enjoy.

Photo: Johnny Autry; Styling: Cindy Barr

Crispy Root Vegetable Latkes with Beet Puree Get the latkes going first, and while they cook, puree the sauce.

2 cups grated peeled sweet potato 2 cups grated peeled baking potato 1 cup grated peeling parsnip 3 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2/3 cup) 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided 2 large eggs 1 cup grated onion 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided 1 tablespoon chopped dill (optional) 1 cup chopped, peeled apple 3 tablespoons water 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper 1 (8-ounce) package precooked red beets, drained

1. Preheat oven to 325°.

2. Place first 3 ingredients on paper towels; squeeze until barely moist. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, cumin, 1/4 teaspoon salt, eggs, and onion in a bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until blended. Add potato mixture; beat with a mixer at low speed until combined.

3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 2 teaspoons oil; swirl. Heap 3 tablespoons potato mixture into pan to form a patty; flatten slightly. Repeat procedure 5 times to form 6 patties. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook 6 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Place latkes on a baking sheet; keep warm in oven. Repeat procedure twice with remaining oil and potato mixture to yield 18 latkes total. Sprinkle latkes with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Garnish with dill, if desired.

4. Combine apple and remaining ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth. Serve with latkes. Serves 6

Photo: Johnny Autry; Styling: Cindy Barr

Fried Cauliflower with Tahini and Pomegranate Seeds Cilantro gives this a bright, zippy taste and lovely color; the leaves are especially festive when strewn with pomegranate arils over the cauliflower. Serve with hot sauce and cut lemons, if you wish.

1/3 cup cilantro leaves, packed 1/3 cup tahini (roasted sesame seed paste) 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 2 garlic cloves 6 tablespoons water 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 6 cups cauliflower florets (about 1 large head) 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1/3 cup pomegranate arils

1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2. Combine first 4 ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth. Add 6 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until mixture is the consistency of a creamy salad dressing. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt; pulse to combine.

3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add cauliflower; cook 10 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Place cauliflower on a jelly-roll pan lined with foil. Roast cauliflower at 375° for 18 minutes or until tender, turning once. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Add pomegranate arils; toss to combine. Serve with tahini mixture. Serves 6

Hanukkah 1-2-3

In 1999, Gourmet Magazine featured my "1-2-3 Hanukkah" as one of their cover stories.  The Miracles of Hanukkah (as the article was called), not only commemorated the Maccabees' victory in battle but the miracle that happened when the temple was rededicated.  Miraculously, barely a day's worth of oil for the menorah lasted for eight.  The story's author, Ann Hodgman, went on to say..."Here in Rozanne Gold's kitchen 2,200 years later, a whole series of smaller  miracles is taking place as she prepares a Hanukkah dinner for family and friends.  Miracle #1: Every offering on the menu has only three ingredients.  Miracle #2:  Each dish is as intensely flavored, exotic, and elegant as if it had a thousand.  Miracle #3: Our setting, a perfect jewel box of a Brooklyn brownstone, with treasures everywhere you look and a kitchen masterminded by James Beard."  I remember the chaos in the house at the time.  My mother had grated a bit of her knuckle along with the par-boiled potatoes, my father had trouble standing for a photo shoot which he claimed felt like eight days itself; the phone was ringing every three seconds, guests were coming in minutes (including food critic Arthur Schwartz) and I was doing my best to keep my composure. It worked.  At one point in the article, Ann wrote "For all her slender elegance, Gold is a woman who knows how to boss food around." This Hanukkah menu featured Seared Smoked Salmon with Cucumber Presse, Rib-eye Roast in the style of Gravlax, The Gold Family Latkes*, Apple-Cranberry Sauce*, Sweet-Garlic Frenched Green Beans and for dessert, Chocolate Mousse Sponge, Baked Sabra Oranges with Orange Sorbet, and Chocolate Sesame Cups.  And yes, every recipe was made with only three ingredients!

Since tonight is the first night of Hanukkah, let's focus on my nontraditional method for making latkes.  Instead of cooking them one-by-one in lots and lots of oil, I make two large shredded potato pancakes (roesti-style) and serve them in small wedges.  Parboiling the potatoes helps them stick together and results in a creamy interior texture.  B'tayavon (bon appetit in Hebrew.)

The Gold Family Latkes 2 pounds large boiling potatoes 3 tablespoons coarsely grated onion 1/4 cup olive oil

Cook potatoes in salted water to cover until barely tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Rinse under cold water and let cool.  Peel with a sharp knife.  Coarsely shred potatoes lengthwise (long strands help them hold together) into a bowl using the large holes of a box grater.  Stir in the onion, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and white pepper to taste. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet until hot, then add half of the potatoes, spreading with a spatula to form an even cake.  Cook until underside is golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes.  Invert a large plate over skillet and invert latke onto plate.  Add 1 tablespoon oil to the skillet and slide latke back in.  Cook until underside is golden and crispy, 10 to 12 minutes.  Slide onto serving plate and keep warm.  Repeat with remaining potatoes.  Cut into wedges and serve with apple-cranberry sauce. Serves 6

Apple-Cranberry Sauce 3 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces 1 cup cranberries 7 tablespoons sugar

Put ingredients in a 3-quart saucepan.  Add 1 cup water and a pinch of salt. Cook, covered, over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes.  Mash until desired consistency.  Let cool to room temperature or serve chilled.  This keeps covered and chilled for 1 week.  Makes 3 cups

(Click here to watch me make these on The Today Show)

Happy Hanukkah!