by Susan Helene Gottfried
When Susie Fishbein released her first cookbook, Kosher By Design, those of us who needed to feed good kosher food to our extended family breathed huge sighs of relief. Beautifully photographed, with recipes that were easy to understand, the book -- with its spiral binding encased by a hard cover so it would lay flat and yet the spiral would be protected from being smashed -- enticed from the get-go.
Other Kosher By Design books followed. Kosher by Design Entertains wasn't something I needed, nor was Short on Time or Kids in the Kitchen. As beautiful as the books were, limited space demanded practicality.
Then I got word that a new book in the series was coming out, and I drooled at the mere thought. The seven-day Jewish holiday of Passover brings with it dietary restrictions that can make facing the kitchen daunting. I had faith that Susie Fishbein would save me from another year of matzah kugel and leftover brisket -- and not much else.
By altering many of her recipes featured in the original Kosher by Design, Fishbein lives up to expectations -- and then goes beyond. She partners with Kosher caterer Moshe David to put together a book that just may result in Passover food becoming some of the best to grace my table during the entire calendar year. With such goodies as Steamed Thai Sole Rolls and Cranberry Chicken, I'm finding I'm actually looking forward to what used to be a holiday of culinary drudgery.
As with every cookbook, not everything appeals. I don't eat veal, for instance. Yet veal eaters ought to be drooling at the mere thought of the goodies included. Hazelnut- and Honey-Roasted Veal Chop? I'm almost tempted.
One thing unique to Fishbein's cookbooks is that they are aimed at the most pious of chefs. Aware of that, Fishbein marks each recipe as dairy, meat, or parve, Gebrokts, or non-Gebrokts in observance of a long-standing tradition among Ashkenazic Jews.
For us Jews of more modern observance, this emphasis becomes a learning experience. Myself Ashkenazic in heritage, I'd never heard of this Gebrokts before. Neither had my mother, or the women in my book club. After reading about it and mulling over the recipes, I'm still not certain I fully understand it. Yet its inclusion -- as well as the clear markings of what is considered dairy and what is meat -- are surely quite appreciated by the diners who need this information while planning their meals. By appealing to the most strict, the rest of us can easily adapt -- or not. Everyone should be happy.
One item that seems contrary to this is the picture of Sliced Beef with Shittake and Cherry-Brandy Sauce. The meat pictured is rare, apparently a no-no for the Orthodoxy. I'd advise consulting your rabbi if you're unsure, of course. But for those of us for whom rarity isn't an issue of kashrut -- Kosher rules -- this dish, as with all the rest in the book, presents beautifully. It is on my must-make list.
Not all recipes in this book are easy to make. The Salmon Tataki, for instance, is marked as being "not for beginners." Consisting of pureed cauliflower and rolled salmon, I can see where the thinly-sliced daikon radish that surrounds this stacked appetizer would be intimidating to a cook who does not like to fuss.
Yet for those of us who do, I almost felt let down by the instructions to use bottled French dressing or frozen peaches. My husband and I are purists; we'd rather peel our own peaches -- although with fruit, perhaps this isn't an issue of convenience so much as availability.
In short, this book ought to appeal to everyone out there, Jewish or not. While the innovative spiral binding housed inside a hard cover has gone away, Passover by Design is a more sophisticated looking book than the original in the series. That does, however, come at a price: as I passed the book around my book club, the ladies for whom font size is an issue said that while the ingredient list is easy to read, the instructions aren't. Given the level of interest in the book when I announced I had a copy of it, this should be of much concern. Age doesn't diminish a Jew's love of cooking. The book would be better served with a more readable font.All in all, this is one cookbook that anyone who cooks for Jews -- be they family or merely Kosher-keeping friends -- needs to have. Best of all, this is a book that transcends Passover cooking, Jewish cooking, and everything else. Susie Fishbein's Kosher by Design series is one of those sets of cookbooks that you can turn to time and again, night after night, for consistently good food.