“The Healthy Jewish kitchen: Fresh, Contemporary recipes for Every Occasion,” by Paula Shoyer.
If you made a resolution to eat healthier in 2020, you may wonder if you can still enjoy your favorite Jewish foods.
“Healthy” might not be the first word that comes to mind when thinking about Jewish cooking. Traditional dishes such as chopped liver, noodle kugel or challah with a generous portion of schmaltz come from a time before “cholesterol” and “fat” became bad words.
“The Healthy Jewish kitchen” has recipes for some traditional dishes updated with healthier ingredients, as well as more contemporary options that are influenced by the increased interest in ethnic foods and the creative use of spices and flavorings.
Shoyer has written and edited other Jewish cookbooks. Feeling that traditional Jewish cooking still uses too much sugar, salt, and commercially prepared ingredients, she wanted to create recipes that increased healthy ingredients and cut down on those that are not.
She does say that when her “taste testers” had a complaint, it was usually that a dish needed more salt. She chose not to increase the salt content in the recipes, so, those who have any health issues related to salt consumption should be able to enjoy the recipes as they are, and those who do not have a problem with salt can always add more either to the whole recipe, or on their plates.
The chapters are arranged by courses, such as soups and side dishes, and there are separate chapters for main dishes with meat or poultry and those without. A section of menu suggestions lists dishes for various Jewish and secular holidays such as Rosh Hashanah, Passover, Thanksgiving, and a barbecue. Most recipes include a color photograph which gives an idea of how the dish should turn out, as well as ideas for presentation on the plate.
For those who prefer traditional flavors but would like to make healthier versions, there are many options provided. Cabbage stuffed with ground turkey rather than beef lowers the amount of fat. Split pea soup of course omits ham, using pink beans to add color, and is thickened with pearled barley. Chicken noodle soup is updated with the Vietnamese flavors of cilantro and ginger, with your choice of hot chili sauce added as an option if you have developed a taste for spicy foods. Chicken schnitzel is baked rather than fried, and has a crunchy crust provided by nuts instead of breading. The black bean chili recipe can be made as either vegan or dairy, depending on whether you include cheese as a topping. Peas and carrots are given a whole new look by serving the carrots grilled whole, and the peas pureed with herbs as a dipping sauce.
Now that ethnic foods are readily available in restaurants and the grocery, many people have developed a taste for more adventurous cooking. It is not hard to create contemporary flavors while also keeping kosher. Cambodian spring rolls are pareve, wrapped in lettuce and filled with crunchy peanut butter, shredded carrots, herbs, and greens. If you are fond of sushi, salmon and avocado tartare is an elegant appetizer, seasoned with scallions and lime.
A Spanish-inspired entree is chicken with brown rice and salsa verde, pan-fried with water rather than oil. One of the most creative offerings is feijoada, a Brazilian take on cholent. The original peasant dish features inexpensive cuts of pork, but this variation uses beef and veal on the bone, slow-cooked in a Dutch oven with bay, celery, and onion. Dal curry is a good choice for those who enjoy Indian food, and bibimbap with tofu is a pareve version of this popular Korean dish.
A few of the updated baked goods include gluten-free challah, whole wheat onion challah, and pumpkin hamantaschen. For desserts, the author has reduced sugar by bumping up the flavor with other ingredients, using whole grain flours, and substituting coconut or olive oil instead of margarine or large amounts of butter. She also does not use any non-dairy creamers or commercial puff pastry. Caramelized apple strudel, spelt chocolate babka, or chocolate rugelach should still satisfy the desire for a sweet ending to a meal.
Each recipe begins with a summary of time involved, equipment needed, and whether the dish is gluten-free or pareve. Some are quite simple, such as charred cauliflower with orange vinaigrette. Others are for more experienced cooks who keep a variety of equipment and ingredients on hand. There is also a detailed index by recipe, subject, and ingredient, making it easy to find recipes to meet your needs for specific ingredients that you enjoy or have on hand. Whether you are looking for new, creative recipes, updated old favorites, or, just some ideas to make your own family recipes more healthy, the content of this cookbook is easy to use and attractive to look at.