Jewish holidays, with the exception of Yom Kippur, are associated with special foods. Jayne Cohen, a cookbook author and food writer, provides cooks with some new ideas for holiday celebrations. She begins with an attempt at defining Jewish food, noting its diversity, and then proceeds with a brief explanation of kashrut and kitchen basics such as stock preparation. Chapters for each of the major holidays — Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, breaking the Yom Kippur fast, Sukkot, Hanukkah, Purim, Passover, and Shavuot — follow. Each begins with an introduction that includes family reminiscences and information about celebrating the holiday. Sample menus and recipes follow. Cohen is a very creative cook. She provides a traditional recipe for something like kasha varnishkes and then turns it into Kasha Varnishkes with fried eggplant, mushrooms, and onion marmalade. Gefilte fish becomes salmon gefilte fish poached in fennel- wine broth with ginger-beet horseradish. Moroccan-flavored carrot kugel and almond challah are other examples of delicious variations that will please anyone lucky enough to be at the table.
This delightful cookbook belongs in public and synagogue culinary collections as well as home kitchens. B’tey avon!
Recipe: Artichoke Soup with Light Herbed Matzoh Balls
Yield: 8 servings
FOR THE SOUP
3 tablespoons mild olive oil
4 medium-large leeks (white and tenderest pale green parts only), washed well, patted dry, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
3 tablespoons chopped shallots
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 chopped garlic cloves
Two 9- or 10-ounce packages frozen artichokes, thawed, patted dry between layers of paper towels, and cut into small pieces
7 to 8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (see pages 62 and 70), or good-quality, low-sodium purchased
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus additional for garnish
3 tablespoons snipped fresh dill, plus additional for garnish
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh mint, plus additional for garnish
FOR THE MATZOH BALLS
4 large eggs, separated
2 teaspoons finely grated onion
2 tablespoons finely snipped fresh chives
3 tablespoons finely snipped fresh dill
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup matzoh meal
Make the soup: In a large nonreactive Dutch oven or lidded casserole, warm the oil. Add the leeks and the shallots, salt and pepper lightly, and sauté, stirring, over medium heat, about 7 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and the artichokes, stir to coat well with the oil, and sauté over medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Add 1 cup of the broth and 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice, cover the pan, and sweat the vegetables over low heat for 10 minutes. Uncover the pan, raise the heat to high, and boil the pan liquid until it is nearly evaporated. Add 6 cups broth, salt and pepper to taste, and simmer over low heat, covered, for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender.
Let the mixture cool slightly. Working in batches, puree about half of the vegetables together with the lemon zest, parsley, dill, and mint in a food processor or blender under fairly smooth.
Return the puree to the pan. If desired, thin the soup with the remaining broth.
Make the matzoh balls: Combine the yolks with the onion, chives, dill, 11⁄2 teaspoons salt, and pepper to taste, and beat very well until thickened. In a separate bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff. Gently fold the whites into the yolk mixture until well combined. Sprinkle with the matzoh meal and gently mix until completely blended in. Let rest 10 to 15 minutes.
Bring a large, wide lidded saucepan of well-salted water to a boil. Lightly form the mixture into walnut-size balls. (A light touch is essential here — perfectly formed, compact little balls will result in dense, heavier matzoh balls.) Place the balls on a platter.
Slide the balls one by one into the water. Avoid crowding the pot — if necessary, cook the matzoh balls in two batches. Cover the pot tightly and reduce the temperature to a slow boil. Cook without removing the cover for 20 minutes. (They need the steam to fluff up properly, and removing the cover will dissipate some of the steam, causing deflation.)
Remove the balls with a skimmer or a slotted spoon, draining off excess water. Place the balls in the soup or set aside, covered with a little broth, until you are ready to use them.
To serve the soup: If the matzoh balls need warming, add them to the soup. Reheat the soup gently and adjust seasonings, adding more salt, pepper, or lemon juice as needed.
Place two matzoh balls in each shallow bowl, and ladle the hot soup over them. Garnish with additional fresh herbs and serve at once.
Jewish Holiday Cooking: A Food Lover’s Classics and Improvisations by Jayne Cohen (John Wiley; 2007; $32.50)