Ess, Ess/Eat, Eat

Jewish World Review Nov. 20, 2002/ 15 Kislev, 5763

Foodbooks: The best reads

By Ethel G. Hofman | Beautifully illustrated with luscious recipes, coffee table cookbooks provide a vicarious thrill for armchair cooks. But slowly and firmly edging into position of best book buys are food books. They may not include recipes but the culinary memoirs, investigative food reporting and mysteries created around food provide a fascinating view into all aspects of the culinary world. Each has strong appeal to cooks and non-cooks alike.

Some of the most exciting, readable food books that have come across my desk:

Between Bites:Memoirs of a Hungry Hedonist by James Villas, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2002, Villas, one of my favorite food writers, traces his passion back to the days when he was awarded a Fulbright grant to study in France. Opting for the University of Grenoble rather than Paris (he was advised by a professor that his chances would be doubled, if he did not apply for Paris), he stumbled into a vibrant, gastronomic adventure which would lead to a lifelong vocation. Believing that every food writer should have some culinary experience and admitting to be "cocky as hell" about his culinary abilities, he enrolled in the advance level at Paris's famous La Varenne cooking school, described in the chapter "Lost in Puff Pastry". His views of life and food, with intimate details of exploits with fellow food lovers are thoroughly unconventional. And the black and white photographs, wit, meticulous detail and Southern charm come together to make this a book you just can't put down.

A Year of Russian Feasts by Catherine Cheremeteff Jones , Jellyroll Press, 2002 This is an insight into Russian hospitality from one who has explored the feasts and daily meals during three years in Moscow. In her introduction Ms. Jones explains that there are actually two views of that country "…the public Russia is typically cold and dark, backward and wary but the private Russia - the Russia of tea at a friend's kitchen table or of sauteed mushrooms in a village dacha - is almost unfailingly cozy and kind." Each of the fifteen chapters gives a detailed word picture reflecting life on every social level ; a Vegetarian Dinner in a Communal Apartment where within a few crowded rooms a family turns a simple visit into a feast for invited and uninvited guests - while happily emptying their pantry in order to make one glorious meal to a Dinner with Well-to-Do Family where no expense is spared and each course is more elaborate than the preceding one. Though some ingredient lists are lengthy, all are easily available. The forty recipes are surprisingly simple and appealing. Written with passion from the heart.

In The Devil's Garden, A Sinful History of Forbidden Food by Stewart Lee Allen, Ballantine Books, 2002 - a wicked, sometimes tongue in cheek, smorgasbord of forbidden foods that have defined cultures all over the world. Seven chapters matching the Seven Deadly Sins include Lust to Pride to Blasphemy to Anger each prefaced with a menu featuring food taboos. Among foods thought to encourage Lust, the tomato (loveapple) has become a popular vegetable but until the 19th century, it was considered evil because of its similarity to the mandrake plant which was believed to be possessed of demonic spirits. The Blasphemy chapter talks about dishes which identified Jewish cooks during the Spanish Inquisition - heretic cuisine. Adafina, a stew which was cooked overnight to avoid cooking on the Sabbath was particularly incriminating. A book crammed with culinary facts and forgotten trivia.

The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten published by Vintage Books Jeffrey Steingarten notes that he trained to become a food writer at such renowned institutions as Harvard Law School, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Harvard lampoon. When he was appointed food critic of Vogue magazine in 1989, he prepared for his new career by systematically learning to like all the food he had previously actively disliked. In a hilarious introduction he describes his program of self-inflicted behaviour modification from eating clams to Indian desserts "with the consistency of face cream." From Vegging Out, (on becoming a vegan) to Going the Whole Hog (Memphis barbecue), each chapter is a winning combination of his obsessiveness, authority and outrageous humor. As a man who ate everything, Steingarten has no food preference, color or song. Included are a few wonderful recipes to drool over but some as in the granitas require an overpriced Hawaiice Ice Scraper , others are long and involved. But you're not buying the book for recipes. The collection of boisterous essays emphasizing good food over an obsession with health is just a jolly great read.

Levana's Table; Kosher Cooking for Everyone by Levana Kirschenbaum, Stewart, Tabori &Chang 2002, Levana Kirschenbaum is a petite bundle of energy who knows all about food. Born and raised in Morocco, she learned how to prepare exotic, tantalizing dishes transferring her culinary talents to open Levana's restaurant on the Upper West Side. Levana's Table contains 150 recipes. Each recipe is on one page and though the photography resembles a coffee table cookbook, the easy to follow directions along with Levana's valuable tips and comments, make this book unusually user-friendly. The exceptional recipes range from traditional to creative contemporary - and just happen to be kosher. A beautiful gift for showers, for a good friend or treat yourself.





Heat the oil in a large nonstick frying pan over high heat. Place the cornmeal in a dish. In another dish mix the coconut milk, eggs, curry, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Lightly roll each fillet first in the cornmeal, shaking off the excess, then in the coconut milk mixture, letting the excess liquid drip back onto the dish.

When the oil starts to sizzle, lower the heat slightly and add the coated fillets; avoid crowding them so as not to lower the temperature. Let thin fillets cook for about 2 minutes each side and thick fillets for about 3 minutes on each side, until golden and crisp. Using a slotted spatula, transfer the fillets to a platter lined with layers of paper towels to absorb any excess oil. Serve hot or at room temperature.




Preheat the broiler or prepare the grill. Combine the onion, garlic, parsley and mint in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Do not let mixture get watery. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the cumin, paprika, cayenne, beef and pepper to taste. Form about 18 logs approximately 1-inch diameter and 4 inches long. Thread onto wet wooden or metal skewers. Broil for 2-3 minutes on each side. Serve hot. allow 2-3 skewers per guest.




Melt butter/margarine in a nonstick saucepan over high heat. Add the kasha and cranberries and saute for 2 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 10-15 minutes or until the kasha is tender. Be careful not to overcook the kasha or it will turn to mush. Let sit 5 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and serve immediately.




Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the potatoes, stirring to mix with the onions, reduce the heat slightly and saute for 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and butter/margarine and continue to saute until the potatoes are tender and golden brown. About every 3 minutes, toss and mix the potatoes and mushrooms with a wide spatula. Add the garlic, paprika, if using, and salt and pepper to taste and continue to cook for 3 minutes. Remove from heat, adjust seasoning and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.

JWR contributor Ethel G. Hofman is the former president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, whose members include the likes of Julia Child. She is the author, most recently, of Everyday Cooking for the Jewish Home: More Than 350 Delectable Recipes.


© 2002, Ethel G. Hofman