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Cookbook mixes recipes, history

NEW YORK, March 27 (JTA) — With all the kosher cookbooks crowding kitchen shelves, why buy another volume on Jewish cuisine? As Hadassah volunteers can attest from the spreads they provide at meetings, Jews do not live by challah and pita bread alone. It’s no secret that the Children of Israel, whether they prepare dinner themselves or order it by phone, never get enough of dishes reminding them of a beloved grandmother who kept tradition alive with her tzimmes, kneidlach, hummus or baklava. The newly published “The Hadassah Jewish Holiday Cookbook” (Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, Inc.) showcases 250 international recipes, paying homage to both Sephardi and Ashkenazi cuisine. The book is a coffee table-sized volume loaded with luscious photographs and recipes of everything from apple strudel to zucchini potato pancakes, all contributed by Hadassah volunteers. Some dishes are spectacularly creative, such as the Hannukkah Gelt Chocolate Fudge Cake, covered with bittersweet chocolate frosting and decorated galore with gelt wrapped in gold foil. Unlike most Jewish recipe collections, which dedicate one holiday per chapter, the new Hadassah cookbook groups holidays by season, giving a fresh perspective to the cycle of Jewish celebrations. The book opens with a chapter on the Queen of Jewish holidays, “Shabbat,” and offers an enticing array of recipes for fish, soup, challah and cholent (the slow-simmering Sabbath stews prepared in advance so a hot meal can be eaten for Saturday lunch). Joan Nathan introduces “Simchas,” the book’s final chapter on celebrations, such as weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. With seven cookbooks to her credit, including “Jewish Cooking in America” (Alfred A. Knopf), Nathan’s words capture the Jewish spirit: “Nearly every event in our family seems to revolve around food. After all, isn’t that what a simcha is all about?” Most recipes that are not household names, such as kuftellis (Romanian meatballs), come with English explanations, others such as basbouza, matbucha, and kolaches would have benefitted from similar treatment. Chapters begin with personal essays contributed by renowned food writers. Among them are “High Holidays by the Nile,” by Claudia Roden, author of “The Book of Jewish Food, An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York” (Alfred A. Knopf), and “Hannukkah-Fry, Fry, Again,” by Steven Raichlen, author of “Healthy Jewish Cooking” (Viking). Edda Servi Machlin, who wrote “The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews” Volumes I and II (Giro Press), recalls Passovers from long ago in the ancient Tuscan ghetto of Pitigliano, a center of Jewish life going back 2,000 years. “Every dish, glass or piece of flatware was first dipped in a mud-like mixture of boiling water and ashes from the stove, then washed in soap and water, and finally rinsed in clear running water,” Machlin wrote, explaining that her Sephardi family used their table service year round. The custom of owning a second set of dishes for Passover belongs to Ashkenazi tradition. As a child, she watched the scrubbing of drawers and cabinets, which were later lined with fresh tissue paper. Most amazing of all — house painters arrived to whitewash walls in every room before coating them with pastel paint. Matzah was baked in a kosher community oven located in an underground cave. The finished product is pictured in the cookbook and looks like a delicate lace doily, quite a contrast to square pieces of matzah boxed in cardboard or rustic rounds of shmura matzah that Americans are accustomed to. Sadly the Holocaust changed Machlin’s life forever. “These memories of a lost and irreplaceable world will always remain dear to me,” she wrote. Like her, many American Jews long for their homelands and others seek family recipes misplaced over time. For this reason, Hadassah’s comprehensive collection of recipes is a timely contribution to the history of kosher cuisine. “The Hadassah Jewish Holiday Cookbook” is sprinkled with sidebars, explaining the Jewish connection to recipe ingredients, along with nutritional information. Beside a recipe for halek, Iraqi charoset made from dates, you learn that dates were said to be fashioned from earth left from Adam’s creation. At 120 calories for five to six dates, this sweet fruit is potassium rich, but contains no sodium, fat or cholesterol. The book features dozens of practical tips. Who knew that three sheets of broken matzah equals two cups, or that during Passover, to convert any recipe calling for flour, you can mix two tablespoons of matzah cake meal with six tablespoons of potato starch and get the equivalent of a half cup of flour? Among this wealth of information are family stories from Hadassah volunteers, who add their voices to the American Jewish experience. “The year was 1938. Grandfather had a large grist mill in Durham, Pennsylvania, and his flour was always in demand,” wrote Lorretta Deysher, explaining how her grandfather traveled to New York for business. “The rabbis were Grandfather’s special customers and they ordered his special wheat.” Although Hadassah chapters and volunteers receive credit for recipes, these family accounts are so fascinating that the book would have benefitted from presenting more anecdotes. Like every great meal, “The Hadassah Jewish Holiday Cookbook” leaves you deliriously satisfied, but wanting more.SEDER RECIPES & SURE-FIRE TIPSFrom The Hadassah Jewish Holiday CookbookVEGETARIAN CHOPPED LIVER3 Tbsp. unsalted margarine1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms1 cup chopped onions3 hard-cooked eggs1/4 pound walnuts1 tsp. salt1/4 tsp. freshly ground white pepperLettuce leaves and tomato wedges for garnish1. In a large skillet, melt margarine over low heat. Add mushrooms and onions and saute until onions are golden.2. Pass mushrooms, onions, hard-cooked eggs and walnuts through a grinder or chop very fine in a chopping bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Chill thoroughly. Serve on lettuce leaves and garnish with tomato wedges.Serves 6TIP: 1 pound of walnuts equals 3 1/2 cups choppedEllyn Kessler, Lylah Hadassah, Pinellas County, Fla.SALONIKA CHICKEN WITH PRUNES1/4 cup olive oil3-pound chicken, cut in serving piecesSalt and freshly ground pepper to taste2 medium onions, diced3 cloves garlic, minced8-ounce can tomato puree1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon 1 small bunch parsley1/4 tsp. cayenne25 pitted prunesGreek olives (optional)1/2 cup red wine1 cup chicken stock, or as needed1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.2. Heat 3 Tbsp. oil in large heavy frying pan. Season chicken with salt and pepper and fry until browned. Transfer to a large pot.3. Saute onions and garlic in remaining 1 Tbsp. oil until transparent. Add tomato puree, cinnamon, parsley, cayenne, prunes and olives. Simmer until thick, then add red wine. Pour over chicken and add the stock.4. Bake about 1 hour, until chicken is very tender.Serves 4-6By Yvonne Waynik, Fairfield Hadassah, Conn.TIP: This dish is better when cooked in advance and reheated before serving, giving the flavors a chance to marry.LEMON SQUARES1/2 cup unsalted butter3/4 cup cake meal1 1/2 cups sugar, divided2 eggs2 Tbsp. potato starch3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 8-inch square pan with foil, leaving 1 inch extended over sides. Grease bottom and sides of foil.2. Combine butter, cake meal and 1/2 cup sugar. Press into prepared pan. Bake 20 minutes and remove from oven.3. Beat eggs, remaining cup sugar, potato starch and lemon juice, and pour over crust. Return to oven and bake 20 to 25 minutes.4. Let cool and cut into squares.Makes 16 squaresBy Ellen Raboy, Shira Hadassah, Port Chester, N.Y.TIP: Recipe may be doubled and baked in a 13 X 9 inch pan.