Longtime food writer Ronnie Fein’s “The Modern Kosher Kitchen” has quickly become my go-to kosher cookbook for its elegant, delicious recipes that incorporate a wide range of international influences and trends. A regular contributor to The Connecticut Post, Stamford Advocate, and Greenwich Time, Ronnie also writes online for The Jewish Week, Joy of Kosher, Koshereye, as well as her own blog Kitchen Vignettes. She also operates the Ronnie Fein School of Creative Cooking in Stamford, CT.
In the past, kosher / Jewish food was equated with the heavy, high-cholesterol and carb-rich dishes of Ashkenazi Eastern Europe: stuffed cabbage, latkes, kugel, cholent, and borscht, but in recent years the kosher food scene has taken to mirroring current trends and ingredients and adapting them to a kosher kitchen. Alongside updates of traditional favorites (cream of beet soup with pumpernickel crumbs, pistachio and pepper haroset, mashed potato, kale, and feta cheese pancakes), you’ll find seared tuna skewers with wasabi dipping sauce, naan vegetable pizza, harissa-laced roast potatoes, grilled Korean-style shortribs, healthful whole-grain salads (oat groats, farro, quinoa, kamut), mango shooters and fruit soups, and elegant mains (braised lamb with chocolate, roasted salmon with dukkah, garlic, orange and mint, and several inspired roast chicken recipes) perfect for holidays or special occasions.
“Modern Kosher Kitchen” is divided into twelve chapters: appetizers, soups, salads, grains, beans, pasta and vegetarian dishes, fish, meat, poultry, vegetables and side dishes, breakfast, brunch and sandwiches, budget meals, Passover dishes, and desserts. As soon as I received my copy from Ronnie, I immediately flagged all the recipes that appealed to me, which was nearly the entire book! As a longtime vegetarian, I appreciated that an entire chapter of vegetarian ideas was included. There’s also a chapter of budget-friendly ideas and ways to make the most out of items already in your pantry. Ronnie recommends keeping the following pantry staples on hand:
Canned beans (white, black, and chickpeas) and packaged lentils
Stock: vegetable, beef, and chicken
Whole grains: rice, brown rice, freekeh, farro, quinoa
Sweeteners: honey, maple syrup
Chocolate: unsweetened and semi-sweet or bittersweet
Pasta: spaghetti, rice noodles
Vinegar: red and white wine vinegars, apple cider vinegar
Canned coconut milk
Dried fruit: cranberries, raisins, apricots
Recipes that I flagged to try included the naan vegetable pizza, cream of beet soup with pumpernickel crumbles, kale, avocado, and farro salad with marcona almonds, roasted beet and squash salad with citrus and herbs, farro pilaf with squash, edamame, and pumpkin seeds, roasted salmon with dukkah, orange, garlic and mint, mashed potato, kale, and feta cheese pancakes, haroset with pistachios and pepper, and lemon oatmeal cookies.
I started by making several of the included salads, including the baby greens with dried figs, pears, and goat cheese, and loved the many grain-based salads in particular. I also loved the cream of beet soup as my Polish grandmother used to make borscht, but I had never tried making it on my own before. The roasted beets pair extremely well with the tart apple and spices, making this a perfect warming dish for a chilly fall day. The vegetarian chapter includes some truly unique creations like chicken-fried portobello steak and chive eggs, roasted tomatoes with goat cheese and thyme, roasted cauliflower steaks, and black bean cakes with caramelized onions, peppers, and cheese, along with quick and easy protein-packed ideas.
For those who eat seafood, there are some lovely ideas for salmon, halibut, tilapia, and char given an international makeover in the form of curry, a Cajun fried fish sandwich, lemon and rosemary, and a Middle Eastern makeover with dukkah, orange, mint and garlic. As I had some Trader Joe’s dukkah on hand, I used that for the breading, as well as Meyer lemon, and the resulting fish was moist, delicately spiced, and a definite crowd-pleaser. Meat dishes include veal, lamb, beef, chicken, Cornish hens and turkey.
The gorgeous photography by Glenn Scott will inspire you to whip up your own elegant platings, whether for a simple weeknight dinner or a special occasion or holiday. The Modern Kosher Kitchen is a cookbook that all levels of home cooks will enjoy whether or not you keep kosher; inside is a wealth of creative recipes that embrace whole grains, seasonal produce, and plenty of vegetarian-friendly ideas as well. Highly recommended!