Monday, February 26, 2018

The Healthy Jewish Kitchen by Paula Shoyer

This cookbook was generously provided by Sterling Epicure. 
The review and opinions expressed below are completely my own.

Beginning last Spring, we made a determined effort to start eating better. This goal took shape in a variety of ways, from actually creating a weekly menu (instead of getting home after a long day and resorting to easy snacks and frozen options) as well as really paying attention to portions. When I heard that Paula Shoyer, The Kosher Baker, was coming out with a healthy cookbook, I was immediately eager for the release date! While we’ve found ways to be creative with sides and mains, dessert has remained a challenge and knowing Paula was releasing The Healthy Jewish Kitchen, elicited much excitement!

Throughout the book, Paula uses natural ingredients with a contemporary spin. It’s not about adhering to one type of diet or another, it’s about wellness and creating a healthy kitchen. There’s no pressure and as Paula herself says, “this book is a way for you to start eating better.” I was personally happy to read that she still enjoys baked goods and restaurants on her travels and isn’t preaching ridding our menus of all treats! Rather, she stresses that “good nutrition is all about balance and finding a way to introduce into your diet more and more healthful food as often as possible.” Yes, you’ll still find sugar and flour in these recipes, but it was Paula’s goal to avoid sweeteners or anything artificial and when called for, use less than 1 cup of sugar or honey where possible. It’s a new experience to open up a kosher cookbook and not find puff pastry, margarine, stocks and jarred sauces! The recipes within, from ingredients to prep, truly reflect and embody the title of the book and guide you on your way to creating and maintaining a Healthy Jewish Kitchen!

The book is comprised of such a great variety, that there really is something for everyone! There are plenty of Gluten Free (and Pesach-friendly) recipes, as well as, Dairy Free and Vegan options, allowing this cookbook to appeal to a wide array of diets and dietary restrictions. On that note, the recipes also reflect Sephardic and Ashkenazi customs, as well as those of American and International cultures. This sounds like a lot to have in one book, but it’s done thoughtfully and well! You’ll find recipes for Dal Curry (page 76), Feijoada (Brazilian Chulent with Collard Greens and Farofa) (page 58), Pasta Siciliana (page 65) and more!

There are quite a few considerate touches here and there that help to make creating a healthy kitchen and lifestyle that much more attainable. The section comprised of menu suggestions is a great way to easily find the perfect healthy dish to add to your meal planning, whether it be for a holiday, Shabbos or a casual BBQ! Even picking just one option from her suggestions - swapping out a dip or side for a healthier version, is a great way to approach these new eating habits in a more accessible way. I’m not ready to radically change my Thanksgiving menu, but maybe this year, trading the fresh buns for a fresh Rosemary Focaccia instead seems doable (and delicious!). There’s also information regarding meal planning and, truthfully, on our journey to healthier eating, I personally feel that meal planning has played the most significant role. When you plan ahead and buy ingredients you need to cook specific (healthier) meals, the likelihood of having less healthy options available significantly decreases.

The recipes themselves are approachable and can easily be substituted into your regular menus to make the transition to eating better a little easier. They're recipes you’re familiar with so the leap isn’t as great! Healthy eating doesn’t have to mean veggies and bland main dishes. There’s Coq au Vin Blanc (page 51), Brisket Bourguignon (page 56), Fish Tacos with Cilantro Lime Rice (page 68) and more! Next for sure on my list to make is the French Onion Soup with Flanken (page 38)! The Desserts and Breads (BREADS!) section blew me away! Caramelized Apple Strudel (page 123), 3 different types of Challah, scones, rugelach and more! Everything is accessible and with the swapping in of healthier ingredients, they are all great additions to top off a great meal! And when it comes to the ingredients themselves, they’re all readily available at your local supermarket and are fresh, and as natural and unprocessed as possible! If you’re hesitant about stocking your pantry with new ingredients you’re not sure you’re ready to commit to, there are plenty of options for substitutions or alternatives. For instance, there are a variety of oils used within different recipes, but more often than not options to use alternatives are available, so you don’t need to stock up on a ton of different varieties right away to successfully cook through the book. The little boxes added to the bottom of each page add additional information from background on ingredients (e.g. a history of sumac added to the Chopped Salad with Lemon and Sumac Dressing recipe) or food prep instructions (chopping onions, cleaning brussel sprouts etc!) and are also relevant to recipes elsewhere! Instructions are broken down into manageable, easy steps. The pages are very clear and straightforward. I love the addition of the “Prep Time,” “Cook Time,” “Advance Prep,” and “Equipment” designations that proceed each recipe, providing a quick summary of what lays ahead and what you need to have on hand, before even having to read through the recipe. It’s a thoughtful and significant addition! The short intro to each recipe provides background and a personalised touch while not being distracting or taking precedence away from the rest of the page and the recipe itself. The servings and dietary designation (gluten free, etc.) is also available clearly and from the beginning, right below the title. Additionally, the photography is crisp and clear, showcasing the dishes beautifully, realistically and in a manner that is attainable to the average home cook!

Naturally when I started looking for recipes to test out, the dessert section is where I turned to first. In other healthy cookbooks, the dessert section is frequently lacking. In The Healthy Jewish Kitchen, you’re presented with recipes for desserts you want to eat, that are still sweet and still considered treats! With Purim quickly approaching, I couldn’t resist testing out the Pumpkin Hamantashen (page 110). It’s honestly the best Hamantashen dough I’ve ever made! The consistency was incredible and it barely required any effort to assemble and hold together. For the first time ever, I took a tray of Hamantashen out of the oven and not a single one had opened! The flavour was slightly more savoury than sweet, resembling a mini pumpkin pie in a perfect dough also bearing a subtle pumpkin flavour. It’s an ideal cross between crunchy and soft and holds together beautifully, not crumbling apart at all! My husband, who isn’t the biggest fan of pumpkin, even enjoyed it, saying he wouldn’t mind them at our seudah!! Even my youngest tried one and responded with a, “yummy!” before resuming his search for the chocolate filled ones he’s become accustomed to!

We also tried the Crudites With Red Pepper Tahini (page 5). It was very easy to make and the flavours blended together seamlessly, really complementing each other well. It would be a great fit with our other Shabbos dips and appetizers, and I could also easily include it in a lunch or snack menu for the week with fresh veggies and whole wheat crackers! I love that the recipes are straightforward enough that you feel motivated to try them out, and versatile enough that they can be added to your menu planning for so many different meals, that it helps to make eating better throughout the day that much more attainable!

Overall, it's a really great book if you're looking to start creating a healthier kitchen and home stocked with fresh ingredients, with dishes that are contemporary and so full of flavour and creativity that you're inspired to maintain a lifestyle geared towards wellness and nutrition!

As a special treat, Sterling Epicure has generously given us one copy to giveaway! In order to enter, visit our Instagram page and check out the giveaway post! For a bonus entry, leave a comment sharing your favourite healthy eating tip!
The contest is open to US entrants (the cookbook will only be shipped to a US address). The contest will run from Monday, February 26th to Thursday, March 1st, 2018 at 8:00PM EST, when 1 (one) winner will be chosen. No purchase necessary. Paula Shoyer's The Healthy Jewish Kitchen will be shipped directly to the US address, Itsy Bitsy Balebusta assumes no responsibility for shipping. The winner will have 24 hours to respond before there is a re-draw for the prize. Good luck!

Pumpkin Hamantashen (p. 110 The Healthy Jewish Kitchen, Paula Shoyer, 2017, Sterling Epicure)
Shared with Permission
Makes 3 Dozen Cookies || Pareve

3 large eggs
1 cup (200g) sugar
½ cup (120g) sunflower, safflower or canola oil
½ cup (113g) pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 ¾ cup (220g) all-purpose four, plus extra for dusting
1 ¼ cups (163g) whole-wheat flour
Dash salt

1 cup (225g) pumpkin puree
¼ cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1 large egg yolk

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to mix together the eggs, sugar, oil, pumpkin puree, and vanilla and mix well. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, and salt and mix until the dough comes together. Form the dough into a round, then cover it with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for 1 hour or overnight to firm up.

Prepare the filling. In a medium bowl, place the pumpkin puree, light brown sugar, cinnamon, maple syrup, and egg yolk and mix well. Cover and refrigerate until ready to roll out the dough.

Preheat the oven to 375F (190C). Line 2 or 3 cookie sheets or jelly roll pans with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Divide the dough in half.

Cut off 2 pieces of parchment paper and sprinkle all-purpose flour on one. Place a dough half on top of the parchment paper, then sprinkle flour on top of the dough. Place the second piece of parchment paper on top of the dough and, using a rolling pin, roll over the top of the parchment paper. Roll out the dough until it is about ¼ inch (6mm) thick. After every few rolls, peel back the top parchment and sprinkle a little more flour on the dough. Once or twice, flip over the parchment-dough “package” and peel off the bottom parchment. Sprinkle a little flour on top of the dough, place the parchment back on top, and then flip it over.

Lift off the top parchment. Using a small drinking glass or a round cookie cutter, cut the dough into circles. Using a long metal flat-blade spatula to lift the cookie circles and place them on a piece of parchment paper sprinkled with a little flour. Place ¾ to 1 teaspoon of filling in the center of each dough circle, and then fold in the three sides toward the middle to form a triangle, leaving a small opening in the center. Pinch the three sides together very tightly. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets. Repeat the process with the remaining dough. Roll and cut any extra dough scraps, making sure to sprinkle a little flour under and over the dough before you roll it out.

Bake the cookies for 14 minutes, or until they are lightly browned. These cookies taste best when they are crunchy. Slide the parchment and cookies onto wire cooling racks.