Sunday, April 27, 2014

Recent French Cookbooks

We have been blessed recently with new cookbooks from David Lebovitz and Patricia Wells, which I have read. While neither is comprehensive like Dorie Greenspan's spectacular Around My French Table or Jacques Pépin's Essential Pépin, they are welcome additions to my cookbook shelf.

David Lebovitz, My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories

Lebovitz started out at Chez Panisse in the late 80s and most of the 90s, and the training he got there shows. He subsequently wrote Ready for Dessert and The Perfect Scoop, the latter of which is my ice cream bible. He has a spectacular blog, where he writes about Paris, where he has lived for ten years, and his travels in France and elsewhere. He also writes about all aspects of food, from sourcing it at Paris' great markets and specialty stores, to cooking, and his recipes are nearly always excellent.

My Paris Kitchen is a wonderful book. First, it has great recipes, which Lebovitz has culled from French classics with his own insights and changes. The introductions to the recipes, giving histories of where he found them as well as possible variations, are very useful, as well as entertaining. I have made only a couple of the recipes -- Artichoke Tapenade with Rosemary Oil and French Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese and Walnuts -- with excellent results, and I have checked off about 60% of the rest as "must tries." This is a very high percentage for me. The recipes are clearly expressed and a special bonus is that they are given with metric weights. I wish all cookbooks would do this, as it takes the guesswork out of many aspects of cooking, especially baking.

Second, the photography, by Ed Anderson, is magnificent. Not just beautiful, but also helpful to the home cook, showing beautiful ways to present the dishes.

Finally, the book offers Lebovitz's insights about France, Paris and cooking in general. He has a style that I find a bit precious but nevertheless is clear and informative. It was Lebovitz who, in a different book, taught me to say Bonjour! upon entering any store -- even a stall at a flea market or at a food market -- and that has stood me in good stead over the years. His new book says that the French consider it bad manners to be less than 20 minutes late when invited to dinner; I plan to investigate this but I suspect it's true.

A must have!

Patricia Wells, The French Kitchen Cookbook

Wells has been writing cookbooks for decades and some of my copies are pretty dog-eared, especially Bistro Cooking and Trattoria. I have also used The Paris Cookbook, Patricia Wells at Home in Provence and Simply French. She also teaches, and has learned to simplify, and her new cookbook is noteworthy for the non-intimidating presentation of a lot of updated French standards as well as recipes from elsewhere in Europe (a classic Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe, for example) and from Asia (Asian Coleslaw with Sesame Soy Dressing, Shrimp in Spicy Coconut Broth, among many others).

The recipes are clearly expressed and, like Lebovitz's, give metric measurements.  I haven't actually cooked from this book yet, but plan to do so, probably often.

Patricia Wells, The Food Lover's Guide to Paris

Wells has lived in Paris forever, and knows the city amazingly well. She has finally gotten around to revising her classic book on where to eat and shop for food, kitchen equipment and related items, and this is welcome news. The fourth edition was my go-to book when we bought an apartment in Paris in 2001, and enriched our Paris culinary experience immeasurably. The new edition has been thoroughly revised, and I am eager to get back to Paris to start using it. The restaurants and bistros listed are often ones that I have never heard of, but I trust her and with her help will seek out new adventures.

An essential for food lovers en route to Paris!

Bobby Jay

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Passover 2014 - Sephardic Seder

Our family's Seder was last night, a few days late to accommodate family from the DC and Boston areas. Last year I became interested in Sephardic cooking and decided to make a Sephardic Seder for Passover 2014. This tradition is quite different from the Eastern European Ashenizi for many reasons, but the most salient is that rice and lentils and other legumes are permitted during Passover.

Based on the comments of the family, it was a success. I was particularly proud of the Persian rice, one of the world's best dishes, which I nailed: a thick dark crust on the bottom with fluffy basmati rice on top.

Some of the prettiest dishes are pictured below.

Burnt eggplant with tahini and pomegranate seeds
Persian rice - one of my favorite foods - with edamame and dill
I started planning soon after last year's Seder and eventually arrived at the following menu, based on searches through books on Jewish, Turkish, Persian, Syrian and Moroccan food, as well as relevant web sites:

2014 Passover Menu


Charred eggplant (Ottolenghi Plenty)
Artichoke tapenade (David Lebovitz, My Paris Kitchen)
Dried fava bean hummus (adapted from Roden, The Book of Jewish food)
Lemon scented meatballs (Batali,
Gefilte fish bites from Citarella with Ina’s homemade horseradish


Bordeaux style haroset (Joan Nathan, My Search for Jewish Food in France)
Watercress and chickpea soup (Ottolenghi, Jerusalem)
Turkish shredded zucchini pie (Abadi,
Dja'jeh Zetoon b'Limoneh (Chicken with Lemon and Olives) (Abadi, Fistful of Lentils)
Persian Rice (Abadi, cooking lesson) with edamame and dill (Shafia, The New Persian Kitchen)
Lamb tagine (Atelier des Chefs cooking lesson)


Flourless orange cake (Clotilde,
Cardamom rice pudding (Ottolenghi, Jerusalem)
Sesame halvah (Dweck, Aromas of Aleppo)
Cousin Vicki’s assorted cookies and bars
Artichoke tapenade with basil oil
Lamb tagine and chicken with lemon and olives
Shredded zucchini pie and Persian rice with edamame and dill
The Sephardic Jews, who were expelled from Spain in 1492, settled around the Mediterranean Sea, largely in Turkey and Greece, and throughout the Middle East (via Morocco). Countries represented in our Seder menu included Syria (chicken and halvah), Turkey (zucchini pie), Morocco (lamb tagine, fava bean hummus), Persia (rice and edamame and dill), France (haroset, artichoke tapenade), Italy (veal meatballs), Spain and the Middle East generally (charred eggplant, watercress and chickpea soup, rice pudding).

There is some controversy about the flourless orange cake, which does use baking powder. Perhaps surprisingly, the bulk of rabbinical opinion seems to be that baking powder can be Kosher for Passover if it is made with potato starch rather than forbidden corn starch. Since we were going Sephardic, where corn is permitted, I used the ordinary stuff, but this is a matter of choice.

There is a downside to an all-Sephardic Seder, which is that certain classics are excluded, the most significant of which is matzoh ball soup. My sister-in-law's is the best (both the broth and the balls) so next year, while we will probably stay Sephardic, we will be making an exception for her soup. After all, what good are rules if they deprive you of great food?

Bobby Jay