jewish cooking

Modern Jewish Baker by Shannon Sarna


When I got Shannon Sarna’s new book, Modern Jewish Baker, I wanted to run into the kitchen and start baking. It’s that kind of book – based on a few beloved, classic, Jewish bakery basics (challah, bagels, babka and so on) plus an amazing number of inventive variations that sound too seriously compelling to miss.

Exactly my kind of cooking.

One problem. I have to lose weight and get my glucose at normal levels before my doctor’s appointment next month.

OY! Which of these fabulous bakery items should I make and still be on the straight and narrow path until the doctor thing is over?

Challah was out because, ok, I had tasted Shannon’s pull-apart spinach-cheese version at the book launch party and had to stop myself from eating more only because it would have been rude and gluttonous not to leave some for the other guests.

Bagels? No way, because then I’d eat a couple of those fat, crispy-crusted, puffy-inside things, load them with cream cheese and lox and then have to promise to start my diet “tomorrow.”

Rugelach or babka? Tell me the truth -- could you eat just one piece?

Me either. I had several samples at that launch party and – see above for thoughts on my ability to control myself if I had this stuff in my kitchen.

So it was down to either matzo or pita.

I chose pita because matzo means butter. Lots of it, or matzo brei loaded with sour cream, so, no.

Pita it was, because then I could have it with the hummus I could make with the recipe from the book and that’s healthy, right? Also, how much pita can one person eat? It's plain old bread, no chocolate or cheese or other extras.

Believe it or not, one person can actually eat quite a bit of plain old pita when it’s this good. Plus, it is really a thrill to see those yeasty rounds come out of the oven and actually look like packaged pita! (But taste much fresher and better). I felt like a triumphant teenager who had baked her first cake. Who knew you can make pita at home?! I’ve been at this cooking thing for years and years and never did it before.

But I will again! This stuff is not only tasty, but fun to make.

And the hummus was quite good too!

I’ll start the diet tomorrow.

This book is a winner.

Bonus recipe from the book -- Classic Hummus (Modern Jewish Baker):

  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and shells removed
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 whole garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup olive oil plus additional for serving
  • 2-3 tablespoons water
  • Paprika (optional), for garnish
  • Za'atar (optional), for garnish

Place chickpeas, tahini, cumin, salt and garlic cloves in a food processor fitted with a blade attachment. Puree for 30 seconds. Add olive oil and process until smooth. Add water one tablespoon at a time until desired smoothness. Spoon onto plate or into a bowl. Top with paprika or za'atar and an extra drizzle of olive oil for serving.

Can be kept in an airtight container for 5-7 days in the refrigerator.

Makes 4-6 servings



Grilled Ginger-Lemon Chicken Wings

They say that chicken soup is a cure for all ills, the “Jewish penicillin” that magically works to make you feel better. And studies have shown that hot soup actually can help you get over a cold quickly.

But some health issues are not so easily remedied. Like cancer and the effects of radiation and chemotherapy, which, unfortunately, a colleague of mine in the food writing world is facing now.

He is Gil Marks, renowned authority on Jewish cooking and food history, author of 5 cookbooks, founding editor of Kosher Gourmet Magazine and award-winner many times over, including a James Beard Foundation award for his book Olive Trees and Honey.

I have — and use — all his books.

I don’t know Gil personally but he is a giant in the world of Jewish and kosher cooking and I wish him well.

While I realize that no food is magic, I know that sometimes it can be a comfort, if not a cure. 

So what kinds of foods are comforting? What helps when you’re feeling ill, needy, upset, insecure, frightened?

Well, I suppose we all have our own list. For me, it’s chicken wings.

Chicken wings because when I am in need of comfort I want my mother and father, but I don’t have them anymore. So I remember that in the days before chicken parts were so readily available, my mother always gave me the wings from the whole chicken because she thought the wings were the tastiest, most tender part and that the children should have them. And I remember that my Dad, who would have loved to eat the wings, sacrificed them for his kids.

Chicken wings are like a gift of love and generosity from my parents. Treasured memories that I take comfort in when I need comfort.

Chicken wings, my favorite blanket, a good book and my specs. These help.

Wishing you well, Gil.    

Grilled Ginger-Lemon Chicken Wings

  • 18 chicken wings
  • 1/2 cup ginger preserves or marmalade, chopped if the pieces are large
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 medium scallions, chopped
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • pinch or two cayenne pepper
  • salt to taste

Preheat the oven broiler. Wipe the chicken wings dry and set them aside on a broiler pan, top side down. In a bowl, mix together the ginger preserves, lemon juice, scallions, garlic, lemon peel, coriander, cayenne pepper and salt. Brush the surface of each wing with some of the ginger mixture. Broil for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned and crispy. Remove the pan from the oven and turn the wings over. Brush with the remaining ginger mixture. Broil for another 10 minutes or until browned and crispy. Makes 18

NOTE: you can prepare these on an outdoor grill

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