Good Shabbos, Shabbat Shalom! In Leah Koenig’s new book, The Little Book of Jewish Appetizers (Chronicle Books), there are more than 25 inspired, modern appetizers that draw from global Jewish influences. From nibbles and salads to dips and meatballs, this lovely, informative resource includes vibrant photographs and helpful sidebars that feature tips on how to build a Jewish cheese plate, what foods to buy rather than make, and much more. But don’t expect reverence—with a wink and a nod to classic Jewish dishes, borscht has been reinvented as crostini, and gefilte fish is cleverly crisped into fritters (see recipe, below). Dainty in size but mighty in delicious recipes, this pint-sized volume of small bites is a treasure for those who love to nosh.
Leah Koenig was a vegetarian for 10 years, so she always makes sure that her meat-free friends are covered in her cookbooks. Although she’s not a vegetarian anymore, Leah still craves creamy dips and spreads, vibrant salads, briny pickles, and small fried bites the most.
The Little Book of Jewish Appetizers is the first in a three-part series of elegant little books exploring Jewish culinary traditions. It makes a perfect hostess gift or self-treat. For her second book in the series, Koenig plans to feature the very best main dishes for the Jewish holidays and the Shabbat table. In her third book, she plans to share both savory and sweet baking.
Leah Koenig is a food writer and also the author of Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes and Customs for Today’s Kitchen. Discover her secrets for heavenly hamantaschen here: https://thecjn.ca/food/shabbat-table-heavenly-hamantaschen.
Koenig’s work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Saveur, Gastronomica, Modern Farmer, Food Arts, CHOW, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Tablet, and The Jewish Daily Forward. Her first cookbook, The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook: Daily Meals for the Contemporary Jewish Kitchen, was named one of the Best Books of 2011 by Library Journal. Leah lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband Yoshie Fruchter, and leads cooking demonstrations around the country. Visit her website at www.leahkoening.com.
Here are a couple of Leah’s scrumptious appetizers to serve on Shabbat—or any time at all!
Reprinted with permission from Little Book of Jewish Appetizers by Leah Koenig, copyright (c) 2017. Published by Chronicle Books.
VEGETARIAN CHOPPED LIVER WITH SHALLOTS
Serves 8 to 10
Chopped chicken liver (gehakte leber in Yiddish) was so iconic and central to the Eastern European Jewish diet that American Jews crafted a way to eat it with dairy as well as meat meals. The meatless version, known as either vegetarian chopped liver or mock chopped liver, rose to prominence in the scores of dairy restaurants that once slung blintzes, cheesecake, and borscht with sour cream on New York City’s Lower East Side.
According to Arthur Schwartz’s Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisited, mid-20th-century vegetarian “liver” recipes were made with canned peas or canned string beans mashed up, flavored with copious amounts of fried onions, and thickened with ground walnuts and Manischewitz Tam Tams crackers. The version at the most famous New York City kosher dairy restaurant, Ratner’s, used ground-up cooked lentils to reach a faux-meaty texture and taste, and contained a secret ingredient: a spoonful of peanut butter!
Leah Koenig prefers to start with hearty kidney beans and amp them up with several umami-packed additions, like cremini mushrooms and sautéed shallots. A few hard-boiled eggs whirred into the food processor add richness to the creamy bean base. Serve the spread with crackers for dipping or layer it on challah or rye bread.
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
3/4 lb (340 g) shallots, thinly sliced into rings
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 lb (225 g) cremini mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed, and chopped
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup (30 g) chopped walnuts
1 can (15oz/425 g) kidney beans, drained
2 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 Tbsp sweet paprika
1 tsp onion powder
- Place the eggs in a small pot. Cover with water by 2 inches (5 cm) and set the pot, uncovered, over high heat. When the water boils, turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let sit for 18 minutes. Drain the eggs and rinse well under cold water to stop the cooking process. Peel the eggs, cut them into quarters, and set aside.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skillet set over medium heat. Add the shallots and a pinch of salt, cover, and cook until softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Uncover the pan, add the mushrooms and brown sugar, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until deeply browned and most of the mushrooms’ liquid evaporates, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
- Combine the cooked eggs, the shallot and mushroom mixture, walnuts, kidney beans, mayonnaise, paprika, onion powder, and a generous amount of salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse until smooth, scraping down the sides of the processor bowl as necessary.
- Transfer to a medium bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight to let the flavors meld. Serve cold or at room temperature. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
FRIED GEFILTE FISH
Serves 8 to 10
Gefilte fish is one of the most iconic Ashkenazi Jewish appetizers, typically served at the beginning of Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and other Jewish holiday meals. It typically comes poached in fish broth and is served cold. Some people love it, but it is an acquired taste, to be sure. Jews in the United Kingdom have a delicious little secret: Instead of poaching their gefilte fish, they fry it. British Jews can also be found at the roots of fish and chips because it was the Portuguese Jews who were living in London’s East End that introduced fried fish to the country in the seventeenth century. Fried gefilte fish is really just the next logical step.
Many fried gefilte fish recipes follow a basic latke format, using ground whitefish in place of shredded potatoes and swapping the flour with matzo meal. Leah Koenig likes to add a bit of salmon to the mix and throw a sautéed onion into the batter (instead of grated fresh onion) to amp up the flavor.
Top these crisp croquettes the traditional way, with ruby-colored beet horseradish, or simply squeeze a bit of lemon juice over the top. Either way, this might be the first year ever that half of your Passover guests don’t send back their gefilte fish plates untouched!
2 Tbsp vegetable oil, plus more for frying
1 large onion, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 lb (225 g) skinless salmon fillet, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) chunks
1 1/2 lb (680 g) skinless halibut fillet, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) chunks
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups (230 g) matzo meal or unseasoned panko bread crumbs
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/4 cup (15 g) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- Heat 2 Tbsp vegetable oil in a medium skillet set over medium heat. Add the onion and a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to the touch.
- Working in two batches, put the salmon and halibut in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. The ground fish may appear a bit mushy—that is okay at this stage. Transfer the ground fish to a large bowl and add the sautéed onion, eggs, 1 cup (115 g) of the matzo meal, the onion powder, garlic powder, thyme, lemon zest, parsley, 1 1/4 tsp salt, and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Stir with a wooden spoon until well combined. Let sit for 30 minutes to allow the matzo meal to soften or cover and store in the refrigerator overnight.
- Line a large plate with a few layers of paper towels. Fill a large skillet with 1/4 inch (6 mm) of oil and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Spread the remaining 1 cup (115 g) matzo meal onto a separate plate and season with a little salt and pepper. Scoop out 1/4 cup (60 g) of the fish mixture and form into patties about 3 inches (7.5 cm) wide and 1/2 inch (12 mm) thick. If the mixture is sticking to your hands, moisten them with a little water. Press each patty gently in the matzo meal, then turn to coat the other side.
- Working in batches of 4 or 5, add the coated patties to the oil and cook until browned on one side, about 3 minutes; flip with a metal spatula and continue cooking on the other side until golden and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes more. Adjust the heat if the patties are browning too quickly or not quickly enough and add more oil, if necessary.
- Transfer the patties to prepared plate and let drain. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store leftovers, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat in an oven or toaster oven at 350°F (180°C) until warmed through, 10 to 15 minutes.
Norene Gilletz is the leading author of kosher cookbooks in Canada. She is the author of twelve cookbooks and divides her time between work as a food writer, food manufacturer, consultant, spokesperson, cooking instructor, lecturer, and cookbook editor. Norene lives in Toronto, Canada and her motto is “Food that’s good for you should taste good!” For more information, visit her website at www.gourmania.com or email her at [email protected]