Having grown up in a Jewish household, receiving word of a cookbook that “reimagines” Jewish cooking caught my attention. If there is one adjective that describes the food I was served as a child it is heavy, often modified by one of the adverbs very or extremely. If someone had devised a way of putting the cuisine on a diet, I was all ears.
The title of the book is “Deep Flavors: A Celebration of Recipes for Foodies in a Kosher Style,” and its author, Kenneth M. Horwitz, describes himself as a “southern Jew.” I became aware years ago that such a species in fact existed, and in Mr. Horwitz’s case, it finds expression in such dishes as Cuban Black Bean Soup. My chief interest, though, was seeing if the author had come up with a way of relieving Jewish cooking of its excessive weightiness.
I cut right to the heart of the matter by thumbing forward to his recipe for “Gedaempfte” Meat, which translates from the Yiddish to a tough cut, usually of beef — think chuck or shoulder steak — cooked until tender or forever, whichever comes first.
Horwitz does indeed leaven the dish, first by using cow or calf hooves, which yield a richer meat even when overcooked, second by using a mirepoix, and finally by reimagining the end product as a taco filling (toward which end you shred the meat and toss it with Mexican spices and cilantro.)
Some of the recipes are vegetarian, among them a beet borscht that uses citric acid (aka sour salt) but is served cold, which strikes me as an anomaly. Maybe it’s just culture shock (Ukrainian Jews, of which I am one, always served borscht hot, especially when it is done with sour salt), but I tried the recipe, and it’s pretty good. I confess I used tap water instead of filtered water, as the recipe specifies and which struck as little more than an effort to appeal to the health-conscious.
Another minor quibble I have with the book is that the procedural portion of recipes appears as running text rather than a numbered list, which for my money makes a recipe easier to follow during cooking.
On balance, though, the book has much to recommend it. The writing is brisk and eminently readable, especially the descriptions of recipes’ origins, and a number of useful tips are provided. Horwitz, for example, advocates using chicken fat (schmaltz) in place of butter, even (especially?) in the making of a roux, which is both economical and delicious.
If you’re looking for a Chanukkah present for the foodie in your life, “Deep Flavors” may be just what the Jewish mother ordered.
The book can be found in hardcover on Amazon for $39.95.
UPDATE: Author Ken Horwitz informs me in an email that he uses filtered water in his recipes because in Dallas, where he lives, the water in the summer has a bad flavor. I stand corrected (though I still don’t understand why he makes that specification in a book meant for mass consumption).