Old-world recipes making their way to modern plates

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“Everything old is new again.” This wise saying is so clearly illustrated by two new cookbooks that have come across my desk recently.

“How to Cook Like a Jewish Grandmother: Old-Fashioned Jewish Recipes” by Marla Brooks contains recipes from Slobods, the author’s family delicatessen in Philadelphia. They are familiar, timeless and bring back memories of food and love being synonymous. This paperback is arranged by course, from breakfast to dessert, with a final chapter of holiday recipes. Interspersed with old family photos and informative head notes, the recipes are straightforward and easy to follow.

While most of the recipes are probably quite familiar — i.e. several types of borscht, kugels and chopped liver — there are a few, like Grandma’s Sweet and Sour Fish Fillets and Easy Beet and Cucumber Salad, that were intriguing.

“The Jewish Mama’s Kitchen: Authentic Homestyle Recipes” by Denise Phillips is intended to be the voice of a Jewish mother overseeing your cooking, dispensing advice, sharing family secrets and discussing the history of the recipes. This hardback is arranged exactly like the aforementioned book, and has many of the same classic recipes that are included in every Jewish cookbook, traditional or contemporary.

Tips like “be careful when you’re grating horseradish as the vapors are very powerful and can make you sneeze, cough or cry” are not very revealing, nor are the recipes innovative. But then again, maybe the Jewish Mama lurking in your kitchen wouldn’t want to shake things up.

This book would be a great starter for the novice cook who wants to familiarize herself with old-world Ashkenazic cuisine.

Grandma’s Sweet and Sour Fish Fillets | Serves 6
(from “How to Cook Like a Jewish Grandmother”)

6 trout fillets
2 cups water
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 lemons, sliced
1⁄4 cup raisins
1⁄3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tsp. salt
1 bay leaf
6 ginger snaps, crushed
1⁄3 cup vinegar
In a saucepan combine all ingredients except for ginger snaps and vinegar. Cook over low heat for about 25 minutes. Remove fish to a platter. Add ginger snaps and vinegar to the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until smooth. Pour over fish and serve.

Thick Cabbage and Bean Soup | Serves 6
(from”The Jewish Mama’s Kitchen”)

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped finely
3 medium carrots, chopped coarsely
2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped coarsely
2 medium zucchini, trimmed and chopped coarsely
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped finely
4 cups vegetable stock
4 cups coarsely chopped green cabbage
2 cups drained canned cannelloni beans
Freshly ground pepper
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onions, carrots, potatoes, zucchini and garlic. Sauté 10 minutes. Add the vegetable stock, cabbage and cannelloni beans. Generously salt and pepper.
Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 40 minutes or until all the vegetables are soft. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
Serve immediately.

“How to Cook Like A Jewish Grandmother” by Marla Brooks (224 pages, Pelican, $15.95). “The Jewish Mama’s Kitchen” by Denise Phillips (160 pages, Thunder Bay Press, $12.95).

Louise Fiszer is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Rebecca Ets-Hokin. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to [email protected].