Over the years I’ve managed to amass a decent collection of kosher cookbooks. And one thing you’ll notice when you have a decent collection of kosher cookbooks is that they don’t exactly epitomize “light.”
Two sticks of butter, a pint of sour cream, deep-fried everything — just looking at these books on the shelf makes my arteries hurt.
That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to test out Susie Fishbein’s “Kosher by Design Lightens Up.” It’s the sixth and latest book in the popular Kosher by Design series, which includes titles such as “Kids in the Kitchen,” “Passover by Design” and “Short on Time.”
“Lightens Up” lives up to its name. This is a book overflowing with tips and tricks for eating right — not to mention a stellar collection of delicious-sounding, healthy recipes.
The recipes come from just about every country and range from huevos rancheros to ratatouille to miso-glazed cod. But there are a good number of foods that will sound pleasantly familiar to a Jewish cook, such as a faux potato kugel, Moroccan spiced vegetables and kasha pilaf.
For food-photography lovers, it doesn’t get any better than this: Each recipe is accompanied by a full-page, gorgeously staged color photo of the dish. This is culinary enticement at its best.
Many cookbooks (especially “light” ones) these days include a few pages of food facts before the recipes. “Lightens Up” goes the extra mile, with nearly 40 pages of facts, tips and colorful, easy-to-read charts. Don’t know your flavonols from your flavanones? Fishbein provides a three-page glossary of foodie buzzwords. There’s also a chart of “superfoods” such as dark chocolate and garlic; guides to food “groups” such as flours, oils and grains; tips for stocking your kitchen gadget drawer; and more.
Then there are the recipes — more than 145, grouped by type of dish (appetizers, salads, fish, etc.).
Each recipe is preceded by a short explanation of the dish and its nutritional benefits — plus Fishbein’s tips, which are helpful not just for her dishes, but for cooking in general.
Wanting to get the full picture of what “Lightens Up” has to offer, I picked out several dishes to try. Being a last-minute cook, I gravitate toward those that require few ingredients, so I’m more likely to have them in my pantry. Many of the recipes in “Lightens Up” seemed a bit daunting — even a simple tuna salad has 12 ingredients.
Luckily, all of the ingredients are easy to find — and people who cook on a regular basis may already have most or all of what they need on hand. (For the salmon salad with carrot-ginger dressing, which has 15 ingredients, I only had to buy salmon.)
The recipes in “Lightens Up” use plenty of spices to create complex, sumptuous flavors, with very little oil or butter. The dishes I made were light and fresh.
However, not everything lived up to its delectable-looking photo. The cranberry couscous salad, for example, had a lot of promise, but an excess of apple cider vinegar made it a bit too tangy for my taste.
I was also disappointed that the recipes don’t include nutritional information — an odd omission for a healthy-eating cookbook.
But a few imperfections are easy to ignore when you have a book as well-crafted as “Kosher by Design Lightens Up.” It is a great reference for kosher and nonkosher cooks alike, and a must-have for any Jewish kitchen.
“Kosher by Design Lightens Up” by Susie Fishbein (336 pages, Mesorah Publications, $35.99)