Veggie cookbook from 1938 Lithuania is out of this world

A groundbreaking restaurateur invents a cuisine that attracts celebrities and followers. She becomes a celebrity herself and writes a cookbook.

Sound familiar? The story behind “The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook: Garden-Fresh Recipes Rediscovered and Adapted for Today’s Kitchen” by Fania Lewando does seem like it could have happened today, but the cookbook was first published in Yiddish in 1938. It is a time capsule back to a world where Jewish intellectuals and artists flocked to a place known as the “Jerusalem of Lithuania,” and many of them, including painter Marc Chagall, ate at Lewando’s restaurant and signed the guestbook (excerpted in the new edition). The food was “delicious, light and satisfying,” one novelist wrote.

Lewando perished during World War II. When the book was rediscovered, the task of translating it and updating the recipes was given to Eve Jochnowitz, a Jewish food scholar and Yiddish educator.

These recipes are adapted from “The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook.” The only changes are for style. See my notes following each recipe for suggestions.

Cauliflower Wiener Schnitzel

Makes 10 schnitzel

3 cups cooked, chopped cauliflower

4 large eggs

4-5 Tbs. breadcrumbs

1⁄2 tsp. salt

1⁄4 cup butter, plus more as needed

Mix cauliflower, eggs, 4 Tbs. breadcrumbs and salt. Beat well. Let sit about 15 minutes. If too liquid, stir in remaining breadcrumbs. Scoop 1⁄4 cup batter at a time into hands, shaping into patties. Melt butter in large frying pan. Place patties in pan and cook until top is beginning to set and the bottom is browned. Flip and brown on the other side, cooking until schnitzel is somewhat firm but not dried out. Work in batches, adding more butter as needed. To serve as Lewando suggested in her original recipe, top with a fried egg alongside fried new potatoes and a gratin of carrots.

Variation note: Before frying schnitzel, toss 1⁄4 cup breadcrumbs with 1⁄8 tsp. each paprika, salt and ground black pepper. Dip schnitzel in crumbs, turning to coat both sides (you may need to pat back into shape). Fry as directed. Try with this Hungarian Pepper Relish published in J. in 2012 at www.tinyurl.com/jweekly-hungarian-relish.

Cauliflower and Carrot Kugel

Serves 12

4 lbs. carrots

11⁄4 cups butter, divided

11⁄2 lbs. cauliflower, cooked and puréed

1⁄2 cup breadcrumbs

3⁄4 cup raisins

1 tart, crisp apple, cut into 1⁄4-inch pieces

2 Tbs. sliced almonds

1⁄4 tsp. almond extract

2 Tbs. chopped candied orange peel

6 Tbs. sugar, divided

6 Tbs. flour, divided

2 eggs

3⁄4 tsp. salt, divided

1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Boil or steam the carrots until cooked but not mushy. While they cook, make filling. Melt 3⁄4 cup butter. Mix puréed cauliflower with breadcrumbs, raisins, apple, almonds, extract, orange peel, 3 Tbs. sugar and 5 Tbs. flour, eggs, 1⁄2 tsp. salt and melted butter. Stir until well combined. Drain and cool carrots. Slice into 1⁄4-inch rounds and lay out half on bottom of an 11×17-inch pan. Spread filling evenly over carrots. Top with a layer of remaining carrots. Dot with 1⁄2 cup butter, sprinkle with remaining 3 Tbs. sugar and 1⁄4 tsp. salt. Mix milk with 1 Tbs. flour and pour over top. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1 hour.

Variation note: This recipe makes a lot. A half recipe (made in an 8×12-inch pan) worked beautifully. I also greased the baking pan.

 

Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer. She blogs about her food at clickblogappetit.com. Contact Faith at clickblogappetit@gmail.com.