BY NOW WE’VE all heard that old joke from comedian Alan King: “A summary of every Jewish holiday: They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!” Take food away from any celebration, and it’s just a day on the calendar. With food we nurture, hold together a family and build a community. With food we honor our traditions as we create new ones. With food we show our love.
“It starts and ends with love,” says Elizabeth Kurtz, creator of the go-to kosher recipe site www.gourmetkoshercooking.com and author of “Celebrate: Food, Family, Shabbos” (Feldheim, $34.99)
“It’s all about love,” she says. “My entire relationship with food, reading and writing recipes, cooking and eating, is all about love. I do many things for my family, but no carpool, camp application or help with a complicated homework assignment brings anywhere near the smile that a delicious meal, especially on Shabbos or Yom Tov, brings. Absolutely nothing.”
Kurtz grew up cooking with her mother, her happiest times, she says. “There were no expectations of excellence and achievement like there was for my school work, clubs or gymnastics. There was just love. We would pick a favorite recipe or maybe try something new, and then on went the apron and off we went into a magical place of creativity, happiness and love. As I think of it now it was the most wonderful time.”
For Jews a holiday is never far away, because we welcome the Sabbath each and every week. “It is often said that as much as the Jewish people keep the Sabbath, in truth it is the Sabbath that keeps the Jews,” she notes, ”and at the very heart of our celebration of Shabbos is family gathered around the table enjoying a delicious Shabbos meal.”
“Celebrate” offers over 200 recipes to help you do just that, recipes that are easy enough for every day, but special enough for celebrations. Kurtz also includes tips for planning ahead, freezing, rewarming and instructions for converting almost every dish for Passover. You’ll find nine challah recipes alone (including Apple-Date Swirled Challah, Sweet Challah with Streusel Topping and even a Gluten-Free Challah), separate chapters for Kiddush and Shalosh Seudos (the third meal customarily eaten by observant Jews on the Sabbath), must-have recipes for stocking your pantry as well as tips for keeping a healthy kosher kitchen by dietician Kimberly Rothstein, whose “secret” is what she calls the four R’s of healthy cooking: “Replace, reduce, relish and relax. Keep these in mind and you’ll be in great shape (pun intended!).”
Mouth-watering photos accompany the recipes, like the one featured here for Poached Salmon Two Ways. “Poaching creates a moist, flavorful fish that can be made a day ahead of time,” Kurtz writes. “The creamy green dressing tastes clean and bright with the citrus and fresh herbs, while the salsa pairs meaty, briny olives with the freshness of oranges. Try them both and see which you prefer.”
Pecan Pie is not just for Thanksgiving anymore. Indulge at meal’s end with her Chocolate Caramel Pecan Pie. “The pecan pie that appears on every Thanksgiving table has nothing on this souped-up chocolate caramel version,” says Kurtz.
“If Shabbos keeps the Jews, then giving and caring for others in need keeps the soul,” writes Kurtz, who has partnered with Emunah in creating “Celebrate.” Emunah is an organization that began in 1935 to support children and families in Israel with currently 250 social service and educational programs throughout the country, including 135 day care centers and an educational network of four high schools, a mechina program (helping students who face financial or personal challenges further and finish their education) and college of art. Counseling services are offered for families in crisis, teens at risk and victims of terror. “Emunah is all about caring for those who need extra care,” Kurtz explains. “Purchasing this cookbook will touch the life of a child or adult who relies on Emunah for help.”