Before writing award-winning grilling books, including “The Barbecue Bible,” “Planet Barbecue!” “How to Grill,” and “BBQ USA”; before his TV shows “Project Smoke,” “Primal Grill” and “Barbecue University,” before being dubbed the “Gladiator of Grilling” by Oprah, and before beating the Iron Chef in Tokyo, Steven Raichlen was garnering honors for his healthy lifestyle cookbooks, “High-Flavor Low-Fat Cooking,” “High-Flavor, Low-Fat Vegetarian Cooking,” and “Healthy Latin Cooking.” Then in 2001 he won the James Beard Foundation/KitchenAid Book Award for his “Healthy Jewish Cooking.”
“I was a restaurant critic for a major city magazine in the ‘80’s, eating out constantly, and developed a cholesterol problem,” Raichlen told me by phone from his home in Florida, so he began reducing the fat in his favorite recipes. The result was his “High-Flavor, Low-Fat” series and “Healthy Latin Cooking,” which won a James Beard award. No Pritikin Spartan, Raichlen then applied his Ten Commandments of low-fat cooking to the last bastion of the clogged arteries, Jewish food, with “Think Flavor, Not Fat” his mantra, slashing his way through the schmaltz belt with “Healthy Jewish Cooking,” a lusciously photographed homage to his family, with tasty renditions of over 150 classic Jewish recipes that nourish the soul, without damaging the heart.
“The great cooks of my childhood, who came of age during the depression, were more interested in filling plates than in the health consciousness of their dinners,” he writes. And with his slimmed-down versions of his family’s beloved recipes, we can have our knish and eat it too.
For example, his Grammy Ethel’s chopped liver uses the cholesterol-laden liver for flavor, replacing most of it with mushrooms, and roasting instead of sautéing. For his Aunt Annette’s legendary matzo balls (“rabbis would drive from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore just to have a seat at our Passover table,” he said) he reduces the amount of schmaltz, winning a “thumbs up” from his then 92-year-old Aunt Annette.
“The biggest surprises in the book,” notes Raichlen, “are that chopped liver can actually be healthy and that schmaltz isn’t as bad for you as everybody thought. Compared to butter, schmaltz, which contains water, actually has one-third the amount of cholesterol and half the amount of saturated fat,” he said. “That’s not to say schmaltz is a health food—far from it—and you definitely use this golden elixir in moderation.”
It is this common sense approach to creating a healthy lifestyle, not short-term deprivation, that makes Raichlen’s books so appealing. “Next to lemon juice, which is always wonderful in anything, and freshly ground black pepper, my favorite ingredient in low-fat cooking is extra virgin olive oil. That’s a fat, but a judicious little fillip drizzled on top adds such a lovely flavor.”
Using wonton wrappers and filo, instead of high-fat dough, produces tasty kreplach and strudel. His bake-frying method is equally successful with empanadas and pirogi.
Less of a challenge are the Sephardic recipes, which naturally rely on greater use of grains, beans, fruits and vegetables than those of his Eastern European forebears. But where Sephardic dishes call for deep-frying, Raichlen solves that problem neatly with what he does best: grilling.
“Barbecue Bible” took me four years to write,” recalled Raichlen, who traveled to 25 countries on five continents researching the book, writing “Healthy Jewish Cooking” during the same period. “There was a lot of overlap. The Middle East is one of the real hotbeds of grilling expertise. Barbecue is not part of the Ashkenazi tradition. I don’t ever remember watching my grandfather grill, for example. None of the great cooks of that generation knew anything from fire cooking, but in Israel it’s very much a part of their culture.”
One traditional way to serve couscous is to stir harissa (North African hot sauce, available in Middle Eastern stores, specialty stores and online) into one cup of the broth and spoon it over the lamb. (Serves 8.)
2 pounds lean leg of lamb, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 pound turnips, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound parsnips, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces (optional)
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup chopped parsley
10 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, soaked in 1 tablespoon warm water
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup cooked chickpeas
Couscous, for serving
Harissa, for serving
1 Place lamb in mixing bowl and toss with turmeric, cumin, coriander, paprika, pepper, and salt. Marinate 20 minutes.
2 Meanwhile, heat oil in large, heavy non-stick pot. Brown lamb in batches. 4-6 minutes per batch. Transfer lamb to platter with slotted spoon. Pour out all but 1 1/2 tablespoons fat.
3 Add onion and cook over medium heat 3 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, and 2 tablespoons parsley. Continue cooking remaining parsley until onion begins to brown, 2 to 3 minutes more.
4 Return lamb to pot and stir in water, cinnamon stick, and saffron. Gently simmer one hour.
5 And turnips, carrots, parsnips, and potatoes. Simmer until vegetables and lamb are very tender, about 30 minutes more. Add raisins and chickpeas 10 minutes before end. If tagine starts to dry out (it should be quite soupy), add more water. Tagine should be highly seasoned; add salt or pepper as needed.
6 Serve over couscous sprinkled with remaining parsley; add harissa as a condiment.
Source: “Healthy Jewish Cooking” (Viking) by Steven Raichlen
At about 65 calories each, these cookies are a caloric bargain. If the dough is too sticky, freeze it until it is more manageable. (Makes about 42.)
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup of yellow cornmeal
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 egg whites, lightly beaten
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon almond extract
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
1/4-1/2 cup dry white wine
1 Preheat oven to 350°F.
2 Whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in large bowl. In another large bowl, whisk together egg whites, oil, almond extract, zests, and 1/4 cup of the wine.
3 Gradually stir flour mixture into wine mixture, adding wine if necessary to obtain a soft, pliable though. Divide dough into 3 portions and roll each into a log about 1 1/4” thick. Place logs on baking sheet lined with parchment paper, equally distant from each other.
4 Bake 20 minutes, or until top is firm to the touch and bottoms are beginning to brown. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes. Using a serrated knife, cut each log diagonally into 1/2 to 3/4-inch slices. Place slices, cut side down on baking sheet and bake 6 minutes. Turn off heat and leave in oven until completely cool or overnight. Store in airtight container.
Adapted from: “High Flavor-Low-Fat Cooking” (Camden House) by Steven Raichlen
Jlife food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.