Geila Hocherman majored in revolutionary history in college. Now she has spawned a revolution in kosher cooking. Coincidence? Maybe.
“I’m a kosher cook with a mission to make kosher cooking indistinguishable from any other kind,” she writes, and in her new cookbook, Kosher Revolution (Kyle Books, $29.95), written with acclaimed food writer Arthur Boehm, she does just that.
“Crab” cakes, prosciutto, “shrimp” dumplings: not exactly fare you’d expect to see in a kosher cookbook. But Hocherman, a former prep cook for the Food Network and renowned kosher caterer, proves that any sophisticated dish you see on fine nonkosher menus can be duplicated in the kosher kitchen.
“I remember seven, eight years ago begging manufacturers, why can’t there be kosher coconut milk? Why can’t there be kosher miso?” she said by phone from her New York City home. “By their nature they are kosher; the only thing missing is the rabbi. But today there has been an explosion in the availability of kosher ingredients, and my ‘tool box’ system will change the way you think about cooking. I see this book as a manual for substitutions so you can make any recipe kosher.”
Here’s how it works. “Instead of thinking I need butter, cream or milk, think food chemistry,” she explained. “Think, I need something salty or creamy or spicy, whatever. Then look at the list of substitutions. It’s a lateral way to think about cooking.”
Unlike many kosher cookbooks, Kosher Revolution does not rely on ersatz products that mimic the taste of bacon or shrimp, for example, or cream in a dessert destined for a meat meal. With artisanal kosher cheese make Roasted Portobellos with Goat Cheese. Kosher konnyaku and surimi add seafood flavor and texture to Revolution Dumplings and Crab Cakes.
“Ham was a big one,” said Hocherman, who is duly proud of her ingenious Duck Prosciutto made by curing kosher duck breast. “It’s truly a gift that keeps on giving,” she writes, as it can be used in so many dishes: paired with grilled figs, julienned in soups and salads, sautéed into sauces. “You get all the flavor of fine ham but without harm.”
With kosher coconut milk now available, dishes like Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce and Crème Brûlée are a no-brainer. The availability of kosher nut milks greatly expands the kosher cook’s repertoire, and Hocherman suggests her favorite brands and sources.
“When I tested the recipes I did not give them to kosher people to eat; I gave them to nonkosher people,” she noted. “They knew what it was supposed to taste like.”
Raised in a kosher home “off and on,” Hocherman went “off the wagon” at several points in her life. “We moved to Mississippi in the ‘60s, and there was no way to get kosher meat,” she recalled, “but when we moved to New Jersey a year later, I told my mother, ‘I don’t want you to make Bubbe’s dishes treif.”
In college Hocherman kept kosher, cooking Shabbos dinner for her friends. “No one else knew how to cook. The minute the food hit the table that raucous group would fall silent and you’d hear the clinking of cutlery on plates and the occasional groan of pleasure. It’s another way to show people you care about them.”
Rosh Hashanah dinner will be a festive occasion. At this writing Hocherman is planning to serve a standing rib roast, Chicken Tagine, Crème Brûlée and of course her mother’s apple cake.
“I love making the holidays. It takes me a week to do all the shopping and cooking. Every year I have to go out and buy more dishes because there are more people coming. Cooking has been my passion since I could stand on a stepstool next to my grandmother making kreplach. The only time I decamped from the kitchen was when she was making pitcha. It’s a way to be close to my mother and grandmother. Being able to please so many people at one time gives me a lot of pleasure.”
Cinnamon Chicken Tagine with Prunes
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
½ cup sliced almonds
2 chickens, about 3½ pounds each, each cut into 8 pieces, or 16 breasts, thighs and legs, any combination, rinsed and dried well
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup grapeseed or canola oil
2 large onions (about 2 pounds), cut into ½-inch dice
½ teaspoon saffron threads, ground, powdered or crushed
2 cups chicken stock
2 cinnamon sticks, each about 3 inches long
2 cups pitted prunes
1 cup dried apricots
¼ cup honey
1 Heat a large skillet or roasting pan, set over two burners, over medium-high heat. Add almonds and toast, stirring, until lightly colored, about 3 minutes. Transfer to small bowl and set aside.
2 Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Heat half the oil in pan over medium heat. Working in batches, add chicken and sauté until brown, turning once, about 12 minutes per batch. Transfer to platter and set aside. If oil or browned bits in pan have burned, wipe out pan.
3 Add remaining oil to pan. Add onions and sauté, stirring, until translucent, about 10 minutes. Return chicken to pan. Add saffron to stock, and pour over chicken. Add cinnamon, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Transfer white meat to platter. Add prunes and apricots to pan and simmer until remaining chicken is done, about 15 minutes. Transfer chicken to platter. Discard cinnamon sticks.
4 Add honey to pan and cook over medium-high heat until liquid is syrupy and coats a spoon, 15 to 20 minutes. Return chicken to pan, baste with sauce, cover and warm. Transfer all to warmed platter, sprinkle with almonds, and serve.
Yield: 4 servings
One 14-ounce can full-fat coconut milk (not lite)
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped, or 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup sugar, plus more for glaze
5 large egg yolks
1 Heat coconut milk in small saucepan over medium-low heat until almost boiling. Set aside.
2 Place four 8-ounce ramekins in small baking dish. Preheat oven to 350˚F.
3 Place sugar and eggs in double boiler top and whisk – over but not touching – simmering water until yolks begin to lighten and mixture is no longer gritty. Remove pods, if using, from milk and start adding milk drop by drop to yolk mixture, stirring constantly until heated, about 2 minutes. Pour mixture into ramekins, transfer to oven and pour enough hot water into baking dish to come halfway up sides. Bake until set but still jiggly, 40 to 50 minutes. Remove ramekins from baking dish, allow to cool on counter 1 hour, then chill at least 3 hours.
4 Sprinkle surface of creams with sugar, and with kitchen blowtorch, caramelize sugar by moving flame circularly over surfaces. Alternatively preheat broiler, place creams on cookie sheet and broil 1 inch from heat until caramelized. Watch carefully to ensure sugar doesn’t burn. Allow creams to cool, then chill in refrigerator at least 15 minutes before serving.
Source: Kosher Revolution by Geila Hocherman and Arthur Boehm