Kosher restrictions still leave plenty of room for creativity

Whether your family has kept kosher diligently for generations or you're kosher-clueless, the cookbook Kosher Revolution: New Techniques and Great Recipes for Unlimited Kosher Cooking -- released last fall -- offers exciting recipes, from meatless main courses to old family favorites, for foodies at all levels of cooking.

We chatted with Geila Hocherman, author of Kosher Revolution (Kyle Books, $29.95), about the recipes in the book, the ideal Passover menu and more.

For those who don't know what kosher means, can you define it?

The basics of kosher are use certified ingredients only, no shellfish, no pork, all animals destined for the kosher table must be kosher slaughtered and prepared, as well as making sure that the animal is healthy, no dairy products can be served with meat, and no fish and meat together on the same plate.

The book boasts "new techniques" to kosher cooking. What does that mean and how has kosher cooking changed?

The kosher repertoire has exploded. While traditional dishes are still present, they are taking a back seat to global cuisine. Because our population has been traveling more and there are more ingredients available, we can now partake in any type of cuisine: French, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Thai, American, Moroccan and many more. It's simply that techniques can change the texture and flavor of something to resemble something else. For example, how do you make a sauce creamy without dairy? Puree, whip egg whites, use different mayonnaises.

What is your all-time favorite recipe to make?

I love to serve either a ceviche or a miso glazed cod as the fish course instead of the traditional gefilte fish. And with Passover looming, I am making pignoli cookies and chocolate hazelnut roll, instead of the traditional macaroon craze.

Is there any difference between kosher food and Jewish cuisine?

Jewish cuisine is the typical Eastern European food that we brought back with us. It includes gefilte fish, chicken soup, brisket, blintzes, matzo brei, chopped liver and many other dishes. These can be made kosher or nonkosher, depending on what ingredients you have bought and if you have the prescribed two sets of pots and pans to prepare it all in.

For people new to kosher cooking, what are the top five recipes you'd recommend they learn?

This is a matter of taste. If you want the five top traditional recipes, I would suggest brisket, chicken soup, matzo balls (aka knaidlach), blintzes and matzo brei. If you are a beginning cook and looking for interesting, delicious and easy kosher dishes, I would recommend my mango salad, miso-glazed cod, baby bok choy, beef and chicken satay, and tuna with wasabi mayonnaise.

What is the appeal of this cookbook for people who don't keep kosher?

This is a manual for substitutions and there are easy reference charts in the back for anyone to use. The book addresses the needs of gluten-free, vegetarians, vegans, lactose-intolerant as well as kosher.

Cinnamon chicken tajine with prunes and apricots

Most cooks know that tajines are sweet and savory dishes, usually featuring chicken, made in a vessel with a conical lid. My version honors traditional Jewish Moroccan tajines, but without the need of a special pot. Flavored with cinnamon and full of sweet fruit, this is a perfect holiday dish, especially good for Rosh Hashana, Passover and Tu Bishvat. It's a great weekend family dish, too.

1/2 cup sliced almonds

2 chickens, about 3 1/2 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

1/4 cup grapeseed or canola oil

2 large onions (about 2 pounds), cut into 1/2-inch dice

1/2 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

1/4 cup honey

1. Heat a large skillet, paella pan or large roasting pan, set over two burners, over medium-high heat. Add almonds and toast, stirring, until lightly colored, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

2. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat half of the oil in the pan over medium heat. Working in batches, add chicken and saute until brown, turning once, about 12 minutes per batch. Transfer to a platter and set aside. If the oil or browned bits in the pan have burned, wipe out the pan.

3. Add remaining oil to the pan. Add onions and saute, stirring, until translucent, about 10 minutes. Return chicken to the pan. Add saffron to stock, and pour over chicken. Add cinnamon, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Transfer the white meat to the platter. Add prunes

and apricots to the pan and simmer until the rest of the chicken is done, about 15 minutes. Transfer the chicken to the platter and discard the cinnamon sticks.

4. Add honey to the pan and cook over medium-high heat until liquid is syrupy and coats a spoon, 15 to 20 minutes. Return chicken to the pan, baste with sauce, cover and warm. Transfer all to a warmed platter, sprinkle with almonds, and serve.

Nutritional information per serving, based on 10: 484 calories, 18 grams fat, 51 grams carbohydrates, 34 grams protein, 82 milligrams cholesterol, 119 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber, 33 percent of calories from fat.

My miso-glazed black cod

New York's Nobu restaurant, 1985: Chef Nobu Matsuhisa's miso-glazed black cod. Me on first taste: Wow! I longed to make a kosher version of this great dish, but had to bide my time until kosher miso and sake became available. On that happy day I set to work -- and here it is, a dish you'll enjoy often and that's baby-simple to make. All you do is marinate black cod in a simple miso-sugar mixture, then broil or grill it. Served with baby bok choy with garlic (Page 136 in the book) -- or by itself with any bitter green -- this is stellar dining.

1/2 cup mirin

1/2 cup sake or dry white wine

1 1/4 cups white miso

2/3 cup sugar

6 black cod fillets (6 to 8 ounces each), skin removed

1. In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine mirin and sake and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute (to cook off the alcohol), reduce heat to medium, add miso, and stir until dissolved. Add sugar, increase heat, and stir until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

2. Dry fillets with paper towels and put them in a gallon-size sealable plastic bag. Add miso glaze, seal and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.

3. Bring the fillets to room temperature. Preheat broiler or place a grill pan or heavy skillet over high heat. Wipe excess glaze from the fillets and broil or grill, turning once, until brown and glazed, about 8 minutes. Transfer to plates and serve.

Nutritional information per serving: 236 calories, 3 grams fat, 18 grams carbohydrates, 33 grams protein, 73 milligrams cholesterol, 928 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 10 percent of calories from fat.

Onion-stuffed knaidlach

Growing up, knaidlach -- matzo balls -- came in one "flavor" only: hard enough to bounce. Do I hear an amen? I determined to do better, especially after I enjoyed light, parsley-flecked knaidlach at a friend's house. The lightbulb really went on after I had soup-filled buns in Chinatown one day -- why not stuffed knaidlach? This easy onion-filled version really elevates the traditional matzo ball to great heights, and should become as traditional in your house as it is in mine.

3 large eggs

5 tablespoons chicken stock or seltzer

5 tablespoons chicken fat or canola oil

3/4 teaspoon salt, plus additional

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1/4 cup chopped parsley

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (optional)

3/4 cup matzo meal

1 large onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1. In a small bowl, combine eggs, stock, 3 tablespoons of the fat, salt, pepper, parsley and cilantro, if using. Add matzo meal and blend. Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight.

2. In a medium skillet, warm remaining fat over medium-high heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt and saute, stirring, until translucent and beginning to brown, about 12 minutes. Drain onions on a paper towel and set aside.

3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Reduce heat so the water boils slowly. (Rapid boiling can make the knaidlach break when cooking.) Using wet hands, form 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons each of the matzo meal mixture into a disk held in one palm. Place 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons onion in the middle of the disc, pinch to enclose, and roll between both hands until a ball is formed. Drop into the water. Repeat with remaining mixture and onions.

4. When the knaidlach float to the surface of the water, reduce heat, cover, and simmer until tender, 45 to 60 minutes. Remove the knaidlach with a slotted spoon, transfer to soup, and serve.

Nutritional information per serving, based on 4: 321 calories, 21 grams fat, 24 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams protein, 162 milligrams cholesterol, 455 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 60 percent of calories from fat.