P’Height food writer offers modern twists on Passover staples

P’Height food writer offers modern twists on Passover staples
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

These aren’t your bubbe’s matzo balls.

A Prospect Heights food writer is releasing a new cookbook of creative Jewish recipes just in time to enliven Passover Seders across the borough. In “Modern Jewish Cooking,” writer Leah Koenig kicks-up the chosen fare of the chosen people with modern surprises, such as matzo balls studded with shallots and jalapenos, and latkes made with beets and carrots.

Beyond the gefilte fish and kugels common in Eastern European Jewish households, the book also celebrates Jewish dishes from across the globe, which are as diverse as the countries they hail from, the author said.

“The term ‘wandering Jew’ is really an accurate description,” said Koenig, who will launch her tome at PowerHouse Arena on March 31 alongside two other Brooklyn cookbook authors with new releases. “There are Jewish communities all over the world. In each case, they ate the foods of their neighbors but adapted them to fit with the Jewish kosher laws and holidays. In Brooklyn alone, you find Jewish communities from Eastern Europe, Hungary, Syria, and Georgia, among others.”

Koenig’s approach to Passover, which begins April 3, follows suit. She said the festival’s familiar fare is more exciting with some new flavors and interpretations. For example, her recipe for brisket is a Mediterranean-inspired take on the Passover dinner table fixture that involves slow-cooking the meat in a mixture of red wine, honey, and spices.

“The recipe is very loosely based off of a dish called stracotto — basically the Jewish-Italian answer to brisket — which my husband and I ate at a Shabbat dinner in Italy several years ago,” said Koenig, who published her first book dedicated to Semitic sustenance, “The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook,” in 2011.

“Modern Jewish Cooking” also offers plenty of ways to make the Passover period more palatable for those avoiding leavened bread, Koenig said. The book includes recipes for a lasagna that replaces the noodles with sheets of softened matzo, and granola that uses matzo instead of oats — which are also forbidden during the eight-day holiday. And Koenig has her own rendition of matzo brei — which she describes as the “French toast of Passover” — with non-traditional garnishes of sauteed leeks and mushrooms or roasted strawberries.

“Normally it just gets a sprinkle of salt or cinnamon and sugar, but the toppings bring it to another level,” Koenig said.

But despite all the twists, Koenig said the 175 recipes in her book stay true to their roots.

“I never want to stray so far away from the foundation or get so improvisational that the food stops feeling recognizably Jewish,” she said. “That said, working within that framework, I love adding seasonal ingredients, and globally-inspired flavors to traditional foods so that they find their place on a modern table.”

Leah Koenig launches “Modern Jewish Cooking” at PowerHouse Arena [37 Main St. between Water and Front streets in Dumbo, (718) 666–3049, www.powerhousearena.com]. March 31 at 7 pm. Free.