You’ve been seeing the ads for The Bais Yaakov cookbook for weeks. You’re probably wondering, “Can this really live up to the hype? Is it just another cookbook with a pretty cover but nothing worth making inside?”
After going through the cookbook cover to cover, the definitive answers to those questions are “yes” and “no.”
First, let’s talk about the food. It’s all about the food, isn’t it? The 200 original recipes extend the boundaries of the box without stepping out of the box. The ingredients called for are not exotic or hard to find, the cooking methods are not complicated, but the end result is a notch up from your standard fare. The photography and food styling is so magnificent you will want to eat dinner off the page. The editors of this cookbook managed to avoid mediocrity while maintaining sensibility. The recipes are original, different, enticing, and tantalizing, but easy, simple to follow, and won’t take a whole day in the kitchen to make.
In the Bais Yaakov cookbook, you won’t find plain recipes. You’re not going to find a plain orzo recipe but a recipe for Pastrami Orzo. You won’t spot your standard zucchini soup but Roasted Garlic Zucchini Soup. You won’t be seeing instructions on how to make Yerushalmi kugel, but you’ll be seeing a mouthwatering recipe for Two Layer Yerushalmi Kugel with a Rice Krispies topping. Just the names of the recipes will make your mouth water: Chilled Strawberry Soup with Walnut Crunch, Honey Ginger Grilled London Broil Salad, Champagne Apple Salad, Crunchy Pecan Chicken Cutlets, Salmon in Pink Cream Sauce, Pralines and Cream Semifreddo, Apple Crumble in Caramel…do you hear your kitchen calling yet?
And now for the hidden jewel of this cookbook: The halacha guidelines section written by former Clevelander Rabbi Daniel Neustadt. This 23-page guide to halachos in the kitchen is so informative it could be its own book. It answers all those questions you might have on Shabbos or during a late-night cooking spree in a concise, comprehensible manner. How to prepare kishke on erev Shabbos, wash dishes on Shabbos, use one oven for meat and dairy, read a menu on Yom Tov, and so much more is lucidly explained in this section. It includes a brochos list and bug-checking guide.
But we still haven’t reached the end! The Halacha section is followed by a culinary tips section. Guides to wine, meat, poultry, fish, spices and herbs, fruits and vegetables, cookware, and kitchen gadgets are displayed in clear charts. There is so much information bundled into the last 55 pages of this cookbook you will find yourself reaching for it again and again.
Now, you may be asking, what does all this have to do with Bais Yaakov? The cookbook opens with a history of the Bais Yaakov movement written by acclaimed Yated columnist Avrohom Birnbaum. He weaves a beautiful picture of Sarah Schenirer’s dream, its implementation, her teachings, and how the Bais Yaakov movement has influenced the Jewish people to this day. The recipes have been gathered from Bais Yaakovs around the country and the proceeds from this cookbook will fund Jewish education.
The Bais Yaakov Cookbook provides food for the mind, soul, and of course, the palate, all in one attractive volume. My only disappointment? The Bais Yaakov Pesach cookbook will not be released in time for this coming Pesach. We will have to wait a year…
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 medium onion, diced
½ pound fresh button mushrooms, sliced
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 pound thick-cut pastrami, cubed
Ground black pepper
1 cup orzo, uncooked
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions; sauté until light brown, about 15 minutes. Add mushrooms and sauté another 3 minutes. Remove from heat; slowly add beaten eggs, mixing continually so eggs do not scramble. Add soy sauce. Stir in pastrami. Season with salt and ground black pepper to taste. Remove from heat.
Cook orzo according to package directions. Strain and combine with pastrami mixture. Serve warm.
French Rice Soup
1/4 cup canola oil
3 large onions, sliced
8 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
1 1/2 quarts (6 cups) water
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons
onion soup mix
1⁄3 cup white rice, uncooked
1/4 teaspoon salt
1⁄8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Heat canola oil in a 5-quart pot over medium heat. Add onions and carrots; saute 15 minutes.
Add water, onion soup mix, rice, salt, ground black pepper. Season to taste with garlic powder. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and cook about 20 minutes.
Transfer soup to a blender and puree until smooth. Alternatively, you may place an immersion blender directly into the pot and blend until smooth. Reheat on low flame.