I met Leah Schapira one evening this past fall. We were at an intimate gathering of food writers and magazine editors in NYC. It was a convivial group, focused on networking and learning about each other.
We were asked to give an elevator speech to introduce our own projects and platforms.
She introduced herself as the Senior Food Editor of Ami Magazine, a weekly publication distributed worldwide.
She also acted as Food Editor of Mishpacha magazine from 2007-2010.
In 2010 she co-founded www.cookkosher.com, “a kosher recipe community where you, the cook, can contribute your own recipes and explore recipes from other kosher food lovers.”
That is a lot of accomplishment for such a young woman! I was impressed.
After spending some time with Schapira’s FRESH AND EASY, an approachable kosher cookbook that transforms ordinary ingredients into delicious meals, I have finally found the connection between the author’s personality and her uncomplicated recipes.
They are both straightforward and direct. Her recipes are so simple that they may become your go-to favorites when squeezing in home cooked meals on busy nights or when cooking for larger crowds.
She had copies of FRESH AND EASY for everyone who attended that evening. I felt lucky to receive such a generous gift.
FRESH AND EASY has grown on me.
After a while,I found the short list of ingredients and simple prep commands refreshing.
While I often hear people commenting on how little time they have, they are increasingly fixated on cooking shows and gourmet food magazines that focus on recipes that are too daunting to try.
It took me some time to flip through Schapira’s book and cook a few things before realizing that this practical, easy to follow compilation may be just what home cooks need in the face of too much focus on technique and exotic ingredients.
Schapira begins with menu suggestions and ideas in the first few pages, where thumbnail sized photos entice the reader to explore different sections and recipes.
Under “appetizer ideas”, she suggests using prepared or homemade egg salad and chopped liver to create a “tower” and lend a little drama to a traditional dish. Her simple directions are easily accomplished and would add flare to your plated first course at a holiday table.
Salads are approachable and utilize seasonal ingredients. “Mediterranean Tomato Salad” is not a revelation, but like many of her other recipes, seductive photos serve as prompts for using ingredients in simple combinations.
Under salads, again, Schapira includes a lovely recipe for “Warm Sweet Potato Salad”. She includes cilantro, garlic and dijon mustard in her dressing. A little EVOO, salt and pepper and you are done. Gourmet? maybe not, but the flavor combos may not have occurred to you and the seasonings seem right on to me.
“Rosemary Chicken Cutlets” are another great example of simple, easily accessed ingredients coming together for great family meals. Combine cumin, paprika, oregano and rosemary with a couple of other ingredients, grill chicken indoors in a non-stick grill pan, and you are nearly finished.
Each recipe is coded as meat, dairy or parave. There is a wonderful section on “traditional foods” where Schapira illuminates fascinating facts and Biblical references that connect Old Testament text to food in ways that are fun to learn and were unfamiliar to me.
Interesting that she doesn’t include a chapter on Passover foods, but shows about a dozen photos pointing to easily adapted recipes or those that are suitable without any changes.
Her recipe for “Chocolate Mousse with Pear Chips” is super simple, elegant and bold with pure chocolate flavor and smooth, luscious texture. It is perfect for Passover. Schapira says she makes it every year for family and friends.
All photos by Dan Engongoro.
Thanks to my mother-in-law for this classic family favorite.
- 8 eggs, separated
- 12 oz bittersweet chocolate (not baking)
- 1 tsp instant coffee granules, dissolved in 3 tbsp boiling water
- ¼ cup sweet red wine
- FOR Pear Chips:
- 2 firm pears
- 1 cup sugar
- In a mixer, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
- Over a double boiler, melt the chocolate with the coffee.
- Beat egg yolks, with a fork and quickly add to double boiler, mixing well.
- Add the red wine.
- Remove from heat.
- Fold in the egg whites until combined.
- Place in individual cups for serving. Refrigerate.
- To prepare pear chips, preheat oven to 325°F.
- Thinly slice the pears and lightly coat each side with sugar.
- Place the pear slices in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes.
- Turn the pears over and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes.
- Turn off the oven and leave the pears in the oven to cool and dry.
- Before serving, garnish mousse with chocolate shavings and caramelized pear chips.