Amelia Saltsman is a longtime champion of local family farms. She’s passionate about helping everyday cooks make the connection between small-farm foods and real-life meals.
Healthy, fresh and local is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind, however, when we think of the traditional Jewish food our grandmothers made.
“We tend to compartmentalize the different aspects of our lives,” Amelia says. “We have one box for the seasonal, lighter, healthier way we eat today, and another for Jewish food, which is often misunderstood as heavy, only Eastern European (Ashkenazic), or irrelevant to today’s lifestyle.”
Thankfully, Amelia’s fabulous new cookbook, The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen, solves this conundrum. She opens up all those boxes and shows how intertwined tradition and modern life are. Amelia says she’s read the Bible for history and literature, but now she’s “mined it for food, agriculture and sustainable practices, and I’ve discovered a trove of delicious connections.”
With 150 recipes, The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen offers a refreshingly different take on traditional and contemporary Jewish cooking with recipes that take us far beyond deli meats and kugel.
Amelia’s first book, The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook, is a bestselling beloved classic. Her work has appeared in many publications, including Bon Appétit, Cooking Light, National Geographic Traveler, Huffington Post, and the Los Angeles Times and she’s been featured in Los Angeles, Vegetarian Times, US Airways, Women, and Fit Pregnancy. She’s also a frequent guest on KCRW’s “Good Food with Evan Kleiman.”
Amelia is the daughter of a Romanian mother and an Iraqi father who met in the Israeli army and immigrated to Los Angeles, where she was born and raised. She infuses her new cookbook with her rich history, marrying her family traditions with modern sensibilities to offer a fresh take on many classics.
I can’t wait to cook my way through A Seasonal Jewish Kitchen. On my list to begin with is Autumn Slaw with Beets, Carrots and Kohlrabi; Gvetch, a Romanian Ratatouille; a delicious looking Syrian Lemon Chicken Dish called Hamut; and a beautiful Blood Orange and Olive Oil Polenta Upside-Down Cake, just to name a few.
I’m also inspired to make all sorts of new dishes for the upcoming holidays like this gorgeous European Plum Meringue Torte for Rosh Hashanah. Thanks so much Amelia for sharing the recipe below!
EUROPEAN PLUM MERINGUE TORTE
(Reprinted with permission from The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen © 2015 by Amelia Saltsman, Sterling Epicure, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. Photography by Staci Valentine)
MAKES ONE 10-INCH (25-CM) TORTE, ABOUT 12 SERVINGS
Amelia says that “meringue-topped fruit tortes were the thing in Israel in the 1950s and 1960s.” This recipe is based on her aunt Hanna’s. She substitutes the plums for apples or pears in the winter months and fresh apricots in the summer months.
FOR THE FILLING
1½ pounds (680 g) ripe European-type plums (10 to 25, depending on size)
½ cup (50 g) sugar
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
FOR THE CAKE
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (200 g) butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
3 eggs, separated
2 cups (250 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¹⁄³ cup (65 g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup (125 g) plain whole-milk yogurt
FOR THE MERINGUE
Reserved egg whites
½ cup (100 g) sugar
½ cup (45 g) sliced almonds
TO MAKE THE FILLING: Pit the plums. Most varieties are not freestone, so to pit them, cut each plum in half through the stem end, shaving alongside the pit, and then cut the meat away from the sides of the pit. Cut the plums into pieces. If very ripe, they may fall apart, but don’t worry. You should have 3 to 4 cups (500 to 660 g).
In a wide pot or skillet, cook the plums, sugar, butter, and lemon juice over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, and adjusting heat to prevent burning, until the mixture is glossy, thick, and reduced to about half the volume, 10 to 15 minutes. Scrape onto a plate or sheet pan, spreading it out to cool rapidly. (The filling can be made ahead and refrigerated.)
TO MAKE THE CAKE: Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch (25-cm) springform pan.
Separate the eggs, placing the whites in the sparkling clean bowl of an electric mixer and the yolks in a small bowl. Cover the whites and set aside. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.
Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed, or a bowl and a wooden spoon, beat the butter until creamy and light in color. Add the sugar and beat until incorporated. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition, and beat in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture in three batches alternating with the yogurt, beginning and ending with the flour mixture and mixing just until completely blended. The batter will be stiff.
Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Bake the cake until pale golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out barely clean, about 18 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack (do not remove cake from pan). Adjust the oven rack to the upper third of the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C).
TO MAKE THE MERINGUE: Fit the electric mixer with the whisk attachment and beat the egg whites on low speed until foamy. On high speed, gradually add the sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.
TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE: With the cake still in the pan, spread the plum filling over the top of the cake. Spoon meringue in large dollops over the filling, then spread and swirl it to cover the filling. Sprinkle almonds evenly over the meringue. Return the cake to the oven and bake until the meringue is golden and the almonds are lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
Transfer the cake to a wire rack and let cool completely. Run a thin-bladed knife or spatula around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the cake sides, then unlatch and remove pan ring. If desired, use an offset spatula to loosen the cake from the pan bottom and slide it onto a serving platter. Cut into wedges to serve. The torte can be made up to 6 hours ahead and held at room temperature until serving. Refrigerate any leftovers.
Be sure to check out Amelia’s blog, Amelia Saltsman, Food, for more great recipes and essential cooking tips.