The Book and the Cook Lives on

Fish cakes. Photo by Keri White

Those of you who have lived in Philly for years and were active on the culinary scene may fondly recall The Book and the Cook food fest from the early 1990s.

It was a weeks-long celebration of restaurants and cuisine, which partnered local food professionals with chefs from near and far. Together they would craft a menu, and patrons would enjoy a sumptuous meal showcasing two culinary talents.

I hadn’t thought of this for years, but I had the good fortune to be invited to dinner at my friend K’s house on Saturday night, and she prepared a meal based on one of those long-ago events.

“I went on a date to one of the events — the guy is long gone — we did not hit it off,” she said. “But I still have the cookbook! The focus of the book is Mediterranean, and doesn’t always conform to kosher cooking, but I’ve adapted some of the recipes to accommodate a kosher diet.”

I thumbed through “Matt-hew Kenney’s Mediterranean Cooking: Great Flavors for the American Kitchen” book while K cooked; it was funny to see how ingredients that are commonplace today required a footnote — there was a lengthy explanation of panko, which can practically be bought at a convenience store these days.

The dish below is adapted from a Moroccan crab cake recipe. K used raw cod that she chopped finely, but cooked cod, or any fish, can be used, and it is a great way to repurpose leftovers. If you use cooked fish, you can reduce the time in the saute pan by a minute or two.

The sauces is a revelation. I plan to make it regularly with or without the fish cakes. It would be divine on grilled fish or chicken, stirred into tuna or chicken salad, or even drizzled over grilled or roasted vegetables.

The carrots are a fantastic side dish — plenty going on so that they can jazz up a plain main dish, with wonderfully complex flavors marrying sweet and salty.

For dessert, K served some plain cookies with a dish of strawberry ice cream. Perfection.

Moroccan Fish Cakes
Makes 12 fish cakes, or about 6 servings

1½ cups panko
1¼ cups flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red pepper, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
2 tablespoons ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, crushed
6 scallions, white part only, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 cup heavy cream
1 pound cod filet or other fish, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Grated zest of 2 lemons
Pinch cayenne
Salt to taste (about ½ teaspoon)
¼ cup canola or other mild cooking oil
Cilantro dressing (see below)

Mix the panko and flour; set it aside.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium, and sauté the pepper and celery. When the pepper and celery begin to soften, add the scallions, ginger and garlic. Continue cooking until fragrant.

Add the cardamom, cumin and turmeric, and sauté for another minute. Add the heavy cream, bring it to a boil and lower the heat to reduce it by half, about 5 minutes.

Add the fish and cook it a few minutes until it is done and opaque throughout. Remove it from the heat, and add two-thirds of the panko mixture along with the parsley, chives, lemon zest, salt and cayenne. Allow it to cool.

Using your hands, form the mixture into cakes and dip them into the remaining panko mixture to coat. Place the cakes on a parchment or wax paper-lined cooking tray and refrigerate them until you are ready to cook.

Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium high, and sauté the fish cakes until they are crispy and brown on the outside. Drain them on paper towels and serve with the cilantro dressing.

Cilantro Dressing
Makes 1 cup

This is so amazingly delicious that I could practically eat it with a spoon. K recommends making a double batch so you have extra for tomorrow. Note: The original recipe requires toasting and grinding the cumin seeds, but I am perfectly happy to use the ground version. If you want to take that step, I won’t stop you.

1 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 cup cilantro
½ cup canola oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and cayenne to taste

In a small saucepan, heat the orange juice to a boil and reduce it to about ¼ cup. This will take about 12 minutes. Let the reduced juice cool slightly, and add it to the blender with the cilantro; puree. (You don’t want it boiling hot or it will cook the cilantro, and you want it to stay fresh.). Add the remaining ingredients and puree until blended.

Morrocan spiced carrots. Photo by Keri White

Moroccan Spiced Carrots
Serves 4

K came to my seder this year and brought these as a side to accompany our brisket. I had meant to request the recipe then, but forgot about it. Imagine my delight when they appeared on my plate alongside the cod cakes last weekend.

Like the cilantro dressing, the original version of this requires toasted and hand-ground cumin. Again, I opted for the lazy cooks’ version. One more note: Cooking the carrots in olive oil adds richness, depth and flavor, but it also adds fat. If this is a concern, omit the olive oil and simply steam the carrots until they are cooked through; follow the subsequent steps as directed.

2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon ground cumin
¼ cup olive oil
1 pound carrots, cut on the diagonal into thick coins
1 tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 generous tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Scant ¼ cup black, oil-cured, pitted olives
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped mint

Toast the pine nuts, either in an oven at 350 degrees F on a baking tray for about 8 minutes, shaking occasionally, or in a small, dry skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes. If you’re using a skillet, watch them carefully and shake them constantly.

Heat the olive oil on high in a large skillet and place the carrot slices in the oil in a single layer. Cook the carrots for a few minutes on high, then lower the heat and cook another 2 or 3 minutes until they are soft. Shake the pan and move the carrots around with a spatula to prevent sticking, and add salt.

Drain the carrots and pour them into a bowl. Economic cook’s tip: Save the oil, cool it and use it for salad dressing.

Add the honey, olives and lemon juice; allow the mixture to cool partially. When it reaches room temperature, add the fresh herbs, stir and serve.


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