Cook Book Review - Fress by Emma Spitzer
Like a curious magpie I’m immediately drawn to the glorious pink hard back, on it is an image of food thrown together in an effortlessly perfect mess. Emma Spitzer’s introduction to Fress, Yiddish translation “to eat copiously and without restraint”, describes how as a child food was the only thing that held her attention. Although her mum wasn’t a passionate cook she was good at it and always made sure they had a homemade, family meal, a childhood I can definitely relate to. She links a lot of her food experiences to her eclectic Polish, Russian, Jewish heritage and her travels through North Africa and how these life experiences led her to be a finalist in Master Chef.
I’m using Fress to cook a three course menu for six, and by doing so , I hope to give you an honest opinion and helpful suggestions. One of my guests is pescatarian and regardless of choosing a meat free menu there’s still so much to choose from. Emma mentions a few dishes in her introduction that mean a lot to her, so I think that’s a good place to start…
This book is undeniably about sharing and I don’t think there’s a better way to do this than to start with a selection of dips and bite sized morsels, both complimenting and challenging each other. First up is Labneh, a yogurt that has been strained to remove its whey resulting in a thick consistency, this needed to be prepared up to 48 hours before the meal. Also prepared a couple of days in advance is a fragrant condiment Za’atar, a middle eastern dry herb mix that will be sprinkled over the top.
Having photographs of most dishes proves really helpful until I make the Creamy Aubergine Dip. I appreciate that each recipe is a guide and that you must use your judgment to adjust the measurements however the recipe guides you to use 2 tablespoons of crème fraiche (or Greek yogurt). Not sure what went wrong here but 2 tablespoons didn’t make it as creamy as its title suggested, so spoonful after spoonful I added a little more until I had the consistency resembling the photo provided– It tasted delicious but it then set almost like porridge – I’m sure that wasn’t supposed to happen, perhaps I should have added more olive oil…?
To add a bit of colour and spice to proceedings I also made Matbucha, a spicy pepper and tomato dip that Emma’s husbands beloved grandmother, known as Safta so frequently made. All served with freshly baked Turkish breads, black wrinkly olives found in my local bakery and cold, crisp cucumber batons.
The Fried Fish Balls are fun and easy to make, and if you’re like me and you don’t have a deep fat fryer a wok does the trick. To accompany the fish balls, Emma suggests making Chrain, a fresh horseradish and beetroot dip. She also warns you to taste with caution but let me remind you again because it was like a grenade exploding in my mouth!
As this issue is about BBQ’s and Picnics, it felt appropriate to eat alfresco and as luck would have it, the sun was shining so we all got a chance to sharpen those tan lines whilst discussing the first course. It was unanimously agreed that the highlight’s were the moreish crispy little fish balls and the fiery Matbucha, a dip that could probably be spread on just about anything and also makes me jealous that I never met Safta.
The Sticky Pomegranate Salmon with Buckwheat and Barberry Salad with Spiced Pomegranate felt like a perfect summery main. I prepared the buckwheat salad before my guests arrived and cooked the sticky sweet and spicy salmon fillets whilst they were hoovering up the starters. The salad dressing by the way is a game changer. I also added the Fennel, Orange and Carrot Salad to add a crisp and fresh texture. After such a generous and varied starter, the main course seemed to have relaxed the momentum of the meal, are these flavours a more familiar territory?
Next up is dessert, Emma describes this as her show stopper Apricot and Orange Blossom Frangipane with Pistachios. I did struggle to find one of the ingredients for this recipe – Mahleb powder, a seed from the St Lucie cherry, ground into fine powder. Fortunately for me I have a Greek mother who seems to always be in the know. You could omit this but why would you when it makes all the difference in helping to give this dessert its distinct identity? It’s a decadent treat and rich with flavours that you recognize but can’t necessarily pinpoint. Well worth the effort to cook and very definitely appreciated by all.
I recommend reading through each recipe in advance before making as you may discover a few ingredients and tools that are not so easy to get a hold of in your local store. I genuinely love this book and I think it might even challenge some of the assumptions that people might have about Jewish cuisine (it’s not all about salt beef and bagels!). It’s exciting, fresh and although some of these are taken from traditional recipes, it still feels modern. I’ve only just scratched the surface of this book but I’m already itching to try more…