I don't usually connect Jewish food with innovation, so I was surprised by Jayne Cohen's new book, The Gefilte Variations: 200 Inspired Re-Creations of Classics from the Jewish Kitchen (Scribner). Cohen makes French toast with challah, one of the all-time great things you can do with bread and eggs, then cleverly stuffs it with cubes of sweet and tangy mango. With her unusual cheese latkes--the potato variety is a staple of Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews--she serves a fresh persimmon sauce instead of the typical syrup or preserves. She also tinkers with the recipes of the Sephardim, descendants of the Jews who migrated to the Mediterranean and Asia: for a twist on the traditional chard wrapped around rice, herbs and spices, she adds artichokes to the filling.
For Passover, which celebrates the ancient Hebrews' liberation from slavery in Egypt, Cohen creates the menu that follows, which showcases her freewheeling approach. While all the familiar dishes are here--the fruit-and-nut paste called haroset, matzo ball soup, slow-cooked brisket and macaroons--Cohen infuses them with new ideas. She shapes her haroset mixture into balls and serves them on plumped dried apricots. She packs her fluffy matzo balls with fresh dill and chives and braises her brisket with rosemary and shallots. And she transforms a coconut macaroon recipe into a crust for a witty, kosher-for-Passover tarte Tatin.