One of the pleasures of getting invited out on my friendship network of Shabbos dinners is that, not only do you get the company and the dinner, but, if you've got my level of
nosiness lively curiosity, you can scan their library and their cookbook stock as well.
Last time I had one of S & P's fabulous Shabbos lunches, she had this beautiful Jewish cookbook, which a trainee she'd been mentoring had just given her as a thank you present.
I don't usually like encyclopaedia cookbooks; they're usually all about seducing you with pictures, but the recipes always end up as a disappointment. This one, though, was full of enticing sounding fish recipes that I'd never come across in Jewish recipe books before, not even in Claudia Roden's wonderful "Book of Jewish Food", which I think would be the one I would choose if I had to be dumped on a desert island with just one book.
Fish babka? A traditional Jewish dish from Ukraine, just down the road from where my maternal grandmother's family came from? How come I never heard of it? But it looked like an interesting version of fish pie without the pastry or the high fat sauces and toppings. So I made it, and...it turned out to be something quite special, much more attractive and versatile than the recipe and the photo showed.
As the recipe said, it was souffle-like. Which meant that when baked, it rose almost as much as a conventional souffle-- but stayed puffed up and impressive. The egg yolks, milk, fried onion, bits of bread and stiff egg white give it a lovely light and very tasty texture; an aerated clear yellow omlette-style base in which the embedded pieces of fish and herbs (nutmeg and dill or tarragon) are delicious, subtle and moist.
So I've experimented further with it, and worked out it would make great individual pies; the other week, I made seven for my Shabbos lunch guests, using high quality smoked salmon offcuts instead of the white fish cubes from the recipe. It was very easy, looked incredibly impressive and was even more delicious than the originals. And the pies kept beautifully in the fridge in individual plastic boxes.
This Thursday evening, I made some more with some supermarket sell-off smoked haddock, and that was very successful, though I like the smoked salmon version best. That made me two big and two small ones; the picture above is the one I had for supper on Thursday night