The Jewish holiday of Shavuot, on May 21, is about the last time of year you would want to talk to Beth Ginsberg or her boss, Michael Milken. Ginsberg is Milken's chef, and together they co-authored the best-selling "The Taste of Living Cookbook: Mike Milken's Favorite Recipes for Fighting Cancer" (CapCURE, $27.50). Shavuot, which celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, is like many Jewish festivals rooted in seasonal agricultural cycles. Late Spring is not, coincidentally, the time when pasture lands are richest and milk production the heaviest. So the holiday is traditionally marked by serving dairy dishes -- blintzes, cheesecakes, cheese strudels and other good stuff.
Milk fat is nowhere to be found in "Taste of Living." After surviving a serious bout of prostate cancer, Milken avoids fats of all kinds like a bad investment. The San Fernando Valley native who grew up on pancakes and cheeseburgers -- he boasts of winning fraternity breakfast-eating contests in which lard was considered "one of the essential food groups" -- now preaches the gospel of low fat, high exercise and soy. Japanese men have one-fifth the rate of prostate cancer mortality as their American counterparts, and research points to a high intake of soy and soy products as a likely reason. Soy protein lowers bad cholesterol in the body without affecting the good cholesterol.
Three years ago, Milken hired Ginsberg as his personal chef to come up with vegetarian and soy dishes that didn't taste like they were good for you. Many of the ingredients in "Taste for Living" will sound familiar to the bean sprout and Birkenstock crowd: tempeh, silken tofu, brewers yeast. But Ginsberg, who owned the well-regarded gourmet health-food restaurant 442, has managed to both simplify standard health-food recipes and bring them into the 1990s. Fresh herbs abound, as do more Milken-friendly takes on current menu favorites such as Chinese Roasted Tofu Salad and Chiles Rellenos in Tomato Jalapeño Broth. Ginsberg, a single mother in her mid-30s, has streamlined the recipes so that cooking healthy doesn't necessarily mean cooking all day.
Milken adheres to his diet during Jewish holidays as well, Ginsberg said in a recent phone interview. On Chanukah, she makes latkes with zucchini and egg whites, sautés them lightly in nonstick spray and finishes them in the oven. This Passover, she made matzo balls with egg whites. Milken liked them.
Ginsberg herself likes a good, eggy challah each Friday, and has a weakness for low-fat potato chips. But using her cookbook, you could prepare a dairy-less Shavuot and barely miss a blintz. "Kids love my Devil's Fool Cake with Cocoa Frosting," she said. "And they go crazy for the chocolate pudding." Both use soy milk, cocoa and egg whites, and they certainly look dairy-ish. Total fat in one serving of chocolate pudding: 1 gram.
Bring on the holidays.
"Taste of Living" is available in bookstores or by calling (877) 884-LIFE. All proceeds of the book go to CapCURE, a nonprofit association for the cure of cancer of the prostate.
Old Fashioned Chocolate Pudding
2 cups 1% cocoa soy milk
1/4 cup natural cane sugar or fructose
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons low-fat cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean, optional
1) Place all ingredients in saucepan. If using vanilla bean, split it lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Place seeds and pod in saucepan with other ingredients.
2) Cook the mixture, stirring, over medium heat until it thickens to pudding-like consistency -- about 15 minutes.
3) Remove from heat and extract the vanilla bean pod.
4) Pour into six individual cups or one large mold and chill at least 30 minutes before serving.