Do what you want.
It’s not exactly what you’d expect to read in a cookbook - especially one that’s kosher. But that’s the angle in I Heart Kosher, the bright, beautifully photographed new collection of recipes from kosher-food maven Kim Kushner.
The book breaks down Kushner’s favorite recipes into easy-to-organize categories like Ready to Go Basics, Quick Stove Top Mains, and One-Pan Meals. Colorful plates, fresh flavors, and seasonal ingredients power the lineup.
“You don’t have to follow recipes to the letter of the law,” Kushner told the Forward the day after a book-launch party at the Jonathan Adler store on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. “Cooking is about experimenting.”
The book’s subtitle is “Beautiful Recipes from My Kitchen”. Was there more of a focus on presentation than your other cookbooks?
It’s actually more of a personal book. We shot it in my home, using my dishes. It’s more about a focus on lifestyle — table settings, indoor/outdoor party situations.
Your web site says your books “redefine kosher cooking”. What does that mean?
When I start working on my books, kosher is not at the forefront of my mind. It just happens to be there. I want to create a great cookbook that just happens to be kosher. My main goal is essential recipes, tricks, and tools to make it easy for the home cook. A lot of people say, “I can’t believe this is a kosher cookbook. It’s not what I pictured”.
What’s the biggest misconception of kosher cooking?
People still equate it with pastrami, latkes, matzo-ball soup. They don’t differentiate between Jewish cuisine and kosher cooking. Kosher’s just about dietary guidelines, what we can and can’t eat. But it has nothing to do with techniques and flavors. Sure, we have some restrictions, but there’s so much we can do. I’ve always been inspired by all kinds of cookbooks.
Have you always kept kosher?
I grew up in a kosher household in Montreal, so kosher’s always been second nature. My mother’s from Morocco, so we also had strong Moroccan and Middle-Eastern flavors at the table. Everything in my family was about food and the meal, having breakfast and dinner together. Sitting around the table was a very important part of my childhood. But my mother also played around with techniques and flavors. She made matzo-ball soup with Moroccan fish. The halibut with chickpeas in I Heart Kosher is inspired by her recipe. It’s a hearty soup I grew up eating.
Do you have to seek out specialty stores for some of the ingredients you use in this book?
I mainly just shop at supermarkets. There’s so much available, it’s amazing. There are so many great new products on the market that are kosher.
You also teach kosher cooking. What have you learned as a teacher about what people need in the kitchen?
I’ve done a lot of group classes, but I do more one-on-ones now, primarily in New York City. I teach how to use the tools you’ve got. People say, “I don’t have the best pots and pans”. You don’t need the best pots and pans. They worry they don’t have this exact salt, or that exact spice. You can color outside the lines. If you don’t have fresh parsley, use dried parsley. Some home cooks get so concerned with doing things exactly that some of the joy gets lost.
Do you have a favorite recipe in the new book?
Well, the crispy chicken and rice has been the most talked about. It’s a one-pan recipe. These are seasonings I choose, but you can use any seasonings you like. I’m not sure that many cookbooks will guide readers that way.