Julia Turshen is the best-selling author of several cookbooks. “Now & Again” was listed as a “Great Read” by NPR and a best cookbook of 2018 by Amazon, while “Small Victories” was named a best cookbook of 2016 by The New York Times and NPR. She is also the host of the “Keep Calm and Cook On” podcast and founder of “Equity at the Table,” a digital directory of women and non-binary people in food. Her fourth cookbook, “Simply Julia: 110 Recipes for Healthy Comfort Food” (Harper Wave) is out now. She lives in Hudson Valley, N.Y. with her wife and their two dogs. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
In your introduction for ‘Simply Julia,” you write: “What I’ve come to realize is that you can believe in home cooking and also sometimes feel tired of it. That’s okay! Both of these things can be true at the same time.” This sentiment has never been more true than this particular moment in time.
It felt really important to acknowledge that a lot of us are feeling that way now that we’re a year into the pandemic. Anyone who cooks regularly knows what I’m talking about. It’s important to just say it out loud in a book about home cooking. Sometimes we don’t feel like it and that’s okay.
You had a comfort food book in mind even before the start of the pandemic — it’s like you knew people would be wanting that right now.
Obviously I had no idea that a pandemic would be going on when I started it. But simple recipes for healthy comfort food are always welcome, now more than ever. Healthy comfort, those words are very important to put them together for me, because when I feel my healthiest, I feel most comfortable, in my body and as a person.
And there are quite a few Jewish recipes.
One of my favorite recipes in the book is a golden chicken broth with real egg noodles, and by that, I mean you cook this incredibly thin layer of eggs, like an omelet, almost like crepes, and you roll a stack of them like a cigar, and cut them crosswise so you have these ribbons of eggs. This is something that my grandmother made, my mother’s mother who I never met. My grandmother would make them during Passover to eat in chicken broth since they weren’t eating regular noodles. At some point in my early twenties I thought, ‘I need to make these,’ and I loved them; there’s a lot of elegance in their simplicity.
Any other specific Jewish food memories that didn’t make it into the book?
I included a parsnip latke recipe. I love them, but I wish I had also included a really good potato one, because I really love latkes and I have really fond memories of eating them as a kid. I shared quite a few of my favorite Jewish recipes in the book; one of my favorites is a stuffed cabbage recipe; I love it so much because it just sends me back to Wolfie Cohen’s Rascal House in Miami, which isn’t around anymore. What I love most about the Jewish recipes is that they bring back people and places that aren’t around anymore, which is really powerful.
Let’s talk about two of your favorite ingredients, because they are some of my favorite, too: smoked paprika and kimchi.
Everything you use them with, will taste like you’ve cooked something for a long time and put a lot of effort to it. Ingredients like these are powerhouses that do so much heavy lifting for no effort.
While this is by no means a vegetarian book, there are whole sections that are entirely vegan, or a list of, say, 11 chicken dishes. Did you intend for its organization to be a reflection of how we eat today?
In my extended family alone, there is such a range of allergies and health restrictions, so yes, it’s something that I think a lot about, not only as a cookbook author but as someone who cooks a lot for the people I love. I spent a few years working as a private chef, accommodating all sorts of different needs and requests. In the before times, when trying to make a holiday meal that everyone in my family could enjoy, it could feel like a puzzle. I try and be as inclusive as possible, I don’t ever want someone to sit at my table and not have enough to eat.
You also have some essays on topics of importance to you, like anxiety and body image. Why did you include these?
I wrote a book about healthy cooking that has nothing to do with weight loss or restriction or guilt. I can’t separate the issues I’ve had with body image and anxiety from cooking, these are all things that are part of my daily life, and there are bigger conversations that we authors can be having with our readers. Cookbooks are the only types of books that people go back to over and over, and that’s a relationship between me and whomever is reading it; I don’t take it for granted.