You’ve gotta love a cookbook author who starts her book by telling you that she doesn’t always like to cook.
That’s just how Kim Kushner starts her second book, The New Kosher: Simple Recipes to Savor and Share (Weldon Owen). It’s a reassuring bit of honesty in a world that exalts the farm-fresh, painstakingly prepared, magazine-photo-ready, slooooooow meals that we all “should” be cooking. The truth is even food writers get too busy, too harried, and too tired to spend hours cooking a complicated meal every night. (When my own book of dinners to cook with kids—Friday Night Bites—came out, a friend asked me, “You mean you do that all the time?” My answer: “Are you nuts?”)
So it’s refreshing to read in Kushner’s introduction that, “When I’m at home cooking, about fifty other things are going on around me at the same time. Usually this includes my boisterous sons playing football in the middle of our New York City apartment and my daughter, in her Frozen tutu, running up and down the hallway while dragging her Hello Kitty rolling suitcase that is cascading musical instruments, stuffed animals, and candy in a trail along the floor. A loud siren is typically sounding outdoors. It’s probably a fire truck, and a squad of firefighters is likely gathered around the building next door, where there seems to be some mysterious pipe issues. Of course, the phone is ringing off the hook, too.”
That sounds about right. But there is definitely a home-cooked alternative to the calories-be-damned, instant-access, fast-and-faster food that tempts us at every turn. Kushner’s message is not that we should give in to the chaos and order takeout, but rather, as stated in the book’s subtitle, that we can cook fresh, delicious, everyday food by keeping things simple. And that’s true, she says, even if you keep strictly kosher.
Kushner’s beautiful book, produced with the same the food-as-minimalist-art aesthetic as her first book (The Modern Menu: Simple, Beautiful, Kosher ), is full of recipes that won’t keep you in the kitchen for hours. But they will keep you and those at your table nourished and happy. From her Spinach and Feta Quiche with Heirloom Tomatoes to Arctic Char with Wasabi-Mirin Sauce over Rice Noodles to her Grilled Steak with Caramelized Tandoori Peppers (the latter sounding complicated but consisting of seven ingredients including salt and pepper) the emphasis is on getting big flavors from simple preparations.
Many of her recipes reflect her multifaceted family heritage. Kushner grew up in an Orthodox family in Montreal; her mother was a Moroccan Jew who grew up in Israel. F’r instance: Her Charred Eggplant Dip with Maple Drizzle (and an optional garnish of dried rose petals) is an ingenious combination of Canadian and Middle Eastern/North African flavors. In fact, her flavor go-to’s are often Middle Eastern and North African spices and maple as a sweetener. But she also finds her inspiration in Europe (think Kim’s Bolognese Sauce or Slow-Cooked Chicken with Fennel and White Wine), in Asia (Spicy Ginger Carrot Slaw with Rice or Tamari Salmon with Edamame) or the USA (Individual Mac and Cheese or Deconstructed S’mores).
The photos by Kate Sears are truly magnificent; some, you’ll want to frame and hang on your walls; others will make you want to dip a spoon into the page. Maybe that’s the message Kushner is trying to convey: Simple is beautiful. And delicious.