A Kosher Cookbook That Does Not Scream Kugel

Review of Kosher by Design Lightens Up by Susie Fishbein. (New York: Mesorah Publications, 2008)

I grew up in a kosher household in a Long Island suburb. My mother never loved cooking. Her favorite Shabbat dinners involved take-out. I never felt following a kosher diet limited me, because in New York there are kosher restaurants for almost every type of cuisine. I liked the fact that even when we ate out in a non-kosher restaurant, we made the choice to eat vegetarian. This reminded me of my commitment to Judaism and the tradition of keeping kosher. It was not a big sacrifice.

Kosher by Design Lightens Up coverTo be honest, I would have been satisfied to follow in my mother’s footsteps, but I had two problems: my husband, who, though Jewish, did not grow up in a kosher household, and our location when we first married–Minnesota. There aren’t very many kosher take-out restaurants in Minnesota and I was uncomfortable bringing food prepared in non-kosher restaurants into our kitchen. In my home, I have always kept to a high level of kashrut so all of my Jewishly observant friends and family would eat there.

Susie Fishbein taught me to love cooking. Fishbein, who revolutionized kosher cooking for a generation with her six Kosher by Design cookbooks, understood my needs. My husband wanted to eat well and, as a student in an M.D./Ph.D. program, he didn’t want to prepare the food. I needed to learn to cook, fast.

Fishbein’s books have diverse recipes and don’t rely exclusively on Eastern European Jewish standard dishes. I was drawn to her use of fresh ingredients in recipes like Watermelon and Heirloom Tomato Salad in Kosher by Design Entertains. My family also loves to go to farmer’s markets and fresh vegetable markets and it seems as though Fishbein’s recipes are perfect for what we find there.

There are a lot of great cookbooks out there, but Fishbein’s orientation toward observant Jewish households was important to me. I do not cook food on Shabbat or Jewish holidays and often it is hard to find recipes that can be flawlessly prepared before Shabbat to be served Friday night or Saturday afternoon with reheating limited to a hotplate. Fishbein’s recipes are designed with this restriction in mind. Many of her recipes can be served at room temperature or easily heated up.

Fishbein’s recipes are easy to follow, and she thinks a lot about presentation, which is perfect for my family since we love to have guests. Every recipe in Kosher by Design Lightens Up is presented with a full-page color photograph, which both tempts you to cook the dishes and gives you an idea of how to present them.

Susie Fishbein starts Kosher by Design Lightens Up by telling her readers that this is the book she needed to write. I agree. It’s also the book I needed her to write. In Fishbein’s early cookbooks some of her recipes included mayonnaise, cream and other high fat foods. The new cookbook not only omits high fat foods, it includes nutritious ones on purpose. Fishbein probably should have named the book, Kosher By Design Lightens Up and Wises Up. I loved what she had to say about super foods. For example did you know that one mango has four grams of fiber and all the vitamin C an adult needs in a day? (p. 124)

The recipes I tried from this book did not disappoint. Like the ones in her previous books, they were easy to make and came out beautifully. Be warned, however, that some of the ingredients can be difficult to find. For example, the Sunshine Salad calls for six yellow beets. The salad sounded amazing–beets and pineapple with walnuts, dynamite!–but I had no idea where to find a yellow beet, nor did I have the time to seek them out. I turned the Sunshine Salad into a Sunset Salad with purple beets. (It still tasted wonderful.)

The recipe I enjoyed the most was the Salmon with Bok Choy and Tomatoes. It calls for relatively few ingredients, a real plus for me, and the pairing of stewed tomatoes with bok choy was perfect with salmon. Fishbein takes the reader through how to prepare the bok choy, a new ingredient for me. I also learned that bok choy is rich in calcium and vitamin A. The recipe, which Fishbein collected from her personal trainer, calls for a commercial spice combination that might not be available in every supermarket–but in this case she offers an alternative. The recipe includes advice on how to present the salmon on top of the bok choy tomato combination. The resulting dish was a delicious combination of tangy and hot flavors.

Mesorah publications owns this photo of beautiful salad
The illustrations in Kosher By Design Lightens Up are fabulous. This photo of the Portobello and Asparagus Salad takes up all of page 117. Used by permission of Mesorah Publications.

I also tried the Portobello and Asparagus Salad. The instructions on how to make the salad were relatively simple and the results looked a lot more elaborate than you’d expect from such an easy preparation. I liked that it could be served warm or cold, and thought it looked and tasted like it was made by a professional.

If you’re a cook in a Jewish family, or a Jewish cook presenting food to your whole diverse family, this book could be great for you. When discovering kosher cooking, it is sometimes difficult to find a cookbook that does not scream “kugel!” Fishbein has adapted recipes from many cuisines for this book, using the flavors of Korean, Japanese, Moroccan and Mexican cooking. These recipes are both kosher and lighter in fat than usual, but they look great.

It is also sometimes confusing, when you’re new to kashrut, to take recipes and adapt them to be kosher. This can be a nerve-wracking experience for those unfamiliar with these rules when entertaining for family or friends who keep kosher. This cookbook makes it easier. Each recipe is labeled dairy, meat or pareve. (People who keep kosher don’t eat dairy and meat food together, but can eat foods that are pareve–neither dairy nor meat–with either category.) If you are looking for a cookbook to help you plan Jewish holidays or Shabbat meals, this book gives light alternatives that will work for everyone at your table.

Salmon With Bok Choy and Tomatoes

1 large head bok choy
1 ½ pounds salmon fillets, skin and pin bones removed, sliced into 12 long strips
Nonstick cooking spray
2 Tbsp Billy Bee Honey Barbeque Seasoning, divided
(or make a mixture of 1 tsp brown sugar, ½ tsp paprika, ½ tsp coarse sea salt, ½ tsp dried minced onion, ½ tsp garlic powder, ½ tsp fennel seeds, 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper)
Honey, optional if using
2 14.5 oz. cans stewed tomatoes with Italian seasoning
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
Trim off the very bottom root end of the bok choy and discard. Cut the remaining bok choy into bite-sized pieces, stems and leaves included. Set aside.

Place the salmon into a shallow oven-safe dish. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Heavily coat the fish with one tablespoon of the Billy Bee steak seasoning or homemade spice mixture. Heat over medium and add the bok choy, tomatoes and remaining tablespoon steak seasoning. Add the cayenne. The bok choy will cook down so it is OK if the pan is overflowing. Cook until the bok choy is tender but not wilted–you still want some crunch.

Divide the bok choy and tomatoes among six plates, placing them in a heaping mound in the center. Crisscross two salmon fillets over the top of each mound.

Portobello and Asparagus Salad

¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive-oil
1 Tbsp honey
Non-stick cooking spray
4 large portobello mushroom caps
1 lb. asparagus, stem ends removed
Water as needed
1 small Belgian endive
1/3 cup chopped, sundried tomatoes
1/3 cup loosely packed shredded basil
3 Tbsp pine nuts
½ medium head romaine lettuce, cut into 1-inch pieces
Fine sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil and honey. Set aside.

With a damp paper towel, wipe any dirt from the portobello caps. Use a melon baller to scoop out and discard the gills. Heat grill pan, sauté pan or outdoor grill over medium-high heat. Lightly grease the pan with non-stick cooking spray and grill the portobello caps, flipping them twice and cooking each time about 3-4 minutes per side, or until they are tender and juicy. Immediately dice into 1-inch cubes, toss with the dressing and season with salt and pepper. If juices seeped out on the plate, add them to the bowl. Let rest about 10 minutes.

Place the asparagus into a skillet and add water to come halfway up the asparagus. Heat over medium heat and steam until the asparagus is bright green and slightly tender, about 3 minutes. Drain, chop into 2-inch pieces and set aside.

Meanwhile, slice the Belgian endive in half, then into 1/4 –inch-thick half-moons. Add the endive to the mushrooms, along with the asparagus, tomatoes, basil, pine nuts and romaine. Toss gently to coat everything with the dressing. Season to taste.

Serve warm or chilled. If serving chilled, omit the romaine until ready to serve.

Robyn Schwartz

Robin Schwartz was the Network Director at InterfaithFamily. She lives in Newton, Mass.


Author: Robyn Schwartz