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Interview with Leah Koenig **WIN HER COOKBOOK**


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The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook, was published by Rizzoli in March, 2011.  Prior to jumping into the freelance food writing world, Leah worked at Hazon for several years, where she managed their Jewish CSA program, organized the first Hazon Food Conference, and edited The Jew & The Carrot: Hazon’s award-winning food blog.  She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, musician Yoshie Fruchter.

1 How did you learn to cook?

Growing up I never had a strong desire to learn to cook, despite having a mom who was a wonderful home cook and who made family dinners a priority.  My passion for feeding others was sparked in college while I was living in a coop.  Making dinner for the housemates was one of the weekly requirements of living there – an idea that, at first, terrified me.  Luckily most of my housemates were talented in the kitchen – the kind of cooks who could open up the fridge, pull about a bunch of random ingredients and make something amazing.  At first I just watched them, and offered to chop a carrot or do whatever small task was needed.  But slowly I began to pick up some skills and gain confidence.

2 How did you end up working on an organic vineyard in Italy and what did you learn?

It all started with a broken heart!  My college boyfriend and I had broken up that year (senior year), and I was looking for a post-college experience to take my mind off of being sad – kind of like Eat, Pray, Love, but two years before the book was published.  So I signed up with WWOOF, an organization that matches up volunteers for work-stays on organic farms all across the world.  From there I totally lucked out – I got to spend a month working on this amazing vineyard in Tuscany, living in a medieval castle, drinking lots of delicious wine, and cooking amazing dinners in a gorgeous kitchen using produce from the garden outside. I had some tough, cathartic moments out in those vines, but many years later the heartbreak has long since faded, but the experience itself has stayed with me.

3 How do your recipes help the Jewish cook create every day meals?

The recipes in this book focus on simple, delicious, fuss-free dishes that any cook, regardless of background, could enjoy.  With the exception of Shabbat and the holidays when we focus on special, traditional foods, Jews eat with the same globally-inspired palate as our non-Jewish neighbors – and I wanted the book to celebrate that.  What makes the recipes Jewish is firstly, that they’re all kosher.  And secondly, whenever possible I tried to incorporate Jewish touches – either an ingredient that has Jewish resonance (like pomegranates, dill pickles, or tahini), or a bit of history that ties the dish into its Jewish context.

4 You have been involved with a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and you are a strong proponent of using local, organic and seasonal ingredients when preparing menus.  What inspired your personal “eco-lution” ?

I’ve always been an environmentalist – ever since I first learned about recycling and the hole in the ozone as a second grader.  But I did not always make the connection between food and living an eco-friendly lifestyle. In college I majored in environmental studies with a focus on religion, and ended up working for the Jewish environmental organization, Hazon, for the first four years after I graduated.  My duties at Hazon included running their Jewish CSA program, planning their first-ever Jewish Food Conference, and editing their food blog, The Jew & The Carrot.  During that time I met many inspiring farmers, chefs, nutritionists and other food professionals who were doing amazing work around local, seasonal food – those experiences absolutely changed the way I think about eating and cooking.

5 What advice do you have for the busy home cook?

1. Save time by planning ahead.  I’m not the type of person who can plan out my meals for the week and then go shopping for them – though if you are, more power to you!  But when making dinner, think about the 2-3 things on your menu (i.e. a casserole, a side dish and a salad), and plan accordingly.  Are you chopping garlic for more than one recipe?  Chop it all at once and portion out what you need for each dish.  What dish will take the longest?  Start with that and once it’s browning in the oven or simmering on the stove, use that cooking time to make the other dishes.

2. Invest in a good set of sharp knives and learn how to use them (i.e. sign up for a knife skills class at a local culinary school or your JCC).  Being able to chop vegetables swiftly, safely and efficiently is the number one way to speed up cooking times and make meal prep less of a headache.

6 How can people on a budget support sustainable agriculture?

Prioritize!  If you can’t afford to buy everything organic or local (and who can?) pick the 5-10 things that you never compromise on – like dairy, eggs, and meat, and certain produce – and do your best to buy sustainable versions of those products.  Signing up for a CSA is a great way and economical to support sustainable agriculture and benefit from the farmer’s fresh, delicious produce.  If that’s not your thing, then try treating yourself to 1-2 items from the farmers’ market each week.  They may cost more than what you find at the grocery store, but you’ll be supporting local farmers and chances are good they’ll be worth the added expense.

7 You feature many cuisines in your cookbook.  Do you have any travel stories related to food? What is your favorite food city?

It sounds cliche, but Rome is definitely my favorite food city.  Cacio e Pepe (Spaghetti with cheese and black pepper) is my absolute favorite comfort food.  It’s so elemental and satisfying.  Also, my husband and I spent some time in Rome a couple of years ago and I had a chance to research the city’s Jewish history and storied Jewish cuisine. (Here’s an article that came out of that research. Here’s another.)  While there we also got to eat a Shabbat meal at the home of a kosher caterer that was literally one of the best meals of my life.  It was everything you hear about when people wax on about Italian hospitality and meals that stretch on for hours – plus it was Shabbat so all the better.

8 What food do you dislike?

I’ll tolerate eggplant in certain dishes (especially deep-fried, when you can’t really taste it!), but I would never go out of my way to eat it.  There’s something about the mushy texture and the smoky taste that doesn’t do it for me.

9 What is your most memorable cooking moment?

Testing the recipes for this book was definitely memorable.  Partly because I tested them last summer when it was 95 degrees out for most of July and August (and I don’t have an air conditioned kitchen)!  But throughout the process I just felt so incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to get to cook professionally and share my passion for food with others.  At the end of the process I could also feel how much I had grown personally as a cook – what a gift!  I hope that everyone who reads or cooks from the book ends up feeling that way too.

Here are few of Leah’s recipes for you to sample the unique flavors in this book:

Ginger Sesame Tempeh with Green Beans

Radish Sandwich

Turkey Fig Sandwich

***GIVEAWAY*** You could win your very own copy of Leah Koenig’s Cookbook – The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook. All you have to do to have a chance to win is leave a comment below telling us what your go-to everyday kosher meal is. One entry per person. Winner will be picked at random from qualifying entries. Contest ends June 1st 2011 at 9 am EST. Contest open to US Residents only.

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About Tamar Genger MA, RD


Tamar lives in New York and is the mother of three amazing children, a Registered Dietitian, professor of Nutrition, and as you can probably guess, a foodie! Tamar loves to travel with her family and visits kosher restaurants wherever she goes. Although she loves the sights, she spends more time talking about the restaurants and food she ate! As a mom and a nutritionist, Tamar tries to balance her passion for healthy cooking with her insatiable desire for chocolate!




55 Responses to Interview with Leah Koenig **WIN HER COOKBOOK**

  1. avatar says: Rivkah T

    My go-to meal is probablysome aort of pasta with some sort of protein, plus veggies. Examples: udon noodles with soy “chicken” strips and Mrs. Bragg’s liquid amino acids (much better than soy sauce!). Whole what pasta with freshly-grated kosher Italian romano cheese with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and wild tilapia baked in my small oven with olive oil, lemon juice, and spices I’m in the mood of using. Veggies are frequently frozen mixes that I can microwave, but I’ll roast carrots as often as possible.

    Hope to get my hands on this cookbook very soon!

  2. avatar says: Amy

    My go-to is definitely chicken schnitzel. I make it several ways – on the stove, in the oven, with cornflake crumbs, with matzah meal, with bread crumbs, with egg, with margarine, with mayonnaise – but it’s so easy, tasty, and always a winner!

  3. Thanks to great urban chicken farming friends, markets and my CSA – My go to meals of late are some form of eggs for dinner. Frittatas reat way to incorporate seasonal vegetables and farmers market cheese and my garden herbs, plus I can put on a sandwich for my kid’s lunch the next day! I have also started putting poached or fried eggs on top of almost anything…salads, pasta, rice and beans and GRITS!

  4. avatar says: edie s.

    With a large family to feed, my go to meal is spaghetti and meatballs. The pasta and sauce are relatively inexpensive, and the chopped meat can be stretched with breadcrumbs and seasonings. It also cooks up pretty quickly too.

  5. avatar says: Sharron

    I often make a brisket for dinner Friday night. Then I can make sandwiches, or great lunches with sliced brisket and some vegetables, or salad with pieces of brisket in it.

  6. I do plan my meals carefully because I do not like processed foods of any kind and make everything from scratch. This requires careful planning. But some things I just keep on hand all the time for quick fixes when plans change or family drops over unannounced. Also, Saturday nights everyone is hungry and there isn’t time to put together an elaborate meal. So my goto favorites in these situations are chicken breasts and garlic pasta. I can vary the ingredients with what is in the garden or pantry with this protein and carb to make a delicious meal quickly. Sometimes I cut the chicken in chunks and make a one-dish meal with the pasta and other times I bake or braise the breasts separately. And sometimes I just serve the pasta without chicken. I use olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs and some vegetable (broccoli, snap peas, carrots, etc.). Even children love these ingredients.

  7. pasta, veggie cutlet & brussel sprouts

  8. avatar says: FAL

    We have always had a kosher home and over the years it certainly has become much easier to be ‘inventive’ with all the new products out there. My favorite ‘go to’ meal is one that is so easy and yet seems quite difficult and that is a brisket that is made with garlic (my favorite veggie!) and whole cranberries. No matter whether its just those in the house or guests coming over for dinner, it is elegant and certainly delicious enough for everyone. I would love to win the cookbook and share it with my son and daughter in law who really love cooking. Thank you for your consideration.

  9. A few go-to meals:
    1. Place chicken, black beans, salsa in crock pot in that order. Turn on. Enjoy 6 hours later.
    2. Defrost lima beans and corn. Add red onion, rice vinegar, olive oil, s&p. Serve with whatever you have on hand- brown rice, tuna, cheese, etc…
    3. Stir fry whatever is in my vegetable drawer. Add some frozen peas. Add some herbs, and some beans or lentils. Top with cheese. Eat alone or with pasta, brown rice, tortilla, etc…
    4. Cook (or “crock” wild rice and mung beans with miso and broth. Serve with mango. Yum.

  10. avatar says: SarahG

    On weeknights, I always have a pot of soup in the fridge to heat up for a quick dinner with salad.

  11. avatar says: Marla

    My go to meal is crumby chicken, a shake and bake chicken with cornflake crumbs, for some reason this is my husbands favorite

  12. favorite “go to” meal to cook after work: pene pasta, toss w/ light ricotta cheese, grated kosher parmesian cheese, garlic and grape tomatoes that were cooked in olive oil for 5 minutes, plus chopped fresh basil

  13. avatar says: sim

    Soup, soup, soup. Chock filled with whatever vegetables are at the bottom of the crisper, not so pretty to serve, but still filled with yummy flavor!

  14. avatar says: Marjie

    I am hooked on these veggie patties from our Costco. You would think I would get bored with them, but I crumble them up and mix in whatever veggie I happen to have on hand and that makes a different flavor every time. Mixing them with eggs is like having a quick egg foo yung.

  15. Our go-to meal is a stir fry made with whatever is in our weekly CSA box. Sometimes we add chicken or beef, but the fresh veggies are the stars.

  16. avatar says: Deborah S

    Chicken cutlets, rice and a vegetable, whatever I have around.

  17. avatar says: Dorene

    Our quickest daily go-to supper is red peppers stuffed with soy crumbles in a spicy sloppy joe sauce microcooked while Spanish rice finishes on the stove. A tossed salad completes the meal!

  18. My go-to meal is BBQ chicken. We even BBQ in the winter. We place the grill close to the patio doors and clean off the snow regularly so that we can get to it.

  19. Well, my new go-to meal is your quick Coq au Vin! Seriously! It is not only easy but tastes amazing! I want to eat it every day. Otherwise, my go-to meal is a baked potato with Smart Balance butter, steam vegetables and a big pile of melted cheese. Yum!

  20. avatar says: Marcaryn

    Honey soy baked chicken with sauteed green beans and mushroom wild rice pilaf.

    If I don’t have time to cook tuna salad or a pan seared salmon steak over a green salad is also a favorite.

  21. Broiled Salmon, whole wheat pasta and sauteed peppers and onions.

  22. I amke a fritatta with asparagus, red peppers, onions and chedder cheese. Serve it with a spinach salad and garlic bread. Angel food cake with vanilla ice cream for dessert.

  23. avatar says: Elana

    Breakfast for dinner! Pancakes and eggs!

  24. Rice and beans!! Add cheese and it fulfills my cheese cravings, add grilled chicken or meat it’s filling and delish!!

  25. My stand by kosher meal is chicken breasts, russian dressing, marmalade and onion soup mix. Bake for an hour and always is tasty and easy!!

  26. When in doubt, I throw rice, broth, chicken, and a mixture of Indian spices in a crockpot! Perfect an filling every time!

  27. avatar says: Sarah

    My go-to meal is pasta with spaghetti sauce, mushrooms, and cheese.

  28. A few go to meals are a lovely crock pot mac and cheese, tilapia seasoned with lemon with rice, or a quick spinach dip.

  29. avatar says: HL

    My favorite go-to meal is almost any form of pasta – preferrably with some kind of cheese – fettuchini, penne, or just plain cheese and tomato sauce

  30. avatar says: Sharon

    Whole wheat macaroni and cheese with broccoli or spinach. I cook the broccoli with the macaroni.

  31. I am not of the Jewish faith but when I was in my teens a neighbor of ours ran a catering service out of her basement and I worked for her during the summer and weekends. While her catering service did not claim to be kosher as some of her clients wanted non-kosher foods she did keep a strict kosher kitchen for her family upstairs (although her husband once whispered in my ear that he had tried bacon and thought it tasted like burnt newspaper) and I learned a lot of things about kosher and its requirements and especially the decidedly great flavors that came with it. Have kept some of the recipes over the years (using them in a non-kosher kitchen I confess) and would love to win this cookbook so I can continue to expand my kosher knowledge.

  32. avatar says: Samantha

    A baked pasta recipe from Shape magazine. Delicious, kosher, easy to prepare and low fat…what could be better?

  33. My go-to meal is roasted chicken with root vegetables.

  34. avatar says: mom23

    I often buy a 3 lb package of chicken breast cutlets. I trim them using kitchen scissors, rinse them and freeze them in 1 lb packages. When I need a fast meal, I will pull out one of these packages from the freezer. I will make a chicken and walnut stir fry, the cranberry chicken from Quick and Kosher or another easy meal using cutlets . Having an easy to use package of chicken cutlets gives me a lot of fast meal options.

  35. homemade burgers, with fresh salad on the grill or in the oven it is alway a hit. I also dice fresh veggies into mix for as an extra bonus.

  36. baked chicken with potatoe is my go to meal

  37. avatar says: EM

    Breaded shnitzel and baked broccoli – the only thing everyone in my family will eat!

  38. avatar says: Roni

    My go to meal is a simple “peasant” pasta dish with potatoes, parsley, garlic, and olive oil. Serve with a salad.

  39. avatar says: Daniel M

    i don’t have one, which is why i need this book!

  40. avatar says: Debby

    I don’t like the term “leftovers”, I prefer to call it “precooked”. Sunday and Monday my go to meals are those I precooked on Thursday and Friday (and ate the first time on Shabbat). Otherwise, I love tacos, they take ten minutes of work and since kids love to eat with their hands, I never get complaints.

  41. avatar says: ben

    rice (any type – brown, long-grain white, red rice) w/ sesame chicken. i make the chicken in batches in the oven and freeze to add to rice. add whatever vegetables to the rice that are on hand, pureed pumpkin is always good too. also keep a pot of veggie soup in the fridge almost always! thanks.

  42. avatar says: brocha

    we have two fallbacks, duck sauce chicken or garlicky chicken. Those are the only two that I know everyone will eat without hearing any complaining

  43. Kasha & Bowties!

  44. avatar says: sarared

    My favorite easy meal is barbeque beef in a crockpot. I put all the ingredients in the crockpot before I go to work and when I come home dinner is served!!

  45. avatar says: Rochel S

    My go to meal is usually a chicken cutlet recipe and potatoes.

  46. chicken with sesame noodles is our favorite

  47. avatar says: Summer D

    My go to meal is pasta and veggies.

  48. avatar says: Sand

    Mine is a simple stir fry with lots of veggies!

  49. Latkes or soup are great go to meals.

  50. my go to meal is a nice soup

  51. avatar says: Blima

    Eggs and toast is mine

  52. avatar says: Gianna

    Chicken soup.

  53. avatar says: Donna K

    premade soup

  54. And the winner is Miriam Taub!! Congratulations!