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In the JoyofKosher Kitchen with Chef Levana


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For nearly thirty years Chef Lévana Kirschenbaum has owned and operated a catering business, a bakery and a successful Manhattan restaurant all while raising a family.  Levana continues to offer weekly cooking demos in New York City to locals and visitors who enjoy dinner and a show.  Levana has published four cookbooks, Levana’s Table: Kosher Cooking for Everyone, Levana Cooks Dairy Free, In Short Order and her latest hit, The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen.  You can find more from Levana on her blog, LevanaCooks.  Read about her new book here.

1. Share some of your favorite memories of growing up in Morocco?

The great hospitality. It’s in the blood. If you pass by a family gathered around a meal of bread, olives and dates and a pot of mint tea, they will offer you some. If the repairman fixes your leak, you pay him, and you offer him a cup of tea and a pastry, served in real china. If someone is at your door without any warning, you beg him to come in and have something.

2. How does your cultural heritage inspire your culinary choices?

In every imaginable way. We were eating whole foods every day of our lives without even knowing it: whole foods was the only thing available. So in everything I teach and write about, I’m hardly exploring a new field and novel ideas. when we first started as a bakery, we were considered pioneers and won awards for several desserts: they were never commercial, they were always natural, and unadorned. Good is good and speaks for itself loud and clear: it never needs any adornment. Also, my native cuisine is called one of the world’s greatest: not for nothing. What I love best about it is how on earth you whip up something so simple, with the most plebeian ingredients. and end up with something delicious. Our flavors are bold and vibrant, they just know what to do!

3. Since the closing of your restaurant you have been working on what you describe as your “Magnum Opus” cookbook, The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen.  Why whole foods?  Why now?

I should tell you here a few words about my “Magnum Opus”: it has suffered some serious technical glitches, and as a result is looking very poorly laid out and doesn’t reflect the great content and photography we put in. The books from the first printing are being sold below cost—the content is still phenomenal.  The great news is, it’s out for a reprint: same great content, but looking the way it was intended to look: gorgeous!

I have always taught cooking, and done a lot of writing, even while I had my restaurant. This last book is the culmination of my life work. If with this book I greatly emphasize the whole foods part, it is certainly not because it is a new topic for me, it is because, quite simply, it is an idea whose time has come for everyone!

4. This book has more than 350 recipes, 250 of which can be made gluten-free and 250 of which are kosher for Passover.  Why do you think gluten-free cooking has become so popular?

It is most unfortunate that gluten-free cooking has become popular. It means more and more people are getting allergic to one thing or another, often to several things. We deal with a severe allergy problem daily with one of my grandchildren, it is a real torment, so I know the problem only too well.

There is one inescapable equation I hope the public finally comes around to, we would save ourselves so much disease and suffering, more processed foods means more exposure to toxic substances and more allergies and ailments. That said, not everyone cooking with gluten-free suffers from celiac.

It’s just another expression of how extreme many people get, except for celiac people, no one needs to convert their whole diet to GF.  Exploring with the whole wonderful gamut of whole grains would, in one fell swoop, lower your gluten, increase your fiber, increase your protein, taste great, and keep you in shape. What’s wrong with that? As you know, I bake absolutely everything with spelt, and get unbelievable results.

5. The book begins with a story of Rivka, a young woman who was able to reclaim her health through choosing a diet of whole foods.  How do you think this story will inspire others?

Oh my gosh!  Not only did Rivka clamor to have her story told and her before-after pictures displayed, she likes to say she is the poster child for losing weight (losing over 200 pounds!!!!) just by switching to whole foods: what overweight person, after having tried the whole plethora of diets without any luck, wouldn’t LOVE to try this?

Losing weight WHILE eating? I’m there!

6. You say you learned from your mother that there was nothing that you couldn’t cure with food.  How has that helped you over the years?

I discuss this at great length in my book. There are some delicious and miraculous ingredients you can’t catch me without: ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, olive oil, oats, green apples, unfiltered cider vinegar, garlic, to name just a few.

7. Your cooking classes are fast becoming an Upper West Side institution – much like your groundbreaking restaurant.  Do you miss the life of a restaurant chef or do you prefer being a teacher and mentor?

Contrary to what many people believe, I was not the chef at my restaurant, so I was always a teacher, and until recently, a caterer. I was co-owner of my restaurant: I miss that life terribly: we were the first, and the best. Life as a restaurateur was hard and grueling and interesting and fun and delicious! We are remembered for countless great events. We had the longest and best run: we move right along, no more moping!

8. What is your favorite Jewish holiday to cook for and why?

Without hesitation I would say Pesach. That’s when we are left with the most seasonal stuff, that’s when we can exert the most integrity since so much junk is off limits. Pesach is my gastronomic week, down the line.

9. What is your earliest memory of cooking?

Oyoyoy, I will never live down that fiasco. I was barely 17. First year away in college. We had a gorgeous chestnut tree outside our dorm. I picked some chestnuts and decided to cook them, thinking, how hard could it be to cook a handful of chestnuts? I put them in a skillet on my tiny stove, and went in for a quick shower. I was interrupted by some furious pounding on my door. I hurriedly put a robe on my wet and soapy body and opened, trembling: Security! The chestnuts had exploded and flown in all directions making such a racket that my terrified floormates thought of the worst and called the front desk… Tough times we live in… The guards looked at me with such contempt: Don’t you know you must first make a slit in the chestnuts’ skin before roasting them? Thanks for the lecture, busters! Now I know! I’m still vexed there was ever a time in my life some cops knew how to roast chestnuts and I didn’t!

10. You tell us not to let unfamiliar foods intimidate us.  Do any foods intimidate you?

Honestly: no! All aboard!

11. You shun many prepared foods, salad dressings, frozen fish sticks.   What advice do you have for the busy mom that can’t get dinner on the table some nights of the week?

My advice, complete with menus and ridiculously simple recipes, is plastered all over my books, my blog, my demos, EVERYWHERE!!! In less time than it takes to reheat those fish sticks and get a rubbery mess, throw a nice piece of salmon under the broiler. Buy prewashed greens and dress them in a jiffy with olive oil and vinegar. Just look at this post: the instant dorm feast.  Just as soon as the mindset makes that capital shift from “I’m too busy so I’m reheating fish sticks” to “I’m too busy to even dignify this junk, so I’m making some super quick soup, fish, chicken salad or whatever”, then every mom will be on her way and loving it, she and everyone around her!

Try these delicious recipes and your whole body will thank you.

Beet, Kale & Seaweed Salad

Oatmeal Pot de Creme

Thai Summer Rolls

WIN LEVANA’S COOKBOOKS! You could be the lucky winner of all FOUR of Levana’s cookbooks: Levana’s Table, In Short Order, Levana Cooks Dairy Free, and her new book The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen. In order to qualify for a chance to win, leave a comment below telling us how your family eats healthy. One winner will be picked at random. Contest ends Thursday June 23 2011 at 2pm 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!




48 Responses to In the JoyofKosher Kitchen with Chef Levana

  1. avatar says: Debby

    My children have a bowel of freshly cut up fruit every day when the get home from school. They are also experts in reading the nutrition label on packages so they understand moderation when it comes to snacks.

  2. avatar says: Amber

    Thanks for your generous giveaway, Chef Levana! My family eats healthy by shopping together at the farmer’s market!

  3. avatar says: Rivkah T

    I love Levana! We have cut back on processed foods, sweeteners and eliminated high fructose corn syrup. We’re eating more vegetables and fruits, and trying new healthful recipes. We also love going to farmer’s markets. Looking forward to seeing Levana’s new cookbook.

  4. avatar says: danielle

    Im lucky – my kids love beans so we eat a lot of them. we also love roasted vegetables.

  5. avatar says: Amy

    Thank you Levana! I hope I get to enjoy your cookbooks, especially if they include quick recipes like you said. My husband and I eat healthy (and kosher) by eating out as little as possible. And when we eat in, we don’t eat frozen meals.

  6. avatar says: Rochel S.

    I am excited about the new cookbook! To eat healthy in my home, we try to eat fresh leafy greens, in season fruits and vegetables, minimally processed foods, and avoid trans-fats and artificial flavorings and colors.

  7. I’ve stopped frying and serve veggies with every meal!

  8. We roast and grill all of our vegetables. Kugels are a rarity in our home now. Spices and herbs allow our veggies to shine. Thank you for your inspiration!

  9. avatar says: Rachel

    I make a home cooked meal every day, and try to include as many veggies as possible (the best way to get my picky eaters to eat them is by making soup and blending it!) I also buy very few processed foods, and definitely no food coloring, MSG, high fructose corn syrup, or hydrogenated oils. We also buy organic as much as possible (our bodies do not need human growth hormones or genetically modified foods!) Just to show how man plans and G-D laughs, my son just came home from school with an ice pop full of sugar and food coloring :-(

  10. avatar says: Sharon

    We love to snack on veggie platters. We don’t even need dips.

  11. avatar says: ncgfin

    I try to keep the junk food out of the house. It is helpful to have a lot of fresh fruit available and I love nuts. I use small measuring cups (1/4 cup ) to measure my nuts because if I don’t I’m sure I’d eat too many! My son likes to make smoothies with yogurt and fruits.

  12. We eat healthfully by eating home cooked low fat, low sugar,and low sodium meals and many fruits and vegetables. Seldom if ever do we eat highly processed precooked foods. I also bake most of the bread we eat. In the summer, we grow some vegetables ourselves and try to buy as many native vegetables as we can.

  13. avatar says: sheva

    i am a huge levana fan! we eat out very rarely and eat clean, whole foods for dinner…no msg, high fructose corn syrup, or hydrogenated fat. and plenty of fruit, especially in the summertime :-)

  14. avatar says: SANDY

    grow alot, and go to farmers market- we do not buy junk food and eat frozen greek yogurt

  15. we plant a garden every year

  16. I look forward to seeing this cookbook! I never took care of myself, but now that I have a daughter, I want better things for her. She had fruits and veggies daily along with chicken, eggs, and cheese sometimes. I can’t wait to see what yummy, healthy food is out there!

  17. We’ve started buying more whole grains and organic fruits and vegetables. We also only have free-range eggs in the house. My kitchen motto is now Michael Pollard’s “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.” We do have meat and poultry, but usually only on Shabbat.

  18. I buy only whole grains, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, etc. I fry very little except during Hanukkah. I add more healthfulness to our foods by including seeds whenver I can to bread and salads. I also add wheat germ to salads and hemp hearts.

    We eat only fresh produce. I sometimes use frozen but it’s usually produce I put up myself from our garden.

    We eat beef occasionally. We eat chicken or fish for Sabbath and mostly during the week we eat vegetarian.

    I try and follow the Mediterranean pyramid for meal planning which reduces the fat content.

  19. avatar says: Elizabeth

    we make/bake nearly everything and try to avoid processed/premade foods. we don’t fry or rely on lots of products that contain chemicals or things we can’t easily pronounce or spell. we eat more fish than either chicken or red meat. and we’ve switched to baking with whole grains and eating brown rice etc. now if only we could give up white flour and sugar…

  20. avatar says: ben

    we use lots of whole grains. i also try to add pureed vegetables to all types of foods: sauces, rice, you name it. big pots of vegetable soup.

  21. avatar says: Roni

    we eat home-made veggie soup every day- ginger-carrot, curried broccoli, minestrone, red lentil, white bean, and more!

  22. avatar says: Shulamit

    my mother-in-law inspires me to cook healthy indian food – she is from calcutta and has taught me many yummy (even child-friendly!) dishes with rice, lentils, fresh vegetables and healthy spices like ginger/garlic and turmeric.

  23. avatar says: Jamie

    We read labels and avoid unhealthy additives. We are big on soups, using lots of garlic and onions, and get to enjoy the bounty of my garden.

  24. avatar says: efraser

    My “family” is just me and my notoriously picky eater of a roommate right now. But we try to keep our meals healthy by buying fresh fruits and veggies every few days and cooking together. We rarely eat out and we like to make things from scratch to keep it lower in fat and sodium.

  25. avatar says: Aidel K

    I’ve switched to whole wheat pasta and brown rice. My family is gradually coming around. We’re all trying to eat at least one more serving of fruit & vegetable than we used to. Step by step…

  26. avatar says: Shelly

    I love eating healthy. One of the things I enjoy most is cooking and I love feeding my family “healthy.” Organic, whole grains, cage-free eggs, fruits and vegetables and we always have protein and veggies for dinner! Keeping kosher helps to avoid prepared foods or frozen meals!

  27. avatar says: SarahG

    We try to increase our fiber with whole grain breads and pasta, lots of beans. We’ve cut back on fatty foods. Salad is our friend. I also cook mostly with olive oil and avoid hydrogenated fats. We also fresh fruits all summer long.

  28. avatar says: Vicki I.

    We keep platters of cut up veggies and fruit in the fridge for the kids to help themselves when they want a snack. Also, with my younger kids, I have started using the “today I ate a rainbow” chart to help them understand the importance of eating/trying different kinds of fresh fruits and veggies. We also have a garden in our backyard that my older kids help with.

  29. We eat healthy by munching on nuts (and TRYING) to exercise portion control.

  30. avatar says: malka

    we put out plates of cut up raw veggies for everyone to choose with the main dinner meal. we love raw veggies more than steamed and everyone has their favorite. also lately i put veggies in a pot with a little water and heat it next to other dishes. it is quick , healthy and yummy.

  31. avatar says: Levana

    Mirjam you must mean Michael Pollan, not Pollard: Ha: Jonathan Pollard might welcome the funny slip, but I doubt Michael Pollan will feel the same :-) )) btw he’s a real rock star by now, being one of the trailblazers who blew the whistle on food manufacturers: about time too!

  32. avatar says: CGarf

    We eat healthfully by eating home cooked low fat, low sugar,and low carb meals and many vegetables. My lunch is usually salad, soup, and a piece of fruit. We just started our herb garden in our patio; hope it goes well!

  33. I figure it takes less time, money and effort to eat healthy than it does to get sick, so I prepare almost everything from scratch, going so far as to grow some of our food (and next year, G-d willing, more).

  34. avatar says: Deana C

    We try to eat all whole grains and plenty of fresh vegetables to stay healthy!

  35. avatar says: Julia

    I have always tried to be health conscious in my cooking for many years, as well as practicing portion control. We rarely eat out and enjoy eating lots of salads and veggies in different ways.

  36. We only eat grains that are whole and we stay away from processed sugar!

  37. avatar says: Jean

    Lots and lots of fresh fruit and veggies, lots of salads! We buy bags of produce at a time!

  38. I serve a lot of natural and organic foods. I buy fresh produce from local farmer markets. I limit the consumption of red meat and limit snacks. I serve a balanced meal.

  39. To eat healthy- we switched to (mostly) whole grains and have the veggies and/or fruit the biggest portion of our meals.

  40. we eat healthy by keeping a lot of fruits and vegetables in the house accessible

  41. avatar says: heather c

    Lots of broccoli and mango, but not together.

  42. avatar says: Gianna

    I make all their meals homemade.

  43. avatar says: caroline

    we work hard to eat at home as much as possible with a variety of fresh ingredients. as newlyweds, we’re still adjusting to very different taste palates… so it does make dinnertime very interesting!

  44. avatar says: Elise

    We love to cook with lots of vegetables and protein we enjoy colorful fresh food!

  45. avatar says: DanV

    We eat healthy with organic whole grains, fruits and vegetables every day

  46. I make sure my family eats healthy because I want them to live long healthy lives. I plan out my menu for the week. Every meal needs to have protein, whole grains, & a veggies (some fruit too). I enjoy giving my kids a variety of food that is healthy plus it is diversifing their palate.