The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen Glorious Meals Pure & Simple

by | Jul 12, 2012 | Book Reviews

Levana Kirschenbaum has been associated with upscale Kosher dining through her restaurant, her library of successful cookbooks and her online blog. She refers to this book, The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen, as the “culmination of my life work.”

This reviewer’s curiosity was piqued by the words “Whole Foods” in its title now that the famous food emporium Whole Foods is coming to town. I was certain there was some connection, but, alas, it was not meant to be. However, in perusing the book, some intriguing recipes were noted that I really looked forward to trying (intriguing enough to overcome everything that annoyed me about the book).

First, let’s get all the annoyances out of the way:
1. The book weighs about three pounds and promises to be a huge pain-inthe- kitchen to maneuver.
2. On the back cover is the notation that this is the “gift edition.” I asked the publicist about the “non-gift edition,” hoping that there was a simple ring-bound version that a serious cook could lay out flat on a kitchen counter (and minus the “gorgeous” but totally unreal looking photos of finished dishes). He replied that the non-gift edition had been withdrawn by the author as not of sufficient quality.
3. Granting Kirschenbaum her point of view that “whole foods” and efforts to cook from “whole ingredients” are better for us, it is understandable that not every home freezer has the capacity to store gallons of soups, stock or other items made in bulk for future use.
4. The author’s textual sermons have a kind of harping tone, and she is sometimes just mistaken. For example, the cook is enjoined from heating large containers of soup in the microwave lest the outside get scorched before the inside gets hot. Kirschenbaum should know that microwave ovens heat food from the inside out.
5. It is okay to have strong opinions, but to dismiss iceberg lettuce, that wonderful, crunchy, never bitter salad green without which we would never have a wedge salad, smacks of outright snobbism.
6. So the author wanted “gorgeous” and gorgeous she got: A heavy, super glossy, deluxe, 40 buck coffee table book with photos of dishes that don’t look real and that serious cooks may never use.

Now that all of that is off our chest, let’s look inside:

Fully agreeing that no bottled salad dressing comes anywhere close in quality and flavor to homemade dressings, I love Kirschenbaum’s use of anchovies (which she calls “a blessing if disguised”), Dashi (Hondashi) powder, capers and ginger. There are a dozen and a half excellent recipes.

Ever true to her Moroccan roots, Kirschenbaum’s wonderful soups also pay homage to Asian influences using a Japanese miso base and Thai touches, Ashkenazi (Unstuffed Cabbage [not listed under soup] and Quick Borscht) and Indian recipes.

We tend to avoid using frozen fish. However, our love of sashimi, which we understand requires the use of frozen fish due to health regulations, has led us to wonder why good frozen fish would not be satisfactory. Kirschenbaum, while insisting that fresh is best, believes that frozen, vacuum packed fish is excellent, and much less expensive as well. Similarly, one senses that she is correct on using frozen, unprocessed fruits and vegetables in dishes where appearance doesn’t matter—purees; soups; sauces; coulis. She offers two great lists of food groups: One that lists foods that Need to Be Organic and foods that Need Not Be Organic. Her overarching emphasis is on unprocessed or minimally processed food.

The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen is so strong on the use of whole grains in salads, vegetable and other dishes that one expects to find a recipe for whole wheat water! Therefore, it is understandable if the author is a bit weak in the “Meat” section; perhaps she has covered meat dishes more thoroughly in her other books.

In keeping with the Kirschenbaum’s stated purpose, offering upscale kosher recipes that eschew such no-no’s as schmaltz, organ meats, and well-larded steaks, every dish is conceived with an eye toward healthy eating. As stated, lots of grains are used, and cross referenced are Passover-friendly recipes and gluten-free adaptations. The author’s passion for wholesome foods may indeed inspire the reader to change cooking and eating habits in an effort to eat one’s way to good health without sacrificing enjoyment.

I love her attitude about eating out. You can’t lose weight eating out. Eat home more.

And never give up something you love. Finally, the book came with a wonderful DVD in which Kirschenbaum demonstrates the preparation of simple, healthy and delicious Shabbos and Passover feasts.

—Hal Sacks is a retired Jewish communal worker who has reviewed books for Jewish News for more than 27 years.