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Hip Kosher: Interview with Ronnie Fein (Win a Copy)

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Is it just me, or is kosher cooking having itself a little bit of a renaissance? Over the last year, a slew of cookbooks have been published (like this one, this one, and this one!) that bring kosher cooking out of the Crisco era and into modern times. Ronnie Fein’s new book Hip Kosher is no exception. The book’s manifesto? Kosher cooking should be innovative, delicious, and accessible to all home chefs. And Fein is willing to prove it with creative, easy-to-prepare recipes like pea soup with mint and bulghur salad with feta and dill sauce.

Fein, who is the founder of the Ronnie Fein School of Creative Cooking in Stamford, CT spoke to The Jew & The Carrot about what hip kosher really means, Jewish food’s chameleon tendencies, and the many virtues of an ear of corn.

Read her interview below and, while you’re at it, WIN a copy of Hip Kosher! Answer the following question and be entered in a drawing to win: If you were a vegetable, what you’d be and why? (I promise this will make more sense when you read the interview.)

And congrats to Judi for being the randomly-selected winner in our last raffle for Arthur Schwartz’s Jewish Home Cooking.

What inspired you to write this book?
Kosher cooks have always adapted to the local cuisine. In Russia, Jewish mothers cooked potato pancakes, making use of the local produce. Sephardic moms were known for their borekas, just like the non-Jewish moms in Turkey. In Romania, mamaliga was a daily treat for Jews and non-Jews alike.

turkeycouscous.jpgSo why not adapt kosher to American cooking? As time goes by we are further and further away from whatever Old Country our ancestors were from, and, while we revere their memories and appreciate their traditions, like those people before us, we see what’s available in our markets now and adapt our cooking accordingly. For the past 30-40 years American cooking has grown amazingly sophisticated. We are no longer just a burger-and-fries nation. Our cuisine is now the envy of the world. Kosher cooking, as always, follows suit.

When we eat kosher out we are no longer limited to a deli, a steak place or a Chinese restaurant. Kosher diners can find sophisticated items such as Miso-glazed sea bass and Chimichurri Beef on the menu. We want to cook those kinds of dishes at home too. At least the ones that aren’t too involved or take too much time. Thankfully we can because manufacturers understand the need and thousands of new products are now certified kosher.

One of my inspirations for the book was to make the process easy for home cooks. Hip Kosher makes it easy for any kosher cook to make delicious, modern American food every day and not have to worry about adapting for the kosher kitchen. I’ve already done that work. Every recipe is for modern American, rather than traditional Jewish style food, yet all the recipes are kosher and every product used had a hekhsher when appropriate. All are relatively easy to make and don’t take much time.

What does the term Hip Kosher mean to you?
Hip kosher is modern kosher. Kosher for people who are interested in broadening their culinary repertoire to include the vast panoply of American foods and recipes, cooked in accordance with kosher ways. It is also modern in the sense that it uses not only the vast, diverse kinds of products that are available to kosher cooks but also looks to opting for lighter, healthier foods, including whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and recipes that are lower in salt and fat (and use the good fats such as olive oil). While there are chapters on meats and poultry, the greater emphasis in the book is on other foods.

You’ve written that you want this book to appeal to kosher keepers and non-kosher keepers alike. Why? How do you go about doing this in the book?
Actually, I’ve written this book for kosher keepers, but it is geared to kosher keepers who are kosher by religious tradition and also those who are kosher for other reasons.

Although I didn’t actually intend what you said, I see no reason why anyone who wanted 175 good recipes couldn’t use it, whether or not they are kosher. The recipes, all tested, offer a broad range of foods and styles, so if someone wants a good recipe for a couscous salad, grilled salmon, quinoa stir-fry, grilled vegetable and cheese sandwiches, cold and hot soups, sweet potato pancakes, peppers and eggs and the most fabulous chocolate chip cookies ever – and much more – they’ll find it here. The good thing is that anyone can use it and if you are kosher, you needn’t worry about adapting ingredients and making changes.

Who are the members of what you’ve described as today’s “newest kosher crowd”?

The newest kosher crowd includes Jewish people who have come to kosher even though their parents were not; Jewish people who are kosher but wish to update their cooking to a broader, more modern approach, using American style recipes, fresh ingredients and with an eye to healthier eating; non-Jewish people who look to kosher for other religious reasons Muslims, for example, who observe many of the same principles that we do when it comes to food; and those who look to kosher for non-religious reasons: vegetarians, those who are lactose intolerant or have other allergies, those concerned with animal welfare and those who prefer kosher for spiritual reasons, because the kosher outlook has always been to be grateful for and therefore treat our earth, produce and animals with respect.

corn.jpgIf you were a vegetable, what would you be and why?
Wow, this came out of left field! Interesting. My first thought was that I like my life very much so prefer to stay what I am and not be a vegetable in any sense of that word! Then I thought about my favorite vegetable, the parsnip: undervalued, sweet, delicious and more versatile than anyone knows.

But I ultimately decided I would be corn. Corn has in interesting history — anthropologists have found the original plant has perhaps 3 or 5 kernels! Corn is life sustaining. It feeds the world, both humans and animals. Corn is useful, not only providing food and ingredients used in food (think of all the products that include corn syrup and cornstarch), but also used to make an almost endless variety of products including cosmetics, fuel, paint pharmaceuticals, fabrics, and dozens of other things. As a food, it is delicious both fresh (who doesn’t love a freshly cooked cob of corn slathered with butter or olive oil?) and dried: corn muffins and corn bread, polenta (my grandma would say mamaliga), corn chips and hush puppies. Drive out into the country and it is easy to know that corn is sustainable and it provides farmers with a good living. Plenty of virtues; I pick corn.

Thanks to Hazon intern, Regina Ostrovski, for conducting this interview.

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34 Responses to “Hip Kosher: Interview with Ronnie Fein (Win a Copy)”

  1. Eric Schulmiller Says:

    Ummm…corn is not a vegetable. It’s a grain. More specifically, it’s a grass (an evil, evil grass to boot if you believe Rebbe Pollan).

    OK, jokey food snobbery aside, I would have to go with Fein’s (whose book looks amazing, btw) original answer, the parsnip, which is the secret ingredient in my mom’s killer matzah ball soup.

  2. Jennifer Says:

    I’d be spinach. It’s healthful and beautiful, good raw with a drizzle of oil or cooked into anything from a simple saute to a rich spinach pie. I only wish I were as versatile as spinach.

  3. Avi Says:

    Sweet Potato, it’s sweet and filling.

  4. Harry Says:

    Kohlrabi. Without a doubt. It is funky looking, crisp and not the most well known vegetable yet it wins over anyone who tries it.

    A little salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice goes a long way.

  5. judi Says:

    I’d be an artichoke- if you can get past the thorny and inpenetrable outer layer, you’ll find a tender heart and indigestible fuzz.

    And I am so looking forward to that cookbook- I’ll be waiting by the mailbox every day!

  6. Merav Says:

    I would be asparagus, so that I would have good posture! :D

  7. Gersh Says:

    Ooh, broccoli rabe is still on the table! The delicious peppery goodness is what Gersh is about. It’s good for you, but you might not enjoy it’s sharp bite — something at least I’d say about myself, even if others wouldn’t :–)

  8. Andrea Anaki Says:

    I would be a potato. Versatile. I could be boiled, fried, baked, sauteed, mashed, etc…

  9. phyllis Says:

    i’d be a beet cuz the beet goes on…(okay, i amuse only myself…)

  10. cc Says:

    Jicama- it’s exotic, earthy, versatile, and the perfect crunchy snack drizzled with a little lime juice and chili powder

  11. Nick Says:

    Hmm. I’d be a leek maybe. Mild flavor, never really at the forefront, but definitely adds something to the mix.

  12. Rivster Says:

    Carrot. Simple and straightfoward. But it can be dressed up in the most imaginative ways.

    And it makes things sweet :)

  13. Amy Buondonno Says:

    I’d be an onion. Onions aren’t usually the star of a dish, but they make their presence known and their absence is always apparent.

    Those tears are tears of *Joy* … whee, now I’m going to be humming Tuck and Patti all day…

  14. Kim Says:

    I just learned that rhubarb is a vegetable, so I’d be rhubarb. In fact, I practically am since I’ve been eating so much of it lately.

    By the way, Ronnie Fein is [http://www.culinate.com/mix/dinner_guest?author=8860 blogging} on Culinate; come check it out!

  15. A.H. Says:

    I would be a Brussels sprout. Awkward in the wrong situation–please don’t boil me or steam me, we’ll all be uncomfortable and I won’t show you my best–ahh, but toss me with the right mix of garlic and olive oil, broil me, and I will shine, I tell you.

    Plus Brussels sprouts look like tiny cabbages without actually BEING tiny cabbages, which fits in neatly with my sense of humor.

  16. shayna Says:

    hmmm…I would have to be broccolini, because my mother described it to me as the love child of broccoli and asparagus, and I really do find that it combines those two wonderful vegetables. Plus, I now laugh everytime I eat it–the vegetable that celebrates diversity.

  17. Hillary Says:

    Wow – thanks for telling us about this cookbook and sharing this interview! It all sounds wonderful!

    And, hmmm…if I were a vegetable, I would probably be broccoli because I’m easygoing, versatile and…tasty?

  18. Susan G Says:

    Call me a carrot! (In my dreams) long and slender, with good eyesight. Sprouting a fantastic headdress above ground while stretching out underground. Raw and crunchy, or cozied up to raisins or capers.

  19. Leslie Says:

    I would be kale: Practical, adaptable, and even sweeter after being subjected to conditions that kill most of its garden neighbors (a freeze).

  20. Maria Says:

    I would be a mushroom: often an acquired taste that people need to get used to. Maybe I have a funny texture too, I don’t know.

  21. Brandon Says:

    I would be spinach because a little after every meal is very good for people.

  22. Belinda Says:

    Hmm…..If I were a vegetable I would have to be a ginger. A little bit sweet, but mostly spicy. You either love me or you hate me; I keep on growing from season to season, no matter how many pieces you take from me. I’m a healer, am versatile and have travelled all over the world……

  23. Karen Says:

    I would want to be garlic, versatile in use and flavour, and wonderful for its propensity to help the immune system.

  24. Leah Koenig Says:

    These answers are great – I love the idea that everyone has a little “power vegetable” living inside of them.

    Keep sending in your comments (one per reader, please!) – the raffle winner will be announced on Thursday, May 1.

  25. Rivi Says:

    I did not even have to think about this. You see I have a terrible addiction to tomatoes. This year I have at least 50 lovelies in my yard. 80% are heirlooms. Perhaps tomatoes are actually a fruit, but in our house they are a veggie.If I could be a tomato now which would it be? It would be Black from Tula. Black tomatoes are my favorite and I have a Russian heritage.

    need proof? Here is a slideshow of just a few ofthe tomatoes I have loved…and grown…and ate!

  26. Debs Says:

    I’d be a morel mushroom. Worth looking for, I like to think.

    Maybe it’s just that I’m anticipating the start of morel season.

    Food Is Love

  27. shev Says:

    I’d be a potato: kind of ordinary; really good and delicious plain; incredibly awesome when treated richly and royally.

  28. Blair Says:

    I’d be bok choy. It’s healthy and a little bit different while still being widely accessible.

  29. Atarah Says:

    black radish – tough skinned, exotic, spicy, crunchy……

  30. Naomi Says:

    Talk about secret ingredients in chicken soup…
    I’d have to be a rutabaga. A bit of a struggle to get it to submit, but so worthwhile.

  31. Tara Says:

    I would be Rainbow Chard. Colorful, tasty, and healthy. I am hungry just thinking about it. :)

  32. Leah Koenig Says:

    Wow!

    These are some of the most entertaining and thoughtful comments I’ve ever seen. The Random Number Generator (http://www.mdani.demon.co.uk/para/random.htm) has spoken…the winner of Hip Kosher is commenter #10 – “cc” who chose jicama as her power vegetable.

    Congratulations “cc” – and keep checking back for more chances to win.

  33. Ludmila Says:

    I would be a pickle, because my husband LOVES pickles:) !!!

  34. Moshe Kapora Says:

    I’d be jicama – it’s so sweet and unpretentious.

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