Susie Fishbein Chats Kosher Cooking

The cookbook author offers insight into what we can expect from her upcoming classes at the Kitchen at Bed Bath & Beyond in East Hanover.

Susie Fishbein. Photo courtesy of John Uher

Susie Fishbein loved teaching grade school science. “I thought I’d be doing it forever,” she says. That lasted just three years. By accident, or maybe kismet, Fishbein ended up co-producing a charity cookbook for her New Jersey synagogue and discovered a knack.

By 2016, the kosher-raised, self-taught Fishbein had put out no fewer than nine Kosher by Design” cookbooks—all since 2003. (And the “Design” in the title isn’t a gimmick; Fishbein worked with professionals on aesthetics, including—for all nine books—the florist for The Plaza in New York City). One major takeaway: kosher cooking isn’t exclusively Jewish food. Fishbein is the first to tell you, beyond a kosher certification, she doesn’t restrict her palate or ingredients list. That said, Jewish food will take center stage as Fishbein hosts a series of Rosh Hashanah-prep cooking classes at the Kitchen at Bed Bath & Beyond in East Hanover. We caught up with her to ask about her career, freshen up on kosher fundamentals, and see what’s on her menu for the holidays and beyond.

Table Hopping: Your Kosher by Design series is almost a lifestyle series, not just cooking. Did you think that aspect of entertaining was missing from the way kosher cuisine has been covered?
Susie Fishbein: I grew up in a Sabbath-observant home. Every Friday and Saturday, it’s like a mini Thanksgiving dinner. Whether you like to entertain or not, if you’re a Sabbath observer, you’re sort of forced to put out a whole spread of food—and it’s every week! So it has to become a part of your life skills.

TH: What basic elements of kosher cooking should (any) reader expect in your classes or books?
SF: There’s no pork or shellfish in any of my cookbooks or classes. And the separation of meat and dairy: you’re not going to see meat dishes finished with cream or butter. Those are probably the only things you would notice in my cookbooks as being different. And except for my first Kosher by Design, they’re not Jewish in nature, but they are kosher. But they’re sold in regular stores—Williams Sonoma, Amazon, Barnes n’ Noble.

TH: You’re a multi-hyphenate: cookbook author, cooking class teacher, and I also heard you helped found a kosher cooking camp?
SF: Yes, NJ Y Camps came to me and asked if we could design a culinary center. I rolled my eyes thinking, “No amount of money could get me to go back to camp!” But it’s state of the art—a real teaching kitchen. And it’s an opportunity for me, the first time in 20 years I get to work with kids again. It’s called the Susie Fishbein and Friends Culinary Institute. You do everything from knife skills all the way up to modern sous vide!

TH: Speaking of sous vide, how do you yourself get personally creative or innovative within kosher cooking? How do you develop recipes?
SF: I cook based on what ingredients I have or find. I just found a Gochujang fermented Korean pepper paste with a kosher symbol on it, perfect for kosher Korean ribs! It’s ingredient-driven: what I stumble on, what’s in the market, what’s fresh, what’s seasonal. [Producers] are seeing the value of adding a kosher certification to ingredients that are already kosher at their baseline—it opens them up to new customers, kosher cooks.

TH: You’ve been writing cookbooks and teaching for a decade-and-a-half. Have you seen more kosher products become available in the meantime?
SF: Times have certainly caught up. There are very well-stocked kosher supermarkets now. And Amazon has everything. Even stores like Fairway. You keep turning the packages around, probably 75 percent of the ingredients in your house are probably kosher.

TH: What about the kosher cooking community itself? Is there more connectivity there?
SF: Oh sure. For example there’s a Facebook group—Kosher Trader Joe’s. They list everything that’s kosher at Trader Joe’s, tens of thousands of followers. There’s a new ingredient, everybody runs out and buys it even if they don’t know what to do with the stuff!

TH: Rosh Hashanah and, later, Yom Kippur are both coming up. What can people expect in terms of holiday meal prep at your the classes at the Kitchen?
SF: This is the first time The Kitchen is closing down their cooking school for the entire week, allowing us to make it kosher. So these classes are very, very special. As for the holidays, you don’t cook for Yom Kippur, but lots of people are thinking about their Rosh Hashanah menus. Rosh Hashanah and Passover are the two most widely practiced holidays. So we put together five classes. Two more were sold intact to groups—for instance, a synagogue took a night and selected the menu.

TH: Some might think of kosher as restrictive first, like food-plus-rules. But your style seems openly celebratory. Is that part of the idea, changing perceptions by refreshing the look and (literal) taste of kosher cooking?
SF: Oh yes. For instance, at least three of the pre-sold classes chose the menu “Modern Holiday Twists,” which has a nice gluten-free Chestnut Mushroom Soup, which is rich and very fall-like. There’s a Date-roasted Salmon with Pomegranate, which is also very fall-like, and Pumpkin-braised Short Ribs. One of the other intact classes we sold was “Modern Twists on Shabbat Specialties,” sort of a grandparent-grandchild or parent-child class concept, about spanning generations. We’ll do Hot Pretzel Challah, Chicken Soup in an Instant Pot, Babka Bites, Cauliflower Popcorn—modern twists on traditional Jewish food, fun stuff!

TH: What about for those who aren’t Jewish but are attending Rosh Hashanah diner with a friend or partner? What should they expect?
SF: With Rosh Hashanah, there’s no reason to be nervous! It’s an introspective time, but very much a happy family meal. Conversations can be a bit more serious, in a healthy and good way, and the food is delicious—very seasonal. Blessings are for health and happiness and peace, so you have apples in honey, round challahs in honey. It’s sweetness, wishing well to your neighbors, your family, the world. There’s no tremendous ritual observance. Just know to come hungry!

As of this writing, seats are still available for a few of Fishbein’s classes (“Modern Holiday Recipes,” “Feast from the Middle East”); participants are encouraged to BYO kosher beer or wine.

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