Oct 13, 2015

Levana Kirschenbaum: Recipes (A Pure and Simple Shabbat Meal)

by Levana Kirschenbaun

In all my long fulfilling years of teaching cooking and exhorting the crowds to use only fresh and unprocessed ingredients, one of the themes I am asked quite often to give cooking demos about is, teaching new brides how to make the perfect healthy and simple Shabbos meal, with no fear and no fuss. In short, a meal that would make them look like pros: confident and proud. Not surprisingly, not only brides ask for simple and healthy cooking but home cooks across the whole spectrum.

I am taking the perfect bride to illustrate the topic: My daughter Bella. Bella surprised all of us when she invited us to spend Shabbos at her house just a few short weeks after she was married, over eights years ago. Her invitation betrayed no discernible trace of the self-consciousness or trepidation which often emanate from new brides when they invite old timers, professional cooks to boot. Mind you, my daughter practically never stepped into the kitchen until after she got married, so I was prepared to be indulgent and supportive, not only because she was a novice but because she has a demanding full-time job. She had expressly requested no food gifts please, as she wanted to make everything herself. As she put it, I would just be a guest, for a change.

Well let me say this to you: Bella knocked our socks off. She served over a dozen guests, cool calm and collected throughout the evening, and chuckled good-naturedly when everyone clamoured for her recipes. What was most dazzling was the very simplicity and straightforwardness of her dishes and her presentation. Chip off this old block, she didn’t once resort to any expedient, gimmick or commercial preparation masquerading as time ­saving tools. She just kept saying, “Ma, I just did what you always do, what’s the big deal? I only used good stuff, so only good stuff came out!” Is it any wonder her Shabbos table, and mine, and that of all my like-minded children, are always full?

Incidentally, all my cookbooks, cooking demos and recipes on my blog have in common that they are all natural and streamlined, along modern healthy guidelines, as I am entirely devoted to the busy health­ conscious mom. From scratch wins the race, that’s my war cry. Please don’t laugh: the following menu is none other than the aforementioned menu Bella served us as a new bride: The foolproof and wholesome feast, as timeless as the little black dress, and every bit as luxurious as it is cost­ and­ time ­effective. All recipes are excerpted from my latest Cookbook, The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen: Glorious Meals Pure and Simple.

Quick Minestrone

I trust you should have no trouble whatsoever finding dozens of delicious minestrone recipes, made the loving unhurried way. My idea for this quick and incredibly satisfying version of the classic was: How can I play with the same ingredients and get a great soup in a fraction of the time, and as always, all natural? The answer is: the fabulous selection of unprocessed frozen vegetables available in supermarkets, and dry herbs (although if you do have fresh basil, it would be really nice). This soup requires no prep work at all. Please note the optional grains I have suggested cook quickly and need no soaking, to keep up with the brief cooking time of the soup.


  • 3 quarts (12 cups) water
  • 3 pounds of any frozen cut vegetables: Short and sweet selection: cauliflower, broccoli, string beans, zucchini, turnips, onions, corn, peas, carrots, okra, spinach, kale, lima beans, edamame, peas, etc....
  • 1/2 cup of steel cut oats, red lentils, barley or spelt flakes
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Good pinch red pepper flakes
  • 3 cups canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon dry basil


Bring all ingredients to a boil in a wide heavy pot. Reduce to medium and cook, covered, about
30 minutes. Adjust consistency and seasonings before serving.

Maple Roasted-Salmon

I can’t tell you how many people make my maple roasted salmon recipe. The short and dazzling flavour lineup in this roasted salmon dish does its magic with practically no work. No problem doubling the roasted salmon recipe when you have a larger group, it will all get prepared in the same record time. When I make this roasted salmon for a party, it is the very last thing I put into the oven, as guests arrive: that’s how quick and foolproof it is! You will never say you are bored of salmon again! Bluefish will be suitable here, as well as any thick white fish (bass, mahimahi, halibut, etc.). Please use a real, not disposable, pan. It makes the whole difference, not only in the end results in this roasted salmon dish, and absolutely every dish, but in doing the right thing about cooking the healthful way. My roasted salmon is delicious at room temperature too, so you can serve it for Shabbos as well.


  • 1⁄3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon­style mustard
  • 3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely ground pepper, or less to taste
  • 1 whole side salmon, about 31⁄2­4 pounds, skin off, bones out, trimmed


  1. Preheat the oven to 500°F.
  2. Mix all but last ingredient in a bowl. Place the salmon skin side up in a baking pan just large enough to fit it snugly in one layer (if you have empty spaces, the liquids will burn).
  3. Pour the sauce evenly over the fish. Bake 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer to a platter and pour the cooking juices over the fish. Serve hot, or at room temperature.
  4. Makes 8 main course servings, or a dozen ample first course servings.

Chicken and Mushrooms

This recipe is part of a giant chapter in my cookbook, titled One, Two and Turmeric - Please read the whole chapter right on my blog, it will soon become your best friend. It contains a wonderful grouping of my great favourite no­-brainer cooking-without­-cooking dishes, stovetop, Moroccan Tajine style. We grew up eating these scrumptious naive­style tajines, nutritiously and deliciously. When Mom was too busy to fuss, this is what we ate, and to this day I never tire of it, or think it will be boring, Heaven Forbid, even as I cook up a storm. It illustrates perfectly how a finished dish can be so much more than the sum of its parts, however modest, and what wonderful things happen when you let each ingredient shine on its own, without any competition whatsoever, even if you are not a cook! The ingredient list in these dishes is so short (three—two plus turmeric, to be exact) and the prep work so minimal it just can’t get any simpler, or more delicious. Talk about minimalism! Simplicity and elegance all rolled into one. Get a heavy gauge stainless steel wide bottom pot. It makes all stove­top preparations a pleasure, as there is minimal piling, and therefore allows for much better control. There’s nothing you can’t do with a broad and shallow pot: Instead of the impractical 9 ­inch round, 12 ­inch­ high stock pot, get a 12­ or even 14 ­inch, 6­ inch­ high pot.

A word about Turmeric: We grew up with “yellow food” and were practicing good nutrition without even knowing it. Those of you who saw the wonderful Indian movie, Water will remember the wedding scene where all the dinner guests got their foreheads smeared with turmeric—a symbol, as it was explained, of good health and immunity. The health community is finally paying great attention to turmeric, the greatest antioxidant and anti-inflammatory of all: I can’t praise it highly enough. I throw it in as many dishes as I possibly can: While it does its magic, it hardly affects the flavour of the food, if at all—it just imparts a yellow colour and a slight bulk to the texture of the finished sauce.


  • 8 serving pieces chicken (I count 2 pieces per person, for example: 6 thighs, 6 drumsticks, 4
  • half breasts—16 pieces total for 8 people), with skin on
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 2 pounds whole small mushrooms (button or cremini), the smaller the better
  • 3 cups water


  1. Place all ingredients in a wide heavy pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the flame to medium and cook covered for about 1 hour.
  2. Transfer the chicken pieces onto a platter. If the sauce is not thick enough, reduce it on a high flame, uncovered, just a few minutes until it reaches the consistency of maple syrup.
  3. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Serve hot. Makes 8 servings.

Dry ­Spice Rub Seared Sliced Steak

This dry spice rub mixture is guaranteed to lick any commercial concoction you may have been buying! I can see you recoil at the sheer size of this dry spice rub recipe, and of course you can divide it, but I don’t think you will: after you taste a dry spice rub roast chicken or roast turkey or roast anything, you’ll be glad you have plenty on hand! I use this magical dry spice rub in countless dishes, it never fails me. I even roast turkey and capon with it. Since all my dry spice rub ingredients are dry, I never have to worry about having to use it up quickly. I make a large batch, about a year’s supply (just a few months if you use it as gifts to your delighted friends!) and store it just as I do spices, at room temperature, away from heat.

Salt. As in NO SALT: My dry spice rub has no salt whatsoever, so that you might feel free to use it liberally with kosher meat and poultry, or if you are limiting your sodium intake. I beg you, no added salt anywhere that will be used in Kosher meat and poultry, which has plenty of salt and then some. And if you have a heart with low ­sodium diners, the gesture will not escape them. Why pay for salt in a dry spice mixture, since it’s the easiest thing to throw in your own plate, and the cheapest? Of course you can adjust the proportions any way you wish until you arrive at your favourite balance, and create your own dry spice rub variation.

Tamarind: Literally, Tamar Hindi, which means Indian date in Arabic. Made from the pulp found in the large bean pods of the tamarind tree, tamarind powder is very sour and add a wonderful tang to many Indian dishes and Indonesian dishes. I love to use it here, and many other dishes where I don’t want the moisture of lemon juice.


  • 2 1/2 cups dry cilantro flakes
  • 2 1/2 cups dry parsley flakes
  • 1 1/4 cups paprika
  • 1 1/4 cups oregano
  • 2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
  • 2/3 cup ground cumin
  • 2/3 cup ground coriander
  • 2/3 cup ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup ground bay leaf
  • 2/3 cup tamarind powder
  • 2/3 cup turmeric

Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Store in perfectly dry and perfectly clean glass jars. Store the dry rub with your spices. Makes about 10 cups. Use a split minute roast (the butcher will split it for you), my great favorite. You will get 2 identical slabs with all center sinew removed in the splitting process. Wipe the slabs dry. Rub a total of 1⁄4 cup dry spice rub mixture on the slabs, pressing hard to make the mixture adhere. Heat a little olive oil in a wide heavy skillet, let the skillet get good and hot, and add the meat. Sear about 3 minutes on each side for medium rare. Let the slabs rest before slicing. Do not reheat. It is delicious at room temperature.

Brown Rice: Just boil following package instructions, with a little oil and a little salt. There are enough good flavors in every dish, so it is all right, even desirable, to serve the rice plain.

Mixed Greens: Any salad greens that look good and fresh to you on shopping day. No iceberg please. Plenty of beautiful salad greens to choose from: Romaine, watercress, arugala, kale, spinach, tomatoes, radishes, endives, radicchio, avocados, fennel, shallots, etc.... You get the idea. Short and sweet salad greens selection. No bottled salad dressing ever, please. Even the simplest homemade salad dressing will be infinitely superior to any commercial dressing and will take a minute to make. Example: 1 part cider vinegar, 2 parts olive oil, salt and pepper.

That’s the whole story. Make a large batch and store it in a glass jar. Shake the jar before each use. Pour only enough dressing to coat the greens very lightly, and serve your salad in a shallow platter, as opposed to a deep bowl, so the delicate greens don’t get crushed and stay crisp.

Carrot Cake

Our award­winning cake, circa 1979. Ideally moist and fragrant. I believe all old timers at Levana then-­Bakery remember it well. My mother used to get such a kick out of this recipe. She would ask, “Why not a turnip cake or a tomato cake, while you are trying to be creative?” She didn’t know she was on the right track: We also made delicious pumpkin cake and zucchini bread, and other vegetable­based baked treats. A piece of wholesome homemade cake is good for you: the trouble start only if and when you put frosting and icing and whatnot on top: I ask you: Who needs it? Carrot Cake Sans Frosting: Delish!

Me, my sister Lea and my husband Maurice. Circa 1979, selling our famous carrot cake at a Central Park Fair. We sliced until we dropped.Our Post-Woodstock Pre-Chassidic days. You like? I remember cutting a slice for Bianca Jagger, Chi Chi Williams and many other Celebs!


  • 1 1⁄2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 cups flour, all purpose, whole wheat pastry or spelt
  • 1 1⁄4 teaspoons baking soda
  • good pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup canned unsweetened crushed pineapple
  • 3 cups finely grated carrots, packed (use a food processor, thin shredder)
  • 1⁄2 cup raisins, dark or golden
  • 1⁄2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (skip if you can’t have nuts)
  • 1 cup unsweetened grated coconut, optional but really good


  • Preheat the oven to 350*F.
  • In a food processor (OK to use a hand mixer, or even mix by hand), beat the sugar and eggs until light and creamy. Add the oil and beat, a few pulses. Add the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves, and mix for just a few pulses. Transfer the mixture to a bowl.
  • Add the crushed pineapple, carrots, raisins, walnuts and coconut, if using, and fold in with a wooden spoon until just well combined. Pour the batter into a greased 10­inch springform pan or tube pan.
  • Bake for about 1 hour or until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  • Un-mold onto a cooling rack.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

We all think of cookies as a short ­lived and vaguely illicit pleasure. Except I honestly think, and you can ask anyone, there’s no cookies more worshiped and more baked than my smart little chocolate chip cookies. I will attempt to give you an idea just how much mileage it gets: My story about my chocolate chip cookies was published last year on the Jewish Book Council Website.

Just this year, a health site (www.HealthCastle.com) approached me to ask permission to use my chocolate chip cookie recipe, which would face off against a couple hundred other recipes: The goal was to try all recipes in a test kitchen over the course of three months, and determine which recipe tasted best within the most wholesome guidelines: Mine won! Please use a real, not disposable, pan. You will see the difference at dessert time!


  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar or Sucanat
  • 3⁄4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 21⁄2 cups flour: all­purpose, whole wheat pastry, spelt (gluten­free—any GF flour, such as brown
  • rice flour)
  • 3⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
  • 11⁄2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, best quality (I love the new brand, California Gourmet
  • Vegan Chocolate Chips)
  • 1⁄2 chopped walnuts or pecans, optional


  1. Preheat the oven to 375oF.
  2. Cream the eggs and sugars in a food processor or with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the oil and vanilla and mix in thoroughly. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and pulse (or mix at low speed) until just combined. Fold in the chips and nuts (if using) by hand.
  4. Drop the cookies in heaping teaspoonfuls onto a real cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, 1 inch apart.
  5. Bake 10 minutes, not a second longer. The cookies will firm up as they cool, so do not be tempted to bake them longer, or they will harden. Bake only one tray at a time. Store at room temperature in tin boxes.
  6. Separate each layer of cookies with foil or wax paper so they don’t stick together.

Makes about 31/2 dozen.

Levana Kirschenbaun

Lévana Kirschenbaum was co-owner of the acclaimed eponymous Levana Restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side (alas, recently closed after thirty two years), and the pioneer in Kosher Upscale Dining. She is a cooking teacher and cookbook author, the diva of glorious simple healthy meals, and gets countless devoted fans for her fearless, practical and nutritious approach to cooking. Lévana gets cooking demo engagements around the country and beyond: Dinner and a Show! Not for nothing has she been affectionately nicknamed the Jewish Julia Child. Lévana has published Levana's Table: Kosher Cooking for Everyone, Levana Cooks Dairy-Free!, a book-dvd set based on her demo series called In Short Order, and her Magnum Opus, aptly titled The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen: Glorious Meals Pure and Simple. Go onto Lévana’s website for all information about booking her for cooking demonstrations in your community, and ordering her Cookbooks www.levanacooks.com

You may also enjoy
From the field 2017
Nathan dumlao 553945 unsplash
Investing Time
by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
A Different Consciousness of Time
A different consciousness of time
by William Kolbrener
Featured Blog
Andrea Schneider
Feeling my father’s presence
by Andrea Schneider