Kim Kushner, author of the newly published “The Modern Menu,” hadn’t planned on writing a cookbook. It came about as a result of her cooking students’ constantly asking her to compile her recipes, like curried couscous salad, crunchy curry cauliflower with tahini and pomegranate, chicken with pumpkin, figs, and honey, and tequila London broil with mango chutney.
Kushner responded with a kosher cookbook with recipes for simple, flavorful dishes photographed in a stunningly simple, but highly appealing fashion. “The Modern Menu” is about food that highlights fresh ingredients and evokes a sense of home, warmth and hospitality.
This is very much in keeping with Kushner’s approach to cooking, which is greatly influenced by her growing up in her Israeli-Moroccan mother’s kitchen in Montreal. In the introduction to her book, Kushner recalls that her childhood home was always filled with guests for dinner and Shabbat and holiday meals.
The 32-year-old Kushner moved to New York 10 years ago, and after graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education, she developed recipes for several food magazines. She also worked as a private chef in people’s homes, and in 2008, she began teaching cooking classes, which is now her main focus. Kushner shared some thoughts about her cookbook, and about food in general.
The subtitle of your cookbook is “Simple. Beautiful. Kosher.” What is the most important thing you want people to know about your kosher cuisine? Are there misconceptions about kosher food that you are trying to dispel?
This is not a kosher cookbook that happens to be great, this is a great cookbook that happens to be kosher. I think the biggest misconception is that kosher cooking is only for people who keep kosher, when in fact anybody can cook from kosher recipes and that’s what I think this book shows so beautifully. “Kosher” is simply a set of guidelines that I happen to follow. They may be restrictions, but they are in no way deprivations. The simplicity of these recipes and the beauty of the photographs clearly illustrate that. This is not what would come to mind when you hear the term “kosher cooking.”
Can you say a bit more about the simplicity and beauty of the food?
When it comes to food, I really believe less is more. We shouldn’t try to mask the original flavors with too many ingredients. Simple is best. When you start with great, fresh produce, you don’t have to do much to it. Take a beautiful tomato — slice it up any which way, drizzle with good olive oil, some basil, fresh mint and a splash of white wine, and you’re done. And when it comes to “beautiful,” I also believe that food should look as good as it tastes, and taste as good as it looks. The pictures in this book are so beautiful, but at the same time, so simple. The food is honest.
The photography is indeed unusual and striking. It is so simple, with the food set against a white backdrop. Who is the photographer and what decisions went into this styling?
Andrew Zuckerman is a friend and brilliant photographer whose photography has always amazed me. Many of his subjects are photographed in this same way — against a white background. When Andrew was photographing the book, he just wanted to keep the food as honest as possible. He didn’t feel that we needed to do much to enhance it. The food was already beautiful in its natural state and that’s why it was his suggestion not to use any props and to try and avoid using any dishes, linens, tableware or anything else. Andrew just wanted to capture the food and it’s beauty in an honest, clean way.
What is the intended audience for this cookbook?
There are no culinary challenges in this book. This is not a celebrity cookbook. It’s a food cookbook — it’s about nothing other than the food and the ingredients. You don’t need a home garden or a health food store to cook from this book. Its simple recipes that use simple ingredients that you may already have at home or that you can find at your local supermarket.
But do you think that people, such as yourself, who come from a home or family with strong culinary traditions, have an advantage when it comes to being a successful cook?
Of course I think that I am at an advantage having grown up with a mother who is not only an amazing cook, but who also has such a strong passion and a love for food and feeding others. But, the advantage comes more from her mentality and her perspective, not the technique and the cooking skills.
You have arranged your recipes in groupings according to themes like, “Vibrant,” “Nourishing,” “Piquant,” and “Indulgent.” Are the dishes meant to only be eating in these predesigned menus?
Throughout my years of teaching cooking classes I have always been asked by my students how to decide which dishes to serve together. That is how I came up with the idea to arrange the recipes in these predesigned menus. But, at the beginning of the book, I clearly state that these are merely suggestions. I really believe that you can mix-and-match according to your palette, according to the flavors and tastes you like best and those that will work best for you. However, for those people who like when decisions are made for them, the menus are already set.
Do you have a favorite recipe?
I truly love every recipe in this book. I have a story, a memory or a moment that I can connect with each and every recipe. These are the recipes that make up my life.
Tequila London Broil with Mango Chutney
London broil, otherwise known as “sliced steak,” usually refers to the preparation of flank steak: marinated, grilled, or broiled, and then cut against the grain into thin slices. It is a great way to prepare steak because it cooks quickly and makes perfect sandwiches—if there happens to be any left over. This recipe is one that I often serve to my family at home during the week, but just as often offer up to a large crowd at a weekend dinner party. It’s simple but sophisticated.
5 pounds London broil (usually comes in 2 pieces)
½ cup soy sauce
¼ cup tequila
Juice of 2 limes
5 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons minced cilantro
2 tablespoons brown sugar
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Spicy Mango Chutney
3 ripe mangoes, cut into ½-inch pieces, or 3 cups frozen mango chunks, thawed
¼ cup sugar
Juice of 2 limes
¼ cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
½ jalapeño with seeds, minced
½ teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint leaves
Place the meat in a large re-sealable plastic bag. In a medium bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, tequila, lime juice, garlic, cilantro, sugar, and pepper. Pour the marinade over the meat and seal the bag. Marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
To make the chutney: In a small saucepan, combine the mango and sugar and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Using a fork, mash the mangoes to a chunky consistency. Stir in the lime juice, vinegar, ginger, jalapeño, and cumin. Cook for 5 minutes more. Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro and mint. Makes about 2 cups. The chutney may be refrigerated, tightly covered, up to 1 week.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Heat a large grill pan over medium-high heat until very hot. Remove the meat from the bag, reserving the marinade. Sear the meat on the grill until well browned, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a baking dish and pour the marinade over. Bake, uncovered, for 15 minutes for medium rare or 20 minutes for medium. Let the meat rest on a cutting board for about 15 minutes before slicing against the grain into -inch-thick strips. Serve with the chutney.