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Bringing it home
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Bringing it home

Susie Fishbein unveils final cookbook in ‘by Design’ series

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Susie Fishbein and her daughter Katie sell the last “Kosher by Design” installment at a recent event.
Susie Fishbein and her daughter Katie sell the last “Kosher by Design” installment at a recent event.

This is not your grandmother’s kosher cookbook. Unless, of course, your grandmother jetted all over the world to seek out unfamiliar and exotic dishes to introduce to tables back home. 

Dishes like burgers infused with za’atar, kimchi hanger steaks, and Moroccan harira all make an appearance in Kosher by Design Brings It Home, the final installment of the series of nine cookbooks by chef Susie Fishbein, a resident of Livingston.

Many of the book’s 115 recipes — and the stories she tells about them — were discovered, adopted, or researched during Fishbein’s travels as a guest chef on culinary tours. Sometimes, the name of the dish itself, like mujadara or pistou, is enough to transport readers to the faraway places the author found them. In other cases, it’s a fragrant spice blend, like za’atar, or a particular fresh ingredient, like pomegranates, that conjures the flavors of distant lands.

Fishbein spoke with NJJN about Brings It Home as well as what’s ahead for her after 15 years of “Kosher by Design.”

On her culinary jaunts, restaurant kitchens were often kashered just for her group, with Fishbein herself tweaking a chef’s recipe to meet the standards of kashrut.

Many of the recipes have French, Italian, Israeli, or Mexican roots (a wheatberry salad from Provence; braciole, a traditional dish from Italy; ranchero soup and pulled beef tacos from Mexico; or shakshuka from Israel). Some of the dishes come from travels closer to home (stadium salad or cheesy grits casserole), while others are all-American with a foreign twist (French puy lentil and tuna salad) or American favorites designed for American holidays, like pumpkin-braised short ribs. 

And then there is the recipe brought to the United States by a Holocaust survivor, which, while it may at first appear familiar, offers something new. “Ancie’s kugel” is slow-cooked on the stove so the outside becomes crisped to perfection. (My own family dubbed it a “giant family latke,” and it was gone, as Fishbein promised, before I could get Shabbat dinner on the table.) 

Fishbein said that throughout her travels, she often found cooks — like Ancie — who valued recipes exactly as they have been passed down through generations of cooks. By contrast, she said, in the United States, “everything is ‘How can we make a new mashup that’s cool and different?’” Speaking just after Purim, she noted, for example, the plethora of riffs on the holiday’s traditional treat, from cannoli hamantaschen to savory hamantaschen with feta cheese, onion, and thyme. “Why can’t I just use my mother-in-law’s recipe?” she asked. 

In Mantova, Italy, she watched a chef making sbrisolona, a crumbly, buttery, almond cookie, a rustic specialty of the region. “He was an accomplished chef, and he made it exactly how his mother and his grandmother made it,” Fishbein said. “Some things are better left alone.” (Yes, the recipe does appear in the book!)

Occasionally, chefs were so attached to their recipes they were not keen to tweak them for the sake of kashrut. When she told the chef making the sbrisolona she would have to swap out the butter so that she and the rest of the group could enjoy it following a meat meal, Fishbein said the chef “harrumphed and stood in a corner with his hands folded. But the guy was beaming at the end of the meal, when there was not a crumb left.” 

Looking forward, Fishbein is uncertain what the future holds — except that she will still be cooking. While she acknowledged she could wait a few years and write Retirement in the Kitchen, she knows the time is passing for the printed cookbook, as people find their recipes on the Internet. Instead of staying with it, she said, “I want to go out on a high.”

This summer, kids will find her leading a new cooking program at Camp Shoshanim and Camp Nesher, NJ Y Camps’ Orthodox girls’ and boys’ camps, respectively, where a state-of-the-art kitchen has been built to her specifications.

In the meantime, fasten your seatbelts. We’re headed to Provence for pistou, the Amalfi Coast for melanzane di scarponcino, and then off to Israel for dessert — halvah baklava, anyone? 

• • • • • • • •

EGGPLANT AND TOMATO TART

Each morning, when my tour group left to explore Provence, we left laden with goodies for a picnic lunch. The picnic always included salad, a fish dish, a grain, and a different version of Pissaliediere. Pissaliediere is the French flaky cousin to pizza, which is traditionally topped with olives and caramelized onions. I love this version with eggplant and olives, but feel free to change up the toppings. For a dairy meal, you could add some feta cheese to the olive mixture.

1 small eggplant, cut into paper-thin slices 
extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried oregano
3/4 cup thinly sliced grape tomatoes1/3 cup packed kalamata olives, pitted, very finely chopped
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 sheet puff pastry, at room temperature for 20 minutes
1 tsp. tomato paste
fresh basil leaves, torn, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; coat with nonstick cooking spray.

Place eggplant slices in a large bowl. Coat with 1/4 cup olive oil. Sprinkle on salt, pepper, and oregano. Add the tomatoes. Use both hands to toss and coat the slices well. Set aside.

Place olives, garlic, and 1 tablespoon olive oil into a small bowl. Mix well.

Place sheet of puff pastry on prepared baking sheet; open pastry sheet but don’t roll it out. Spread an even layer of olive mixture over the pastry, leaving just a small border on all sides. Cover the olive mixture with columns of overlapping slices of the eggplant. Scatter the tomatoes over the eggplant.

In a small bowl, combine tomato paste and 1 teaspoon olive oil. Using a pastry brush, gently dab this all over the tart and on edges of the pastry. Cover edges with strips of foil to prevent burning.

Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes; don’t open the oven door during baking.

Remove from oven. Toss some torn basil leaves over the top; drizzle with olive oil. Yield: 9 servings

— From Kosher by Design Brings It Home

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