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‘Give a kid a pizza…’

With new book, NJ chef prepares a new generation of kosher cooks

Kosher by Design: Teens and 20-Somethings (ArtScroll)
Kosher by Design: Teens and 20-Somethings (ArtScroll)

To paraphrase an old adage: Give a man something to eat and you feed him for a day. Teach him to cook and you feed him for a lifetime. That’s the idea behind New Jersey author and chef Susie Fishbein’s new book, Kosher by Design: Teens and 20-Somethings (ArtScroll).

In the latest in her series of cookbooks — which includes Kosher by Design, Kosher by Design Short on Time, Kosher by Design Lightens Up, and Passover by Design, among others — Fishbein wants young people to have fun, eat well, and eat kosher. The design is geared toward the demographic, with bright and colorful pages and recipes that appeal to a younger palate (Chocolate Fluffernutter Quesadillas, Smashed Potatoes), while cracking open the door for more sophisticated fare (Pasta Quattro Formaggio, Lox and Avocado Salad).

Quotidian life was the impetus behind her most recent project. “My kids are now teenagers, so that’s what on my mind and who I’m cooking for,” Fishbein told NJ Jewish News in a phone conversation. “I’m always surrounded not only by them, but by their peers, so it’s the natural book for me to write.”

Fishbein is not just thinking about teaching young people to fend for themselves nutritionally and keeping a kosher lifestyle as they head off for college and beyond; there are long-term considerations as well. “As they grow and become parents, they’re going to be responsible for providing two to three meals a day for their family,” said Fishbein, who lives in Livingston. “You can get good at [cooking] and like it or you can hate it, but at the end of the day you have to do it anyhow, so why not make it a fun experience and something you get pleasure out of?”

Not to mention that teaching young people to cook has the ancillary benefit of freeing up some of the parents’ time.

Most important, however, may be the long-term nutritional considerations.

“If you learn to cook at an early age, you get the appreciation for what goes into food, what makes something healthy, and what’s going into your body, instead of turning around at 40 and saying, ‘Oh, God, what did I do to myself? How did I end up with high blood pressure and diabetes?’”

Kids tend to gravitate toward items that are the most unhealthy, Fishbein said, “the most deep-fried, the most fattening, the most cheesy. So I’m trying to give them middle-ground alternatives.”

So instead of deep-fried buffalo wings, there’s Baked Mexican Chicken Strips with a Buffalo Dipping Sauce. “You would never miss the fact that it didn’t take a bath in a deep-fryer,” she said.

Fishbein relied heavily on friends and family for recipes for her previous books, but “that well is kind of dry,” she said, so she developed her own recipes for this one, which was both easier and harder. “Easier because I knew exactly what I wanted to write and so I worked on developing a recipe for it.” One example was her Pizza Soup (see sidebar), since pizza is such a staple of a young person’s lifestyle. “How cool would that be? All the ingredients are kid-friendly and accessible. It’s a fun and funky twist.”

The new book is “funkier, it’s grungier, it speaks their language. It uses very little equipment; it assumes that there’s not a lot of kitchen skills or space to work in,” Fishbein noted.

She tried out potential recipes at the source, inviting young people to tastings. “Some of the dishes didn’t make the cut, as much as that upset me because I thought they were great. They just weren’t the palate for this age group. Some were just too ‘out there.’”

The tasters offered their critiques and comments, which she incorporated in the final publication. “I didn’t care if my girlfriends like this food,” Fishbein said. “I care that my kids’ girlfriends like this food.”

Fishbein is preparing to take her book on the road, not to the usual venues of synagogues and JCCs but to college campuses and camps. “As much as I know moms are going to buy it to cook from it or give it to their kids or give it as a gift, really my audience and who I am aiming to please are those teens and 20s; that’s who I’m going to see. So I’m off to college!”

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