Helen Nash’s New Kosher Cui­sine: Healthy, Sim­ple & Stylish

Helen Nash
  • Review
By – April 23, 2012

Helen Nash has long main­tained that kosher food is more than chopped liv­er and gefilte fish,” and in her lat­est book she once again demon­strates her abil­i­ty to expand the kosher palate. Tak­ing advan­tage of new­ly kosher ingre­di­ents — wasabi, truf­fle and sesame oils, miso, panko crumbs — she intro­duces an array of dish­es that min­gle the fla­vors of the Mediter­ranean and Asia with good every­day cooking.

Nash takes eas­i­ly avail­able ingre­di­ents, straight­for­ward tech­niques, and a dash of long-earned culi­nary knowl­edge to cre­ate dish­es that are sim­ple to pre­pare, fresh, and fla­vor­ful. Tuna tartare or a soft green soup of peas and zuc­chi­ni makes a light and love­ly appe­tiz­er to a spring meal. Fol­low with Arc­tic char with hon­ey and wasabi or mar­i­nat­ed salmon with man­go-kiwi rel­ish and a side of sweet and sour acorn squash. Desserts range from a tra­di­tion­al hon­ey cake to pear clafouti and apri­cot soufflé.

All of Nash’s recipes are con­ceived with nutri­tion in mind but no diminu­tion of fla­vor. Chal­lenged by her husband’s long ill­ness and health require­ments, she has turned to well-sea­soned veg­eta­bles, grains, fish, and poul­try for many meals, but she includes tra­di­tion­al favorites like cab­bage and mush­room soup, gefilte fish with home­made chal­lah and horse­rad­ish, pot roast, and cholent. Like any expe­ri­enced cook, Nash is a source of help­ful point­ers in the recipes as well as a brief sec­tion of tips, list of ingre­di­ents, and notes on tech­niques and equip­ment. Hand­somely illus­trat­ed with full-col­or pho­tographs (seen only in black and white by the review­er), Nash’s book is a wor­thy addi­tion to the kitchen library for both prac­ti­cal and health­ful every­day cook­ing and easy to pre­pare meals for enter­taining and hol­i­days. Illus­tra­tions, index, notes.


by Maron Wax­man

Healthy, sim­ple, and styl­ish — the sub­ti­tle of Helen Nash’s third cook­book clear­ly announce her ap­proach and the recipes she has devel­oped over the past sev­er­al years. In a live­ly and wide-rang­ing con­ver­sa­tion, Nash talked about her new book and the place that cook­ing has had in her life.

Helen Nash: The rea­son for this book was my husband’s ill­ness, so it was both hard and easy to write — hard because of his ill­ness and how it changed our lives and easy because I had been cook­ing for fifty-four years. The core of the book is my life expe­ri­ence with my hus­band.

There was no cook­ing in my child­hood. When I was four and a half, my fam­i­ly was trans­port­ed out of Krakow, and we spent the war in labor camps in Siberia. Food was nonex­istent — no fruit, no veg­eta­bles. It was a a ration diet of sub­sis­tence level.

My dis­cov­ery of food was grad­ual. My moth­er didn’t know how to cook. In Poland my fam­i­ly was pros­per­ous and had help. My moth­er worked in the fam­i­ly business. 

Maron L. Wax­man: So how did you devel­op your taste and tal­ent for cook­ing?
HN: I mar­ried a man who loved food and who wasn’t kosher. I was young — twen­ty-one; I had just grad­u­at­ed from col­lege — and came from a high­ly Ortho­dox home. He came from Berlin, from a not very obser­vant fam­i­ly although he had nev­er eat­en shell­fish or pork, and it was dif­fi­cult for him to make the shift to kosher. He and his friends thought kosher food was chopped liv­er. But to me kosher wasn’t just food; it was a way of life. So we made a clear and tac­it con­tract — we would have kosher food and a Jew­ish home, and that was fine with him as long as the food was good.

So my mar­riage was the cat­a­lyst. There was the joy of eat­ing togeth­er, and it was the time when women were defined by the home they cre­at­ed and by how they par­ent­ed. My chil­dren nev­er ate any­thing from a jar. If you eat that way, you have no idea where the food comes from. 

MLW: I’ve read that you’ve stud­ied with some of the great­est cook­ing teach­ers. How did that come about?
HN: We moved to the sub­urbs because we thought chil­dren should be in the coun­try. That last­ed about a year and a half, and then we moved back to the city. The chil­dren were get­ting old­er, and I decid­ed that I didn’t know any­thing about food, that I didn’t know the basics — for exam­ple, what the stan­dards were to know what a good roast chick­en is.

I began tak­ing class­es with Michael Field. Of course, I nev­er ate any of his meat dish­es. But he real­ized what my lim­i­ta­tions were, and he want­ed to help. He gave me sub­sti­tutes and kept say­ing you can do this.

MLW, inter­rupt­ing: I noticed a lit­tle sim­i­lar­i­ty to Field’s chick­en liv­er pate. You use some sher­ry, and I think he also added some brandy or some­thing like that to his.
HN: Could be. He was a won­der­ful teacher. From there I moved on to Chi­nese cook­ing. A friend won cook­ing class­es with Mil­lie Chan at a school auc­tion and gave them to me. I brought all my own food and got all the equip­ment — wok, steam­er, cleaver. From Mil­lie Chan I learned how to steam and stir-fry. I’m real­ly com­mit­ted to steam­ing and broil­ing rather than sautee­ing. It is less caloric and it keeps the kitchen clean, and there’s no loss of taste.

MLW: Your recipe for Sake-steamed Chick­en caught my eye. How did you learn about Asian fla­vor­ings like miso and wasabi?
HN: I read a lot and took notes. When flavor­ings like miso and wasabi became avail­able in kosher ver­sions, I exper­i­ment­ed with them. They appealed to me. And my hus­band was very re­ceptive to the new fla­vors. My guests liked them, too. No one ever com­plained. Baal teshu­va par­ticularly like those recipes, and they’re pop­u­lar with nonkosher cooks, too.

MLW: So peo­ple used to tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish food respond­ed favor­ably.
HN: They tast­ed the dish­es, and they liked them. They are good on the palate.

But my real aim in this book was to make it easy for the woman with no time to run to the super­mar­ket and buy twen­ty ingre­di­ents. Too many peo­ple are order­ing in for din­ner, and that’s not sat­is­fy­ing and it’s not good for chil­dren. This book is eas­i­er than my first two books, and I hope it will help. Most of the recipes have very few ingre­di­ents, and every ingre­di­ent is eas­i­ly avail­able. I was far more con­cerned with avail­abil­i­ty and sim­plic­i­ty than I was with my pre­vious books. But you have to know ingre­di­ents. Qual­i­ty ingre­di­ents are very impor­tant when sim­plic­i­ty is the basis. When I look at recipes now, I’m shocked by the amount of sug­ar and fat and the size of the por­tions. I don’t like the cloy­ing sweet­ness in so many desserts. Why not do a sim­ple clafouti? You can use any fruit. Or try a frit­ta­ta. This is a book of every­day food, not hol­i­day food.

And I’m also care­ful to indi­cate whether you can freeze the dish­es. Freez­ing is won­der­ful, but you have to be care­ful to wrap every­thing well. With freez­ing you can pre­pare ahead, and you’ll always have soup ready for Fri­day night.

I’m also try­ing to over­turn some myths about kosher food in this book. I’m not of the persua­sion that Fri­day night has to be tra­di­tion­al. Sab­bath doesn’t mean you have to have chick­en or meat and pota­toes. I often serve fish.

MLW: To change the sub­ject a lit­tle, do your chil­dren cook?
HN: My son doesn’t cook often, but he knows how to use the right ingre­di­ents when he does. My daugh­ter is a good cook, and she does cook for her family.

MLW: Giv­en the ideas about mar­riage and home life, how did you come to write a book?
HN: My daugh­ter went off to col­lege, and the house felt a lit­tle emp­ty-nesty. One night Jason Epstein [then an edi­tor at Ran­dom House] came to din­ner. He was the friend of a friend. I served some­thing in puff pas­try, and he didn’t even know it was made with mar­garine. When he found out, he said that if I ever want­ed to write a kosher cook­book, he’d pub­lish it, so I put togeth­er a pro­pos­al and that was the book. After that we became friends, and he did my sec­ond book, too.

This third book is a labor of love, in mem­o­ry of my hus­band. I had a won­der­ful sea­soned edi­tor who wasn’t Jew­ish, so she asked a lot of ques­tions. She was a real asset and helped clar­i­fy a lot of points.

But these recipes aren’t writ­ten in stone. Peo­ple have to take some respon­si­bil­i­ty for their cook­ing. This is real­ly a book about ideas and how to use them to make your own meals. In kosher cook­ing I hope we’ve moved a lit­tle away from our East Euro­pean palate with its sour cream and pot cheese and farmer cheese — not that there aren’t tra­di­tion­al dish­es in the book — and are cook­ing with new, fresh, lighter ingredi­ents. That’s what this book is about.

Recipe: Seared Tuna with Tuna Sauces

Serves 6

Tuna is sure­ly one of America’s favorite fish, and it lends itself to many types of prepa­ra­tion, from sashi­mi to tuna-fish” sand­wich­es. The dish that fol­lows calls for the fish to be almost raw; it can be accom­pa­nied with one of the Asian-inspired sauces, Gin­ger or Piquant Asian, that follow. 

1 tea­spoon kosher salt
2 tea­spoons fresh­ly ground black pep­per
2 pounds (900 g) sashi­mi-qual­i­ty tuna
1 table­spoon extra vir­gin olive oil
Juli­enned daikon, sliced seed­ed cucum­bers, and strong-tast­ing sal­ad
leaves like arugu­la or water­cress, for gar­nish
Gin­ger Sauce or Piquant Asia Sauce, to serve

Com­bine salt and pep­per in a small bowl.

Pat the tuna dry with paper tow­els. Heat the oil in a large non­stick skil­let over medi­um heat. Sear the tuna on both sides, then remove from the heat and rub both sides with the salt-pep­per mixture.

When cool, wrap the tuna tight­ly in wax paper, then in foil. Refrig­er­ate it for at least 4 hours or overnight. This will make it firmer and thus eas­i­er to slice.

TO SERVE: Cut the fish against the grain in thin slices, and serve accom­pa­nied by the sug­gested veg­eta­bles. Serve either of the sauces separately.

From New Kosher Cui­sine © 2012 Helen Nash. Pub­lished in 2012 by The Over­look Press. www​.over​look​press​.com. All rights reserved. 

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

Discussion Questions