Although you’d never guess it from a quick skim of her books or a scroll through her Shabbat cook-along Instagram stories, Chanie Apfelbaum was not always the cook she is today. As she notes in the introduction to her new cookbook, Totally Kosher, as a young newlywed Apfelbaum had “never stepped foot into the kitchen.” She goes on to joke that, when met with the challenge of what to cook for dinner, she turned to takeout — and come Shabbat, she relied on her mother’s recipes for classic Ashkenazi fare. However, a crucial shift came when she began to understand her kitchen as an arena for her creativity, using flavor and visual appeal to guide her.
Apfelbaum has come a long way since that revelation (her Instagram account, @busyinbrooklyn, has 99,000 followers and counting). While her debut cookbook, Millennial Kosher, brought modern flare and an expanded palette to a largely kosher audience, Totally Kosher builds on her predilection for zhuzhed-up Jewish classics and brings kosher and Jewish cuisine — and a well-rounded perspective on observant Jewish living — to a not necessarily Jewish audience (Totally Kosher is, notably, published by a secular publisher, unlike Apfelbaum’s first cookbook). The book is an absolute joy to behold, offering a range of fusion-forward takes on Jewish fare, allowing us a glimpse into the life of the convivial Chanie Apfelbaum.
The book is divided into a whopping fourteen sections, with a range of flavors and meals (there is even a section called “Noshes and Nibble,” which serves up various sweet and savory bites for all those in-between moments). In the breakfast section alone, Apfelbaum takes readers to Persia for tahdig toast (with a nod toward Asian cuisine, she uses vinegar-bound sushi rice to sidestep the fussiness of traditional tahdig, all while maintaining its irresistible crispy crust), then crosses over to the Middle East for a knafeh-style cheese latke. She also tries out a wholly American concept: she takes her challah kugel and waffles it. While one may be wary of a book that relies so heavily on fusion — flavors combined in this way often end up muddling each other — Apfelbaum’s recipes show the restraint and seriousness of a truly seasoned cook.
Seek out Totally Kosher not just for its spin on lentil soup (finish it with a healthy squeeze of lemon and a pinch of saffron — trust me), but also for its jubilant display of contemporary Jewish life. We are entering a new era of Jewish cooking, one in which a kosher cookbook can go mainstream (Totally Kosher has already made it to the featured tables of the Strand Bookstore and given a shoutout by Eater). And with Apfelbaum as our fearless and thoughtful guide, we are bound to go far.
Hannah Kressel is a current fellow at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. She holds a Masters in Art History from the University of Oxford and a Bachelors in Art History and Studio Art from Brandeis University. Her research examines the intersection of contemporary art, food, and religion. She is an avid baker and cook.