Cooking is about love. It’s a clichéd trope, but any busy parent who finds the time to prepare dinner understands its deep truth. Same goes for the seasoned professional chef who, behind the sullied chef’s whites and exhausting hours knows why she got into the business in the first place: to feed, nurture, and love through food.
Writing a cookbook is a little different. As a food writer, I am in the storytelling business. The articles I write bring me out into the world—into people’s kitchens and lives and, most importantly, into conversations. Often I include a recipe to punctuate the narrative, but ultimately the recipes are just an excuse to share a story.
When I began my cookbook Modern Jewish Cooking, to be published by Chronicle Books in 2015, I knew things would change. My overarching goal was to bring Jewish cooking, Old World and New, to today’s seasonal kitchen to uncover and share the tradition’s best flavors.
But with 175 recipes to develop and 10 months to do it, I entered into a long-distance sprint. Life has narrowed to the four walls of my tiny Brooklyn kitchen, and fallen into a continuous loop of chopping, measuring, sautéing, and washing up. The trips I take to the grocery store are often the day’s social highlight.
Some recipes come together quickly; others take four or five attempts to get just right. And unlike cooking a meal for friends, the majority of the dishes I make do not have an intended audience. Usually it’s just me, the food, my notes, and a surprisingly persistent feeling of hunger. Not for food, but for connection.
My husband’s eagerness to play the role of taster-in-chief helps. And in an effort to not waste food, I regularly invite neighbors to come over bearing Tupperware. Most recently, I started a blog at modernjewishcooking.tumblr.com, ostensibly to chronicle the process of writing a cookbook, and share recipes along the way. But really the blog is an attempt to tap back into my gratitude for the work I do by reconnecting with the people I do it for.
Thick in the weeds of the project, I am working on hazy faith that this cookbook will inspire people to explore Jewish food in new, meaningful ways. Until then, the blog is where I will go between the solitary chopping to stop, breathe, and serve forth.
Toasted Almond Israeli Couscous
Unlike regular couscous, which is made up of tiny pasta granules formed from semolina flour and water, Israeli couscous (called ptitim, or “crumbles” in Hebrew) comes in larger, toasted pearls that make a satisfyingly chewy base for any number of side dishes. I almost exclusively cook Israeli couscous (like many grains) in broth instead of water, which gives it an added boost of flavor. Here, the cooked grain gets tossed with silky cooked shallots, a bit of lemon juice, and showering of crunchy sliced almonds, for a dish that comes together quickly on a weeknight, but feels special enough to serve for Shabbat or a holiday.
3/4 cup sliced almonds
3 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 sprigs fresh thyme
3 cups Israeli couscous
3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
6 medium shallots halved lengthwise & thinly sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
Chopped fresh parsley, for serving
1. Add sliced almonds to a small pan set over medium heat; cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and golden brown, 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
2. Add the broth and thyme to a medium pot set over high heat; bring to a boil. Stir in couscous, lower heat to low, cover and cook until liquid is absorbed, 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork and transfer to a large bowl; discard the thyme.
3. Meanwhile, heat the 3 tablespoons olive oil in a medium skillet set over medium heat. Add the shallots, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and browned, about 7-8 minutes. Add cooked shallots, toasted almonds and lemon juice to the couscous, drizzle with a little more olive oil, and toss to combine. Season again with salt and pepper, and serve topped with chopped parsley.