What’s on the modern menu for Shavuot?
Kim Kushner, author of The Modern Menu (Gefen Publishing House), is formerly from Montreal and now lives in New York City with her husband and three children. Passionate about food, Kushner teaches cooking classes, writes a food blog, collects cookbooks and is currently working on her second cookbook, focusing on family-style meals.
Her first book, The Modern Menu: Simple, Beautiful, Kosher, was published a year ago. It just went into its third printing, with 18,000 books in print, and is also available as an e-book. The photography by Andrew Zuckerman is breathtaking.
Initially, Kushner had no intention of writing a cookbook, but decided to do it in response to her cooking students’ requests. They always asked her: “What goes with what?” Kim organized her tried and true recipes into menus, named for the way the dishes make her feel. Her “vibrant” menu is filled with colour and flavour, her “crisp” menu is loaded with pleasing crunch. The menu arrangements are simply suggestions – readers are encouraged to mix and match.
Kushner is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education of Manhattan. She loves to try new ingredients, flavours, and techniques, and her recipes are innovative, foolproof and beautiful. Her healthy, seasonal and hearty salads, made from locally grown produce, are stellar in her culinary repertoire. In addition to the dishes below, her creative recipes include Japanese Kani Salad, Balsamic-Marinated Chicken with Olives and Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Sticky Beef Ribs, Lentil Rice with Carrots, Farfalle with Pistachio Pesto, Gingered Butternut Squash and Sweet Potatoes, and Individual Halvah, Gelato and Sorbet Towers.
Her love of cooking and eating began when she was a child and a member of a large, extended food-loving family. Her Moroccan-born mother was a huge inspiration in Kushner’s style of cooking. Both mother and daughter work quickly in the kitchen, and both are extremely creative. They love Middle Eastern dishes, as reflected in many of Kim’s recipes.
Cooking and baking are actually a family affair – Kim’s sister, Jordana Levy, was one of the editors for the beautiful kosher dessert cookbook And Then There was Cake, a fundraising project of the Hebrew Academy in Montreal.
I asked Kushner to provide a “modern menu” including some of her favourite recipes for Shavuot, which begins on Tuesday evening, June 3. The following recipes would be equally welcome as healthier, lighter options for summertime entertaining. Enjoy!
GRILLED EGGPLANT, SUN-DRIED TOMATO AND BOCCONCINI SALAD
Do it once and you will see the wisdom of grilling sliced eggplant in batches, allowing them to cool completely, and then freezing them in single layers in large freezer bags. When you have them on hand, you can make this salad in just minutes. The combination of flavours in this vibrant salad is delicious and unusual. Bocconcini (“small mouthfuls”) are small mozzarella balls packed in water or olive oil; they can be found in most supermarkets.
1 large eggplant, cut into 1/4-in.-thick rounds
olive oil, for brushing the grill pan
1 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, plus 2 tbsp. of their oil
1/2 cup bocconcini packed in oil
6 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350. Place the eggplant slices in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Set aside for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare a grill or heat a grill pan over high heat. Brush the pan with olive oil.
Pat the eggplant slices dry and grill until translucent and charred, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the eggplant to a baking sheet and bake until soft, about 10 minutes. (At this point, the cooked eggplant can be stored in resealable plastic bags and frozen for up to 3 months. To use, thaw at room temperature until softened.)
Place the eggplant slices on a serving plate. Scatter the sun-dried tomatoes over, then drizzle the tomato oil on top. Scatter the bocconcini and basil on top. Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper before serving. The dish can be made a day in advance, covered and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before serving. Serves 6 to 8.
MEDITERRANEAN-STYLE SEA BASS
The assertive flavours of capers, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes make this 15-minute dish an ideal choice if you’re craving the sunny flavours of the Mediterranean. If you want to add a little heat, sprinkle a few crushed red pepper flakes into the food processor before blending the ingredients together.
3 tbsp. capers, drained
8 oil-packed sun-dried tomato slices, plus 3 tbsp. of the oil
4 scallions, white parts only
2 garlic cloves, peeled
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
6 sea bass fillets, about 6 oz. each, skin removed
Combine the capers, sun-dried tomatoes and their oil, the scallions, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and process until a paste forms, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Place the fillets in a single layer in a baking dish. Using the back of a spoon, rub the paste all over the tops of the fillets. The fish can be covered and refrigerated at this point for a few hours.
Preheat the oven to 400. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for about 12 minutes, until the fish flakes apart when pricked with a fork. Serves 6.
CINNAMON HAZELNUT PAVLOVA WITH RASPBERRIES
Nigella Lawson, one of Kim Kushner’s absolute favourite celeb chefs, got her hooked on pavlova. She made it so many times that she began to adapt it as she went along. The recipe below is a reflection of all this toying around. This dessert is like a work of art and has all the essentials a great dessert should have: the glossy meringue shell is crisp and rich, the whipped cream topping is soft and delectable, and the raspberries add the perfect dose of tartness. Once you get the hang of making these, it’s pure joy.
6 large egg whites
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup skinned hazelnuts, ground
1 tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
pinch of kosher salt
4 cups raspberries
Preheat the oven 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until satiny peaks form. Add the sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, and continue beating until the mixture becomes stiff and very shiny. Using a spatula, fold in the hazelnuts, cinnamon and balsamic vinegar. Spoon the mixture onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, forming a 10-inch circle that is about 2 inches thick. Place in the oven, and immediately turn the oven down to 300. Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the meringue looks and feel dry. Let cool in a dry place overnight.
Invert the pavlova onto a serving dish, peel away the parchment and flip over onto the dish.
Combine the cream and brown sugar in a large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk on medium speed until soft peaks form.
Spoon the whipped cream into the centre of the pavlova, leaving a 1-inch border. Sprinkle the raspberries over the cream and serve. Voila! Take a photo of your pavlova – you’ll regret it if you don’t! Serves 10.