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In the JOK Kitchen with Ronnie Fein


I am thrilled to finally invite long time Joy of Kosher contributor, Ronnie Fein, into our kitchen.  Well known for her first cookbook, Hip Kosher, Ronnie is a former lawyer who turned her passion for food into a blooming career in food writing and teaching.  Ronnie has been writing about food since 1980, when kosher food was not so hip and she has helped to shape the modern kosher food we all enjoy in our books at our tables.  Nothing Ronnie makes is ever purely traditional, there is always some sort of Ronnie twist, just browse through the more than 120 recipes she has already contributed to our site!!  You can bet each one is written well, tested and delicious.

Ronnie's latest venture, The Modern Kosher Kitchen Cookbook, brings healthy tasty food to the forefront of the kosher kitchen.  With a foreword, by our very own Jamie Geller, who wrote, "I know her work, I know her recipes, and I know that Ronnie knows good food."  Ronnie has created a new cookbook for anyone that is looking to try something new and delicious and modern.

You can learn more about Ronnie from our interview spotlight about her blog, Kitchen Vignettes, but today I wanted to learn more about the new book.

ronnie fein cookbooks

How did your life change after writing Hip Kosher?

I’ve been in the food writing business for years and I always enjoyed getting together with people who shared my interest in cooking and creating new recipes, but after Hip Kosher I began to meet more friends who shared a deeper commitment to Jewish life, whose families shared similar traditions and memories, especially when it came to celebrating holidays. I feel a special relationship with these “friends,” even though I haven’t even met some of them! The other thing is, after Hip Kosher I’ve been busier than ever, writing, doing cooking demonstrations, speaking about how we can bring kosher cooking into the 21st century and keep it healthy and delicious.

VEGETARIAN chicken fried steak

Chicken Fried Steak Portobello

How is the new Modern Kosher Kitchen Cookbook different than Hip Kosher?

My mission has always been the same as my ancestors — adapt the surrounding food culture to kashruth. So I cook “American” food, but make it kosher, just as my grandmother adapted Romanian food, because that is where she came from. Although I love the old traditional dishes, they are not what I cook on a daily basis or even for company. There are so many kosher products available today that kosher cooks can cook almost everything that every other American cooks.

The biggest difference between The Modern Kosher Kitchen and Hip Kosher is that my new book has chapters that weren’t covered and that my readers have asked for specifically: chapters on Hors d'oeuvre, Passover dishes, Budget-minded meals. There’s also more vegetarian and whole grain recipes, more parve salads and a few slow-cooked foods. Also, although the recipes are modern, I did include my recipe for challah. It is the most requested of my recipes and everyone who has tasted it told me I had to put it into The Modern Kosher Kitchen. It is essentially my grandma’s recipe, and was an award winner for her.

kale farro salad

Kale Farro Salad

What makes recipes modern?

The recipes are modern in the sense that they are not traditional Jewish foods. I use seasonings, ingredients and methods that are globally influenced, that may be relatively “new” to kosher cooks — things my grandmother probably never heard of. They are modern also in that I have cut down on meat and use more healthy ingredients, less salt and sugar, more greens and grains. I also like to innovate and experiment on my family by using almost every new product or ingredient I hear about and also try to mimic some classic American dishes but “kosherize” them. So, for example, I created the Kale, Avocado and Farro Salad with Marcona Almonds. It’s kosher, it’s tasty, it’s healthy, it’s attractive too. And Chicken Fried Portobello Steak and Chive Eggs — it’s a riff on Chicken Fried Steak, a specialty in the American south, but this version is vegetarian, perfect for a dairy, parve or meat meal. I’ve served that one for brunch and it got rave reviews!

What inspires your recipes?

I look around and see what’s available, what’s fresh, what’s new. At farm stands, at supermarkets, bakeries, everywhere. I think, hmmmm, how would that taste with that? I read food blogs, magazines, restaurant menus, health newsletters. And I do what my Mom called “patchke in the kitchen.” I experiment a lot. What can go wrong? Dinner might not be great every night — I’ve had lots of failures and some recipes didn’t work, but my family is game and there’s always eggs in the house (I also keep a supply of This and That Soup — the recipe is in the book — in the freezer, for emergencies). At this point, I’ve cooked like this for so many years I have an inkling of what flavors will blend and which ones won’t. It gets easier as you get older and more experienced.

Thanks to Ronnie for everything plus these three new recipes as a sample of what is in the book:

Pan Seared Hanger Steak with Peppers and Onions

Kale, Avocado, and Farro Salad

Chicken Fried Steak Portobello with Chive Eggs