Shifrah Devorah Witt and Zipporah Malka Heller are the mother and daughter team that coauthored The Complete Asian Kosher Cookbook. As they grew in religous observance and began following the laws of kashrut they were not willing to give up the chinese food and asian dishes they love. The inspiration for this cookbook was born.
1 How do you explain the Jewish people’s love affair with Asian food?
Shifrah Devorah-You know the joke. The Jewish man and the Chinese man are talking and the Chinese man says, "My culture has been around for 2,000 years." And the Jewish man says, "Well my culture has been around for 3,000 years." And the Chinese man looks at the Jewish man and asks him, “So what did you guys eat for the first thousand years?” This joke describes my love affair with Asian cooking. My earliest memories of eating are in dark Chinese restaurants with my parents. I don’t know if that explains the Jewish love affair but it certainly explains ours.
2 When were you introduced to Asian cooking and what made you decide to write a cookbook?
Zipporah Malka- I’ve wanted to write an Asian cookbook for years but never got to it. After my grandson was born, I got this idea of streamlining our cooking and collected my favorite Asian recipes in binders, and this was how the idea was born. Plus there was nothing like this for the kosher cook.
Shifrah Devorah- I have been eating Chinese food for as long as I can remember. My mother loves to tell the story of her standing in the kitchen three weeks after my birth making Beef and Broccoli. I always thought she was a little crazy when she told me that story but when my son was three weeks old, I distinctly remember myself in the kitchen making Indonesian Chicken Wings, pg. 76, so I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
As for why write a cookbook, we felt like there were so many people who could use this book. At first it was just about organizing our lives and recipes, but after a while we realized this was something the Jewish world was really lacking. People come up to us all the time now and thank us for this book. They say they were waiting for something like this to come out forever.
3 What was it like working as mother and daughter in making this dream a reality?
Zipporah Malka-We learned a lot about our differences, our similarities, and ourselves. We learned what special talents each had. I’m a planner and researcher and SHIFRAH DEVORAH is a fast make-it- happen kind of person. Plus she’s been giving me advice on how to adjust my seasonings since she was ten years old.
Shifrah Devorah-It was very special and very real. We have very different skills and talents that thank G-d compliment each other. We are both strong woman so there was a lot of energy in the kitchen, and we used it to perfect each dish to the best of both of our abilities. I’m a gustatorian, and my mother is a visionary, a wonderful combination to create our book.
4 Where did you learn these recipes?
Zipporah Malka-Some of the recipes are my mother’s and some have been collected from various sources and friends over the years. Some were new creations based on what we loved and needed.
Shifrah Devorah-Many of the recipes are from the power of memory. We remembered eating certain dishes, the place, the people at the table, the conversation, the food, and then we went into the kitchen to recreate those recipes. We consulted our index cards, recipes we’d been working on for years, and some recipes like the Sukiyaki, Thai Fish Cakes, Chicken Satay, and Indian Curry were simply a matter of closing our eyes and remembering the first time we tasted those foods and then “patchkeying” in the kitchen until we got the flavors to translate from our memories to the table.
5 What advice do you have for the busy home cook?
Zipporah Malka-Be organized. Be prepared. Read the recipe through before you shop for the week so you have everything on hand. Take advantage of seasonal produce, like broccoli, Asian long beans, fresh litchis, and bok choy. Have everything chopped and measured before you try to start cooking. You want to sit down to a hot meal. Remember, Asian food is usually cooked quickly and everything should be crisp and hot.
Shifrah Devorah-Take it easy! Don’t make yourself crazy trying to get each dish perfect. Cooking is a sensory experience. It’s intuitive. So be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to experiment in the kitchen. If you don’t get something right, try it again. Don’t try new recipes when you are in a hurry or have important guests coming over. Choose recipes that don’t have too many steps. If you are busy, choose a few dishes to make, it does not have to be a six-course meal. Be realistic with your time and how much of it you really want to appropriate to the kitchen. My personal policy is restaurant quality food in as little time as possible. That’s one of the reasons we wrote the book. I had a six-month-old baby at home and didn’t want to sacrifice my love of amazing food because my life had just gotten a whole lot busier. The book was created in part for women like us who were busy but still wanted the meals they created to taste like they’d been in the kitchen for hours, when really it was only minutes.
6 Your cookbook is a grand tour through Asia, with stops in China, Japan, Thailand, India and more. What is your favorite country’s cuisine and why?
Zipporah Malka- I love all of them. Creating the cookbook was especially gratifying because Shifrah Devorah was able to recreate Thai dishes such as Pad Thai, Thai fish cakes as well as Thai Iced Tea. I really missed them. So I guess I’d have to say Thai Fish Cakes.
Shifrah Devorah- I also love all of the cuisines we feature in the book. Favortie? How about my top favorites? Chinese, Thai, Japanese, and Filipino, if I have to choose. I’ll go with Chinese. I love the diversity of flavors and cooking methods in Chinese cooking. I also have to admit I love, love, love Chinese Noodles that we featured in the book.
7 Have you ever been to cooking school or had any formal culinary training?
Zipporah Malka-I took a Chinese Cooking class in the 70’s at the YMCA where I was working. But I am basically self-taught plus I’ve eaten more Chinese food in amazing restaurants then you can imagine and been cooking Chinese since I was eighteen.
Shifrah Devorah-I’d like to say I was trained by the best chefs of San Francisco and then continued my training in a local Jerusalem culinary institute. But translated into reality that means as a kid I used to love to watch the chefs in Chinese restaurants in San Francisco’s Chinatown. In the old days, bathrooms in restaurants were through the kitchen so I would purposely walk slower than necessary to glimpse what ever I could that was flying in the woks on the burners. I spent the next 10 years watching cooking shows on TV and fortified my training when I moved to Jerusalem in my mid-twenties at a local Asian restaurant by watching the chefs there.
8 What is your favorite recipe and why?
Zipporah Malka- I’d have to say the Thai Fish Cakes and Dipping Sauce and of course the Pad Thai. My mom’s is the Sweet and Sour Chicken.
Shifrah Devorah- It’s a toss up between Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce and the Shanghai Chow Mein. Why? Nostalgia, of course. I created those dishes based on my memory from childhood but then in the process of re-creating them was blessed with new memories that now surrounds them. I love watching my little son trying to use chopsticks to eat his noodles.
9 Is there any ingredient that you have not been able to find with a kosher symbol?
Zipporah Malka- There is one ingredient and it is salted black beans. Impossible to make at home.
10 What was your most memorable cooking moment?
Zipporah Malka-When Shifrah Devorah prepared an entire CHINESE Shabbos for my ninety-year-old mother. She said if she could look forward to more meals like this she’d make it to 100.
Shifrah Devorah-There are lots and lots but one of the best was the night we were testing the Pot Stickers pg.16. I had intended to make a whole meal with the Pot Stickers to be served as an appetizer. After the first batch was ready, we had to sample them, which led from one pot sticker to another until the whole batch was gone. The rest of the meal was postponed till the next night because we were too full to keep eating.
Here are a few favorite recipes from the book and you can visit http://www.asiankoshercookbook.com for more information: