Healthy, Kosher, and Gluten Free
How can you create a healthful Hanukkah meal that is both kosher and gluten free? It’s easy if you’re Lévana Kirschenbaum, restaurateur, master chef, cooking teacher, and author of the new cookbook The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen: Glorious Meals Pure & Simple. Her secret? Using simple, flavorful, and unprocessed ingredients.
“I grew up on simple foods—fruits, vegetables, grains—where meat didn’t take center stage but was in bed together with the vegetables in a great abundance of small dishes,” says Kirschenbaum, who was born and raised in Morocco and ran Lévana Restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side for 32 years, serving upscale kosher fare.
“We weren’t idealistic flower children back then. It was exactly the opposite. We lived on real foods—wholesome and unprocessed foods. And it worked. We grew up healthy. My mother’s guiding philosophy and now mine is: ‘The cure is in the pot.’”
Kosher embodies this real-food concept, Kirschenbaum says. “There is a stringent quality in kosher foods. There are proscribed ways for an animal to be slaughtered. We were the original animal rights activists. There are also rules against eating scavengers like shellfish, animals such as pork, and serving meat and dairy together.”
On the gluten-free front, there are many whole grains to choose from that don’t contain wheat gluten. These include corn, millet, rice, and sorghum as well as pseudograins such as amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa.
Kirschenbaum is a firm believer that healthful food doesn’t have to take a long time to prepare. “Whole grains like quinoa, millet, and buckwheat can be cooked faster than a package of Minute Rice,” she says.
Similarly, she’s a fan of cooked dried beans and quick-cooking lentils, which are high-fiber, low-saturated-fat sources of protein.
Two of Kirschenbaum’s favorite cooking tools are a food processor and, surprisingly, a hammer. “The hammer makes quick work of cutting up hearty root vegetables such as pumpkin, butternut squash, kabocha squash, turnips, parsnips, and sweet potatoes,” she explains. “Place a cleaver with the blade poised on the spot where you want to cut and simply hit the end of the cleaver with one clean stroke.”
The food processor comes in handy to grind, blend, grate, slice, and dice in seconds. “Good brands come with a small opening perfect for slicing small cucumbers and thin carrots and a large opening where you can feed in a whole onion, large wedges of cabbage, whole potatoes, and whole cored apples,” Kirschenbaum explains.
These tools make the preparation of wholesome foods easier, she says, adding, “When something is easy to prepare, you eat it more often.”
Kirschenbaum’s pantry is always stocked with key staples such as nut butters, whole grain crackers, canned peas and beans, good-quality tomato sauce, a variety of whole grains all kept in glass jars with tight lids, and frozen fruits and vegetables that are full of nutrients yet take no time to clean.
“I always have ingredients on hand so I can make a meal with no premeditation,” she says. “People think that it is difficult, that cooking is hard, but I tell them to first visualize the taste and gustatory delight of the dish before you begin. You’ll make a few mistakes, but in the end you’re learn how to prepare harmonious and nutritionally sound meals.”
This includes holiday meals. “There’s lots of frying at Hanukkah; oil is very symbolic,” Kirschenbaum says. “But potato pancakes [which can be made gluten free by substituting rice or corn flour for wheat flour] and fritters can all be baked. Also, instead of apple fritters, experiment with fritters made of grains like millet or vegetables such as spinach and sweet potatoes.”