Every Monday evening at Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan (200 Amsterdam Ave – at 69th Street – New York, NY 10023), Lévana Kirschenbaum holds a cooking class, dubbed by most as “Dinner and a Show.” CS and I were privileged to attend last night’s special Yom Haatzmaut demo: Beyond Milk & Honey: Israeli Street Foods.
The menu for the evening was: Spicy Bean Soup, Chraimi Fish, Minted Lamb Kebobs, Spicy Eggplant Salad, Hummus-Tehina, Israeli Salad, and Makrod (a semolina/date pastry); all made and served up, to 25 people, in the space of two and a half hours. Experiencing Lévana’s cooking class means experiencing Lévana. One doesn’t need to ask her about her particular philosophy of good cooking; the woman walks the talk of it!
While preparing the Spicy Bean Soup made with large lima beans, cilantro and cayenne pepper (which on principle sounded unappealing to me; wooow, was I in for a surprise!!), someone asked about the pot she was using, and someone else mentioned the use of garlic powder. Lévana recommended 18-10 stainless steel pots and pans, stating that her pot was made in China, quipping “there’s no room for politics in cooking!” Regarding garlic, she told us about someone who asked if they ran out of garlic powder could they use real garlic? ” Never settle for powder when you can get the real thing”, she replied, as she whacked a clove using the edge of her palm against the flat of her knife, demonstrating how easy it was to prepare a clove. “When should one look for a substitute? Only when the real ingredient is unavailable. You can find garlic anytime anywhere in the world. We’ve got so many choices, garlic in oil, minced, bottled, etc. Just because something is there doesn’t mean it’s good…..ersatz (artificial or inferior substitute or imitation) is so plentiful in so many forms, we think the imitation is real!”
Truth be told, the rich aromatic scent of fresh herbs on her cooking table awaiting deployment, enhanced every dish Lévana prepared. Her use of market fresh healthy ingredients along with her quick prep techniques, easy humor, mastery of her trade and generous spirit of sharing her knowledge with others, made the evening delightful. Preparing the eggplants for grilling, she opted to lightly spray the eggplant slices top and bottom with oil . “Remember you’re the boss. Don’t let the eggplants boss you around. Don’t be afraid of them.” Yet, she insisted on a full half cup of oil for the soup. “If there’s no oil, there’s no emulsion.” Considering, however, that the pot yielded 25 decent sized portions, that was a very small amount of oil. A true creative chemist in the kitchen, Lévana cooks her magical eupeptic dishes mixing wit, instincts, ingenuity, inventiveness, along with her many years of experience. It’s almost like the ingredients bend to her will, bringing out their tastiest characteristics to serve the Queen of masterful combinations. The soup by the way was incredible. The combined ingredients illuminated by the addition of home made pickled lemon, lit my palate with its explosion of fresh tangy tastes, The lima beans, tomatoes, onions, cilantro and fresh garlic all combined for a delicious harmony of flavors.
We can’t cover all of the dishes in the space of this post, but here are few further highlights. Lévana included some standard and not so standard ingredients for her Israeli Salad, creatively using the pulse feature of her food processor as a time saver - combining the celery, cucumbers, scallions, radishes and parsley; she hand chopped the tomatoes and lettuces, one could never tell in the finished product that any short cuts were taken.
I’m not a big fish lover, but that Chraimi Fish was savory delicious.One of the regular attendees told us she loves it so much that she makes a fresh batch every week… CS, a carnivore to the core, will tell you that as far he is concerned, the Minted Lamb Kebob (recipe to follow) was the evening’s real pièce de résistance. The exotic flavoring of the extra lean ground lamb was delicious and went perfectly with the Sliced Grilled Eggplant. The Chummus was nothing short of spectacular. Write us if you want Lévana’s recipe.
Levana describes herself as a a reverse chic kind of a person. Her food is earthy and terrific, prepared simply- as low tech as possible. But the woman herself is an articulate worldly person, well informed, generous and a techie twitterer to boot. Her days are filled with cooking for others and countless good deeds, so we heard from her devoted groupies. They are a tight loving group who acquired a love of cooking through experiencing Lévana’s warmth, good humor, talented free-reign creative fun cooking style and healing psychology delivered through the medium of food. Group regulars find the class absolutely addictive, having missed important meetings to be there each and every week. It’s their fun night out, as they learn that cooking can indeed be a fun experience and not a drudgery. Many feel more empowered in the kitchen and love Lévana’s uncomplicated style and generous funny nature. They’ve all learned to cook healthier recipes (with faster prep!) packed with fresh healthy ingredients, eager to replicate the recipes at home and experiment with variations.
All in all it was a fun evening spent with a really nice group of people. Considering the upcoming courses, we will certainly be back for sure …you know, she is kind of addictive…