As Sal Rizzo (Owner/Director of De Gustibus) so succinctly stated, “Levana, you’re very Zen in the kitchen.” He totally ‘got it’! What makes Lévana’s recipes so magnificent is their utter simplicity; like her un-garnished use of wholesome fresh healthy ingredients – roots and all - or opting for basic easy tools like food processors and shallow pots and bowls – that facilitate expedience and functionality in prep, or not overwhelming a dish with too many ingredients, thus silhouetting the key flavors, allowing their fine characteristics to fully emerge. It’s a style of cooking where less really is more.
“The sign of a good cook is a good plan”, said the very ‘present,’ in control, Lévana, as she demonstrably zipped through five delicious dishes in well under two hours, all the while providing a virtual wellspring of food tips. (“Peel the back of the celery stalks – then they won’t be stringy and you’ll lose the bitterness.” “Add pepper to your recipe at the very end of the cooking process, – pepper that’s cooked gives off an acrid flavor” ) Lévana‘s immeasurable kitchen wisdom is rooted in 35 years of passion for excellence, unstinting experience and relentless experimenting until utter perfection was achieved; available now in her magnum opus, her new cookbook The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen. “The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen is the culmination of a whole life’s work!”. “It’s about cutting corners on steps, not ingredients… Everything about cooking is about the mindset.” How Zen is that!?!
Lévana demonstrated six dishes, contemporary versions of traditional Morrocan cuisine: Chickpea Soup, Fishballs in Lemon Mustard Sauce, Spicy Lettuce Salad with Chick Peas and Preserved Lemon, Hot and Sweet Parsnips, Lamb Stew with Artichokes and Mushrooms, Almond Shortbread Cescents. Each was perfectly balanced, a virtuoso performance of a symphony of flavors. As you can see, the lamb shank recipe below uses onlythree main ingredients and two spices to achieve it’s desired simply delicious outcome.
Lamb Shanks with Artichokes and Mushrooms
- 8 lamb shanks, or 3 1/2 pounds cubed lean lamb stew
- 2 good pinches saffron
- 2 teaspoons turmeric
- 2 pounds button mushrooms
- 2 10 ounce boxes frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
Put the lamb shanks or cubes in a heavy pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce to medium, cover and cook 2 hours. Add safron, turmeric and mushrooms and cook for another 15 minutes. Make sure you don’t bruise the artichokes. The liquid in the pot should look thick and creamy. If it is too thin, transfer the meal and vegetables to a serving platter with a slotted spoon, and reduce the sauce on a big flame until it reaches the consistency of maple syrup. Pour the sauce over all. Serve hot alone or with roasted potatoes.
Sal Rizzo is an extraordinary moderator and host. He asks good questions that bring out the best in the great chefs appearing at the various De Gustibus‘ series. It is no small feat to figure out the logistics of featuring kosher chefs and providing kosher food to attendees under strict kashrut standards. Yet Sal and his terrific staff make it look easy, as they provide a stage that features kosher cuisine as an integral component of the best of the international gourmet scene.