Fishbein, a wife and mother who lives in New Jersey, talks to JTA about food, Chanuka and Jewish youth.
JTA: On the new book, why the youth focus?
Fishbein: The original inspiration comes from my own kids. I’ve got a couple of teens now. I’ve seen their tastes and preferences in food shift. They’d helped me on my previous project, "Kosher by Design: Kids in the Kitchen." My oldest daughter has shown a strong affinity for cooking, and she’s become quite influential among her friends who are always coming over to cook up something new in our kitchen. With our four kids at home, you know there are always hungry friends hanging around. I’ve also spent time with teens and young adults in summer camps. I got more inspiration from the cooking demos and even simple conversations I shared with them.
Is there a definable youth mentality about food today?
I’ve observed two groups in this demographic. There is one segment that eats mostly fast food whose idea of home cooking is a store-bought entree warmed in the microwave. I want to widen their choices. Then there’s another segment that is really into cooking, that has a more developed and health-conscious attitude toward food. They think about the nutritional value of what they consume; they’re looking for new recipes and new approaches to eating. Beyond that, I have in mind students cooking in a dorm or a young couple in a first apartment. I also considered the adventurous teen who wants to have friends over for something more substantial than pizza and pretzels, like my oldest daughter does.
How does this connect to Chanuka?
As Jews, we have certain core values that have shaped us historically. Our forefather Abraham is recognized as a paragon of chesed (kindness) and hachnasat orchim (hospitality to guests). Hospitality by extension includes food. So when we think about transmitting Jewish values to the next generation, there’s much room for the development of culinary skills. And at this point in the Jewish year, more than merely lighting candles and eating doughnuts and latkes, Chanuka week is a time to reignite the Jewish soul. I’ve done this in our home, where we’ve made latkes together and talked about the original little flask of oil that lasted for eight nights. In my previous cookbook, "Kosher by Design Lightens Up," you can find a great idea for an olive oil tasting station -- a perfect party idea for Chanuka. As with so many Jewish holidays, food is a great catalyst for Jewish learning and living.
Any particularly poignant Chanuka memories that return to you at this time of year?
There are so many, of course, but one that jumps out at me? Ah -- powdered sugar faces from eating beignets are an annual Fishbein tradition.
Are there recipes in "Teens and 20-Somethings" that you suggest for Chanuka?
While this isn’t a holiday cookbook, there are some dishes that would certainly qualify as Chanuka-friendly. If we consider ones that include oil in some manner, I’d recommend the Veggie Corn Fritters with a marinara dipping sauce. It’s one of the few fried foods among the 100 recipes in "Teens and 20-Somethings," along with the Falafel Veggie Burgers. Oh, and the incredibly good Homemade Chickies. You kind of need to know about a very busy little restaurant in Teaneck (N.J.) to fully appreciate those! There’s also a great Tex-Mex Salad that calls for olive oil, as well as the Chicken Tabbouleh Salad. The Toasted Sesame Rice calls for sesame oil, of course. Beyond this, there’s a lot of fun food in this cookbook, such as Peanut Butter and Banana French Toast, which is a great “what to do with leftover challa” idea. Pizza Soup is a big hit, as are the Mexican Pizza Empanadas. And for a funky, quick and easy American dish, there’s a Tater Tot Casserole. This cookbook is very diverse, very cosmopolitan, but easy to work with.
What kind of feedback have you been getting from teens and 20-somethings themselves?
It’s been amazing. From the very earliest reviews in October, it was clear that this is a crossover cookbook. Jews and non-Jews alike got excited about it, from those who keep kosher to those who are sort of kosher curious. You can Google the book title to see a lot of blog chatter about it. I was also delighted to see that a lot of 30-, 40- and 50-somethings welcomed this cookbook into their kitchens and were actively and regularly using it -- for Shabbat and for everyday.
The younger reviewers speak the most to me. When I read their enthusiasm about something they made for themselves or their friends and families, I feel very satisfied. I see that more than a cookbook, it’s a tool to empower the next generation with skills and confidence to feed themselves and those they care about.