At Home With Helen Nash
In New Kosher Cuisine, one of the doyennes of kosher home cooking takes her fare in a simpler direction
Her one stipulation was that their kitchen had to be kosher, which meant she had to learn not just to cook, but to cook well, in order to cater dinner parties for her husband’s business associates. Like a kosher Julia Child, Nash signed up for cooking classes with an array of luminaries: Michael Field, Lydie Marshall, Marcella Hazan. After an attempt at suburban living in White Plains, the Nashes settled on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with their children Pamela and Joshua, who became their mother’s first taste-testers. (Pamela is now married to the investor George Rohr, the son of philanthropist Sami Rohr; Joshua runs Ulysses Management, a successor fund to Odyssey, and is a trustee of the Jewish Museum.) “The children would sit at the table and do their homework,” Nash told me. “Michael Field taught me a lemon tart, which Jack liked very much, but I wanted to achieve the custard filling without baking it,” she said. “It went on and on, and the kids finally said they never wanted to see another lemon tart again.”
But Nash encouraged her teachers to rethink their own approaches, too. Field, she said, would improvise on her behalf, telling her to substitute smoked salmon for ham in quiche Lorraine, and Millie Chan, the legendary Chinese cooking teacher, credited Nash with helping inspire her landmark 1990 cookbook Kosher Chinese. “Millie knew nothing about kosher, but she said, ‘Helen, if you’re prepared to buy a wok, and you bring the ingredients, you bring the meat, then you can learn,’ ” Nash told me.
Today, the kosher landscape is radically different, changed not just by people’s tastes but by the vast expansion of kosher certification for specialty products. “Wasabi! Who ever heard of wasabi with a hekhsher?” Nash asked me, shaking her head in wonder. The widespread availability of such products allowed her to include a far greater range of dishes in New Kosher Cuisine than in her earlier books, like curried beef wontons and black cod with miso. But, Nash said, the expansion of kosher prepared foods and restaurants also gave her something to rally against. “Back then it was a crusade, you know, asking why castigate kosher, because the Italian food at the time was also too oily and too overcooked and too gray,” Nash told me. “Now I’m interested in women who work, who have careers, but who still want to plan a menu and entertain and not be frantic because someone’s coming for dinner, and at the same time eat healthfully and eat well.”
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