Cooking Glorious Tajines with Levana

Levana is almost always referred to by her first name.
Like another favorite, extroverted star, her name rhymes with Madonna. No connection.
Levana is a legend in the kosher food world. She co-owned Levana Restaurant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for 32 years where she introduced upscale, innovative kosher dining to a public that had previously settled for mediocre kosher experiences when eating in restaurants.
Her multicultural, boldly seasoned creations exposed, educated, and elevated our expectations. After 32 years, the restaurant closed and now Levana spends most of her professional time as a cooking teacher, cookbook author and traveling the country giving cooking demosHer latest book is an adventuresome journey into healthy, easy to prepare, flexible dishes. The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen is a beta version currently and will be released in March with a few improvements.

I ‘ll let you know when.

I spent a couple of hours reading it cover to cover and can tell you that it is chock full of beautifully photographed, interesting and easy recipes that are interspersed with helpful nutritional notes by Lisa R. Young, PhD, RD.

I attended an inspiring cooking class at Levana Kirschenbaum’s apartment on the Upper West Side last week. Since I am always interested in knowing more about Middle Eastern cooking, and Levana is Moroccan, choosing the class she calls Glorious Tagines was an obvious choice for me.

It was a full house with about 36 attendees, ranging from middle aged couples to girlfriends sharing a night out. I would give the award for “most diligent note taker” to Levana’s next door neighbor, who confided that she can barely manage the temptation of the delicious aromas wafting into the  hallway from Levana’s kitchen when she returns home from work each night. Like the rest of us, she was there to learn some of Levana’s secrets.

A tagine is like a casserole dish consisting of two pieces, a plate or shallow curved bottom and a conical lid. The bottom doubles as a serving piece and is often highly decorated painted ceramic. The cone shaped lid funnels condensation back to the food, resulting in super moist and tender dishes. The tagine can be used to cook any combination of ingredients and may include rice or cous cous.

Last Monday, Levana presented four recipes for tajines:

meatball tajine with swiss chard, lemons and olives, lamb tajine with dried fruit and almonds, chicken tajine with carrots and turnips,

fish tajine with edamame.

She is high spirited, enthusiastic and outspoken as she moves quickly through the dishes. Her hands are in the food (so much more efficient than any utensil), she cajoles and even reprimands about using (or not using) certain ingredients and techniques.

Too lazy to use your food processor? She dismisses the idea with a broad wave and cries out, “ ridiculous!”  Is garlic powder ever an acceptable substitute to for fresh cloves of garlic?  “Never!”

Her unrestrained enthusiasm for kosher cooking, food in general, and community permeates the atmosphere.
Her techniques and ideas are ancient, traditional and modern all at once.
She encourages simple techniques, high quality and fresh ingredients and uses plenty of distinctive sweet and spicy flavors like tumeric, saffron and ras el hanout (a Moroccan spice mixture that includes a range of Middle Eastern spices).
She is a big advocate of incorporating preserved lemon (rind only) and showed the group how to make it.
The class includes a two hour demo and dinner.  For $45.00, It is a bargain , providing a convivial, learning experience for any kosher cook interested in expanding his repertoire and skills.

Levana's Lamb Tajine with Dried Fruit and Almonds

Levana's Lamb Tajine with Dried Fruit and Almonds

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds lamb shanks, or lamb or beef cubes
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced in a food processor
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 pinches saffron
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 3 sticks cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ cups pitted prunes, packed
  • 1 ½ cups dry apricots, packed
  • 1 cup slivered almonds, toasted 15 minutes in a 300 degree oven

Instructions

  1. Put the meat in a large heavy pot with 2 quarts (8 cuts) water and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce to medium and cook, covered, 2 hours.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet.
  4. Add the onions and cook, on a medium high flame, until dark brown.
  5. Add the sugar and cook 1 more minute.
  6. Add to the lamb, at the end of the 2 hours cooking, the saffron, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon sticks and ground pepper,
  7. cook 45 more minutes.
  8. Add the ground cinnamon and dry fruit, and cook 15 more minutes.
  9. Transfer the meat and fruit to a platter with a slotted spoon.
  10. If the liquid in the pot is too thin, reduce at high flame until thickened, and pour over meat.
  11. Just before serving, sprinkle with the almonds.
http://kosherlikeme.com/in-the-kitchen/cooking-glorious-tajines-with-levana

14 Comments

  1. Hi, I met you last week and asked about your camera. I am still thinking about getting it–Canon T2i–from Costco. It’s now $799 with 2 lenses, case, sd card, etc. What do you think? I love your site.

  2. I made that salad for Thanks Giving – the beets, carrot salad with the Chinese dressing. Levana you are a true master – that salad out of your cookbook got me a standing ovation.

    • I love the image of a crowd around your dining room table giving you a standing O!! Levana’s recipes are uncomplicated but nuanced. No wonder your crew loved the salad. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I’m so glad you could meet Levana- Isn’t she just the sweetest? It’s always so much fun to work with her, and I can’t wait to see the revised edition of the book!

  4. Must have been a great evening. You’ve got me hankering for tagine! How is garlic powder related to cloves? Enlighten me, please!!

  5. Lizzie, how timely! I will try that wonderful lamb dish very soon. I have a flame proof clay tagine cooker from some very inventive potters in Minnesota that is waiting for me to try it out!

  6. Pingback: How to Cook Lamb - Lamb Recipes - This American Bite

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