Cooking Glorious Tajines with Levana

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.


  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. 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!

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