Recipe inside'I guess I’m like the grandmother – I like to say godmother'

Susie Fishbein led a kosher cooking revolution. A whole new generation has followed

23 years after ‘The Kosher Palette’ upended the kosher cookbook world, a growing slate of authors have entered the genre – though some prefer to stay out of the spotlight

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Kosher cookbook author Susie Fishbein. (Courtesy)
Kosher cookbook author Susie Fishbein. (Courtesy)

Don’t call Susie Fishbein the grandmother of kosher cooking.

“I guess I’m like the grandmother – I like to say the godmother – but it always feels like the grandmother of the genre, which makes me feel like I’m 80,” joked Fishbein in a recent conversation with The Times of Israel.

Godmother, grandmother or doyenne, prominent cookbook author Fishbein undoubtedly revolutionized the world of kosher cooking, starting with “The Kosher Palette” in 2000 – which was a fundraiser for her children’s school – and later with her bestselling “Kosher By Design” series published by Artscroll.

More than two decades ago, Fishbein – along with co-editor Sandra Blank – upended everything home cooks had come to expect from kosher cookbooks, publishing a sleek, modern tome that pushed the boundaries of traditional Jewish cooking.

And in the 23 years since, Fishbein, who lives in New Jersey, made her splash in the niche market. A whole new generation of kosher cookbook authors has followed in her footsteps, throwing open the once limited field and changing the way many kosher cooks approach the kitchen.

Susie Fishbein with her collection of cookbooks (Courtesy)

A new offering from Artscroll, “Best of Kosher” – a collaboration between Fishbein, 54, and many of the publisher’s subsequent cookbook authors – brings together 20 years of some of the most popular dishes that have emerged from each cookbook, alongside a handful of new recipes from every author.

Over the years, Fishbein said, as more and more kosher cookbook authors have entered the genre, “everyone, in such a lovely way, always shows such kavod [respect] to the fact that I did kind of get the ball rolling.”

The latest generation of kosher food personalities say they recognize the path Fishbein blazed.

“To me, Susie Fishbein is the OG,” said Chanie Apfelbaum, 42. The author of “Millennial Kosher” is better known by her online handle: Busy in Brooklyn.

“I have so much respect for her… she’s really self-taught and all her recipes are really, really well written and so accurate. I feel like she really spearheaded the whole idea of Orthodox Jewish women writing cookbooks, so I’m very grateful,” said Apfelbaum.

Fishbein’s “Kosher By Design,” published in 2003, was the first cookbook ever produced by Artscroll. Fast-forward to 2022, and the publishing house now has more than 35 on its shelves from a wide range of authors, many of whom have also become well-known in the genre, including Miriam (Pascal) Cohen, aka the Overtime Cook, with “Something Sweet” and “Real Life Kosher Cooking,” as well as Danielle Renov, whose 2020 book “Peas, Love & Carrots” was named after her popular Instagram handle.

“[Fishbein] definitely paved the way for everybody,” said Canadian cookbook author Daniella Silver, 39, who has become known for her “Silver Platter” cookbooks. “She definitely changed the way we look at kosher food,” introducing a focus on “presentation and different flavors, and not just always the same Shabbos food – we can expand our palates a little bit.”

Kitchen revolution

For decades, most kosher cooks relied on recipes passed down from generation to generation, as well as synagogue-collated collections of untested and unproven recipes. Others purchased mainstream cookbooks and muddled through substitutions and alterations. The famous “Spice and Spirit,” published in 1977 by the Chabad movement and reissued in 1990, became a kosher kitchen staple, though it focused largely on traditional Ashkenazi Jewish foods, with no photos and a layout reminiscent of most community-assembled recipe collections.

In 2000, Fishbein’s “The Kosher Palette” took kosher kitchens by storm, with its clear layout, selection of photos, triple-tested recipes and updated approach to kosher cuisine. The book quickly became a sensation, selling close to 100,000 copies over several print runs. The book went out of print years ago, but Artscroll published a revised anniversary edition earlier this year alongside “Best of Kosher.”

The ‘Best of Kosher’ cookbook seen at the book’s Artscroll launch party. (Courtesy Artscroll)

Her very first cookbook, Fishbein said, “was in demand for a decade at least, [with] people begging for it, looking for it, asking for it, searching for it,” she said. “People are thrilled to have the reprint… and to have the book to be able to give to the next generation who grew up on that food.”

That book, and Fishbein’s subsequent “Kosher By Design” series, catapulted her to niche fame and her recipes became Shabbat and holiday staples in kosher kitchens around the world. During a certain period in the early 2000s in the tri-state area, it was impossible to attend a Shabbat meal without being served strawberry-mango mesclun salad, cauliflower popcorn and zebra fudge cookies – Fishbein signature dishes.

“I’ve even been celebrity-spotted in Italy – I really have to always be on alert,” joked Fishbein. “People are so lovely, and they always want to tell you what they love, what their family enjoys – and I love the people that want to come up to me to tell me what they make better than me… they always make me giggle.”

Asked which recipes she hears about from fans repeatedly, Fishbein was quick to rattle off a long list: “The wonton-wrapped chicken [recipe below], the cinnamon buns, the pretzel challah, the Yemenite beef soup… so many classics,” she said. “And I’m so grateful for that, that even though with all the new cookbooks that have come out, that stuff has not been relegated.”

The appetizer course

Cookbook author Chanie Apfelbaum, known as ‘Busy in Brooklyn.’ (Courtesy)

Before Fishbein came along, Artscroll had never published a cookbook. The Jewish publishing powerhouse was known for sacred texts as well as a growing collection of books about spirituality, faith, history and even Jewish-themed novels.

But in 2003, Artscroll branched out into the cookbook world with Fishbein’s “Kosher By Design” series, which has since sold more than 400,000 copies. Artscroll didn’t team up with another cookbook author until 2011, when Leah Schapira’s “Fresh & Easy Kosher Cooking” was released.

The newest Artscroll cookbook, “Best of Kosher,” unites the publisher’s now-expansive cookbook team presenting their “greatest hits” – some of their most popular recipes until now – alongside a handful of new offerings. The book was compiled by the five women who make up the “Between Carpools” team, a group of moms who run an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle site with an emphasis on cooking.

Those women – Leah Schapira, Victoria Dwek, Renee Muller, Esti Waldman and Shaindy Menzer – are also behind the popular Artscroll cookbook “Dinner Done,” and Schapira, Dwek and Muller have also published individual Artscroll books. That group, plus Fishbein, Apfelbaum, Silver, Pascal and Renov as well as Rivky Kleiman, Sina Mizrahi, Naomi Nachman and Rorie Weisberg round out the Artscroll authors who contributed to “Best of Kosher.”

For the most part, the women reflect the cookbooks’ target audience: self-taught home cooks, without professional training or restaurant experience. And while the number of those entering the genre has expanded rapidly over the past two decades, the authors say there is no sense of competition among the group.

“Everyone brings something different to the table, whether it’s different flavors, different cultures, healthy aspects, restaurant aspects – there’s all different types and styles in each book,” said Silver.

Cookbook author Daniella Silver with her ‘Silver Platter’ books. (Courtesy)

Apfelbaum said she feels “a real sense of community” with the other kosher cookbook authors: “It’s not competitive at all, everyone is there to support each other and help each other.”

And Fishbein – who made the decision in 2016 to stop publishing cookbooks and focus on other culinary endeavors – is happy to pass along the baton to the growing group.

“There’s room for everyone – we can never have enough cookbooks or enough ways to cook a chicken,” she said. “I feel that it really is a sisterhood… of cheerleaders for each other.” And with each new book that hits the market, Fishbein said: “I’m proud for them, I’m happy for them, I assume that’s how they all feel for each other.”

Bowled over

While it celebrates the work of a large group of women, “Best of Kosher” drew some criticism online for featuring a “Meet the Authors” page that didn’t show any photographs of the women, but instead listed their names alongside a series of mostly-empty bowls.

The ‘Meet the Authors’ page in the ‘Best of Kosher’ cookbook. (Artscroll)

Not printing photos of women is a common practice in ultra-Orthodox circles, though the phenomenon has received increasing pushback in recent years. And while it’s perfectly commonplace for cookbooks to stick to photos of food, not people, the imagery of empty vessels struck a nerve with some.

The book was compiled and arranged by the Between Carpools team, a group of women who are steadfast in their decision not to publish any photos of themselves online. The member of the team responsible for styling – known as Renee Muller – not only doesn’t show her face online, but also works under a pseudonym. The women have said that the decision is not due to modesty, but a desire to remain out of the spotlight and maintain a cohesive brand.

Artscroll said that it does not have a policy barring the publication of women’s photos in its books.

“Our policy is that we do include photos of women in our books. All of our biographies and other titles have many photos of women inside,” the publishing house said in a statement to The Times of Israel. “We did not include photos of women in this cookbook as most of the authors did not want their photos included.”

None of Artscroll’s published cookbooks include photos of women – even those written by authors who have large social media presences. Most of the cookbooks published by Feldheim and Gefen, arguably the biggest kosher cookbook competitors, do feature photos of women.

From left to right: Leah Schapira, Esti Waldman, Victoria Dwek, Shaindy Menzer, and Renee Muller are the women of Between Carpools. (ESTIphotography for Between Carpools)

Fishbein said she felt she was unfairly targeted by the criticism of “Best of Kosher” when she did not make the decision or put together the cookbook.

“I ended up becoming at the forefront of the firestorm of that criticism,” she said. She said she was taken aback by the outrage, “because it was never a discussion for me” in the past. Fishbein said she is not in any way ultra-Orthodox, but her face does not appear in any of her past cookbooks purely “as a design decision… because putting people in books dates them.”

Fishbein said she is fully in favor of those ultra-Orthodox women who fight to see themselves represented in Jewish media, but also supports those contributors who have chosen not to become public figures.

“I understand the issue, I understand the importance of the issue, and why this might be the moment when people just can’t look the other way anymore,” she said. “And I agree with that, and I’m on board with that.”

“When women don’t see themselves pictured at the Shabbos table except by a pair of gloves – that totally sends the wrong messages to their family, that’s nauseating to me, quite honestly,” she said. “But that’s not what this book was. That’s not what the green bowl was.”

Apfelbaum said she believes the criticism over “Best of Kosher” and the images of bowls was “blown completely out of context.” The “Meet the Authors” page was intended as an “artistic way of explaining the color scheme of the book,” she said, not aimed at implying that the bowls are “instead of our faces.”

Nevertheless, she said, she believes that Jewish publications not printing photos of women is a phenomenon that “needs to change.”

Her upcoming cookbook – “Totally Kosher” – will not be published by Artscroll, but rather Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

“It has beautiful pictures of me lighting candles with my daughters, there’s pictures of me in the book,” said Apfelbaum. “I’m proud to have that. I’m happy that that is going out into the world.”

The range of kosher cookbooks published by Artscroll over the past 20 years. (Courtesy Artscroll)

Recipe: Wonton-Wrapped Chicken

Fishbein writes in “Best of Kosher” that this recipe is “perhaps the most famous, most requested recipe in ‘Kosher by Design’ history – the all-time fan favorite.” And as a deep-fried treat, it’s also perfect for the week of Hanukkah!

Wonton-wrapped chicken by Susie Fishbein from ‘Best of Kosher.’ (Courtesy Artscroll)

Marinated Chicken:

1 Tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp cornstarch
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 tsp dry sherry
6 Tbsp oil
1 tsp soy sauce
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into approximately 32 (1-inch) squares


32 wonton wrappers
oil for frying

Apricot Dipping Sauce:

12 oz apricot preserves
4 tsp yellow mustard
¼ cup teriyaki sauce

Prepare the marinated chicken. In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar, salt, cornstarch, garlic, sherry, oil, and soy sauce. Mix chicken with the marinade; cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.

Heat oil in a deep fryer (or pour a few inches into a deep pot) to 355°F.

Meanwhile, assemble the wrappers. Lay wonton wrappers in a single layer. Place one square of marinated chicken onto the center of each wonton wrapper. Dab a small amount of marinade on each of the corners. Fold wonton over chicken by bringing each of the corners to the center of the square, overlapping slightly, like a squared envelope. Press on the center to seal the squares.

Fry wonton-wrapped chicken for about 2 minutes per side, turning once.

Prepare the apricot dipping sauce. In a small bowl, combine apricot preserves, mustard, and teriyaki sauce.

Serve wontons on each plate with dipping sauce.

Susie Fishbein’s low-fat tip: ”I’ve been air-frying these wontons and they come out great! Freshly fried wontons must be eaten the day of frying, but air-fried wontons will stay crispy for a longer time. Spray both sides of each wonton and air-fry at 350°F for 10-11 minutes.”

Make ahead: Wontons may be fully prepared and frozen flat in a single layer and then sealed in plastic baggies for storage. To reheat, bake at 475°F for 10 minutes.

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