May 25, 2024
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Zissie Erlanger: Cooking High-End and Healthy

Indian hummus, Mexican beef stew, pumpkin fries, Thai green curry chicken. These eclectic dishes are among hundreds of recipes that Zissie Erlanger—also known as “Chef Zissie”—cooks up in her kitchen in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem. A food aficionado, Erlanger has been experimenting with flavors since she was a teenager. She studied hotel and restaurant management at Boston University, where she also attended culinary school. She started her own business as a private chef and food artist in New York City when she was living in Queens. Eight years ago, she brought her talents to Israel.

Already in culinary school, Erlanger knew that she wanted to focus on international cuisine and in her own words, “taste the whole world.” Her kosher options in culinary school were very limited, so she would spend hours at Barnes & Noble poring over books about different cultures and countries. She would then host gatherings and serve ethnic food, featuring a different region of the world each week. She understood how good her cooking is after a friend from Thailand raved that her food tastes better than anything she has ever tasted in her native country.

Within weeks of making aliyah, Erlanger was already setting up her business in Israel, which today features cooking workshops, catering in private homes and at high-end events, and coaching on healthy eating—from a chef’s perspective. She also runs a website stocked with videos and easy-to-follow recipes so that followers can prepare their own meals.

Her secret is to use fresh ingredients—especially spices and herbs—that are healthy and that add a plethora of natural flavor to each dish. Rather than open a jar of processed ingredients or add unnecessary sugar, Erlanger opts for natural choices such as silan or dates. She incorporates many spices and flavors from Persian, Moroccan, Mexican and Indian cuisine, among others, creating dishes with a unique fusion from around the globe. Each ingredient is intentional in order to arrive at “the special flavor,” and each menu is created according to the interests of the client. “I rarely make the same recipes,” Erlanger explained. “I get bored fast.”

For Erlanger cooking is about much more than providing sustenance. It is about creating a beautiful dish with intention and meaning that can be savored and that can enhance one’s experience of life. That is why she is committed to cooking meals that are both delicious and healthy. “So much of our lives are [spent] eating together, and I try to help people as much as they can to experience the beauty of it,” she said.

When she caters a private event or hosts a workshop, she turns the entire evening into an experience where each step is equally important, from food preparation to serving to chatting with guests and finally, to tasting. She has catered events for high-profile business people and public figures visiting Israel from overseas. “God is sending me really great jobs,” she added.

Living in Israel plays an important factor in her cooking. Though she is limited by produce according to season, the freshness of her ingredients is unmatched. She purchases many of her products at the Mahane Yehuda Market—or Shuk—in Jerusalem. When creating a menu, she will often explore the colorful fruits and vegetables available at the Shuk.

Erlanger appreciates the Israeli culture that places so much emphasis on the dining experience. Israelis spend a great deal of time in the kitchen and gather around the table for Shabbat and holidays with family. She believes that this is another reason why her business has been so successful in Israel.

What is she doing when she is not preparing a meal for a client or catering for a high-end event? Erlanger takes great pleasure in cooking for her family and insists on running the kitchen in her own home, opting to stay in rather than dine out at a fancy restaurant. “My kids reap the benefits,” she joked.

Erlanger does not dream of becoming a celebrity chef or being on the cover of magazines. Nor does she invest in expensive marketing or social media campaigns. While she loves cooking for others, her mission is for people—especially the Ashkenazi Jewish audience—to use her recipes and to incorporate nutritious cooking into their own lives. She hopes to help people eat healthier and feel better without compromising on the taste and quality of their dishes. In the meantime, Erlanger is creating a name for herself by introducing to the kosher kitchen cuisine that is rich in flavor and loaded with nutritional value.

Find Chef Zissie’s recipes at www.chefzissierecipes.com or on Instagram: chef_zissie

 

Chicken With Dried Fruit Chutney

Serves 4 hungry people

Ingredients:

1 fresh red chili pepper, cut in half, seeds removed and sliced (wear gloves)

2 purple onions, peeled and sliced

1½ cups of dried fruit blend of your choice (pineapple, mango, dates, apricots, craisins)

10 chicken thighs or drumsticks or a mix of both, skin on and bone in

2 teaspoons of Baharat or Garam masala spice blend (if you don’t have these you can use ½ teaspoon of cinnamon, ½ teaspoon of nutmeg, ½  teaspoon of cardamom, ½ teaspoon of curry powder)

1½ teaspoons of pink Himalayan salt

2 teaspoons of garlic powder

3 teaspoons of paprika

⅛ cup of extra virgin olive oil

4 oranges or limes, juiced

3 tablespoons of silan or honey

½ cup of fresh cilantro or dill or basil or mint, or a little of each, roughly chopped

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400° F or 200° C.

2. Prepare a baking dish with parchment paper. Add the onions, chili pepper and dried fruit laid out as a bed for the chicken.

3. Add the chicken evenly, not overlapping too much and drizzle on the olive oil evenly.

4. Add all the spices and rub into each piece.

5. Add the juice of the orange or lime and cover with tinfoil tightly.

6. Place in the oven and cook for 1½ hours.

7. Uncover the chicken and cook for 15 more minutes.

8. When ready to serve, add all the fresh herbs on top.

Chef’s notes: This chicken is perfect for Friday night. You put it on the hot plate covered tightly before Shabbat and the flavors will just continue to develop. Don’t be afraid of the chili pepper, it adds such a beautiful flavor, and because you took out the seeds (with gloves on) it won’t be spicy, just flavorful! I give you loads of options per ingredient so play around with it!

Chef’s tips: If you don’t own the spice blend Baharat or Garam Masala (they are extremely similar), it is time you buy them. I put them in so many different dishes to add flavor, elegance and depth. Anytime a recipe calls for cumin, put this spice blend instead and even your pickiest eaters will be devouring the dish.

Alisa Bodner is a Fair Lawn native who immigrated to Israel a decade ago. She is a nonprofit management professional who enjoys writing in her free time.

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