Medieval Kosher Cooking with Reader Devora

Please welcome reader and medieval cooking maven Devo Kessin for today’s reader interview.

Reader Devo Kessin

Reader Devo Kessin

  1. Name, location, family: Devora Kessin, Ariel, Israel
  2. What do you remember about family meals when you were growing up? For the most part we’d have meat/poultry for dinner but Thursdays were always dairy. My mom’s style of cooking was fairly unadventurous which was fine for us, I suppose, and no one complained about being bored. I understand that she’s since expanded her menu. We also had a “must eat vegetable”rule in the house that we became famous (or perhaps infamous) for. Friends who came for a meal or for Shabbat knew they also had to eat at least one of the offered vegetable side dishes. Pickles were not a vegetable.
  3. How is your cooking style different from your mother’s? One reason my mom’s menu was pretty standard was that my dad seems to be a fairly unadventurous home meal eater. My husband Zach doesn’t have that issue. Plus we don’t have the allergies my mom and dad have (dad: nuts and fish, mom: nightshades which meant no paprika, among other items). And we live in Israel, while my parents are back in the “Old Country” i.e. Brooklyn, NY. The ingredients available to us are very different.
  4. How did you learn to cook? When I was about 10, my mom handed me the recipe card for Chocolate Chip Cake (our standard Shabbat cake) and pointed me towards the KitchenAid. It was a disaster. I mixed up baking soda and baking powder. My mom simply tossed it, handed me the recipe again and told me to read more carefully this time. And that was it. After that, I’d help with the Shabbat cooking, weekday dinners not so much. When I was still living at home, my mom was a stay-at-home mom so she did weekday dinners for the most part.
  5. Do you entertain, and in what circumstances? What is the biggest party or meal you have hosted to date? We host potluck Shabbat meals every couple of months with some of the other Anglos in the community. I’ve made Sheva Brachot (a large post-wedding celebration) and when our youngest Elchanan was born, a friend  brought bagels from Jerusalem but the salads and veggie platters were all done by my daughters and me.
    One of the biggest events I ever did on my own was a medieval feast in a Crusader-era hall in the Arab quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. We were expecting 30, and 25 came. The menu included the following: broiled salmon with a basil-lemon butter (we keep kosher, so it’s butter-flavored margarine), carrot and parsnip pie, spinach with cumin and coriander seeds, cooked lettuce salad with celery and onions, vegetable pasties, beef with a mint and red wine sauce, barley with mushrooms and onions, goose stuffed with sausages and onions, apple mousse and bannock cakes with honey. And I did all the cooking.
  6. Can you share a typical daily menu? Weekly menu? In an effort to save money, we’ve gone dairy or vegetarian for the most part during the week. Sunday is often leftovers from Shabbat. Tuna and cheese quesadillas have become a favorite as well as my all-bean chili. I also make lentil burgers but my 17-year-old daughter isn’t fond of lentils so I don’t make them as often as I’d like.
  7. How has your cooking style evolved over the years? My cooking has definitely become more varied. And since moving from NY to Israel almost 13 years ago, I’ve introduced to new ones because of ingredients unavailable here, and tasting new foods prepared by people from all over the world.
  8. Can you recommend any cookbooks, TV shows or websites? I consider the Spice and Spirit cookbook (aka the big purple cookbook) as one of the best kosher cookbooks on the market. For someone starting out in either cooking or in cooking kosher, that’s my go-to book. Google is a wonderful resource for finding recipes too. Simply type in an ingredient or two and hit submit.
  9. What posts on CM have you enjoyed? One of the things I like about CM is that it brings together posts and people from all over to share in cooking and food . . . and it’s kosher!
  10. What is the most unusual dish you’ve ever made? I would have to say the cooked lettuce dish. When I first came across it, I thought “eww!,” but the more I thought of the flavors involved, the more intrigued I became. During the steaming process, the smells are wonderful, and nothing was left at the end.
  11. What is the oldest item in your kitchen? The newest? The oldest item in my kitchen would have to be my KitchenAid. It’s about 20 years old, from what looks like what they call their “Pro-Line.” The newest item would be my seltzer maker. I love it! Even if it does make obscene noises.
  12. What would you like to change about your cooking style in the coming year? I want to be better about cooking for Shabbat on Thursday 🙂
  13. Please share a favorite recipe and cooking tips that work for you. Here’s the recipe for the lettuce salad. For 30 people, I’d use a 4-qt pan (4 liters) and 3 or 4 heads of romaine lettuce (shredded), 1 bunch of celery (diced), 1 or 2 medium onions (diced), 2 tablespoons of butter (or margarine or olive oil), 1/2 cup water and a little salt. Thoroughly wash the leaf lettuce and celery. Put the water, salt, butter, diced onions and diced celery in the pan, don’t worry about melting the butter. Simmer for about 10 minutes to soften the celery and onions. Pack the lettuce in on top as tight as you can.  It will be looser in the larger pan and should steam faster. Bring it to a boil and then reduce the heat.  I usually use a total cooking time of about 10 minutes, so that the lettuce is thoroughly wilted, but not mushy. Stir the lettuce to mix all of the ingredients. Don’t try to make this dish in advance.  It doesn’t keep well.
    As for a tip: Cook with your kids!!! Get them involved in the baking! Make them a part of food prep. And that goes for your sons as well as your daughters.

You may also enjoy:

Rapes in Pottage (Turnips): Another medieval recipe from Devo.

On Margarine and Macrobiotics: Interview with Leora

School Lunch Ideas


  1. I would love to know more about historic Jewish cooking. I study medieval Jewish history and have long been threatening my family with the prospect of a medieval-themed seder (think historically accurate food and haggadah commentaries of the Rishonim). I’m kidding…mostly. Wish I could have had a seat at Devo’s banquet!

  2. RaggedyMom says

    Great interview! Totally agree about the ‘big purple cookbook’ – a major staple for me, year-round. And we love our Soda Club seltzer machine. BZZZZZZZ!!! Chag Kasher Vesameach!