Reading and cooking out of Simply Julia, Julia Turshen’s newest cookbook, feels something like receiving a warm hug. The book, which Turshen describes as her most personal to date, welcomes us into the writer’s home kitchen with one-hundred-and-ten nourishing, no fuss recipes.
While the book does not prescribe to a specific dietary need, the recipes included run the gamut. There is an entire chapter on chicken, eighty-seven vegetarian, forty-two vegan, and a whopping one-hundred-and-six gluten-free recipes. Simply Julia is a welcome reprieve from the dozens of diet-specific cookbooks currently on the market, developed, instead, based on a concern for both comfort and health. Turshen is careful to define what she means by health, and, thankfully, her definition avoids placing moral judgements onto ingredients or force-feeding the virtuosity of greens and beans. Rather, she writes: “I describe every single recipe in this book as healthy and encourage a personal definition of the word. After all, what does ‘healthy’ even mean? […] I believe it has a wide, generous definition that’s all about freedom. To me, it’s as much about what I’m eating as it is how I feel when I’m eating.” For Turshen, healthy food is as much about nutrient dense ingredients as it is about how the food makes you feel, who you eat it with, and the memories specific dishes spur.
Turshen’s recipes are thoughtful and intuitive. She invites modification and is refreshingly aware of cost prohibitive ingredients. While some recipes act as looser guides (like the recipe for stewed chickpeas with peppers and zucchini, which offers multiple routes for serving and suggests additions with a confidence boosting gusto), nearly every recipe includes ingredient alternatives and tool substitutions. While many cookbook writers are fierce in their requirement of fancy ingredients like finishing salts, Turshen provides regular kosher salt as a suitable alternative in her recipe for kate and mushroom pot pie. Although a small matter, as a cost conscious graduate student myself, Turshen’s care for her reader is evident throughout: she includes weight and cup measurements on all recipes, as well as both Celsius and Fahrenheit temperatures.
One of the final sections of the book — Seven Lists — includes additional recipes, such as suggestions for what to do with leftover egg yolks, whites, and buttermilk. There are also quite a few Ashkenazi Jewish recipes in the book, including gefilte bites and matzah meal pancakes, perfect for Passover.
Overall, Simply Julia is a celebration of that which nurtures and is sure to be a cookbook you return to again and again.
Hannah Kressel is a current fellow at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. She holds a Masters in Art History from the University of Oxford and a Bachelors in Art History and Studio Art from Brandeis University. Her research examines the intersection of contemporary art, food, and religion. She is an avid baker and cook.