The Jew And The Carrot

Making Kosher Mexican Food at Home

By Chana Billet

Tacos from Miami’s kosher restaurant Mexico Bravo are similar to the author’s recipe below. Photograph courtesy of Mexico Bravo.

When Katsuji Tanabe, the acclaimed chef/owner of MexiKosher in Los Angeles, became a contestant in this season’s “Top Chef” competition on Bravo, kosher Mexican cuisine soared in popularity. Unfortunately, with only a handful of kosher authentic Mexican restaurants in the U.S. — Tanabe’s in L.A. and Mexico Bravo in Miami being the most prominent — the unusual flavor combination of onion, garlic, cumin, oregano, chili and lime is hard to come by for those who keep kosher.

Unless you grew up with a mother from Mexico City, that is.

I was one of the privileged few for whom authentic Mexican cuisine was the norm. Leftover roast chicken was reheated in tortillas; quesadillas made with homemade salsa were a typical after-school snack; and rice was served at every meal.

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Going Wild with Avocados

By Hedai Offaim (Haaretz)

Avocado and Roast Beef Salad. Photograph by Dan Peretz.

I spy avocados lying in a crate in the market and am instantly diverted from my original purpose. I pick one up, cradle it in my hands and think about the beautiful tree that has yielded this fruit. Then I pick out a few more, wrap them in paper, take them home and let them continue ripening in a bowl on the kitchen counter. The avocado does not ripen on the tree. It is picked from the orchard when it has become fat enough but is still bright-skinned and firm, and finishes ripening in the kitchens of avocado lovers.

If you’re lucky, at the market you may find some that have already begun to soften a bit, so that you can peel and spread them on some fresh bread that very day. For this reason, I always carry a little paring knife with me, just in case it’s my lucky day. When you come upon that perfectly ripe avocado, you must buy some fresh bread, sit down in a nearby park or just on the curb if need be, spread the avocado on the bread, sprinkle on a little salt and blissfully devour it.

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Luscious Lemon Pie for National Pie Day

By Sari Kamin

At the end of a winding road through a cul-de-sac in Columbus, Ohio, lived my maternal grandparents, Lillian and Marty. They were always there when we pulled up, smiling through the screened door.

My grandmother was always cooking. I don’t think I ever saw her without her apron on. I remember her mostly from behind; skinny legs protruding from sweat pants, stirring something delicious smelling in an enormous metal pot. They had raised my mother on gefilte fish, chicken paprikash, and boiled cow tongue; recipes passed down from the generations that came before them. Though she was born and raised in Columbus, she had a knack for cooking traditional Eastern European food so authentic you’d think you were dining in the shtetl.

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The home she lived in with my grandfather, smelled perpetually of brisket and other stewing meats. Chopped liver was a fixture at the table; it sat in a glass bowl as casually as salt. Her meals began with chicken soup and culminated in mountains of homemade mandlebrot. I was resolute in my distaste of her plat du jours, like roasted chicken and slow cooked meats, but I held tight, pushing food around with a fork in case her famous lemon meringue pie might make an appearance. The truth was, I loved her foods but I didn’t like them. By 15, I was a hard fast vegetarian who preferred kale to kreplach. But I was so endeared by her commitment to her meals; she lived to please us and feeding us was the best way she knew how.

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Celebrating a Gluten-Free Kosher Cookbook

By Alix Wall

Aviva Kanoff with her cookbook, “Gluten Free Around the World.” Photographs courtesy of Aviva Kanoff.

Aboard the Balclutha, a historical ship docked near the San Francisco Maritime Museum, an incongruous assortment of Bay Area denizens from Chabad, the art world and elsewhere came together last month to celebrate the publication of “Gluten Free Around the World,” a new kosher cookbook by Aviva Kanoff.

Best known as the author of “The No-Potato Passover,” Kanoff is a photographer, world traveler and chef.

As guests toured the ship, a DJ pumped lounge beats while the ship gently swayed on the rolling waves of the bay. Guests sipped on tequila and vodka cocktails while sampling kosher recipes such as Spanish quinoa with sausages and coconut chicken with plum dipping sauce — both from her book. They viewed large-scale photographs by local artist Krescent Carasso as well as smaller ones by Kanoff from her travels.

Others listened attentively below deck as a ranger described the storied history of the ship, beginning in 1886, including its multiple careers as a merchant marine vessel.

Among the guests: a woman with a backless top showing Asian characters tattooed down her spine, Chabad rabbis, the owner of Humphry Slocombe ice cream, a Czech man who is studying for conversion to Judaism.

In her brief comments, Kanoff thanked her own rabbi — Chabad of Noe Valley’s Gedalia Potash — for helping create a new community to celebrate her book, since she had just moved here from New York in June, knowing all of two people. She also thanked her Uber driver.

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Greener Pastures for Treasured Cookbook Shop

By Liza Schoenfein

Bookshop owner Bonnie Slotnick took a quick break from packing to have her picture taken outside the 10th Street store. Photographs by Liza Schoenfein

I was happy to read at the end of last week that Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, the beloved little shop on West 10th Street that recently lost its lease, had found new digs and would soon be reopening. I scanned the Grub Street piece with avid interest, and when I got to the middle I did a double-take.

“Slotnick confirms she has signed a lease on a new space at 28 East 2nd Street,” the article said.

I knew that address.

“Her new landlords,” it went on, “who are the children of late Times editor Eden Ross Lipson, reached out to her after reading about the eviction.”

I knew Eden Ross Lipson — alas just a little — because she used to be the landlord and great friend of my great friends Dan and Tia.

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Banana-Walnut Pancakes as Penicillin

By Liza Schoenfein

Photograph by Liza Schoenfein

The flu came on so suddenly, I didn’t have time to make my own chicken soup. Thankfully, Zabar’s is right around the corner from the pediatrician, where my husband, Mark, and I both accompanied the ailing 11-year-old, all 104 degrees of him.

A quick march to the back of the store for the Jewish penicillin, four fluffy matzo balls on the side, and I was out of there. When the acetaminophen finally kicked in and our boy’s appetite made a brief, wan appearance, that’s what he ate. Half a bowl; better than nothing.

Sunday morning the fever was fiercer. On the phone, the pediatrician assured me that it was probably worse for the parents than the child. Acetaminophen plus ibuprofen. Cold compresses. Hot pink cheeks and shivers. Water and gatorade.

And suddenly, midday, he was back to almost normal, at least for a blessed three and a half hours. The older brother, neglected, asked for pancakes. What a good idea, I thought. I make these hearty, delicious ones that are so much better for my kids than they realize. They involve oatmeal and protein-rich Greek yogurt and only a bit of flour (gluten free, for me) along with walnuts for texture and additional protein and bananas for sweetness and potassium. Bathed in dark, sticky maple syrup, they go down easy and offer all kinds of nutrition.

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Ess-A-Wrap for Beloved Bagel Shop

By Michael Kaminer

Photograph by Angela N./Flickr

For bagel lovers, there’s going to be a hole on Manhattan’s east side — but not for long. After nearly 40 years of bagel-baking and nosh-slinging, Ess-A-Bagel will close its Gramercy location, on 21st Street and 1st Avenue, at the end of January.

But — hold the schmear — another bagelry is moving in. Manhattan upstart Tal Bagels will share the newly divided space with a Bank of America branch.

Manhattan neighborhood blog Town and Village broke the news about the beloved Ess-A-Bagel, which has earned a fierce following for its boiled bagels since its 1976 debut.

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A Vegan Cholent for Next Shabbat

By Vered Guttman (Haaretz)

Photograph by Vered Guttman

Of all the Jewish culinary traditions, Shabbat overnight dishes are the ones that ignite my imagination time and again. From the stories of the communal ovens in Eastern European shtetls, Moroccan villages or Jerusalem’s Old City up to today’s families who keep this tradition going, there’s always something very homey and romantic about it.

And although the many cholent variations, chamin, tbeet, kubaneh and other traditional Shabbat dishes from around the Jewish diaspora are all perfect (as with many tried and tested recipes that existed for centuries), I’m always curious to try new combinations and ingredients and see how overnight cooking affects their texture and flavor.

This time it’s a vegan Shabbat stew, which is really comprised of three different dishes that work well together to make a whole meal: beans and chickpeas with dried sweet peppers; potato, chestnut and dates; and stuffed Swiss chard leaves with rice and tamarind.

The beans and chickpeas become almost creamy when cooked overnight, which comes as no surprise, since it was tried by Northern African and Eastern European Jews for generations. The chestnuts are soft and creamy as well and the potatoes become sweet. The stuffed Swiss chard leaves become sticky almost and full of flavor thanks to the tamarind. Best of all is the nice aroma that fills the house on Shabbat morning.

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Lamb Stew With Winter Vegetables

By Liza Schoenfein

Photograph by Liza Schoenfein

When I saw that my CSA, Farmigo, was offering grass-fed lamb stew meat from sheep raised on family farms in the Hudson Valley, I pounced. Frigid January days just seem to require the sort of stick-to-your-ribs sustenance that only a good stew can provide.

Still, I’ve been trying to strike a balance between hearty and healthy, so I decided to tip the scales in favor of the vegetables in my pot. For eight people, I added two pounds of meat — only four ounces per person — and loaded up on carrots, Brussels sprouts, shredded cabbage, Jerusalem artichokes, and, because I had a few small, waxy potatoes left over from when I made the borscht at the beginning of the week, just a few of those.

Instead of creating a heavy gravy thickened with flour or bolstered by barley, I opted for an elegant broth-and-wine base spiked with a dash of vinegar, and served the stew over farro, which is a barley-like grain, but firmer and nuttier.

The resulting dish was immensely satisfying and warming without weighing us down.

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Balabusta Bootcamp

By Deena Yellin

Kosher-cookbook author Jamie Geller admits she wasn’t born with the balaboosta gene. Photograph courtesy of Jamie Geller.

Once upon a time, a Jewish home was managed by a domestic goddess who could clean, sew and cook a meal for an army at a moment’s notice. And this balabusta, or mistress of the house, would do it all without breaking a sweat in her immaculately starched apron.

But in today’s frantically paced world of fast food and career couples, has the balabusta become as obsolete as the meat grinder or pop-up toaster?

Some argue that the skills of a well-organized homemaker are a more essential commodity than ever, for men as well as for women. A growing number of balabusta proponents — bloggers with monikers like Balabusta Mom, Bible Belt Balabusta, and Modern Balabusta — extol the virtues of gourmet cooking, home organization, and hands-on parenting. Their hype only piles pressure on those of us who haven’t quite acquired “balabusta-dom.”

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Aspiring to Most Orthodox Career — as Chefs

By Ben Sales

(JTA) — Five haredi Orthodox men are standing around a large wooden table crowded with bowls of chopped tomato, garlic, carrots and greens, their ritual fringes poking out from under their aprons. Each is wielding a large chef’s knife.

Their instructor, wearing an embroidered chef’s outfit and grasping a raw chicken thigh, tells his charges to cut the limb along the bone and pull it apart with their hands.

Hunched over their cutting boards, the men get to work.

“I like good and tasty food, and I think I need to get to a higher level,” said Avraham Blau, a haredi father of seven hoping for a career as a cook. “I’m always critical of others’ food. I always have suggestions that bug me with their food.”

Blau and his four classmates are the first students in a six-week culinary arts program run by the Jerusalem Kivun Center, a government-funded initiative launched last year to train haredi Orthodox Israelis for full-time employment. After the program, they hope to become professional chefs in Jerusalem restaurants.

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Jewish Food Truck Rolls Through Tucson

By Hadas Margulies

Kim Bayne in front of her food truck, which she dubbed Griddler on the Roof. Photographs courtesy of Kim Bayne

When Kim M. Bayne’s business and technology writing career hit a wall, only the force of a food truck could break through her professional slump.

The Tucson, Arizona, native had a strong interest in food on wheels, which she explored at first through writing — Bayne has been a correspondent for The Food Network’s Eat Street blog, she founded Street Food Files, and she coordinated social media for TucsonFoodTrucks.com.

Still, she felt something was missing.

“I was suffering from a credibility gap,” Bayne said. Writing about food without preparing it herself was no longer going to cut it.

“Other than being a home cook with a Jewish heritage, I don’t have a chef’s background,” she said, laughing. “I thought, ‘I really want to try this food truck thing!’” With that, she launched her new career.

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A Borscht to Beat Winter’s Bite

By Liza Schoenfein

Photograph by Liza Schoenfein

So much for eating light — it’s cold outside. Single-digit temperatures, as far as I’m concerned, call for heavy sustenance. This morning I woke up with a yen for borscht. Not the thin, creamy pink-liquid variety, mind you, but the chunky, assertive, sweet-and-sour, dill-spiked beef, potato and cabbage-laden one — the one that feels like vigor in a bowl.

So I made it, drawing from the Red Russian Soup in Barbara Kafka’s glorious “Soup: A Way of Life” (Artisan, 1998) and from my own variations from over the years. (My late mom made Barbara’s for me a couple of times, and since I adore both women, this is a pretty significant soup for me.) This time I added sunchokes — Jerusalem artichokes — because I couldn’t resist the immediate sense of warmth the name imparted as I scanned the parsnips, turnips, and other nobby things at the market. And I simplified things, throwing all the long-cooking ingredients into the pot at once and then, when that was about half done, adding the rest.

The key to this dish — which is really almost a stew — is the balance of flavors: the sweetness of the beets and honey; the sourness of the vinegar; the mellow savoriness of the meat; and the earthiness of all the root vegetables, all brought together through low, slow cooking. (I’ve thrown the whole mess — minus the garnishes — into the slow cooker and turned it on high for six hours with brilliant results, if that happens to interest you. Longer on low would undoubtedly work too, but my problem with slow cookers is that impatience is one of my strongest, um, virtues.)

In any case, this soup won’t be the quickest recipe in your file, but it’s easy, somewhat meditative work — to me, anyway — and it holds the promise of warmth, strength, and even delight.

Liza Schoenfein is food editor of the Forward. Contact her at schoenfein@forward.com and follow her on Twitter @LifeDeathDinner. Her personal blog is Life, Death & Dinner.


Polar Vortex Beef Borscht

By Liza Schoenfein

Photographs by Liza Schoenfein

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: about 3 hours
Serves: 8

2½ pounds beef chuck cut into 2-3 inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
32 ounces lower sodium beef broth
½ cup tomato paste
½ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup honey
4 dill fronds (about 6 inches long, about half a cup), tied into a bundle with kitchen string
1 teaspoon dill seed
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1½ pounds of beets (red, or a mixture of red and golden), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1½ pounds small waxy white or Yukon gold potatoes, quartered
1 pound sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes), halved
1 cup baby carrots, halved (or a cup very roughly chopped regular carrots)
1 pound savoy cabbage, shredded

Garnish with sour cream or a nondairy version such as Toffuti Sour Supreme and chopped fresh dill.

1) Place meat in a large pot and add onion, garlic, broth, tomato paste, vinegar, honey, dill fronds, dill seed, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil; then lower heat and simmer for 1½ hours.

2) Fish out the wilted dill fronds. Add beets, potatoes, sunchokes, carrots and cabbage and cook about 1½ hours more, until meat is tender but vegetables are still in tact.

3) Garnish and serve.

Liza Schoenfein is food editor of the Forward. Contact her at schoenfein@forward.com and follow her on Twitter @LifeDeathDinner. Her personal blog is Life, Death & Dinner.


Considering the Chicken

By Jacob Siegel

Photograph by Konstantin Nikiforov/Wikimedia Commons

I slaughter my own chickens.

For the past several years, I have seen many animals die. I have experienced a range of feelings, from total cold focus to sadness and even fear. But I recently experienced a slaughter that transformed the way I see meat.

I trained in kosher slaughter four years ago, after seeing a slaughter myself. I realized I wanted to be able to produce my own meat — I saw making local kosher meat accessible as an essential way to create a healthy Jewish community, healthy food systems and a healthy local economy.

At the Hazon Food Conference in December, I helped with a demonstration led by fellow shochet (slaughterer) and food activist Yadidya Greenberg, and I performed the actual slaughter.

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Pomegranate Juice Made for a Mitzvah

By Uriel Heilman

Thinkstock

(JTA) – Get Rabbi Shulim Greenberg talking about the health benefits of pomegranate juice and he sounds like a homeopathic nutritionist — with a Yiddish accent.

Every January, the Hasidic charity Greenberg runs obtains some 40,000 pounds of California pomegranates (donated by Pom Wonderful, the nation’s largest pomegranate producer), squeezes them into juice and ships the product in eight-ounce plastic bottles to ailing Jews.

The recipients — mostly residents of the haredi Orthodox strongholds of Brooklyn, Lakewood, New Jersey, and New York’s Rockland County, where the New Square Hasidic village is located — apparently believe in the nectar’s healing powers. “People think it heals, but it doesn’t heal,” Greenberg says on a tour of the juice production line during its annual two-week run in January. “It’s keeping the blood count up, mainly for people taking chemo. If the blood count is good, the body has strength to fight the illness.”

Many manufacturers of food and dietary supplements promote the supposed health benefits of pomegranates, which are high in antioxidants, and the fruit also occupies a prominent place in Jewish tradition. Pomegranates are said to have 613 seeds — the same as the number of mitzvahs, or commandments, in the Torah. Pomegranate decorations adorned the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the robes of its high priest. Greenberg says there is also a reference in a medieval Jewish commentary to the fruit’s healing qualities.

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Building a Better Energy Bar

By Alix Wall

Made from vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, these kosher energy bars are savory, not sweet. Photograph courtesy of Slow Food for Fast Lives.

Danny Grossman would find himself getting hungry while coaching his sons’ Little League games. He’d be on the field, craving a healthy snack he could pull from his back pocket to nosh without taking a break. But he didn’t like the cloying sweetness of energy bars or how they made him feel.

So, entrepreneur that he is, he founded a company. Slow Food for Fast Lives makes four varieties of savory nutrition bars using ingredients like kale, quinoa, lentils, cauliflower, nuts and seeds.

Grossman’s business partners are Mel and Patricia Ziegler, the founders of Banana Republic. They met Grossman in the mid-1980s in Leningrad when he was a diplomat serving in the Soviet Union and they were scouting for Soviet military chic for their store.

A fast friendship developed, continuing on subsequent trips and even after Grossman got kicked out of the country, accused of being a spy.

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Mourning? Have Some Kugel.

By Tal Trachtman Alroy

Photograph by Katarzyna Bialasiewicz/Thinkstock

As Jews around the world gathered to celebrate Hanukkah last month, traditional foods such as latkes, sufganiyot, sfinge and other deep-fried delicacies lined our dinner tables. Today, modern Jewish food is celebrated as more than just the krepelach and pickled herring from Eastern European kitchens. It is recognized as a rich cuisine of diverse cultures from a wide array of countries.

Spices and recipes from Morocco, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Eastern Europe have produced a multi-ethnic mish-mash of tastes that make up Jewish cuisine and tell the story of a wandering and displaced people. More than anything, Jewish food has become part and parcel of Jewish tradition, in both secular and religious homes throughout the world on holidays and other special occasions. Shabbat cholent or Passover charoset or Zadie’s gefilte fish have turned festivities into events for both the stomach and the soul.

But there’s another Jewish connection to food that’s associated with something darker, which has yet to be turned into a best-selling book by Janna Gur or Einat Admony. Israeli gastronomes rarely discuss it, though it’s a significant aspect of Jewish food culture that strengthens Jews around the world in their greatest times of need: the connection Jewish food has to death and mourning.

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Streit’s Matzo Factory to Close

By Liza Schoenfein

Streit’s Matzo

The Streit family announced today that it will close the doors of its 90-year-old factory this spring, at the conclusion of the Passover baking season. The announcement was made by filmmaker Michael Levine, who had been working on a documentary about the company, Streit’s Matzo and the American Dream, for the past two years.

“Since 1925, the Streit’s Matzo factory has stood at 148-154 Rivington Street on New York’s Lower East Side,” he wrote in a missive he sent this morning to the publication Bowery Boogie. “Here, in four, low-slung brick tenement buildings, five generations of the Streit family, and as many generations of factory workers, devoted their lives to the art of mixing flour and water, and sending these two simple ingredients through a seventy-three foot long oven to create sheets of matzo, the unleavened bread central to the Jewish holiday of Passover.”

The four buildings that comprise Streit’s factory, which is the last family-owned matzo factory in the U.S., are now under contract to a developer.

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A Pork-Filled Friday Night in Madrid

By The Treyfster

Illustration by Kurt Hoffman

It was on a trip to Madrid, about four years ago, that I finally understood the paradox of opposites: that there’s no such thing as opposites, really, and that what you get when you try to run as hard as you can in the opposite direction to your upbringing is, well, something quite a lot like where you started.

I’d been eating treyf for about six years before that. I’d grown up frum, in an Orthodox — though not closed or uneducated — community. I’d separated meat from dairy, I’d only bought from kosher butchers, I’d kept myself clean of the impure flesh of the pig. I’d drunk only kosher wine, eaten only cheese made with vegetable rennet, bought only bread baked by Jewish hands. All of that. For a long time. And then it seemed time for it to be over. And slowly, one by one, I started to eat the forbidden foods.

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