As we prepare for Tu B’Shvat, I can’t help but grow more introspective. Over the past century, Tu B’Shvat has evolved into a primarily mystical food holiday incorporating a Kabbalistic seder, dating back to 16th century Tzfat.
At the center of our Torah lies our relationship to the natural world. In our Biblical stories, we are part of the natural world —and set apart from it. God gave us the ability to name the creatures that roamed the Earth and we are God’s own creation. The first human being took the name Adam, for it was from the Adamah (earth) that he was created. God gave us a garden to cultivate, while living within that garden. We are natural and social creatures, living among the swarms of life and reaching beyond it through the study of Torah
Anthony Bourdain likes his kugel the way bubbies make it. At least, that’s what he told contestant Jeanette Friedman on the premier of his new competition cooking show “The Taste” when she added jalapeños and adobo spices to the Eastern European Jewish staple. The show premiered this week on ABC with Bourdaine co-hosting with British stunner Nigella Lawson, French chef Ludo Lefebvre and Top Chef Brian Malarkey.
With a similar structure as The Voice, the show’s contestants have one hour to cook their dishes and present food on a spoon, they then stand behind a wall as the chefs taste and critique their food, often arguing whether it is the work of a home cook or a professional chef, or maybe just a home cook who has watched a lot of professional cooking shows. If they like the food, the chefs charm the contestant into joining their teams, which will compete against each other in a later episode.
Friedman, incidentally, the mother of activist and Forward 50 honoree Daniel Sieradski, made a lokshen kugal with a spicy twist. Bourdain immediately recognized the taste, “I know this dish… this is very familiar to me,” he said. But ultimately, Friedman was eliminated because the dish had lost its classic flavor. “When it comes to Eastern European Jewish classics, I’m a traditionalist,” Bourdain told a disappointed Friedman. “You lost me at the adobo.”
What would bubbe do? Infuse her matzo-ball soup with truffles and leeks? Prepare her brisket in red wine, then serve it on a puree of sweet potatoes, topped with pickled pearl onions and accompanied with a dollop of tzimmes?
Probably not. But she may have eaten it — after all, a meal’s a meal — and possibly even approved. (Or kept her reservations to herself.) One thing’s for certain: Bubbe, or most of the bubbes we know, would not have thought to make a hummus kawarma, a plate of ground chickpeas and little warm cubes of seasoned beef, all in a lemony sauce.
Yet that’s what won the prize last night in Philadelphia’s first-ever Bubby’s Cook-Off. The idea for the event came from Rabbi Yehuda Shemtov, who had the chutzpah to ask six local chefs — two of them James Beard winners — to each come up with a modern spin on traditional Jewish foods, and make the dish kosher and competitive. (Only one of the six chefs makes a living in a kosher kitchen.)
Ask Google about the Jewish food history of Toronto and you’ll get nothing. Ask author/storyteller Michael Wex about Toronto Jewish food history and he’ll talk about immigrants, Sabbath observance, and cholent.
With a population of nearly 2.5 million people, half of whom were born outside Canada, Toronto is the most multicultural city in North America, and one of the most multicultural in the world. You can travel around the world in one weekend without ever leaving the city. Some ethnicities even have multiple ethnic neighborhoods. A short 5 ½ mile walk will take you through four ethnic neighborhoods.
Growing up in the New York, Tu B’Shvat was one of the Jewish holidays that slipped under the radar. Living in Israel, I can’t step into a grocery store this time of year and not know what holiday it is. Dried fruits and nuts are piled high, serving as a pleasant reminder that it is Rosh Hashanah La’Lanot, or the New Year for trees.
Although I don’t attend a Tu B’shvat seder (a tradition of the Kabbalistic communities here), I always mark the holiday by incorporating as many dried fruits and nuts as possible into my meals for the day. I combine them to make a trail mix suitable for an afternoon snack or outdoor hike, or toast them with oats for granola to enjoy with my morning yogurt. For dinner, I take a cue from North African tagines by braising dried fruits along with chicken or beef that I serve alongside couscous and a salad topped with nuts.
But my favorite Tu B’Shvat recipe is the one for these dried fruit and nut cookies, which I learned from my friend and colleague Orly Ziv of Tel Aviv-based Cook in Israel, which offers culinary tours and cooking classes. She teaches her students to makes these cookies, which are chock full of dried fruits and nuts (recipe below). Somewhere between biscotti and granola bars, these chewy, lightly crispy cookies are sweet enough to feel like a treat, healthy enough to serve as a nice breakfast, and are perfect for Tu B’Shvat.
On a balmy afternoon in January of 1969, my mother and her family left their sprawling farm in Cuba for the promise of a new life filled with opportunity in the United States.
Like many other immigrant families, they worked hard to assimilate into the culture of their new home country. My grandfather went to work at an automobile factory, while my mother and her siblings attended school in an unfamiliar language. With a picture-perfect house in a sunny southern California suburb, they soon morphed into a seemingly typical American family — but anyone invited over for dinner would quickly realize that their Cuban traditions remained.
While her neighbors busied themselves by hosting cookouts on their backyard barbecues, my grandmother spent the better part of her day sweating over that night’s offerings, which she made with the produce from her small makeshift replica of the family’s old farm that she built in the backyard. Dinners featured classic Cuban dishes like starchy yucca smothered in sauce, cumin-scented black beans to drape over white rice, a fresh and crisp salad jeweled with plump slices of avocado, and aromatic and savory meat dishes, which slow roasted in her tiny oven — the scent wafting through the neighborhood like an unspoken invitation to come by for dinner.
Figs have long held my fascination. I grew up begging my mother for one more Fig Newton. Later, I had to stop myself from eating an entire container or bag of dried figs that my parents bought as a special treat. I often had to jockey with my dad for the last one.
In college, as part of a course called “The Palestinian-Israeli Confrontation” with Brandeis Univeristy Prof. Gordon Fellman, I read Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, “My Father and the Fig Tree.” The poem was about the idea of home, and how a juicy, ripe fig was home to the narrator’s father. The poem resonated with me on many levels, including wondering how a fruit could call to you and bring you peace.
As a New Yorker who moved to northern Utah almost 30 years ago, I’m sometimes tempted by local restaurants that offer what they refer to as “authentic New York fare.” Shops that sling “New York” pizza, serve a Big Apple-style cheesecake and worst of all, a Jewish deli sandwich, often disappoint.
So, when I recently read an exceedingly laudatory review of the new Feldman’s Deli in the local alt-newsweekly City Weekly, I was pretty skeptical. It seemed too good to be true, and after all, I condescendingly thought, what could a Utah food critic really know about Jewish deli food?
But given such a glowing report, I knew it was only a question of time before I’d make the 45 minute drive to Salt Lake City to try it. So on a smoggy January afternoon, I headed south with my dear friend and fellow zoology professor Bob Okazaki to introduce him to what I was hoping was an acceptable sandwich. A California émigré who has lived and travelled all over the planet, he has never had a Jewish deli sandwich — more than my individual satisfaction was riding on this adventure.
Even if your bubbe lives far away, you can still have a taste of the Old World. This priceless video by the team at the Forverts shows you how to make borscht with matzo balls. It’s perfect for this time of year. Check out the video below and share your borscht memories with us in the comments.
Kutsher’s Tribeca patrons who pay close attention to their credit card bills might have noticed that they were being charged for a whole lot more than upscale gefilte fish and matzo ball soup. That’s because one of the restaurant’s waiters was allegedly stealing their information and using it to go on a $126,000 spending spree.
The waiter, Jaiquan Ibraheem, who has not been employed at Kutsher’s since last spring, was arrested on Tuesday and charged with multiple counts of grand larceny and scheme to defraud. The accused allegedly used a skimming device to steal the credit and debit card numbers of 120 Kutsher’s guests between February 1 and April 30, 2012. Accounts at a variety of banks and credit card companies were involved, but the vast majority were Chase credit card accounts.
All this must be hard for Kutsher’s to digest. The restaurant’s publicist explained that Kutsher’s waiters are instructed to take patrons credit cards directly to the terminal for payment, and then directly back to the table, and that the restaurant has never run into any problems with this — until now. An official statement from Kutsher’s emphasizes its cooperation with the NYPD on the case.
Pancakes for Shabbat breakfast? Yes, please. Ruth Reichl shares her favorite recipe. [RuthReichl.com]
Next month’s TEDxManhattan is all about food — and you can stream it! [Grub Street]
National hot pastrami sandwich day. Really, everyone should celebrate this. [Eatocracy]
The LA Times opens its recipe vault. Jackpot! [LA Times]
This is our kind of art exhibit. A Chelsea gallery will be displaying a collection of food photos. [New York Times]
The perfect pastrami sandwich is the New Yorker’s holy grail. It’s a relatively simple combination: Fatty, juicy pastrami spiced with a small dollop of brown mustard and contained within two slices of mild rye bread, served ideally with a pickle spear. And yet, the search for the best corner pastrami sandwich has spawned as many culinary battles as the eternal hunt for the superior slice of pizza. David’s Brisket House, a Crown Heights mainstay that has been slinging deli meats since the 1970s, has long been on the short list for the pinnacle of pastrami achievement.
David’s Brisket House was founded to serve the then-predominantly Jewish neighborhood it was situated in. The old story of gentrification lines and neighborhood change landed David’s smack in the middle of a predominantly Caribbean area. The restaurant changed hands over the years, closing for a despairingly long time in 2010 before reopening with interior improvements in 2012. The owners now are Yemeni Muslims, who serve up the spirit of the old Jewish deli along with every sandwich. It’s the zany kind of fusion that happens naturally in a place like Brooklyn: non-kosher Jewish comfort food preserved by Middle Easterners sold to Haitian immigrants.
When a new kosher restaurant opens on the Upper West Side, word spreads like wildfire. Upon hearing that a new kosher burger place opened in my neighborhood, I was beyond thrilled. Not only was is right around the corner, but they deliver too! I ventured to Amsterdam Burger Company during its second week since opening. I didn’t quite know what to expect but I went in there being open to what they had to offer. I took one look at their paper menus – as they were still getting settled into their new digs – and although not much was offered initially, they still delivered on quality and unique flavors with lots of the thought and care. Simple yet dignified. As I quickly skimmed I noticed the very bottom of the menu read, “all our products are from grass-fed, organic kosher meat.” I was even more impressed that a kosher establishment was finally on board with the environmental movement and was able to call themselves not only kosher, but sustainable as well! Already this classy burger joint was off to an incredible start.
Israeli-born Chef Shlomi Biton insists his Lower East Side hotspot Mezetto, which opened in October, is not a Middle Eastern or Jewish eatery. But its small plates — meze — bear those imprints, along with Balkan, Moroccan, and Sephardic flavors. Mezetto’s menu also reveals the influence of Biton’s rigorous studies at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris — and a stint in the high-precision kitchen of Spoon, Alain Ducasse’s Hong Kong fusion palace. Familiar ingredients surface in smart combinations, like a halvah parfait and falafel buns, his Asian-inspired, open steamed buns filled with a falafel ball, Israeli pickle salsa and harissa aioli.
While Biton still pines for his mother’s Moroccan cooking — and even consults her on food questions — he claims his goal is nothing less than “shattering” preconceptions of Mediterranean cuisine. The Forward caught up with Biton from Mezetto’s kitchen — and even shared his hummus recipe with us below.
One of the signatures of modern Israeli cuisine is fresh, flavorful food made with fruits and vegetables that grow almost year round in the country’s temperate Mediterranean climate. So, it might be a bit surprising to learn that Israeli kids are eating school lunches that are as lacking in freshness and good nutrition as some of the worst American school lunches.
Armed with examples of fixes for the problem, like First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative and British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution campaign, Jerusalem City Councilmember Rachel Azaria is leading the fight for healthier school lunches in her city and throughout Israel.
It’s a kosher carnivore’s delight lately in Manhattan. Hot on the heals of news that The Prime Grill is moving to a larger location in order to accommodate more diners, we learn that La Brochette is coming to 340 Lexington Avenue in Murray Hill. The new kosher steakhouse, is replacing La Carne Grill, whose name leaves no doubt that it served a similar cuisine.
The owners of La Brochette plan on renovating the two-story property, which they are renting for a cool $25,000 (give or take) per month, to create a higher-end kosher eatery (possibly with a roof deck). According to the Commerical Observer, La Carne Grill was appreciated by the kosher-eating community and served as a neighborhood hangout for many years. However, some patrons had been recently noting that the restaurant was in need of upgrading and redecorating.
Tu B’Shvat is one of 4 new years in Jewish Tradition. Celebrated on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shvat, this holiday gives us a chance to think about and celebrate the earth. Beginning with the rabbis in the 15th century, it has become a tradition to honor Tu B’Shvat with a Tu B’shvat seder. Below are the top 10 ways you can celebrate Tu B’Shvat this year in a healthy and sustainable way. To find out more information and suggestions from Hazon for Tu B’Shvat, visit the Hazon Tu B’Shvat Resource Page.
1) Go Out and Plant!
Tu B’Shvat is a great time to start your garden, and gives you sufficient time start growing so that you can use it during Passover! Take the time during this holiday to plant with your family and you can experience picking and eating your very own homegrown fruits and veggies. No space for an outdoor garden? There are plenty of ways to grow veggies and plants in an indoor garden. Check out ways to start your indoor garden from a gardening expert!
Where can one find a good black and white cookie these days? Max Falkowitz has the answer. [Serious Eats]
How do we love hummus? Let us count the ways (and places to eat it). Here are 14 of ‘em. [Serious Eats]
Is Jewish food taking over Chicago? We can only hope. [Serious Eats]
Brisket is finally a trend! Or, atleast a trendlet. [New York Magazine]
From the looks of this round up of 2013 cookbooks, the cookbook industry is doing very well. [Eater]
One doesn’t usually expect restaurant patrons to eat high-end cuisine with their hands. But that is precisely what guests will be encouraged to do when they dine in total darkness at a special pop-up restaurant called BlackOut in New York later this month.
Not only will the restaurant be pitch black, but its waiters will all be blind. The special dining opportunity is part of a temporary transplant, of Israel’s Nalaga’at Center (the name means “please touch”). The one-of-a-kind experience offers sighted and hearing people a taste of what it is like to live with a loss of some of their senses.
The other aspects of Nalaga’at are a stage production called “Not By Bread Alone” performed by deaf-blind actors, and a café called Kapish staffed by deaf waiters. “We are essentially recreating the Nalaga’at Center, located at the Jaffa port, in New York,” explained Adina Tal, Nalaga’at’s founder and artistic director, by phone. “We did the same thing in London a couple of years ago, and it was very successful.”
How do you remember the people you love?
Whenever I remember my Bubbie Ruth, I think about her sugar cookies. Anytime my family would stop into her Elmira, NY home, I would look forward to tasting her brightly colored, sugar-y cookies.
Sharing the story of my Bubbie and her cookies is the reason why I uploaded her recipe to Beyond Bubbie, a website that shares the recipes and stories from the people who made us who we are. The brainchild of “Save the Deli” author David Sax, Beyond Bubbie, is meant to inspire a communal, culinary conversation that spans religions and cultures.