Photograph by Michael Kaminer.
Cultural appropriation is a white hot topic in today’s internet-rage culture. Sometimes, the rage is really important and other times it sort of misses the point.
Israel has gotten a lot of that beef from those who say it’s unfairly staked claims to foods that are really the cultural property of Arabs.
“Hummus is not Israeli! Falafel is not Israeli!” some say. That’s usually followed by some variation of: “Well, it figures. When Israel isn’t appropriating land, it’s appropriating food.”
I’ll leave the politics for another column. But when it comes to hummus, falafel and yes, even possibly sachlav, I will say they are Israeli.
They’re also Lebanese. And Syrian. And Palestinian.
They’re all of the above — and there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying that.
L.A. Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold shown in “City of Gold” digging into a Poseidon Tostada from the Mariscos Jalisco taco truck in Los Angeles.
(JTA) — If you live in Los Angeles and care about food, you already know Jonathan Gold, the Pulitzer Prize-winning restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times.
You may have traced one of his pithy reviews to a mini-mall in the San Gabriel Valley for Sichuanese hand-torn noodles, or to an unromantic stretch of Hollywood Boulevard for blood-thickened Thai boat noodle soup, or to Compton for succulent barbecue, or to one of dozens of other neighborhoods far from Rodeo Drive or Venice Beach and other icons of Los Angeles culture.
In eating your way down the trail he has blazed, you may have acquired a taste for a different notion of Los Angeles, for the city as a mecca to which the foodways of East and West, both high and low, all make hajj to tell their story upon your palate.
“City of Gold,” a documentary by Laura Gabbert that premiered Jan. 27 at the Sundance Film Festival, is a dual portrait of both Gold and the city he loves. The camera follows him as he roams from restaurant to restaurant analyzing the food, pointing out subtleties in the metropolitan texture and philosophizing upon the nexus between food, culture, history, geography and anything else that comes to mind.
Sachlav, a hot drink that is to Israel what hot chocolate is here. Photograph courtesy of Mighty Pie.
Israel’s most popular winter drink has become a hit with New Yorkers — thanks to an Ecuadorian chef and a little love from The New York Times.
Mighty Pie, a tiny stall in Union Square Park that specializes in the filled pastries called boreks, is the latest place in the Big Apple where you can savor sachlav, the thick milk-based drink that is to Israel what hot chocolate is stateside.
Not surprisingly, Mighty Pie is owned by an Israeli, restaurateur Simon Oren, who floated the idea of serving sachlav to his team. But it’s chef Mario Urgiles who adapted a traditional sachlav recipe, sourced out kosher ingredients, and designed Mighty Pie’s realer-than-real presentation of the creamy drink, which is traditionally made with orchid tubers, called sahlab in Arabic.
“We get kosher sachlav powder straight from Israel,” Urgiles told the Forward. “The powder’s cornstarch with dried orchid root. We prepare it in-house with hot milk and hot water, then finish it with orange blossom. I add just a little vanilla. Then we serve it with coconut flakes, cinnamon powder, chopped pistachios and raisins.”
Photograph by Mark Hurvitz
Tu B’Shvat brings the opportunity, and the excuse, to create a chocolate bark using fruits and nuts connected to the land of Israel. Stay with the fruits of the traditional Sheva Minim, the Seven Species of fruits and grains mentioned as special to the land of Israel in the Bible, such as pomegranate, fig, date and raisin.
Or, celebrate any of the other fruit delights available in Israel today — papaya, mango, apple, peach, pear, citrus. Make your selection anticipating the colors decorating the bark. For this version, I used figs, dates, pistachios and slivered almonds, with a base of dark chocolate.
Chocolate Bark with Fruits of Israel
About 16 ounces quality dark chocolate (or milk, if preferred)
4 figs, roughly chopped
4 dates, roughly chopped
A handful of raisins and nuts
1) Oil a 7” x 9” baking pan with a rim and then line it with waxed paper so the paper extends about an inch at two ends.
2) In a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stir the chocolate until melted.
3) Remove the chocolate from the heat and smooth it into the pan to the thickness desired for your bark. Decorate the bark with your mix of dried fruit and nut toppings. Cool on the baking sheet until hardened. (Place into the refrigerator to quicken the hardening.) Break or cut into slabs and store in a cool place in a covered container.
Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz lectures about chocolate and Jews around the world. Her book, “On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao”, was published in 2013 by Jewish Lights and is in its second printing. The book is used in adult study, classroom settings, book clubs and chocolate tastings. Prinz writes for The Huffington Post, On the Chocolate Trail, Reform Judaism, Jew and the Carrot and elsewhere.
Free download: Lesson plans for use in schools on chocolate related topics such as Sephardi North American Colonial traders, Hanukkah, Passover, Jewish history, blessings and more.
This is a sporadic column by Bay Area personal chef Alix Wall, in which she evaluates a cookbook by making some of its recipes, sharing them with friends and asking what they think of the results. Just in time for Tu B’Shvat (“The New Year of the Trees”), she cooks her way through “The Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel,” by Chana Bracha Siegelbaum.
You know you have an unusual cookbook in your hands when on one of the first pages, it says: “Please protect the sanctity of this book: This book contains quotations from the Torah. Please treat it with respect and do not take this book into places that are impure, such as a bathroom.”
And then come pages of dedications declaring glory to Hashem and wishing for the coming of Moshiach and fulfillment of our higher selves. Then there are no less than four pages of letters of endorsement from various rabbis, in both English and Hebrew.
All of this was interesting, and novel for a cookbook to be sure, but of course in my head I couldn’t help but ask the obvious question: “Uh, hello… This is a cookbook. When are we going to get to the recipes?”
A creative healthful green alternative to the traditional carrot raisin salad. Photograph by Alix Wall.
4 cups grated carrots
¾ cup raisins
¼ cup fresh minced basil
¼ cup finely chopped chicory leaves or other greens
¼ cup sunflower seeds
Juice of 1-2 oranges
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1) Grate the carrots.
2) Add remaining ingredients.
3) Mix all ingredients together and serve.
This recipe is published with permission from “The Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel: With Their Mystical and Medicinal Properties,” by Chana Bracha Siegelbaum.
A protein-rich, filling spread for your vegetarian guests. Photograph by Alix Wall.
1 can of pitted green olives
4 cloves garlic
½ to 1 cup walnuts
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1) Purée in food processor and serve as a dip. (The amounts do not have to be exact. Depending on your preference you can add more or fewer walnuts.)
This recipe is published with permission from “The Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel: With Their Mystical and Medicinal Properties,” by Chana Bracha Siegelbaum.
To celebrate Tu B’Shvat, a fig-scented cocktail. Photograph by Jon Wunder.
Writing for the Forward, I’ve learned so much. My education continued this week when I was asked to create a cocktail recipe to celebrate the upcoming holiday of Tu B’Shvat. I am delighted to write about Tu B’Shvat, mainly because up until several days ago my thought was “Tu B’Sh what?”
I knew nothing about it.
To research this lesser-known holiday, I turned to my favorite holiday experts, Fannie Engel and Gertrude Blair, my chosen “first ladies of Jewish history and traditions.”
Tu B’Shvat, or Chamishah Asar B’Shvat, simply means the 15th day of the month Shvat. It is the “New Year of the Trees.”
What? An actual holiday, with rituals surrounding it, celebrating trees? That’s a holiday I can get behind! Arbor Day is good and all, but this is a full-on holiday. And who doesn’t want to celebrate trees? Dorothy, from the Wizard of Oz, is probably arbor-averse, but that’s understandable because she was attacked by trees. (That wasn’t really the trees’ fault; the onus there lies fully with the Wicked Witch of the West.)
But I digress.
Dried fruit compote reminds the writer of the dried fruit served at her first Tu B’Shvat seder. Photograph by Shulie Madnick.
“My mom is inviting you for a Tu B’Shvat seder.”
I had neither heard of nor experienced a Tu B’Shvat seder while growing up in Israel, until my boyfriend at the time — I was 17 —extended the invitation. I was perplexed by the custom, as well as by his parents’ gesture.
The curtains in the small two-bedroom apartment in a bauhaus-esque government-built building were drawn. Only one utilitarian light was faintly illuminating the small card table-like dining room table. It was not a rejuvenating, spring awakening and earth’s re-birth Tu B’Shvat jubilation, but a somber Jewish Arbor Day ritual.
Dried fruit is often incorporated into the Tu B’Shvat seder to reference the seven fruits of Israel. Photograph by Shulie Madnick.
This year for Tu B’Shvat I’ll be making a dried fruit compote. The Tu-B’Shvat seder custom was created in Safed in the 17th century. Prayers over the seven species — wheat, barley, grape, fig, pomegranate, olive and dates — are recited. In the Diaspora, where fresh bounty of these species wasn’t available, especially centuries ago, the prayers were recited over dried fruits. The custom of praying over dried fruit is now also practiced by many in Israel.
The dried fruit compote is Turkish-inspired, but adapted by many Greeks, especially in Saloniki and the northern region of Macedonia. It is also very popular in many Jewish communities worldwide, often poached in wine instead of simple syrup.
3 cups of your choice of dried fruit. I used:
1 cup apricots
½ cup golden raisins
¾ cup dried figs
¾ cup prunes
2 cups water, at room temperature
4 cardamon pods
2 3-inch cinnamon sticks
2 star anise (optional)
8 cloves (optional)
2-4 tablespoons honey, or according to taste
Juice of half a lemon
1) Soak the apricots and raisins in a medium bowl with one cup of water for an hour. Soak the dried figs and prunes in another medium bowl with the remaining cup of water for an hour. (If you don’t mind the dark colors bleeding into the light colors, you can soak all dried fruit together in two cups of water for an hour if you wish.)
2) Place the apricots and raisins with the water into a small sauce pan with half the spices, honey and lemon juice. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes.
3) Repeat with the dried figs and prunes in a separate small sauce pan. (If you don’t mind the dark colors bleeding into the light colors, you can cook all the dried fruit together.)
4) Let the compote cool completely and only then discard the spices. Combine all dried fruit together and serve as is or with a dabble of Greek yogurt, a scoop of ice cream and/or whipped cream for dessert if you like.
1) You can add nuts such as almonds to the mix. We have tree-nuts allergies, so I steered away from nuts.
2) You can soak the dried fruit in wine instead of water and adjust the amount of honey according to taste/or use sugar instead.
3) You can place the spices in a cheesecloth or spice sash or pouch when cooking. This makes it easier to discard the spices at the end.
Shulie Madnick is a food and travel writer and photographer and the author of the blog FoodWanderings.com. She is an Indian Israeli now living just outside DC. Follow her on Twitter @foodwanderings.
A recent addition to the American market, Monkey Shoulder is a blend of three single malts.
Column 1: January 2015
Lagavulin 16 vs. Monkey Shoulder
I had whisky plans with a highly agreeable chap I hadn’t seen since the autumn.
“My good fellow, you seem in fine fettle,” I greeted him.
“Likewise, I’m sure.” He responded.
We sat at a banquette that locals call a booth.
“Those Israeli elections!”
“Your winter break?”
“Of course. Alas.”
We started our drinking with the young pretender, Monkey Shoulder. I was excited to see it on the menu and, more importantly, actually on the shelf of our depleted tavern as I’d heard about it in the New Year as a tasty and good value option that hadn’t been available in America until recently. A blend of three quality Single Malts — Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie — it comes of good stock.
Moroccan-style tofu with apricots, olives and almonds. Photograph by Susan Voisin.
This flavorful, hearty vegetarian dish serves as a delicious main course any time of year, but is particularly appropriate for Tu B’Shvat. It’s simple to prepare and looks beautiful when fully assembled. I came across the recipe in the “Vegan Holiday Kitchen,” by Nava Atlas, this past fall while searching for a meatless addition to my Rosh Hashanah dinner. I often find tofu bland, but the combination of the spices, the salty olives and the sweetness of the apricots made for a bold, aromatic meal.
With olives and wheat being two of the seven fruits of Israel, the inclusion of olives and couscous makes this recipe a great choice for a Tu B’Shvat seder. Add dried figs to incorporate a third of the seven species. For a non-vegetarian twist, substitute mildlyspiced cooked chicken for the tofu.
Alex Wolfman, a descendant of Yonah Schimmel, the knishery’s original owner. Flickr.
After reporting earlier this week on rumors that 115-year-old Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery might be losing its lease, the Forward received an email today setting the record straight. In a follow-up phone call, the Forward spoke with Ellen Anistratov, daughter of Alex Wolfman, a descendant of Yonah Schimmel.
“It’s not true,” said Anistratov, who is the manager. “I don’t know who started those rumors. It’s crazy. It’s a horrible thing to do. Why would somebody want us out? It’s nonsense.”
“It’s not going anywhere,” she continued. “We’ve been here 100 years, and we hope to be here 100 more. I don’t understand who’s getting a kick out of this.”
Where does Anistratov think the rumors started?
“Nothing coming from us, that’s for sure. They’re saying that we’re closing here and opening somewhere else. I never said that. We will expand, but this is the root of the tree. Why would we close? It doesn’t make sense.”
Gussie Schwebel isn’t a household name — yet. But the Boroslav, Romania-born woman wrote herself into history when she wrote a letter to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt during World War II.
Mrs. Schwebel ran an eponymous knish concern at 191 East Houston Street, just off Orchard Street (the former site of the recently shuttered Philly’s Cheese Steak, two doors down from the late, lamented Bereket Turkish restauarant and three blocks from Yonah Schimmel’s, it should live and be well, despite gossip hinting to the contrary). Forty-three years ago this week, “Ma” Schwebel graced the front page of the Forverts. Here’s how it came to be:
On the cusp of 1942, the New York Sun published an article titled, “Wars or No Wars the Knish Queen Carries On.” The story included a photo of a plump, smiling, apron-clad woman, perched over an open door, proffering a tray of knishes — seven rows of five each — packed shoulder to shoulder, like the inhabitants of the Lower East Side. Knishes were a simple food with the power to attract high society. “Mrs. Schwebel Turns Out Her Special Delicacies Golden Brown and the Big Shiny Cars Pull Up to Get Them,” boasted the subhead of the article. Mrs. Schwebel didn’t keep it to herself.
January 6, 1942
My Dear Mrs. Roosevelt:
I take the liberty of sending you a newspaper clipping dealing with my humble self.
The purpose of this letter is two-fold. First: It is my most sincere hope that I may be permitted to send you a sample of my dish, the knish, which, believe me, my dear Mrs. Roosevelt, is really worth tasting. Also, I wonder if I may not be able to be of service to my beloved land, by way of introducing the knish, which is very wholesome and not costly to produce, into the diet of our armed forces. I shall be most happy to devote all of my time and my energy to this end.
Again, I pray that you may accept a boxful of knishes from me and will let me know when and where I can send them, I am
Your most respectful servant,
Mrs. Gussie Schwebel (1)
Buzzfeed’s latest taste-test video.
What are those wacky Jewish people eating now?
That seems to be the question addressed in the latest of BuzzFeed’s “Americans Try…” video series, which shows an assortment of perky young tasters sampling a variety of unfamiliar foods.
This time, it’s Israeli packaged snacks, which appear to be more of a hit overall than the Ashkenazi classics they tried a few months ago. Dare I say the gang appears even a little impressed?
A bag of falafel-flavored crispy things gets the green light. “I’m really into these,” said a guy who looked a little like Tom Petty, circa 1978. This would make a good bar snack.”
Photograph by Shawn Hote/Flickr.
I don’t deal in rumors, but I also can’t ignore the deafening chatter.
Bowery Boogie, a terrific blog about New York’s Lower East Side, has reported that 115-year-old East Houston eatery, Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery, may be about to lose its lease.
“Apparently word on the street is that the landlord is trying to force ‘em out with an all-too-familiar rent hike,” Marguerite Preston reported on the blog.
Calls to the knishery by the Forward were not answered (perhaps due to the impending blizzard, which has New Yorkers fleeing home from work more or less en masse).
As more information becomes available, I’ll be sure to offer updates. Meanwhile, what we do know is that if this landmark kosher establishment were to close, it would be another great blow to the ever changing landscape of the Lower East Side.
Liza Schoenfein is food editor of the Forward. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @LifeDeathDinner. Her personal blog is Life, Death & Dinner.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.