This article originally appeared in j., the Jewish news weekly of Northern California.
When Steven Kent did an internship at The Farm, a hippie commune in rural Tennessee, he had an epiphany. Eating a steady diet of sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, sourdough bread and other fermented foods, he found the digestive problems that had plagued him since college largely vanished.
From Sandor Katz, whose book “Wild Fermentation” is widely considered the bible of fermented foods, Kent learned about tempeh, a soybean product that’s originally from Indonesia.
The encounter with this little-known Asian staple changed the life of this Jewish guy from Virginia in a major way.
In Oakland some time later, a friend showed him how to make it. When he fried some up, he found it was “so good” that about a year ago he used his bar mitzvah savings to start his own artisanal, small-batch tempeh company, called Alive & Healing. In addition to being sold in the freezer case at San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery and the Santa Rosa farmers market, his tempeh can be delivered straight to your Bay Area home.
Kent, who is 27 and goes by the name Stem, works out of an industrial kitchen space in Windsor, in Sonoma County. He suggested I come on a Wednesday, to see one batch of tempeh cooked and processed, and another finished and packaged. In a few hours, I got a good idea of how the tangy-better-than-tofu product is made.
Food porn alert: Eater gets a first look inside “The Mile End Cookbook.” Even the matzo looks mouthwatering… [Eater]
Tips and ideas for cooking with the flavorful sesame, salt, sumac and herb mixture of za’atar. [Epicurious]
Back-to-school tips from a new blog dealing with kosher, allergen-free living. [Kosher Food Allergies]
At home with kosher culinary queen Helen Nash. [Tablet]
Mackerel Carpaccio with caramelized figs and ceviche with black lentils from a culinary tour of Israel. [Washington Post]
When I arrived last week at 2nd Avenue deli in midtown Manhattan for lunch with Nick Wiseman and Barry Koslow — the owner and chef of soon-to-open upscale DGS Delicatessen in D.C. respectively — I found my dining companions already elbow-deep in an impressive spread of traditional deli stand-bys.
Among the half-eaten offerings, I spied the remains of a corned beef sandwich, a hearty plate of kasha varnishkas, crisp gribnes, a knish the size of a softball, kreplach with fried onions, sweet noodle kugel, fatty cholent, pickles, cole slaw, and countless cans of Dr. Brown’s sodas in at least four flavors.
Wiseman and Koslow were in the homestretch of a whirlwind New York deli research trip, their second in the last few months. Also in tow: Wiseman’s cousin and DGS co-owner, Dave Wiseman, and the eatery-to-be’s newly hired general manager, Brian Zipin. Together the foursome had noshed their way through a marquee-worthy spate of New York deli institutions, old and new. On this trip, they’d already visited the much touted Montreal-style eatery Mile End, new-ish smoked fish emporium Shelsky’s, Borsht Belt-inspired Kutsher’s and Lower East Side landmarks Kossar’s Bialys and The Pickle Guys.
Israel’s leading rabbi has warned Dutch populist politician Geert Wilders that his party’s support for a ban of ritual slaughter of animals in the Netherlands is “anti-Semitic” and could drive away the country’s Jewish community.
Wilders rose to prominence in the Netherlands denouncing the growing influence of Islam in the West, calling for a ban against Muslim immigrants, a halt to the construction of mosques and a ban on Muslim face-veils.
Some of his most outspoken supporters are in the conservative, pro-Israeli movement in the United States. Wilders calls himself Israel’s “greatest friend” and has also proposed creating a national Dutch holiday to commemorate the victims of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
In a letter to Wilders on Tuesday, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters on Wednesday, Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Yona Metzger, called on Wilders’ Freedom Party to stop backing a ban on ritual slaughter.
It is the strongest public condemnation yet of Wilders’ position on the policy and comes two weeks before the Netherlands holds a general election September 12 in which he is expected to take a sizeable portion of the vote.
Labor Day approaches predictably every year, on the first Monday in September. When it was declared a federal holiday in Connecticut in 1894, thirty states were already celebrating, many with street parades and festivals for workers and their families. The idea resonated for the American people then and it continues to resonate now.
While the picnic traditions and celebratory gatherings were with Americans from the beginning, backyard BBQ’s and the social ban on wearing white after Labor Day weekend evolved later. Of greater importance, is taking a moment to pause and reflect on the truer meaning of Labor Day. Personally, I’ll take the opportunity to reflect on the power of advocates of fair trade, conditions and wages. I’ll choose to pause and give thanks to workers who labor in all sorts of ways. Not so different from the impetus for the holiday in the first place!
We didn’t observe Shabbat. Well, maybe once or twice. Or perhaps I should say, not formally. Yes, we sat down for dinner as a family. Delicious food was served and we talked about our days. But we didn’t light candles. We didn’t say prayers and we didn’t break bread.
Growing up in Long Island’s suburbia, we were the type of family where the kids went to Hebrew school three days a week but we rarely ever went to services. We went to Jewish sleepaway camps and spent weekends on youth group retreats, but religion was not part of home life. Pepper steak, however, was.
It’s rare that food is served with as much ceremony as my paternal Grandmother Millicent Bloomberg’s pepper steak. In old-school style we’d start our meal with a halved grapefruit (carefully pre-sectioned until the serrated edged grapefruit spoon was invented) or slices of cantaloupe before moving onto the flank steak-and-green pepper stew. A portion would be scooped over rice (usually white) and sided with a lettuce-based salad.
Food is an integral part of every community. I know this first-hand because I have had the privilege of travelling to many different types of communities from Australia, to Israel, Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico, and 35 of the 50 states. My first thought when I go somewhere new is inevitably: What am I going to eat? To be on the safe side, I usually learn how to say “vegetarian” or “no meat” in the local language before I go. I’ve learned ‘tzimchonit’, Hebrew for vegetarian; sin carne–without meat in Spanish; and ‘no meat for me, mate’ in Australian. With these few phrases I have happily consumed delicious fish and veggies all over the world.
A new season means a new crop of cookbooks, and this fall’s set to be spectacular. Eater recently put up a two-part post with their top picks. From fresh spins on Jewish deli fare to Middle Eastern comfort food to new books by big names like Mark Bittman and Jacques Pepin, there’s plenty of volumes we can’t wait to tuck into. What books are you excited to add to your kitchen shelf? Tell us in the comments.
“The Mile End Cookbook: Redefining Jewish Comfort Food from Hash to Hamentaschen“
by Noah and Rae Bernamoff
Save yourself the trip to New York and recreate the nouveau-Jewish takes on classics from blintzes to tzimmes at home with the first book from the masterminds behind Mile End. For the extra-ambitious (or hungry) the book also breaks down the process for pickling, preserving, and smoking delicatessen staples.
“Jerusalem: A Cookbook” by Yottam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Just like the city itself, “Jerusalem” brings together a melting pot of cultures and tastes. In a beautifully-photographed collection, the authors mix their east- and west-side heritages to create colorful vegetarian dishes, rich, sweet desserts, and more.
“The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook“ by Deb Perelman Award-winning blogger and perennial fan favorite Deb Perelman puts out her debut collection at last. With the same eye for bright, appealing photographs and ear for friendly, encouraging instructions that made her website a hit, Perelman dishes up recipes for everything from cocktails to chocolate crepe cake.
“Jewish Cookery Book: On Principles of Economy” by Esther Levy and Joan Nathan This reissue of the classic, historical cookbook now comes with an introduction by Jewish culinary expert Joan Nathan. Originally published in 1871, the book covers maintaining a household, following Jewish dietary laws, and a variety of medicinal recipes in a kind of Jewish primer for immigrants living in America before the turn of the century.
Contrary to popular wisdom, spiciness is not one of the basic tastes. It’s actually a form of pain.
It is the feeling caused by the presence of capsaicin, the chemical that makes peppers hot. It is usually found in pepper seeds and in the white fiber that goes through it. Peppers are usually hotter in summer than in winter, but anyone who has tasted them recently knows that this summer, the peppers are particularly scorching. A small tip and a word of caution: red hot peppers are ripe, so they are relatively less hot than green hot peppers. If you got one of those, put salt on your tongue, eat some bread, drink milk or even an alcoholic drink. Even an ice pop will help.
Since sharp flavors tend to crowd out other tastes, we tried to find the best dishes whose sharpness did not overpower the other flavors, so everyone who likes it hot will manage to come out of the experience alive.
Ah, it burns: Shishko
When my husband and I went on vacation to Rhodes, Greece last fall, we knew that we would walk amongst history and be in for some memorable meals. But we knew nothing of the Jews of Rhodes, and couldn’t predict the impact that learning their tragic story would have on us.
Walking through the only remaining Jewish house of worship on the island Kahal Shalom Synagogue, which dates to 1577 and visiting the adjacent Jewish Museum, our holiday to Rhodes suddenly had more meaning, and became much more than a typical beach vacation.
While our trip was rich with experience, it lacked the flavors of the island’s unique Jewish cuisine, which is the topic of the newly released cookbook, “Stella’s Sephardic Table: Jewish Family Recipes from the Mediterranean Island of Rhodes”. Part memoir, part history of the Jews of Rhodes, and part cookbook, “Stella’s Sephardic Table” is a beautiful tribute to Cohen’s ancestral home.
Out here in California, there’s a policy debate heating up about the labeling of Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs). Take the fantastical glow-in-the-dark potatomade with jellyfish genes, for example. Scientists claim that by reading the fluorescence on the leaves of this engineered potato, farmers can reduce water usage by glowing when they are ripe. Proposition 37 on the November ballot would require any food containing GMOs like this potato, to sport a special label. According to the Cornucopia Institute, a non-profit pushing the passage of Prop. 37, major food companies have spent close to $24 million to defeat the effort. Even so, foodie activists are gearing up for a big fight in November. So what is all the fuss about? What does Judaism say about GMOs, and, is there a Jewish position on labeling?
In 1973 Stanley Cohen was the first to take a gene out of one bacterium and place it in another. His work led to the development of genetic engineering, for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1986. Since then, the genetic manipulation of DNA has been nothing short of a Copernican revolution in science and technology. It’s true of food as well. In 2010, the National Academy of Sciences published a report that said genetically engineered crops are good for farmers and the planet. These crops pose many dangers, however—including health implications, reduction of diversity and the possibility of cross-contamination with non-GMO plants.
One year ago I was sitting in an overly warm classroom at the University of California, Davis, at a workshop called “Chocolate: Our Dark Addiction,” which was part of the 2011 Hazon Food Conference. The session begins with the question, “What is good chocolate?” Hands shoot up and comments immediately start flying: “Texture”; “Mouth feel”; “Creaminess”; “Cacao percentage”; “Ratio of bitter to sweet; “Added ingredients like fruits and nuts”; “No fruits and nuts.” Etc.
I think about the word “good,” and then I raise my hand. “Chocolate that is produced without slave and child labor, by workers paid a fair wage?” I ask. I am a bit tentative, because I don’t want to sound like one of those holier-than-thou food-obsessed people who proclaim their ethical choices in a manner calculated to shame those around them . One of the two presenters pauses for a moment, smiles slightly, and says, “That’s what we’re going to talk about today: other meanings of ‘good’ as it pertains to chocolate.”
The future of the New York bagel is looking up thanks to efforts by Mile End and Russ and Daughters. [New York Magazine]
Panzanella — a bread and tomato salad — is a favorite summer food. Here, it’s given a Jewish twist — pastrami and rye panzanella. [Epicurious]
If you would rather have your pastrami on rye in sandwich form, check out these delis which Bon App named the best new delis in America. [Bon Appetit]
Move over, Katz’s and Langer’s: the Jewish deli’s got a new schtick.
Bon Appetit’s blog recently ran down the “Best new Jewish Delis in America,” and the four featured spots are putting an artisanal spin on the classic sandwich joint fare.
Rye Delicatessen & Bar prides itself on being “not your grandma’s delicatessen” and using hormone-and antibiotic-free beef for its Montreal-style smoked meat…in Minnesota. On the west coast, Wise Sons Jewish Deli in San Francisco puts a Bay Area twist on everything from bagels to matzo brei, operating a “pop-up” stand at a weekly Farmers’ Market. And, naturally, Mile End, the much-lauded New York sandwich shop from Noah Bernamoff, gets a nod for carving a nouveau niche for delis with dishes like smoked meat poutine (fries with cheese curds, gravy, and meat) and signature bagels shipped in from St. Viateur in Montreal.
“Each generation puts their own spin on the Jewish deli, and the current crop of new delicatessens that have emerged over the past few years are no exception,” deli maven and author of “Save the Deli,” David Sax told us. “[These ones] in addition to Toronto’s Caplansky’s, Portland’s Kenny and Zuke’s, and others, are the best thing going for the Jewish deli world, old or new, today. They not only serve great food, but they get a whole new crowd of people interested in Jewish delicatessen, and that benefits all pastramis.”
We’ll put it to the readers: have you sampled the sandwiches at these new kids on the block? How do they stack up to their classic competitors?
*If you need some inspiration, check out our list of “10 Jewish Sandwiches To Eat Before You Die.”
For die-hard fans of local food specialties, the prevailing wisdom seems to be you are where you eat. Just Born, the company that manufactures retro favorite Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, found itself in a sticky situation when its experiment with a flashy national brand that wiped the Goldenberg’s name off the label left fans of the candy confused and sugar-deprived. Now, the makers of the classic confection are bringing the nutty treats back to their local (and Jewish) roots.
Harry Goldenberg got a sweet start to his professional life, skipping high school to help his family make candy apples and lollipops in their Kensingon, Pa. kitchen to sell off their back porch. The business took off, and in 1917 Goldenberg came up with Peanut Chews as a tasty, high-protein World War I ration. They made their civilian debut in 1921, and in 1930, Goldenberg had an innovative idea: pre-package the sweets in already bite-sized bits.
It was a hit. The simple wrapper, featuring Goldenberg’s name over a blue star and a red stripe, covered eight pieces of a candy as unassuming as it was delicious. The not-too-sweet taste of roasted peanuts held together with a sticky molasses base and dipped in a chocolatey coating became a childhood classic for kids all along the manufacturer’s New York to Baltimore market.
In the past few years, the world of Jewish food education has grown by leaps and bounds. People around the world are thinking about the connections between Jewish tradition and contemporary food issues, and working hard to help their communities see these issues through a Jewish lens. Hazon stands at the forefront of these conversations. Over the past year, we have created a number of new educational materials, program guides, and source books that you can use to help make your community healthier and more sustainable.
Gan Nashim: Growing Strong Jewish Girls, generously supported by the Hadassah Foundation, was piloted in three camps this summer. Gan Nashim is a health and cooking program which draws upon Jewish tradition to address contemporary challenges of having and maintaining a healthy diet in today’s world. The program specifically focuses on teaching conscious and healthy eating with a Jewish spirit and is designed to be used in camps in a variety of different formats. During camp, girls spend more time outdoors and in physical proximity to each other, as they eat, sleep, and play together for weeks and months. Camp can provide an opportunity to create a positive, supportive community instead of an environment where girls compare bodies, wondering how they measure up, or fall short, against their bunkmates, and fostering a breeding ground for disordered eating.
If you salivate at the thought of kosher barbecue and grill, now’s a great time to be alive — and to consume things that aren’t.
The Jewish community of Overland Park, a suburb of Kansas City, recently got their Midwestern neighbors scratching their heads with the community’s first annual Kosher Q, held on Sunday Aug. 19:
“All of the meat is slaughtered according to Jewish tradition and you won’t find any pork ribs on any of the smokers either. However, there was plenty of spicy trash talk between the guys from Chicago and Kansas Citians.
“They may know pizza, but they don’t know barbecue,” said Lawrence Langley of KCK.
David Weissman and Michael Dhaliwal say they’ve spent the past four months learning how to smoke meat and they believe their apricot glaze and other tidbits will set them above the rest.
“We were warned that if we come to this contest we have to know what we’re doing,” David Weissman of Chicago said.
He’s manned the pastry kitchens at some of America’s top restaurants — Clio in Boston, Chicago’s Alinea and WD-50 in New York — but chef Alex Stupak is more focused on conquering Mexican cuisine these days. No, he’s not reinventing the taco. It’s not traditional dishes that he’s serving up either. Mexican ingredients and ideas are the jumping off point for the food that he puts out at his two Manhattan restaurants, Empellon Taqueria and Empellon Cocina.
One of his most popular dishes, a queso fundido (melted cheese), features chunks of lobster in melted tetilla cheese — a smooth, Spanish beauty made in Galicia, Spain that’s mild in flavor whose name (small breast in Galician) is suggestive of its shape; like that of a woman’s bosom. The dish is native to El Paso, Mexico where it is often set on fire and flambéed at the table for special celebrations. Never ones to want to miss out on the party, we sat down with Chef Stupak to re-work the mouth-watering recipe for the kosher home.
My last day in London, after a gloriously fattening week of Eccles cakes and Bakewell tarts, was a Sunday. Because it was a Sunday, I naturally required a bagel, per tradition.
Having left for my summer European excursion as an Upper West Sider, I’ll admit that my initial reaction to nearly all of the bagels I came across on my trip was that of interest but with a slightly raised nose. In Berlin and Amsterdam the bagels were dense bread rolls in the shape of a bagel — good but not what I crave on a Sunday morning with shmear. Perhaps I should have spent my energy and time seeking out the best bretzeln and pannekoeken. But, as I traveled westward, towards London, my bagel pursuits paid off.
A quick Google search for “best bagel in London” yielded one place: Beigel Bake, on the bustling restaurant-lined street of Brick Lane, in the once predominately Jewish area of East End. Family owned since 1977, open 24 hours a day, super cheap… bingo! Though I didn’t really have time to make it there and back in time for my flight, I risked it because bad things happen when I don’t have bagels on Sundays. And when I had to slow my sprint down Brick Lane to a crawl due to the massive crowds browsing the food stalls on the street, I nearly gave up.
This summer I was fortunate enough to live between 15th and 16th street on Union Square West. While most cab drivers will insist that this address does not exist, any fresh produce-loving New Yorker will absolutely rave over such an ideal location. Why? Because, four days a week, this address is home to the world famous Union Square Greenmarket. Dating back to 1976 when it began with only a few farmers, it has since grown exponentially to now holding 140 regional farmers, fisherman, and bakers in peak season. Loyal customers return every week to enjoy fresh and locally made products from just-picked fruits and vegetables, to heritage meats and award-winning farmstead cheeses, artisan breads, jams, pickles, and much more.
As perfect as it sounds, I couldn’t help but feel discouraged. Even though I have a huge passion for fresh food and cooking, I’ve always heard that farmer’s markets are so overpriced, and sadly my student budget can’t fully afford my passion. Right now “affordability” is my top priority when it comes to grocery shopping. And while I hope one day “locally-grown and produced” will be my only standard, at the moment, it’s unfortunately just not my biggest concern. In addition to the price issue, I also had no idea how to navigate the market, let alone know what to buy. Everyone at the market seemed to have figured it out long ago. I was embarrassed to be the new-kid-on-the-block who didn’t have a clue about anything.
I needed a push. I needed a little confidence. And more than anything I needed knowledge before tackling this green monster of a market. And knowledge is just what I got.