When folks think of Israel’s reigning culinary monarch, they think of the falafel. While this might indeed be true, behind every good falafel ball is an equally delicious and every bit as loved food that is far easier, and far more nutritious: tahini. Oh the tried and true tub of tahini, lurking in an Israeli pantry near you, so often overlooked, but nevertheless, so deeply loved.
Pronounced “t’hina” (the “t” and the throaty “h” blend together that it almost sounds like “trina”), tahini is an ancient Middle Eastern paste or butter that comes to us from the sesame seed. Traditionally the seeds are hulled. Although, unhulled tahini, celebrated for its higher calcium content, is also readily available in Israel. Humble, distinct and delightfully diverse, tahini is perhaps comparable to the United States’ ubiquitous peanut butter, but without all the sugar. High in copper, manganese, magnesium, calcium, B1 and iron, and despite its high caloric numbers, tahini is most definitely a “health food.”
Like Jews around the world, Italian Jews, who make up one of the oldest Jewish communities, mark Hanukkah with a fried feast, but with their own spin. Holiday tables are covered with with dishes like fried chicken, mashed potato pancakes, olive oil fried eggplant and honey-soaked dough fritters.
Italian Jewish cuisine traditionally varies greatly by region and even community. However, some Hanukkah foods, like Pollo Fritto per Chanuka, or simple fried chicken seems to have almost universal appeal. Now, get those images of the heavy Southern American version out of your head. This rendition is marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, nutmeg, and garlic before being dredged in flour and egg (in that order) and fried. The marinade keeps the chicken moist and flavorful while the outside crisps in the hot oil.
Everything you would ever want to know about making the perfect classic latke. [Serious Eats]
If you’re looking for more innovative latke recipes, here are five. [The Kitchn]
And what to serve with those latkes? Here are some suggestions, including a delicious recipe for Orange Olive Oil Cake with Candied Walnuts. [Serious Eats]
A menorah made of chocolate that you can eat? Yeah, we’re pretty excited about it too. [New York Times]
Get that frier ready! Jewish fried treats from around the globe, one for each of the eight nights. [Philadelphia Jewish Voice]
You may not be familiar with many of the authors of this year’s top Jewish food books, but don’t let that keep you from devouring their delicious books. They preserve the recipes of the classic Jewish bakery, provide an easy primer for Persian Jewish cuisine, explore global vegetarian fare and chronicle the path of America’s only Jewish beer. Each would make a great addition to your cookbook collection or the perfect Hanukkah gift. If you’re giving them as a present, consider preparing one of the recipes or purchasing a bottle of wine or beer from the book to go along with the gift.
Hanukkah often feels like a week-long calorie splurge. Between the fried latkes, sufganiyot (Hebrew for doughnuts), and chocolate gelt, the extra calories can really add up quickly in our diets. But maybe there’s a way to enjoy the holiday’s celebration of oil and sweets a bit more healthfully? Indeed there is!
Resist the urge to deep fry. Try a baked latke recipe, and if you really are craving that extra crispiness achieved from frying, pan-fry them in a small amount of oil and then finish them off by baking in the oven.
Pack in some fiber. Instead of using white flour, use whole wheat flour to get some extra fiber into your latkes. You can also mix in other vegetables into your potato latkes, like zucchini, carrots, and parsnips, to boost the fiber and antioxidant content.
My maternal grandparents had come to America from Eastern Europe; my grandmother from Minsk, my grandfather from Riga. While the reason was religious persecution, their houses and apartments they set up felt void of Jewish rituals. But of course, they were Jewish to their cores.
Friday night dinners at their enormous penthouse near Beekman Place in New York City in the ’60s were elaborate, as were meals every other night of the week. My blond, petite Belarusian grandmother was a stickler for manners and Friday night felt more Masterpiece Classic than borscht-belt buffet. Sam, my grandparents’ chef, butler and maitre of all apartment-centric matters, created rich, decadent dishes. This warm, wonderful man, always dressed in a serious white coat, was constantly thrilling us by putting a down-home spin on my grandmother’s sophisticated menu — especially desserts.
But in what is probably a first in the history of music videos, the guys behind Torrisi Italian Specialties — a sandwich shop by day and high-end Little Italy eatery by night — have released a musical tribute just to “Jewish lamb.”
The video — succinctly titled “Jewish Lamb” — features an eclectic medley of songs and images as it follows the path of the dish from Rome’s Jewish Quarter to the Lower East Side restaurant. With songs by Bruce Springsteen and Kenny Loggins, among others, the clip traces - or at least identifies - the meal’s various ingredients, including honey, Jerusalem artichokes and even Manischewitz wine. (After landing in New York, the video briefly crosses the Hudson for a stop at the Jewish winemaker’s Newark headquarters.) The lamb itself evidently comes from Pat LaFrieda Wholesale Meat, also located in New Jersey.
Hanukkah can be one of the messiest Jewish holidays; waste is generated from wrapping paper, gelt wrappers, and wax drippings. To top it off, all the frying in oil can be both unhealthy and unsustainable. But this year, it doesn’t have to be. JCarrot and Hazon offer sustainable, healthy Hanukkah resources to green your holiday, so you can spend more time enjoying, and less time worrying about your global impact. From eco-friendly candles to sustainable gifts, the following suggestions can help to enrich any Hanukkah celebration. Also, these sustainable resources can be used as activities that can make for a great addition to any Hanukkah party. This year, opt for sustainability when celebrating Hanukkah by incorporating all, or even a few, of the following suggestions.
It’s hard to think of two topics more beloved by Jews than food and movies, so it’s no surprise that the duo have inspired a lively exchange of puns on the Twitter feed of Gefiltefest, a Jewish food festival held annually in England.
Since last month, the festival and its Twitter fans have been renaming famous movies, incorporating Jewish delicacies into the titles like “The Hand that Rocks the Knaidl,” “For Hummus the Bell Tolls” and — for you Hitchcock fans out there — “Shmeer Window.”
Matt Damon fans can ponder “The Borscht Identity,” while Marilyn Monroe mourners can imagine how her career might have developed differently if the movie had been called “Gentlemen Prefer Blintzes.” Other intriguing — though not necessarily appetizing — titles include “Mystic Liver,” “Kischke of the Spider Woman” and “Charoset of Fire.” Inspired by this list, the Jew and the Carrot can add a couple more: “Moulin Rougalach” (Nicole Kidman could stand to eat a few) and “The Third Manischewitz.”
One of the ethical principles on which the Jewish environmental and food movements rest is ba’al tashchit, the commandment not to needlessly waste or destroy. One area of modern life that desperately needs to understand this principle better is our food supply, where over 40% of the food produced for human consumption is thrown away. Food waste begins in the fields, where imperfect produce is left to rot, continues through to stores that throw out expired products and restaurants that dump uneaten servings, and to our homes. With so many Americans going hungry, it is a travesty that so much food (and money) is being thrown in the trash.
Restaurants have also come under increasing scrutiny because of the rapid rise in portion sizes, with single servings often containing more than the recommended daily allowance of calories. These large portions either encourage people to eat beyond their satiation point or leave much of the food to be thrown out. Combined with the growing number of meals that Americans eat in restaurants and the fact that restaurant food often contains more salt and fat than comparable food served at home, the super-sized restaurant meals are a major factor in both the obesity crisis and the food waste epidemic.
So how do we as individuals and communities try to uphold the value of ba’al tashchit when we eat in restaurants? Many of us curb our instinct to eat mindlessly by taking home leftovers or by splitting dishes. Through the blog Wasted Food, I learned of an innovative program taking shape in Austin, Texas.
At one time every Israeli, especially male soccer fans, knew how to crack sunflower seeds. It was a perquisite to living in Israel, along with not so subtle line jumping. Those without this talent were looked upon as outcasts.
Chucking the shells directly on the sidewalk was part of the local custom. At bus stations piles would accumulate to the size of termite hills. By a quick glance at the height of the mound, it was possible to estimate the duration of the commuter’s wait, and indirectly the efficiency of the town’s public transportation.
While most Israelis are proficient with single seed shelling, some have become professional. They load fistfuls in their mouths and fire the shells like a submachine gun. Attempting to imitate this feat will only lead to appendicitis from swallowing the wrong parts, or the very least indigestion.
Sufganiyot get a 21st century makeover. Check out the Mexican hot chocolate glazed ones with fluff filling. [Chow]
If you’d rather buy your sufganiyot, stop by Mile End for some raspberry filled poppers. [Fork in the Road]
What happened at the Farm Bill Hack-a-Thon? [Grist]
Get your fry on with these recommendations for how to fry perfectly for Hanukkah. [Epicurious]
Left over corned beef from the deli can be transformed into this deliciously rich corned beef hash. [Serious Eats]
A decade ago, living in New York City, I met the woman who became my wife. During our courtship, she invited me to fly out to California to meet her family, and she warned me about “Baking Day.” For generations, all the women of her family have gathered together on a Sunday during the winter holiday season to bake. They get up before dawn and set to work mixing the various amounts of eggs, sugar, flour, and yeast to make enough breads, pastries, and cookies for all of the extended family members as gifts. My wife informed me that Baking Day is the most important day of the year and not to be missed, and once I caught a glimpse of what Baking Day really was, I knew why.
When I walked past the kitchen door, I could spy the women scurrying about between powdery clouds of flour that hung low in the air like some kind of baker’s fog, sisters and wives arguing over rye seeds and chocolate chips, all over the clamor of the mixer. I heard grandmothers and daughters analyzing the stiffness of egg white peaks like doctors over an x-ray. Yet somewhere between focaccia and snickerdoodles, all basking in the heat of the oven, these matriarchs spoke of the most important things: memories of the past and plans for the future, loves lost and gained. It was almost as if wisdom itself were punched right down that day into the mounds of rising dough.
In the almost feudal state that Nicaragua was 90 years ago, daughters of wealthy families were taught French and needlework, and were expected to marry well. They knew nothing about how their food was cooked, their clothes made, or their households provisioned. They weren’t allowed to associate with the servants, or even to enter the kitchen. Finishing school in Switzerland, then marriage to a suitable boy — those were girls’ expectations in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, back when my Mom was growing up.
My mother’s parents, descendants of Spanish Jews, owned sugar-cane and coffee plantations. They were proud of their Sephardic heritage, but for the exception of lighting Shabbat candles and abstaining from pork and shellfish, they had dropped Jewish observance. Sad, but maybe inevitable in a country where only a handful of Jewish families have ever lived.
Life flows in cycles. When we breathe, there is an out and there is an in. We go to sleep and we wake up. Our heart pumps and it rests. What about our food? We spend all day expending energy, so three times a day we need to refill. Our food can be many things to each of us. Fuel for our motion, building blocks for our body, a way to connect with the source of life, or a way to bring people together — to name just a few.
As a child, I always knew that I would be a healer. So when my life path led me toward cooking, I started to realize that the way we eat is the most direct and constant form of healing and replenishment that we can give ourselves. I never quite understood the idea that we need to be sick before thinking about making ourselves healthy. Sure, life gets busy, and we may forget to do yoga or even breathe deeply (now is a good chance to try that one), but it is only so long that we can go without remembering to eat. Maybe the key is remembering that what we eat directly relates to our health. After all, sages as distant as Rambam and Hippocrates agreed that our food is our medicine and our medicine is our food.
Call them the baker’s dozen bakers. Well, almost.
They’re 10 or so women living at a Jewish nursing home in Montreal, neighbors on the sixth floor, who bake together most Tuesday afternoons, coaxing big, sweet aromas from a small convection oven.
“Visitors tell me they can smell [the baking] when they step off the elevator,” says Catherine Drew, a therapeutic recreation specialist, who shepherds the weekly flock of bakers at the Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre.
It’s just a short walk or wheelchair ride from their rooms to the communal dining area, where Drew, circling among the residents settles in at a long table, distributes large-print recipes and crisp white butcher’s aprons. With ingredients for chocolate chip cookies in easy reach, the women work with practiced hands, cracking eggs, measuring sugar, tipping flour.
As much as Jews love their holiday feasting, big family meals can also bring up some anxiety. Maybe you keep more kosher than your parents. Maybe less. Maybe you used to be a vegetarian, but now you eat meat, but only if it’s sustainably raised. Navigating special food needs with loved ones is fraught because of the powerful symbolism of sharing (or not sharing) food. We know from our tradition of kashrut that the notion of “permitted” and “forbidden” foods plays a role in determining who sits together at the table. But what happens when we expressly want to eat together, just not eat the same food? This real email exchange (below), between a Jewish farming couple (Jon and Sherry — names changed for anonymity) and their family before a holiday visit, brings some of these questions to light (lightly!). Share your own family stories in the comments.
Serious Eats editor Ed Levine has been dubbed the “Missionary of the Delicious” by Ruth Reichl and rightfully so. There are few food writers in America who seem to enjoy good food more than Levine. He can rattle off lists of the best delis, pizzas, desserts and a place to get an obscure Chinese dish you’ve never heard of in almost any major American city.
His website Serious Eats provides a space and community for enthusiastic eaters to share recipes, tales of new restaurants and creative food events. This fall, Levine and the editors of Serious Eats dropped their first book, “Serious Eats: A Comprehensive Guide To Making & Eating Delicious Food Where You Are,” a food book with recipes, fun food timelines, recipes and comments from members of the Serious Eats community.
Sprinkled throughout the book are a handful of references to Levine’s Jewish culinary background growing up on Long Island and being a descendent of a Lower East Side pickle seller. He shared with us what it means to be a “Serious Eater,” his thoughts on contemporary Jewish food and what he’d like to eat for his last meal (hint: it includes pastrami).
Yotam Ottolenghi, the London-based Israeli chef and master of vegetarian cuisine isn’t a veggie himself, but his cookbook “Plenty”, “is among the most generous and luxurious nonmeat cookbooks ever produced,” says Mark Bittman. [New York Times]
Let the latke recipes start! Here’s one for apple and cheese-stuffed ones. [The Kitchn]
We tend to think of seasonal eating as a buzzword in today’s foodie scene, but it’s actually an old concept. As a practitioner of Chinese medicine, I spend a lot of time sifting through ancient Chinese treatises on diet and healing, all of which stress the importance of eating with the seasons as a means to living a healthy, long life. In my acupuncture practice, I find seasonal food recommendations and recipes extremely useful and empowering to patients, who start cooking for themselves and feeling better. Little did I know, much of what the classics of Chinese Medicine say can also be found in the writings of Maimonides, the great 12th century Jewish scholar.
We don’t often think of the traditional Jewish diet as healthy, but Maimonides had some pretty insightful things to say about food, many of which would still be considered relevant in our current food culture. Maimonides was a prominent and prolific medieval Jewish scholar, philosopher, and physician, and he wrote extensively not only on Torah, ethics, and Jewish law, but also about diet and the treatment and prevention of disease. In fact, it was Maimonides who first recommended chicken soup, in his treatise On the Cause of Symptoms, for the management of breathing difficulty and weakness, and now we all reach for a bowl of the Jewish penicillin as soon as we feel a cold coming on!