SEJNY, POLAND — The first time I visited Lithuania in 2006 I was overwhelmed by the extraordinary sensation that I was traveling through a giant Jewish deli that extended across the entire country. Blintzes! Latkes! Sour cream! Herring! Smoked fish! Black bread! And even — on the breakfast buffet of one hotel I stayed in — vodka, at 8 in the morning.
Recently I spent a week in the far northeast of Poland in the town of Sejny, so close to the border with Lithuania that my cell phone kept jumping back and forth between the two national networks.
I was there for a series of events hosted by Borderland Foundation, an organization that works toward inter-ethnic cultural and artistic interchange, along with promoting an understanding of Jewish culture, heritage and memory.
In New York City, it’s difficult to come up with a kosher food concept that’s truly novel. But chef Alexandre Petard seems to have done it with the recently opened Latin-fusion eatery Ladino Tapas Bar & Grill.
“I had been approached by people to open Kosher restaurants, but they’re always steak or sushi. I just don’t find that very interesting,” Petard said. “I realized that the kosher world didn’t have any Spanish-style tapas restaurants, and there’s been a huge explosion of those kinds of restaurants outside the Kosher world, so I started testing recipes. It just worked,” he said.
Petard, a third-generation chef, who worked with famed French restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten. He also worked at upscale kosher restaurants like the now-shuttered Box Tree and Bistro Grill on Long Island.
With Shavuot around the corner, I’m thinking about milk chocolate and Israel, where there are several unique local options. As Janna Gur, Editor of Israel’s Al Hashulchan–The Israeli Gastronomic Monthly explained to me in a phone conversation, Israelis love chocolate and have a distinct preference for milk chocolate. The history of these chocolates tells us something about the growing years of the country itself.
The Elite brand developed several favorites in the milky realm. M’kupelet, bars of thinly folded milk chocolate similar to the Flake Bar of Cadbury from 1920, have been produced by Elite since 1935. The fondly remembered Hayal-Hayelet, a fifty-gram milk chocolate bar, was sold to Israeli soldiers at subsidized prices at canteens. Chocolate eating in the Tzava, the Israeli army, provided, as one person described to me, another means to klitah or absorption into Israeli society for what he called “exotic populations, immigrant groups from Morocco, Yemen, Ethiopia.”
This morning the Orthodox Jewish social justice organization Uri L’Tzedek announced a major victory in their 2-year campaign against Flaum Appetizing, a Queens-based hummus producer and food distributor that had repeated labor violations, including wage theft and overtime violations. Flaums has accepted a global settlement which will return over $500,000 to workers for these violations.
The victory comes after a long campaign fought by the workers’ group, Focus on the Food Chain, in partnership with Orthodox social justice organization, Uri L’Tzedek: The Orthodox Social Justice Movement. The campaign and its unlikely partnership spanned from street corners to corporate headquarters, college campuses to houses of worship across the United States. The campaign ultimately convinced 120 grocery stores, multinational corporations, spiritual leaders, and thousands of consumers to support the Flaums workers in their quest for justice.
Workers were subjected to wage theft including a failure to pay overtime and at times the minimum wage, for grueling work weeks as long as 80 hours. Workers from Latin America faced discrimination and abuse including anti-immigrant insults from senior management. When workers demanded payment in accordance with the law, 17 were illegally fired. Flaums lost a National Labor Relations Board trial and multiple appeals, but was still resisting compliance. This global settlement resolves both the NLRB retaliation litigation and a federal lawsuit over unpaid minimum wage and overtime.
At first glance, Irving Langer’s “The Kosher Grapevine” would seem to be just another wine primer. Langer guides the novice through the usual wine primer topics: Which grapes make what kind of wine, how it’s done, how to taste wine, what kind of stemware to pour it in, how to match wine with food, and even how to face down a snobby restaurant wine steward. And, of course, Langer explains what makes wine kosher. It’s the sort of “how-to” guide of which there seem to be a jillion on the shelves of Barnes & Noble — some worse, some better than this one.
But Langer, a retired real estate maven, is up to much more than plodding through the basics one more time. He’s got an agenda, and an unusual one at that. Langer wants to show that the traditional “sacramental” wines, loaded up with sugar, are not what observant Jews (like himself) should consume. It’s dry, modern wines that are called for, and the more nuanced the better. “I am convinced,” he says, “that the fine kosher wines being produced today provide us with an opportunity to relearn the skill that the sages of the Talmud certainly possessed: the ability to experience pleasure as uplifting and edifying.”
Brisket: It’s a staple on the Shabbat table and on the picnic tables of barbecue joints in the South. And self-proclaimed “Czar of Street Food,” Daniel Delaney is bringing it to New York City in a big way.
Delaney, 26, is the founder of Brisketlab, an “underground smoked meat guild” that will distribute pounds of barbecued brisket to its members this summer, with a side of booze and music. As a food writer and barbecue acolyte, Delaney was frustrated by the lack of craft barbecue experimentation in New York. So he bought an 18-foot-long smoker off a friend of his in Texas, hitched it to a trailer, and brought it back North with a truckload of indigenous Texas oak, what Delaney calls “the Rolls Royce of wood.”
Mile End Sandwich, the newest deli shop from Mile End Deli, a Montreal-style deli in New York, has opened its doors and it’s serving smoked meat and breakfast sandwiches. [Grub Street]
Russ and Daughters, the iconic New York appetizing shop, shares their recipe for chopped liver with caramelized onions. [Serious Eats
The New York Times announces the winner of their Essay for Ethical Meat Eating Contest. Tell us why you think eating or not eating meat is an ethical decision. [New York Times]
It’s thanks to one rabbi that The Jew and the Carrot discovered kosher bacon syrup, and thanks to another that it even exists.
On Tuesday, Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, California posted a photo on Facebook of his hand holding a bottle of Torani brand “Bacon Flavoring Syrup.” His comment on the photo was: “This is hekhshered bacon-flavored syrup. Not sure where to begin.”
A mom in St. Louis had a say in the results of Hazon Colorado’s Best of the West Kugel contest. Nancy Green’s daughter, Hannah Green, a student at the University of Denver, was attending the Rocky Mountain Jewish Food Summit in Boulder on Sunday. And Hannah was so excited about being a kugel judge that she texted her mother — who quickly texted back what Hannah should look for. Nancy wrote that the “qualities of a good kugel” include moistness, holding together somewhat (but not too much), and good flavor and texture.
Taking her mom’s advice to heart, Hannah even re-tasted entries and changed some of her ratings. When the ratings of all 13 judges, chosen at random, were tallied, first place went to Sara Rachlin in the Sweet division, while Lindsay Gardner won top spot in the Savory category with a three cheese and spinach kugel. Shari Goldstein took the Sweet second place, and Benjamin Stuhl was second in Savory, with all four taking home prizes.
Read on for the winning kugel recipes and share your kugel recipes in the comment section below.
Orange juice has always had an important place in my life. It started when I was about 5 years old.
I spent my childhood in Gabon, Africa. The rhythm of life there is nothing like a Western developed country. We lived a calm and stress-free life. My dad used to call it “heaven.”
Everyday, my brother and I would get picked up from school at noon for a three-hour lunch break with the complete family at home. As my father’s car would pull into the house’s driveway, Aisha, our housekeeper, would stand by the door and greet us with glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice, while my mother cooked lunch. In each glass, she had placed a red plastic straw, one of those that fold at the top. The rule was that we had to finish the glass before going off to play. Looking back, I think it was my mother’s way of keeping us busy and gaining some time to prepare the meal.
Today kicks off Bike Month in cities all over the country, including New York. As the weather warms, it’s a great time to celebrate two-wheeled transportation, whether you’re getting some place you have to go (like work) or going someplace fun (like the beach) getting there can be part of the excursion. Of course, once you start talking about biking, you need to talk about eating. Hazon organizes Jewish bike rides all over the country, both large and small, and I took a poll among our riders to find out what favorite foods our riders just can’t live without.
Most honorable mentions went to the banana: a sweet, filling, nutritious snack that comes with its own biodegradable packaging. Many riders also bring nuts and dried fruit, which are easily transported and not generally affected by extreme temperatures or rough handling in a backpack or bike bag.
The cooperative enterprise, popular in the early days of Zionism, has made something of a comeback over the past year.
Following last summer’s social justice protests, dozens of cooperatives have been founded. These include the Ha’agala co-op in Mitzpeh Ramon, which competes with the local branch of the Super-Sol grocery store, a social workers’ cooperative and a co-op in northern Israel made up of teachers employed by manpower companies.
Next month, a pub-restaurant co-op is slated to open in Tel Aviv, while in Jerusalem a plan for a cooperative coffee shop is beginning to take shape.
Read more at Haaretz.com.
It’s springtime in Israel, and in the shuk, fresh garlic bulbs, still attached to their green scapes, lie piled on vendor’s stands. I pull out the biggest, most attractive ones for dishes like garlic soup, pickled garlic, chicken roasted on a bed of whole garlic bulbs, spring herb pestos and my favorite, garlic confit — a luscious spread of roasted garlic and herbs.
I pick up ten kilos of fresh green garlic that festoon the laundry room. The scent pervades the house and smells a bit like sausage. Until the juicy bulbs begin to dry inside their purple-tinted sheaths, (about four days) my teenager won’t invite friends over, embarrassed by the scent. When the atmosphere returns to normal, so does my daughter’s social life. Yet put a little dish of garlic confit to smear on challah in front of her, and she hardly wants to eat anything else.
On an unseasonably warm, November morning, four female college students and their academic advisor boarded the subway to Hunt’s Point in the South Bronx. On this particular morning, we prepared for a day of experiential learning as part of our Fellowship in Jewish Social Entrepreneurship that is run by the Jewish Theological Seminary. In addition to interning in a field of social justice, fellows attend twice monthly sessions run by already-established entrepreneurs in the social justice field. As part of this fellowship, I interned on the Food Programs team at Hazon, but I wouldn’t begin to realize the effects of the work I was doing until the end of this influential field trip.
Throughout my time in college, my interest in the role of food in daily life grew, which was part of my attraction to Hazon. I liked how Hazon viewed the importance of healthy and sustainable food, through an explicitly Jewish lens. Though this field trip occurred only a few months into my internship at Hazon, I was beginning to see the complex web food spun in daily life. Each holiday has specific foods that we, as Jews, culturally favor. In addition, I had the opportunity to work with members of CSAs, and I saw that people are truly invested in where their food was sourced and who was involved in producing it. As a student living in Manhattan, food is not a privilege; I have choice and agency in what food I choose. On our field trip, the other fellows and I learned that food to residents of the South Bronx played a very different role.
Tucked away on a side street in the Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, La Vara is an artfully decorated, cozy restaurant specializing in Sephardic and Moorish cuisine. It’s the latest project by husband and wife team Alex Raij and Eder Montero, who own two Spanish restaurants in Manhattan.
Raij wanted to explore the Jewish element in Spanish food and took the name La Vara, meaning the branch, from a locally-published Ladino newspaper from the mid-20th century. The name does more than just signal the restaurant’s Sephardic cuisine, it points to Raij’s broader fascination with how niche communities draw on and influence the larger environments they inhabit. To craft the menu, she delved deep back into Spain’s rich history for inspiration, unearthing ancient Spanish-Judeo dishes that were transformed by the Inquisition.
A month after their opening, we chatted with Raij about her culinary inspirations for La Vara, why she chose to make it non-kosher and how the restaurant fits into the current Jewish restaurant scene.
Esquire Editor at Large and experiential journalist A.J. Jacobs embarked on a quest to improve his mind by reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. That resulted in the publication of his first book, “The Know-It-All” in 2005. Three years later came “The Year of Living Biblically” chronicling his attempt to raise his spiritual consciousness by growing a wild beard, riding the subway dressed like Moses, and following all the laws of the Bible in their literal sense. Now the 44-year-old Manhattanite has recounted how he tried to achieve bodily perfection in “Drop Dead Healthy” — published earlier this month.
To be sure, a healthy diet and good eating habits would figure into Jacobs’ latest experiment. The question facing the author over the course of his two year investigation, however, was: What exactly is the healthiest diet and what are the healthiest eating habits? Jacobs discovered that some people follow healthy eating habits with a dedication that is akin to religious devotion, like the macrobiotic diet or the author’s Aunt Marti and her raw food regimen. One of the lesser-known habits that Jacobs uncovered has a name that even sounds a lot like a religion very familiar to readers of The Forward. It’s called “Chewdaism.”
Kutsher’s Tribeca is launching Brisket Mondays — a different preparation of brisket will be offered each week. We’re so there! [Eater]
Spice advice from Lior Lev Sercaz, our favorite Israeli spice master. [Food 52]
An Israeli chef and a Palestinian chef work side by side in a DC catering company. [Slate]
James E. McWilliams wrote in a recent NYT Op-Ed, “The Myth of Sustainable Meat,” that consuming animal products can never be sustainable, even when approached with an eye toward ecology. He breaks out his calculator, multiplying the number of cows that Americans currently eat by the number of acres required to farm them responsibly. The result: an impossible amount of grazing land, among other problems. I normally expect this tone from guardians of the status quo who dismiss organic farming as inefficient or naive. What I didn’t expect was McWilliams’s suggestion: Stop creating animal products. He pits sustainability-minded omnivores not just against industrial farming, but against herbivores. His argument is so snide and riddled with flaws that it distracts us from his conclusions. It also points to a rift within the sustainable food movement. Can omnivores and herbivores talk to each other about food issues? And can a Jewish perspective help us through this seemingly intractable conflict?
McWilliams has a bad premise: that meat could only be “sustainable” if it could be eaten in the same quantity as Americans eat it now, but farmed in a humane way. However, I have never heard a “locavore” argue that meat should be abundant. Michael Pollan, the torchbearer of the local food movement, sums up the “locavore” ethos: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” McWilliams uses spurious gotcha facts to show that “holistic” animal farming is unrealistic. He cites a few mysterious figures, like “Pastured organic chickens have a 20 percent greater impact on global warming,” but doesn’t say what this means or how it was measured. His numbers are there not to make things clearer, rather, to intimidate. It’s also a common rhetorical error to judge something’s sustainability only by its so-called logical conclusion, assuming that the word “sustainable” means a practice that could work forever in the exact same way, and could be scaled up to seven billion people. That probably unachievable standard is not what most of us mean when talk about sustainability. We look for systems that are more healthy, lower in impact, encouraging of future learning and improvements.
If there is one teaching that I remember most from my summer camp Shabbats, it’s that part of being a Jew is challenging your beliefs about God: evaluating and re-evaluating your relationship with God, discussing, and possibly questioning a supreme being’s existence. Whether or not you agree with this idea, it appears that a similar evolving principle can be applied to Jewish cuisine. Simply mentioning the term “Jewish food” often sparks a heated debate and questions arise: Is there such a thing? Where exactly does it come from? What defines it? Is it kosher? Can I eat it with chopsticks?
On Tuesday night at the New School in Manhattan, four food writers and culture academics took part in a panel discussion titled “Jewish Cuisines: The Local and the Global.” Unsurprisingly, a large portion of the time was spent defining “Jewish food,” and even less surprisingly, each had their own unique interpretation.
I spent the first two years of my marriage begging everyone who came to my wedding for recipes. It’s how I taught myself to cook. Imagining that we had to eat something different every week, my repertoire grew quickly. My husband fondly remembers disasters like Chicken Chips (totally burnt cutlets), Banana Goo (cake under-baked and inedible), and Horrible Ugly Mess (a most delicious meatloaf that just looks horrid). But what he really wanted was brisket.
I had a very tenuous relationship with brisket. While I didn’t mind eating it once in a while, I had no idea how to make it. It may have had something to do with my mother’s incredibly frightening pressure cooker. She would drag it out once a month or so and drop some veggies, a giant hunk of meat, and who knows what else in the pot, secure the cover, put the stove on, and walk away. Sometimes, in the next few hours, tender, juicy meat with yummy gravy and vegetables would appear. Other times the damn thing would explode and leave a huge mess all over the kitchen. After getting over the shock of the noise, the dogs would go crazy trying to eat as much meat as possible before my mother ran into the kitchen and burst into tears. I learned that the pressure cooker (just like the bathroom scale) makes you cry. My brothers and I also learned that when you see a package of brisket on the counter, get out of the house.