A mom, a food crafter and a chef glare at one another in a Baltimore parking lot ready to throw down with fire and sharp objects. No, this is not a surprise culinary season of The Wire, or a bizarre new John Waters film. It’s a “Gefilte Fish Throwdown” sponsored by the Jewish Museum of Maryland as part of their exhibit “Chosen Food: Cuisine, Culture, and American Jewish Identity.”
Aromas of fresh fish, piquant onion and horseradish, with faint notes of celery and short gusts of white pepper seem “louder” than the dogs yelping in the distance or the occasional siren. As the brisk cool air dances with the flames of the camping stoves, and the hot, bright sun beats down on the 100 or so people in the audience, it may be a Sunday in October, but it’s beginning to smell a lot like Passover.
Hosted by honored guest, Aaron Harkin of Baltimore’s NPR station, WYPR, and host of The Signal, the competition got under way as the eager audience was introduced to the three participants. Dave Whaley of Baltimore’s acclaimed restaurant, Wit and Wisdom at The Four Seasons, unveiled his novel gefilte fish corndog, dipped in corn batter and deep fried served with a birthday-cake-pink tinted sauce of cream, horseradish and beet powder. “I didn’t have whitefish or pike, so I decided to use cobia, another kosher fish, that I knew would stand up to being made into a fish sausage and would remain firm and flavorful throughout the process.”
There are two general camps of cookbooks: the kind that you keep on the coffee table and the kind that you keep in the kitchen. The former are big, sumptuous, glossy numbers, usually full of exotic ingredients and complicated recipes. The latter are often less pretty but functional, stained by sauce splatters and muffin batter. It’s rare to find a volume that serves both purposes, but Deb Perelman’s wonderful The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook is one of them.
Perelman, who based the book on her popular website of the same name, describes herself as “an obsessive home cook,” and her recipes certainly reflect that. She tinkers, she recreates, she attempts to cajole people. Her buttered popcorn cookies, for instance — salty-sweet umami crunch-balls that should replace Rice Krispie treats in your next holiday platter — were an effort to convince a friend to see the merits of buttered popcorn. She updates old recipes, because, she admits, “my curiosity gets the better of me, and it’s usually worth the blasphemy. Her fig, olive oil, and sea salt challah for example, takes a classic and adds notes of herbaceous savoriness to the sweet and supple bread. She uses honey instead of sugar to leaven the yeast, and tucks a fig and orange zest paste into the braided dough. The result is something heavenly, and fairly simple, even if you’re not a seasoned baker. (Though, I confess, I abandoned her braiding technique in favor of a simpler one.) A dear friend of mine, asking after what I was baking, was the first to proclaim “heresy!” about the addition of salt and figs. He was also the first to ask for the recipe once he tasted it.
I recently found myself in one of my favorite places in NYC — The Union Square Farmer’s Market. As I wandered through the stalls, admiring the colorful varieties of cauliflower and broccoli I reflected on how much my shopping habits have changed. Sure, I occasionally shop at the Green Market at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, but for the past year I’ve purchased most of my produce from the Caribbean market around the corner from my house in Bed-Stuy. Spending almost a year on unemployment and one measly month on SNAP has changed the way that I budget, and the way that I shop for food.
In July of 2011, I found myself in an interesting predicament — I was unexpectedly unemployed. As the thrill of spending work days on the beach turned into weeks and then months without so much as an interview, my meager savings disappeared and my debt mounted. I realized that I would have to get government assistance. I struggled with this realization and put it off until the very last moment, which I learned was a terrible idea because you don’t just get SNAP benefits just because you want them — you have to wait.
A falafel, is not a falafel, is not a falafel. Each country in the Middle East has their own way of making falafel. [NPR]
Beautiful preserved lemons are a staple flavor of many north African and Sephardic cuisines. Try your hand at making them at home. [Saveur]
Should you try your hand at making your own peanut (and other nut) butters? [Serious Eats]
Desserts to Love: Knafe. The deliciously sweet pastry is available in the Holy Land if you’re willing to go looking for it. [Serious Eats]
In a medieval tavern in 21st century Italy, waitresses in archaic costumes served a tepid, chalk-white substance the texture of oatmeal to tables filled with slightly skeptical diners.
Sweet yet salty, and flavored with a mix of unexpectedly tangy spices, it turned out to be a tasty puree made from shredded chicken breast, almond milk, rose water, cloves and rice flour.
The dish was a savory form of biancomangiare, or almond pudding, a food that was popular in Italy in the Middle Ages. Jews back then loved it, too, food historians say, and often called it “almond rice.”
On this recent night in Bevagna, an ancient walled town in central Italy’s Umbria region, biancomangiare was being served as the first course of a special kosher-style dinner aimed at re-creating a meal that Jews in Italy would have eaten in the 14th and 15th centuries.
A restaurant run and staffed by deaf people opened for business in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, helped by Palestinians seeking to build a more inclusive society where people with disabilities can realise their full potential.
The stylish Atfaluna restaurant near Gaza port stands out in a city with few facilities for the disabled. Waiters and cooks use sign language, guests point to selections from the menu and what ensues is a spontaneous form of communication that organisers hope will break down bias and barriers.
“Deaf people have determination and there are no worries except when it comes to communication, the language problem. At first we may get translators to help us with the speaking clients,” supervisor Ayat Imtair told Reuters in sign language.
After six months of training with her staff, she was confident the service would go smoothly.
Last week I bought an impromptu ticket for New York, not because there was a great deal or I found Broadway tickets for next-to-nothing, but because I came across a blurb about a conference on the Future of Jewish Food. A conversation focused solely on what is Jewish food and where it is headed — not to mention an all-star line-up of Jewish deli proprietors, authors, and critics — I knew I had to attend. As a graduate student studying Jewish American culinary history (yes, academia can be this great), this conference seemed to be a great opportunity to introduce myself to contemporary thoughts on Jewish cooking in America.
Joan Nathan, the doyenne of Jewish (American) cooking, started off the first panel by noting, in the words of Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, that “Jewish food is anything eaten by Jews.”
By this logic, wherever I am and whatever I eat could be considered Jewish food. But this just doesn’t seem right to me. Shouldn’t Jewish food be shmaltzy and unpronounceable? And what about kosher!?
Fall has settled in with its colorful leaves and a bounty of autumn-hued produce at the market. The switch of the seasons is invigorating as a cook, inspiring us with a fresh palate of fruits and vegetables to play with. Winter squash, woody herbs, root vegetables and hearty greens take center stage, just asking to be roasted, braised and served as part of dinner during the week or on Shabbat.
Sweet and nutty butternut squash is a personal favorite. This year, I’ve started adding it to everything from salads to stews. My new favorite combination is fiery harissa (a spicy North African red pepper paste) with breadcrumbs, ground walnuts and mint (recipe below). The mellow sweetness contrasts with the pleasant spice of the harissa (the heat of which can vary greatly), while the walnuts complement the nutty undertones of the squash. Add in a great mix of textures and you’ve got yourself one killer side that’s as good with roasted chicken as it is with steak, fish, or even tofu. The dish is packed with vitamin A and is also a great source of fiber and potassium and when the squash is roasted, it’s pesky tough skin becomes tender and entirely edible.
It’s also around this time of year that I move away from delicate greens and towards grains as the base for my salads like vibrant red quinoa (yes, it’s technically a seed). I toss it with whatever vegetables I have on hand for a nutritious side or light but filling lunch.
People love to ask, “what did you grow up eating?” Having a professional food writer for a mother makes this a particularly complicated question to answer. Yes, I grew up eating amazing homemade food. I have fond memories of ox tail stews and fresh pasta with sauce made of vegetables from our garden. I was undoubtedly a spoiled child when it came to food. I had the palate of a mature adult, requesting escargot on my 6th birthday. But, after all the lavish multi-coursed dinners, and made-from-scratch snacks that I was so lucky to grow up with, my most profound childhood food memory is one of the simplest dishes: roast chicken.
Every Shabbat, for as long as I can remember, roast chicken had a place at my family’s dinner table. People might have expected my mother to be kneading challah dough all day, or basting a brisket, but instead she opted for chicken every time.
Maybe she chose it because Shabbat came at the end to a very long week of taking care of two young, constantly bickering little girls. Maybe she chose it because she knew she could make an entire dinner, adding whatever vegetables or potatoes were around, in the same pan. Or maybe she chose it because not even the pickiest of eaters can resist the comfort of perfectly roasted chicken.
As he weaves in and out of traffic in New York City on a Friday afternoon, David Itzkowitz has two things on his mind: Shabbat and beer.
Beer because Itzkowitz, 26, is a co-founder of Lost Tribes, a beverage company that makes microbrews derived from ancient recipes held dear by Jewish cultures from exotic parts of the world. And Shabbat because Itzkowitz, an observant Jew, still has a few deliveries left to make before sundown.
“It’s all about the pale ale,” Itzkowitz tells JTA by phone on his way to a delivery in the Bronx. “You need a balance of the perfect amount of hop with a little malt. It needs to tickle your taste buds and have a little buzz, too.”
The idea behind Lost Tribes, which is less than a year old, was born in 2009 when three of the company’s five founders ventured to Israel to learn more about the country’s budding microbrewery industry and come up with ideas for their own beer.
They spent a lot of time with Jews that some say hail from the 10 lost tribes of Israel — Ethiopian Jews, said by some to be descendants of the Tribe of Dan, and Indian Jews, said by some to be from the Tribe of Menashe.
If you are a Jewish food enthusiast and happen to live in New York, your calendar has been quite busy of late. Restaurants are hosting deli-themed Shabbat dinners, museums are hosting talks on gefilte fish and venues across the city are nodding to Ashkenazi fare in any number of creative ways. These events are focused on reimagining and updating Jewish cuisine, and have been permeated with a sense of nostalgia. They have also, seemingly, been attended by heavily Jewish audiences.
But this was refreshingly not the case on Sunday night at the cozy East Village restaurant JoeDoe. Here, a group of a dozen diners, most of whom were tasting Jewish cuisine for the first time, feasted on a menu created by celebrated Chef Joe Dobias, who is also not Jewish.
The dinner was conceived of by the members-only traveling supper club, Butter and Egg Road, which gathered the group of New York transplants and vacationing visitors.
For his guests, Dobias created a menu that exhibited his strong love and respect for traditional Ashkenazi cuisine, while twisting the dishes in ways that were less emotional and more technical.
The growing season in Tennessee is incredibly long. This September, my CSA had on abundance of tomatoes, eggplants and spaghetti squash, and I decided to reach out of my cooking comfort zone with the eggplant.
I have a few basic go-to eggplant recipes, but didn’t feel like eating baba ganouj for the next two weeks. My other go-to eggplant recipe, is so time consuming, I only make it a couple of times each year, and had made it within the last month; I was not interested in recreating it, despite the compliments it always receives. Given the abundant contents of my CSA basket, I was inspired to test out a new recipe, but wasn’t sure where to start; that sent me my well-worn cookbook collection and Taste Spotting, an online resource for recipes submitted by bloggers around the world (aka, total food porn).
Growing up in a predominantly Jewish upper-middle class neighborhood of Toronto and attending Hebrew day school I didn’t know a single person who celebrated Thanksgiving. Naturally, I assumed that it was a Christian holiday.
I had learned the origins American Thanksgiving from TV. Canadian children are immersed in American culture well before we enter primary school. However, because TV Jews tended to celebrate holidays such as Christmas, this didn’t change my perception.
I entered public school in grade 7 and my new Jewish friends didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving either. One year while visiting Orthodox Jewish family in the U.S. I learned that they celebrate Thanksgiving. When I questioned this, I was told that the holiday is nonsectarian. My resulting theory was that U.S. Thanksgiving was historical/secular, while Canadian Thanksgiving was religious. This was before search engines and smart phones, and I’d celebrate Thanksgiving with non-Jewish roommates for years before I finally sought answers.
It’s been a pretty awesome week in the food world and the Jewish food world. Check out our tasty picks.
Take a peak into a kosher dinner club. [Grub Street]
Or…a tour of the kosher hot spots in Los Angeles. [New York Times]
Jewish and Chinese flavors all wrapped into one. Introducing: the Pastrami Egg Roll. [Fork in the Road]
It’s right around now that we all start craving a good bowl of chicken noodle soup. Learn how to make an excellent rendition of the classic here and call your Bubby! [Smitten Kitchen]
Already thinking about Hanukkah? There’s a now a New York City donut map. [Serious Eats]
Time to change things up: Coffee-Rubbed Brisket with Parsley Couscous. [Serious Eats]
Growing up in a small Jewish community in the Northwest, Shabbat in my family was celebrated with Kiddush, an occasional family dinner and a loaf of challah if we were not too late stopping by a local bakery that knew what this braided treat was. My experience bared little resemblance to the Shabbats of my counterparts in larger Jewish centers in the States.
So, it wasn’t until I moved to Israel earlier this year that I truly understood why so many describe as being “home” on Shabbat. There’s a certain ambiance and feeling when you’re in Israel that cannot be duplicated. Whether you are in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv on a Friday, the rush and excitement throughout the city as it prepares for the holiday is palpable. From the fragrant smelling shuk on Friday morning, to the overflowing tables of challot in the many bakeries, to the bus driver wishing you a “Shabbat shalom,” that makes Shabbat un-ignorable and meaningful.
On Fridays, you don’t have to go far before someone is inquiring about your Shabbat plans. “What are you doing for Shabbat?” I’m often asked. Before responding, I’m bombarded with an invitation: “You’re coming over to our house,” they say. Striking up a conversation on the bus or in a shop, it’s not unlikely that you will be invited to random stranger’s home for a Shabbat meal.
For the past two years, I have had the privilege of serving as an AmeriCorps Volunteer Coordinator at the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center. In 2011, I partnered with the Temple Beth David Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and Long Island Cares, a major food bank, to collect and distribute fresh produce to local food pantries for Care to Share. This initiative, a collaboration of UJA-Federation of New York, AmeriCorps, Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and Hazon, aims to feed the hungry during the Sukkot and harvest season and raise awareness about the importance of healthy eating and nutrition. Volunteers helped promote and support this initiative in Suffolk County by spreading the word and donating fresh fruits and vegetables straight from their home gardens or purchased from a store. Two volunteers I worked closely with, Beth Needleman at Temple Beth David and Elana Sisson at Long Island Cares, played vital roles in helping collect 505 pounds of fresh produce to give to local food pantries, an amazing accomplishment that allowed us to help approximately 490 families on Long Island. We take pride in helping those in need by making their holiday season more abundant and special.
The growth the new food movement has brought about many positive changes, namely an increase in the number of young famers. There has even been an increase in the number of young Jewish farmers in the last few years, bringing us back to our roots an agricultural nation. It appears that the “farm to table” movement is doing more than bringing fresh produce to the dinner table; it is also becoming a way of life, encouraging more people to get their hands dirty. Women are making waves in the corporate sphere and pioneering brilliant entrepreneurial ideas from their kitchens, but it seems that relatively few women have taken up shovels and seeds and headed back to the land. And when it comes to full-time Jewish female farmers, the numbers are still exceptionally low.
Emily Jane Freed, perhaps better known as Farmer Freed, is leading the way as one of very few Jewish female farmers in America. It’s really no surprise that Emily found herself working in agriculture. Growing up in Sonoma County, California, she spent much of her childhood outside playing in the yard. She had local milk delivered to her house, and her parents volunteered at a Food Coop. She was at least 12 years old before she had her first candy bar. Her mom cooked what Emily describes as “pure and healthy food” using natural sweeteners like carob as opposed to refined sugars.
When I talked to cookbook author Susie Fishbein in September, she was at home in Livingston, New Jersey poised to whip up her mother’s recipe of peach cake with soy milk for Shabbat dinner.
The 44-year-old mother of four (her youngest child is 10, the oldest 18) is proudly awaiting publication of her eighth cookbook in a series that has motivated Jewish cooks since its inception in 2003. “Kosher by Design Cooking Coach: Recipes, Tips and Techniques To Make Anyone a Better Cook” hits the shelves October 23rd.
Not one to kick back resting on accolades, Fishbein travels often for inspiration or to make store, TV and food festival appearances.
Chatting with her, she’s completely forthcoming about her lack of culinary training and it’s immediately clear that family comes first and accomplishments are a team effort. Even after selling more than 450,000 books, Fishbein sounds enthusiastic, approachable and genuinely thrilled that the “KBD” series has resonated with people from so many different countries and backgrounds.
“There is only one original Sacher-Torte,” our tour guide told us, “and it is here, at the Hotel Sacher.” My two friends and I exchanged glances. “That’s the chocolate cake we’re supposed to try,” said Sam. Eric put his hands on both our shoulders. “Um, yeah. We’re doing that.”
We were three American Jews in Vienna, the birthplace of my grandfather. We befriended a pair of wandering Israelis — Yuri and Ohad — on our tour, and after its conclusion the five of us rushed to the Hotel Sacher to try the world-famous cake.
The hotel’s main café seemed like a ballroom. Fabrics that would make an interior designer weep lined the walls, chairs and booths. Windows and mirrors everywhere. Chandeliers and candelabras. Everything white and red. The waitstaff sported the same outfits that Hotel Sacher servers have probably worn since Eduard Sacher founded it in 1876.
Wearing tourist garb — T-shirts, shorts, sneakers, backpacks — we blended in about as well as Crocodile Dundee in the Hamptons. But our waitress treated us like dignified guests, anyway. We ordered the “Original Sacher-Torte” and some of the hotel’s gourmet coffees.
This year make room for chocolate in your Sukkot celebration. Sukkot’s theme of openness symbolized by the leafy ceiling and flimsy walls tempts creative approaches to menus, decorations, and customs. Deuteronomy 16:14’s challenge “v’samachta b’chagecha” (to rejoice in the festival) could easily be fulfilled by layering chocolate onto the holiday’s menus. Sukkot’s custom of welcoming honored guests, known as ushpizin, (traditionally Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, David; additionally more recently, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Miriam, Abigail, Esther) into the Sukkah. What better way to honor a guest than to treat them to tantalizing chocolate concoctions.
It could also be fun to recall some of the earlier Jews with significant connections to chocolate by extending a symbolic Sukkah invitation of ushpizin to colonial American traders, retailers and manufacturers such as Aaron Lopez, Rebecca Gomez and Daniel Gomez. From the first of the Jewish chocolate makers ever, in Bayonne, France, include Abraham D’Andrade. Cite Jews who developed the navigational sciences of the 15th-16th centuries which in turn created the opportunity for European first contact with cocoa beans, such as Abraham Ben Samuel Zacuto.