In last week’s food section, we gave you 10 amazing Jewish sandwiches from across the country, which in true “top list” fashion sparked some debate over which sandwiches were really the best and which were missing from the list. Luckily, a tidy little poll let readers kvetch constructively by voting for their favorite (with a write-in option). With over 600 votes, favorites were all across the board — and world.
On April 2, food activists in California won their first victory in their campaign to require mandatory labeling for food with GMOs: genetically modified organisms. The Committee for the Right to Know announced that they had collected the 800,000 signatures necessary to establish a 2012 ballot initiative so that voters can have their say on the issue next fall.
With nearly 80% of conventional corn and soy in America containing genetic material from other species designed to help them resist pesticides, it’s difficult to avoid these so-called “Frankenfoods,” unless they are clearly labeled. Across the European Union, GM food must be labeled, but not so in the US.
Never in the history of gefilte fish — perhaps the most haimish of Jewish dishes — has it drawn so much attention from the discerning food world. In Adeena Sussman’s recent article, “From Haimish to Haute” Zach Kutsher, owner of Kutsher’s Tribeca commented: “It’s our most controversial menu item.” Indeed their upscale preparation sparked intense debate among New York’s top food critics who placed more weight and emphasis on it than any other dish of the Jewish food revolution we seem to be in the midst of.
But Kutsher’s isn’t the only place responding to the call for a makeover of this oft-disliked — or perhaps misunderstood — dish. “More than almost any other Jewish food, gefilte has a bad reputation,” said Jeffrey Yoskowitz, one of three young New Yorkers who recently launched The Gefilteria, what they call a “pushcart start-up,” that sells sustainably sourced artisanal Jewish foods.
The trick with Sephardic haroset is in the mixing. You use your hands, you call for more grated apple until it feels wet enough, then you add ground almonds until the raisin mush gets a little itchy between your fingers.
Haroset is the Seder plate’s sweet counterbalance to the bitter herb. No specific recipe is prescribed, so each tradition has come up with its own version. Ashkenazic haroset has lots of wine and nuts and is gross; Sephardic haroset is sticky and delicious.
Our Sephardic haroset is, I suppose, of the Spanish and Portuguese sub variant. Our family got to New York in 1654, and though they stopped off a couple of places on the way they never stuck around long enough to add figs or oranges or dates or, god forbid, coconuts to their haroset recipes.
Passover, though one of my favorite Jewish holidays, is also one of the most challenging for me. As a vegetarian and Ashkenazic Jew, major staples in my diet such as beans, tofu, tempeh, seitan, and brown rice are suddenly banned. I have met some vegetarians/vegans who “go Sephardic” for Pesach so that they have more food options, even going as far as consulting and getting permission from their rabbis to do so. But bringing kitniyot (foods such as: rice, corn, soy beans, string beans, peas, lentils, mustard, sesame seeds and poppy seeds that are not allowed to be consumed during Pesach under Ashkenazic custom) into my home would be a big no-no, and personally I wouldn’t feel comfortable observing the holiday differently. I’ve had 11+ years to figure out and fine-tune the ins and outs of a vegetarian Pesach and I’m here to share some of my must-have foods, while still following Ashkenazic tradition and staying healthy.
Let me preface my suggestions by explaining a little bit about my background and how I observe Passover. I was raised in a Conservative kosher home, where the only foods that enter our kitchen for the holiday are ones that bear a Kosher for Passover (K for P) symbol. Even though there are so many vegetarian/vegan packaged goods that I love and are chametz-free, they will not be coming into my home without the K for P symbol. For some readers, this may be stricter than you’re used to. Ultimately, you have to do what you feel comfortable with on this holiday. As a result, I tend to cook nearly all my meals from scratch. Cooking in bulk and not minding repeat meals is helpful, as is finding a grocery store (or online kosher shop) that carries a variety of products, which thankfully gets easier every year with the ever-expanding selection of Passover foods on the market.
Mention seder to chef Simon Elmaleh and his peaked eyebrows lift, his graying moustache twitches and his eyes dance.
“When I was growing up in Casablanca, Passover was a really big holiday for us,” he said. “My mom would go to the market and buy lamb, chicken, vegetables and, of course, dried fruits for a really huge meal.”
The centerpiece of the seder would be a lamb tagine — a stew cooked slowly to fall-off-the-bone tenderness over low heat in a special clay pot, also called a tagine. The pot — a shallow, round base covered by an open funnel-or dome-shaped lid — allows steam to rise, cool and condense. The flavorful juices flow back into the stew.
It’s no surprise that the winning dish of this year’s Man-o-Manischewitz cook-off was an update on a classic recipe. As he introduced his “Mod” Matzo ball soup, Eric Silberman, a 20 year old Princeton University student from Lincolnwood, IL, compared his concept to Manischewitz’s rebranding: he reinvented a classic, giving it a modern sensibility, just as the company that has become synonymous with Jewish food releases a new line of products to appeal to a younger generation.
Silberman grew up with matzo ball soup; it was an essential dish on his family’s Shabbat table. But in his late teens, he took over the family staple, shaking up the recipe by cooking the matzo balls in the broth, roasting the vegetables separately, then adding them to the finished product. Silberman’s matzo balls were small but light, something he achieves by separating his eggs and beating the whites till frothy before combining them with the rest of the eggs and the matzo ball mix. He also added cumin and a can of unflavored diced tomatoes for a south-of-the border flair.
Passover, maybe more than any other Jewish holiday, calls on us to individualize our holiday experience — we are celebrating our freedom from slavery. Despite having seemingly endless restrictions and laws, there’s still ample room for personal interpretations. For some families this comes in the form of using props to explain or playfully re-enact the 10 plagues, for others it’s selecting a Haggadah that fits their politics or religious beliefs. For me and other passionate cooks, nothing compares to the opportunity to express my thoughts about the holiday through food. The Seder provides the ultimate opportunity to engage with a narrative through the dinner plate.
This year, for the first time, I will plan what my family eats for our second night Seder. To prepare, I’ve read through countless articles and recipes. I’ve looked for dishes that balance tradition with modern twists, updating the Seder to make it feel more contemporary and personal. Several recipes I selected highlight a theme of the Seder — be it spring, bitter herbs or recalling the ten plagues — literally putting the story of the Exodus on the plate. For many, straying from a traditional family menu that’s been honed over decades is a risk, but one that might be worth it if it allows you to make the Seder more personal. Try mixing some of the old with some of the new with these delicious picks from around the web.
Please share your non-traditional Seder recipes with us in the comments!
For any Jew who observes all eight days of Passover, the food and beverage situation gets to a point where we all throw our hands up and inevitably say, “Dayeinu!” How much more Manischewitz and matzo can one person endure? Personally, as a bartender (or some might say “Mixologist”), those eight days are a long, treacherous time that inhibits the skills of my craft; so long bourbon and beer.
The challenge of working in bars and restaurants during the holiday has been proven to be difficult until recent years. With new kosher for Passover products on the market and a few tricks from the trade, I’ve been able to transfer my knowledge from the hospitality industry to my own Passover Seder table.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Leslie about her newest cookbook, “Gluten-Free Recipes for the Conscious Cook” and the benefits of a gluten-free diet, and the importance of eating sustainably for both the mind and body.
Although it’s become one of the city’s top tourist destinations, Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda shuk (market) can be an intimidating place for newcomers. Vendors yell out competing prices in loud, raspy voices. Crowded alleys run into each other, and old ladies will roll you over with their overflowing carts if you don’t look out.
In recent years the market has experienced a renaissance and so today trendy bars and coffee shops are nestled between second and third generation butchers and fishmongers. For those who want an insider’s view of the shuk but don’t know where to start, a new website called Machne and self-guided tour called Shuk Bites seek to enlighten you.
For some of us, planning our Passover cooking for our friends and family is intimidating enough. Now, imagine cooking at the White House? With noted in-house pastry chef Bill Yosses. Overwhelming, right? Well, not for Jewish food writer Joan Nathan. Nathan, a long-time DC resident and friend of Yosses’s spent Wednesday afternoon at the White House preparing Passover dishes at an event. Fortunately for us, it was caught on tape. Watch below as Nathan creates a pear and pecan haroset, which she learned to make recently while visiting Arkansas. The pair also cooks Nathan’s sweet Matzo Chremsel. For the complete recipes read more.
Ever wondered how Manischewitz makes all that matzo? Check out this video to see how. [JTA]
If you’ve never prepared a Seder, or the whole idea intimidates you, check out Joan Nathan’s perfect day by day guide for throwing the perfect Seder. [New York Times]
A fantastic recipe for Skillet-Baked Eggs with Spinach, Yogurt, and Spiced Butter from one of our favorite Israeli chefs, Yotam Ottolenghi. [Serious Eats]
A look at ethical kosher meat company KOL Foods. [Gourmet Live]
While considering the culinary prospects for Passover 2012, strangely, the words “matzo brei” keep coming up. This is strange, because I don’t even like matzo brei; my memories of this dish feature a matzah-egg mush served to us on white plates with faded pink strawberries along the rim. Neither eggs nor matzo are imbued with any kind of assertive flavors; both elements beg to be enlivened by a second party of flavor. So for me matzo brei was mainly about the absence of flavor. Which is why I’d internally roll my eyes every time someone waxed poetic about the humble joys of matzo brei. Whenever culinary machers like Ruth Reichel would dreamily expound on the simple pleasures of this dish, I wondered what was I missing? The answer was “flavor.”
Rows of plates with matzah topped with freshly chopped haroset, the traditional Passover sweet condiment, welcomed guests to the White House on Wednesday afternoon for a special holiday cooking demonstration and discussion.
The event was organized by the White House Office of Public Engagement and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The latter recently funded an exhibit at the Jewish Museum of Maryland titled Chosen Food, exploring the history and cultural significance of food in the American Jewish Community.
As my friend Joan Nathan, the queen of American Jewish cooking, looked around the room she said: “If only my grandfather could see this. He would just… die!”
Read more on Haaretz.com
We are fortunate that while Passover commemorates events of a very ancient era, we live in extremely modern times. As we rush around shopping and cooking for the holiday this year, we don’t even need to turn on our laptops, let alone crack open a book in search of guidance and resources — thanks to a number of smart phone apps made for the holiday.
Pesach food shopping is made easy by two apps that allow you to check the kosher and kosher for Passover status of items as you come across them on the store shelves. The Orthodox Union has its OU Kosher App for iPhone and Android, which allows you to search for more than 600,000 products made around the world. The app provides up-to-date kosher alerts and new product updates, and it even enables you to call or text the OU Kosher information hotline with specific questions or concerns.
The Park Slope Food Coop, a historic Brooklyn grocery store, will keep stocking the Israeli-made paprika, couscous and four other Israeli-made products that have become a point of contention over the past three years.
Last night, the co-op dodged an initiative to boycott Israeli goods in protest of the country’s policies toward the Palestinians.
Members of the co-op voted 1,005 to 653 to reject a referendum on BDS — the movement to boycott, divest from, and implement sanctions against Israel — at the store’s largest general meeting in recent memory. The co-op counts about 16,000 members; more than 1,600 people were in attendance last night.
Matzo brei is a relatively recent invention. According to the “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food,” the common brei recipe — soaked matzo dipped in egg and pan-fried — can be traced back to the late 19th century — or in Jewish terms, last week.
Despite the diversity of Jewish cuisine, that recipe has remained largely unchanged for 150 years. Yes, some like it sweet, others savory; some like it dry, others mushy (I like to brown both sides, almost like a Spanish omelet). But outside of these superficial differences, your basic brei is the same: moisten some matzo, crumble, mix in a couple of beaten eggs, fry, repeat for seven days.
Maybe that’s why I always have trouble staying away from chametz: brei fatigue. But now one talented L.A. chef has made it her mission to combat this (bread of) affliction. Each evening from April 7 to 13, Suzanne Tracht of Jar will be serving an innovative variation of matzo brei.
In modern times, Passover has become a holiday where a lot of the foods prepared, rely on processed items, like matzo meal, making one feel shackled down by the weight of those carb bombs. However in keeping with Chag Ha Aviv, it’s more appropriate for seasonal produce to shine. Of the many dishes I am preparing for Passover, one is a Cauliflower and Leek Soup, which serves as an edible illustration to inculcate the story of Passover. This seasonal vegetable soup symbolizes the many meanings of Passover, with an emphasis on the newness of spring, where we have the potential as a nation to always renew ourselves.
Allison Kaplan Sommer took a foraging walk with Israeli Chef Moshe Basson. Check out what she learned here and read on for Passover recommendations and recipes from the chef.
When most of us think of bitter herbs on the seder table, we think of bottled beet colored or white horseradish bought at the grocery store or maybe a whole root, slivered, or ground. Families who can’t handle the horseradish burn, sometimes resort to romaine lettuce.