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.
Any premeditated thought given to how and what we eat is, in my opinion, one form of modern day kashrut. The meaning of “kashrut” is “fit,” i.e., that which is fit to eat. I choose to interpret “fit” as providing nourishment for the purpose of sustenance, longevity and overall sense of well-being. Paying attention to what I eat is something that I do to make me “fit.” In addition to how and what we eat, attention is also given to when we eat certain foods — traditionally, we wait a minimum of six hours after eating meat and before eating dairy. Likewise, there are times of the year when certain foods or dishes are naturally more favored than others.
Having lived in Evergreen, Colorado for exactly 8 years now, I’ve noticed that the seasons of the year (when certain foods are grown) heavily influence how I cook and of course what my family eats. You may think this is obvious, but having lived in the southeast for 30 years prior, food variety did not change throughout the year to the extent that it does in Colorado, and what a pleasure to take advantage of the seasonal delights, as well as variation in food preparation.
Jews are famous for their love of meat and potatoes (cholent, anyone?). But how many of us know how to pick the perfect cut of meat for any particular occasion?
Hoping to move beyond our butcher’s pre-packaged meat selections, we talked with Larry Reyes, head butcher of Manhattan’s newly opened Prime Butcher Baker market — with a butcher counter specializing in dry-aged steaks — about what makes for a good piece of meat, how to work with less expensive cuts, and more.
Before starting at Prime Butcher Baker, Reyes worked at nearby butcher Park East Kosher Butcher and before that, he worked at gourmet (and non-kosher) market Citarella.
My sous chef tosses the salad and some of it ends up on the floor. He sticks his hand into the bowl, picks out his favorite ingredients and eats them. He takes a bite of a carrot, declares it “too hard” and returns the teeth-marked carrot to the bowl.
Despite the mess, I think he does a wonderful job. Of course I do: my sous chef is two-years-old. He’s my son Noah.
Research confirms the importance of eating together as a family. Families that eat dinner together are more likely to have healthier meals, the children are less likely to be overweight or obese, or to smoke, or use drugs or alcohol, and the children are more likely to talk to their parents. As if this wasn’t enough, research also shows that eating together as a family leads to less tension in the home.
“I’ve always been a frustrated restaurateur,” admitted Dan Lenchner, co-founder with his wife Joni Greenspan of the kosher Manna Catering company in New York. “But doing a real restaurant is a major production that requires at least half a million dollars,” he added in a conversation with the Jew and the Carrot. So, creative problem solver that he is, Lenchner has satisfied his longstanding jonesing for restaurant proprietorship by offering pop-up experiences to (kosher) foodies once every couple of months, starting last October.
This Thursday, Manna will be hosting an Italian inspired pop-up restaurant in a converted industrial space called The Foundry in Long Island City. Several of the evening’s dishes are inspired by Lenchner’s son Yair’s recent visit to Italy. The 25 year old, French Culinary Institute graduate is currently a line cook at The Mark restaurant by Jean-Georges. He’ll contribute hazelnut crusted cod, anchovy and fresh ricotta crostini, poached egg with frico (a wafer made of fried grated Parmesan) and sage cream to the menu. The meal will be fleshed out with a couple of Manna’s favorite dairy Italian dishes, like gnudi which, Lenchner likens these ricotta dumplings to “naked ravioli” and a deconstructed tiramisu for dessert.
This summer Food & Wine Best New Chef Bradford Thompson will fire up the stoves at the soon-to-open Jezebel, a “Modern American Kosher” in Tribeca. [GrubStreet]
An organic milk company in Maine called MOOMilk is being sued by the Orthodox Union for using its kosher symbol without authorization. [Boston Herald]
If you’re anything like us, your idea of a beach read includes sumptuous descriptions of meals in Paris and books on beer (to be enjoyed while drinking a cold one, of course). Here are some summer reading suggestions for food lovers. [Eater]
A perfect way to celebrate the warm weather, Watermelon Radish and Fennel Salad with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette. [The Daily Meal]
Chef Michael Solomonov has been busy this week trying to get a new passport — and he’ll need it. In a few days he will travel to Budapest and Paris for a week long trip of “More eating than you could possibly understand,” as he describes it, with his business partner Steve Cook and sous chef Yehuda Sichel. This trip — which will include visits to the cities’ Jewish quarters — isn’t a glutton’s vacation. It’s research for their new kosher restaurant Citron and Rose, set to open in Merion, a suburb of Philadelphia, this summer.
Solomonov and Cook already own four restaurants in Philadelphia, including the highly praised upscale Israeli restaurant Zahav. But the food they will offer at the sleek new 75-seat place, Citron and Rose will be the “Other side of what we do at Zahav,” said Solomonov. Instead of concentrating on Middle Eastern and Sephardic flavors, the team will turn their attention to Europe. “You think of pierogies and stuffed cabbage — they’re not so sexy, but there’s great European, Eastern European and Central European food that just needs a platform,” he said. The restaurant will focus on meat, but offer numerous vegetables options as well. Meals will be accompanied by small plates in hopes of giving diners a broad taste of these cuisines and dishes. “We want it to be an experience. We want to showcase as much as we can,” he added.
Walking inside from the cold wintery streets of Montréal, where the smell of onions and carrots fill the two-story shul, one can hear Friday night prayers ring out from a boisterous crowd of 20-somethings, excited university students and local community members welcoming the Shabbat Queen. The smells come from the Shabbat dinner last week, which consists of a warm chicken soup with kosher organic grain-fed chicken from a farm located in the Eastern Townships of Québec, a locally-grown bean puree and, “Spectacular Salsa” with local tomatoes, onions, and garlic, a cabbage salad with carrots and beets, and a frittata with mushrooms, onions, and eggs. And that’s just the first course.
Thanks to the Shefa Project, a student-run organization aimed at engaging Jewish people with sustainable solutions to environmental problems, members of the Ghetto Shul in Montréal, Québec enjoy weekly Shabbat dinners that are local, sustainably-grown and kosher. The initiative called Sustainable Shabbat began in 2010, when second year Agriculture student Aryeh Canter started holding educational programs at the Hillel at McGill University. Canter was interested in promoting sustainable practices within the Jewish student community at McGill. The programs became more practical when Canter’s friend Jordan Bibla found organic kosher chicken raised in Québec and they applied for grants from Gen J, a Jewish community grant organization, and the Student Society at McGill University.
Fridays meant one thing to me growing up: the smell of my mother’s challah. Sometimes I would come home from school, ready for the weekend, and it would already be there — that comforting aroma of bread and honey. I would quickly run to the oven where the bread was baking and check to its color. When it turned the perfect shade of golden brown, I would remove it.
Other times my mom waited for my triplet sisters and me to get home from school before she started baking. We would run upstairs to change, trading our school clothes for t-shirts that would soon be caked in flour. We would pull up benches to the island in the kitchen, and get to work.
Sandor Katz is so intimately associated with the making of sauerkraut that he has adopted “Sandorkraut” as his nom de cuisine. The author of the book “Wild Fermentation”, Katz is a guru of sorts, spreading the gospel of one of the world’s most widely used culinary practices and in the process inspiring legions of followers to discover the ease and pleasure of home fermenting.
After discovering the book a few years ago on a farm I worked at in southern Vermont, I began to experiment with some of Katz’s recipes. The recipe I explored (and adapted) the most is his recipe for kimchi.
Dragan Jankovic, a slim bespectacled man with a quick smile and thinning hair, is the living local repository of Jewish heritage in Pirot, an ancient market town in southeastern Serbia whose Jewish community was wiped out in the Holocaust. A photo-journalist who long worked for a local newspaper, Jankovic is a devout Christian, but became fascinated with Jewish history and culture as a student in Belgrade more than two decades ago. He made friends there at the Jewish Historical Museum, and since returning to Pirot he has spent years collecting material and memories about Jewish history in his hometown.
Dragan was our guide when I spent a day in Pirot during Passover as part of a fact-finding team examining the state of Jewish heritage sites in southern Serbia. “Ah, Passover,” he said. “Matzo! I tasted it once, 20 years ago, in Belgrade — someone from the Jewish Museum gave it to me, and I’ve never forgotten!” He smiled — wistfully, I thought — at the memory.
Cross-posted from JTA.
The new Jewish food movement arose in Boulder, Colo. organically, so to speak.
No large federation or organization swooped in to make sustainable farming and eating within a Jewish framework a priority.
Yet in this city of 100,000 — some 13,000 residents are Jewish — “green” has long been a way of life. So it’s not surprising that interest in sustainability has led to a variety of Jewish grass-roots projects such as the establishment of greenhouses in food deserts, a chicken and egg co-op, community farms and an organic chicken schechting (kosher butchering) project, along with — thanks to a $335,000 grant from three foundations — the arrival of Hazon, a national Jewish environmental group.
The grant, which brought Hazon to the region in December 2010, came from the Rose Foundation and the locally based Oreg Foundation and 18 Pomegranates.
On April 29, the partnership among the local funders, activists and environmental organizations will culminate with the Rocky Mountain Food Summit, which will be held at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Across the country, Jewish environmental and farming programs are (pun intended) taking root in the Jewish community. Whether they are semester long fellowships (like Adamah and Urban Adamah), programs at summer camps (like Eden Village, Kibbutz Yarokand Amir Project, to name just a few), the number and variety of these programs is increasing.
The East Coast-based Jewish Farm School has been offering alternative spring break programs and hands-on, skill-based Jewish agricultural educational programs for several years, but this June they are taking the field to the next level: in partnership with Hebrew College, JFS will offer a one-week, service-learning program that combines farming experience with Jewish learning aimed towards college-aged students. This program, called “To Till and To Tend,” is the first of its kind to offer college accreditation for participants. The program is structured similarly to the Jewish Farm School’s alternative spring break trips, which immerse participants in organic farming environments, but it is the collaboration with Hebrew College that makes this program so unique. For the Jewish Farm School, “To Till and To Tend” is only the jumping-off point to a semester-long, gap year-style program they hope to pilot in the future.