I am incredibly spoiled to have a wonderful produce store just a few miles away, with a delectable array of organic fruits and veggies all year long. I always return home with much more produce than we’ll be able to eat, because I can’t resist their visual beauty and fragrances. Having access to so much fresh and organic produce has meant that we put off becoming a CSA member, that is, until a local CSA rep knocked on our door. Her earnest pitch and the sense of joining a larger community encouraged us to try it out.
Now, before I even drink my first cup of coffee, I leap out of bed eagerly on Thursday mornings to peek inside the box and behold what nature’s bounty awaits me. I always thought that I ate a varied and balanced diet (being originally trained as a public health nutritionist), until our CSA box began appearing at our doorstep. Almost every box brings something I’ve never cooked before, which sends me off in excitement looking for the perfect new recipe. A package of endive turned into a delicious hors d’œuvre stuffed with parmesan cheese, chopped walnuts and herbs. The shishito peppers (from Japan!) became an enticing side dish, simply cooked in hot oil until the skin began to blacken.
One of our recent boxes revealed a treasure of peaches and pluots. It’s been a great summer for stone fruit in California; last year’s crop, especially plums and pluots, was sparse due to strange spring weather. So, we’ve been gorging on juicy fruits the past month or so. When this box arrived, the fruit was still slightly firm, not quite ripe. I was intrigued to explore other alternatives. I have to admit that in addition to our many shelves of cookbooks I am a devotee of epicurious.com, and I turned there first. Who would have imagined that I’d find a recipe for Stone Fruit Slaw?
Editor’s Note: The Beet-Eating Heeb is the nom de plume of Jeffrey Cohan, a former journalist in Forest Hills, PA. He also blogs about Judaism and veganism on his own website.
A divinity student from a Presbyterian seminary approached The Beet-Eating Heeb recently and made a surprising comment.
“I’m so impressed,” he said, “with the emphasis that Judaism places on treating animals with compassion.”
The Beet-Eating Heeb didn’t know whether to kvell or to cry.
Kvell, because all levels of Jewish texts, from the Torah on down, express incredible sensitivity for the welfare of animals. The divinity student knew something about Judaism – on paper.
Cry, because concern for animals is almost totally absent from Jewish communal discourse, while literally billions of farm animals are suffering in abysmal conditions.
It is therefore, in the spirit of our Prophetic tradition, that a creative effort has arisen to rouse us from our chilling complacency and to focus attention on Judaism’s teachings about animals: Concerned Jews in Israel and the United States are trying to resurrect and reframe the ancient but long-forgotten holiday of Rosh Hashanah La B’Heimot, or New Year for Animals.
Family legend has it that, when my parents got married, my paternal grandmother hired the newlywed couple a maid. How sweet, thought my mother. That is, until she found out the maid also doubled as a spy so that my grandma could make sure her daughter-in-law — a shiksa! — wouldn’t buy bacon and other unholy treats for her son.
My mother was raised in a strict Catholic family in Brazil and married one of only 30,000 Jews living in Rio de Janeiro, a city with 12 million inhabitants. She knew very little about Judaism before meeting my father, but she came to love everything about it. Two years after a civil ceremony, my mother decided she wanted her children to be Jewish, not Catholic or “cashew.” She began the process of converting and at the end, my parents had a second wedding — this time, under a chuppah.
When time came for her to raise two Jewish kids, she put a great deal of effort into making sure they would grow up with the same affection towards Judaism that she had acquired. She would have meetings with our school’s principal to learn about why we had come home with a cardboard bow and arrow on Lag BaOmer or why we had asked her to let us sleep in a tent made of bed sheets in the balcony during Sukkot. She wanted to be a part of it, and she enjoyed being involved in every possible way.
There I was, like a character out of a Nora Ephron film, standing in the middle of Zabar’s, asking anyone within earshot the difference between their two beet soups. The bustling Manhattan store’s two versions of borscht boast the same color, almost the same ingredients. Scrutinizing the two containers, I hold them up to the sage pastrami-slicer behind the deli counter, asking him how the two vary. Can I eat either cold? He shrugs, smiles and nods.
A few days later, shopping at my favorite Eastern European food emporium, M & I International in Brighton Beach, I spy a big pot of ruby-red borcsht labeled red borscht. But when I say want to eat it cold, the woman immediately turns her back and strides over to the fridge, pointing to another pot covered with plastic wrap. As I pay $6 for the tall tub of pink soup, the friendly Russian explains with great urgency that the cold version boasts sour cream and yogurt and should never ever be heated. If you enjoy pairing cold borscht with bread, buy or bake dark, old-world, farmer’s rye.
The pleasant dilemma is that there are as many versions of cold borscht as there are countries in the Olympics. Even the name and spelling changes with its place of origin depending on whether you’re concocting Latvian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Polish, Russian or Belarusian borscht.
I still have the first cookbook I ever purchased: “Good Food for Bad Stomachs,” published in 1951. I bought it sometime in the 1980s at a neighbor’s yard sale; I was a weird kid who hung out at the antique malls grew up getting stomach aches from milk, so it the purchase was a no-brainer. The first thing I made from that book was rice pudding, something you couldn’t find in Knoxville, Tenn. but I just knew I’d love.
Years later, when I was in college, my paternal grandmother gifted me “The Vegetarian Epicure,” which has been used so much that the yellowed pages and worn spine are nearly split through. I am grateful that grandma also gave me a true love of cooking, gardening, and Cuisinart attachments.
Jamie Geller is often called the “Kosher Rachael Ray.” But she wasn’t always a domestic goddess — or even kosher! After a successful career as a journalist and television producer, Geller got married and realized that she was “a disaster on wheels in the kitchen,” as she says.
Since learning her way around a stove, she’s brought her hard-earned personal and culinary lessons to the masses through a mini culinary empire with kosher cookbooks, web cooking shows, a magazine, and the popular Joy of Kosher website.
This week Geller and her family are picking up their family and leaving behind everything they know to move to Israel, all while documenting it in a reality mini-series called the Joy of Aliyah. I caught up with Geller before she made the move to talk about how she went from zero to hero in the kitchen, what she thinks of Israeli food and what lies ahead.
The fight over the H&H Bagel name continues to get shmeared. [Grub Street]
School lunches are getting a healthy makeover thanks to Michelle Obama’s initiatives. But not so much for students who keep kosher in LA. [Jewish Journal]
Katz’s Deli might just be the “manliest” sandwich shop in America, atleast according to Men’s Health Guy Gourmet blog. [Village Voice]
Food and Wine spends some time with (and gets some recommendations from) our favorite Israeli spice master Lior Lev Sercarz. [Food and Wine]
The barbeque brisket pop-up BrisketTown is starting to take orders…. hmmm, we’ll see you in line. [Eater]
And so, Hummus Week at the Forward comes to a close. One week, fifteen tasters, and thirty-two different hummuses.
On our score sheet for our Wacky Flavor Day, we included what might have seemed like a straightforward question: “does it taste like hummus?” However, many testers understandably asked for clarification about the terms defining just exactly what hummus is. Just tasting all the various Israeli-style hummuses made in New York restaurant kitchens proved to me how diverse the flavors of chickpeas, sesame seeds, lemon, olive oil and garlic can be. Of course, this is all not to mention regional and national differences in hummus — for this project, we focused strictly on Israeli-style hummus.
Syria to Lebanon, Greece to Egypt — each Middle Eastern country not only uses their own individual hummus recipe, but also claims absolute ownership over the chickpea treat. In fact, the Lebanese Industrialists Association has consistently petitioned the Lebanese Ministry of Economy and Trade to request protected status from the European Commission over hummus, and to declare it a uniquely Lebanese food, a trademark comparable to Italian “parmigiano reggiano” or French champagne.
Last year I moved across the country to complete a seven-month internship program. There wasn’t a lot of time to make friends, but I found that sharing food seemed to foster a sense of camaraderie. I was excited when one day a fellow intern invited me to her home for Friday night dinner. Since I’m gluten-free my initial instinct was to offer to bring a dish so she wouldn’t have to go out of her way but I also knew that my standards of kashrut were not as strict as hers. We compromised and agreed that I would bring fresh vegetables for a salad from the farm I was working on, and she insisted on trying her hand at making gluten-free challah.
Later that week we sat around the Shabbat table and bit into the tough pieces of densely packed bread before bursting out in laughter. It wasn’t very tasty, but I was touched by the kind gesture and it the first of many Shabbatot I spent at her table. So earlier this summer when The New York Times ran a piece called “The Picky Eater Who Came to Dinner”, I was upset at the article’s snarky tone which laments how hard it has become for Americans to break bread together.
While Roasted Red Pepper hummus may get more press time, you might be surprised to learn that sun dried tomato is sneaking up as the next big thing in flavored hummus. We saw it everywhere. Deeply hued, this rich and tangy red tomato hummus blend wowed us—in more ways than one. In general, we were confused whether to consider it hummus, given that it didn’t look, smell, or taste like the chickpea stuff. But, as we all had to admit, it did taste pretty good.
Well, almost all of us. Our resident Israeli, wouldn’t taste any of the stuff, shouting at us that “Israeli’s do not eat sun dried tomato hummus!! Its an abomination.” He then took off in a huff, and, thankfully, left his share of pita slices behind.
A note on scoring: Each hummus was rated on a scale from one to five based on texture, taste, appearance, smell, and tomato-ey goodness
If you’re a hummus fiend — which I proudly am — you might have noticed a change in your grocer’s selection of hummus in the past couple of years. Suddenly, your options are no longer limited to just pine nuts or no pine nuts.
Welcome to the world of flavored hummus, where ingredients like horseradish, edamame, and guacamole rule the supermarket shelves, alongside exotic seasonings like chipotle and the bizarre buffalo sauce.
Ten years ago, you had to move the guacamole and salsa aside in order to find even just a single lame tub of hummus. It was probably Sabra, and it was almost definitely the original flavor. Cut to 2012 — Sabra now makes 19 different hummus flavors, and Tribe follows with a close 16. Whole supermarket display cases are devoted to the chickpea treat.
But is this latest crazy trend worth all of the hype (and shelf space)? We were curious. So we took it upon ourselves to try the 12 wackiest flavor of hummus we could get our hands on (we know, our jobs are tough). Check out our scores below to find out which flavors to take a chance on and which to leave at the store.
In my experience, there’s often a token non-Jew at Friday night dinner or at the Seder — the Shabbos Goy or the Passover Goy, some call them (affectionately).
Last Friday, however, I experienced the unfamiliar sensation of being the Shabbos Jew at a Friday night dinner with several Catholic friends. And when I call them Catholic, understand what I mean: One is a seminarian in Rome and another is a playwright studying at Catholic University – and our host for the evening, Sarah, has a degree from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family.
I’ve gotten used to feeling the Shabbos spirit at Friday night dinners with eclectic companions. (And my roommates — a lesbian lapsed Catholic and a Puerto Rican lapsed Pentecostal — have gotten used to things like knishes and kasha varnishkes.) Even so, this meal was a mish-mash of cultures — in the company and in the food served.
A little piece of Texas has landed in the Bronx. Ari White, owner of Gemstone Catering, is dishing out slow-cooked brisket, pulled barbecue chicken sandwiches, kosher baby back ribs (using veal instead of the traditional pork), and much more at his Texas Smokehouse BBQ Pop-Up restaurant in Riverdale this week.
White has set up two tents — one housing buffet-style food (served by members of his staff), and the other with long, country-fair-style picnic tables along with a drinks and dessert table featuring sweet tea, Texas-sized chocolate chip cookies and peach cobbler (pareve of course). The down-and-dirty parking lot setting feels just right.
White, who is modern Orthodox, is well-known in the New York-area shul kiddish community for his Texas-style cholent (in which smoked ribs and brisket take the place of stew meat). And earlier this year, he won first place in the ribs competition and second place for his brisket at the Long Island Kosher Barbecue Championship, competing under the team name, “Smokin’ for Life.”
The winner of our taste test for best Israeli-style hummus in New York City was unanimous — Mimi’s Hummus in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn makes an exquisitely creamy hummus.
And it’s not just the Forward staff that’s obsessed with the restaurant’s namesake dish. The cozy 8-table restaurant has garnered great praise for its takes on favorites like shakshuka, lamb meatballs, and tabouli, but it’s the house specialty that’s the main draw — and for good reason.
In addition the classic-style, piled with chickpeas and generously sprinkled with herbs, Israeli chef Mimi Kitani draws on her Iraqi and Moroccan background to spin out flavorful hummus garnished with mushrooms, extra tahini, and spiced meat and pine nuts.
The Jew and the Carrot talked to Kitani about her cooking, how her restaurant started, and how she really feels about supermarket hummus.
Jews are no strangers to dietary restrictions. The laws of kashrut govern what we can and cannot eat (pork, shellfish, mixing milk and meat). When food allergies are introduced into an already restricted diet, the task can seem insurmountable.
I know that’s how I felt when my identical twins were diagnosed with food allergies while I was nursing them. They were reacting to allergens in my diet. Knowing the enormous benefits of breastfeeding, I was committed to nursing them and had to radically alter my own diet. While never having food allergies myself, feeding my allergic children has given me expertise by default.
After a week of packaged hummus, the Forward’s taste testing team was particularly excited for this day of hummus week: freshly-made hummus from some of New York’s top Israeli spots. Eager looks and impatient sighs of “Are you ready yet?” attested to the anticipation and eagerness that permeated the office on the morning of testing.
New York’s hummus scene is as diverse as its Middle Eastern immigrant populations. Sahadi’s in Brooklyn serves an uber creamy Lebanese-style hummus, while Manhattan’s Moustache restaurant offers a zesty Greek hummus pizza.
Since comparing hummus from different traditions is like comparing apples and oranges, we stuck with what we know, Israeli hummus. With some help from hummus aficionados, we narrowed the field down to six finalists — all made in New York City proper and all in the Israeli style.
All this week on the Jew and the Carrot, we’ll be taking a close look at the world of hummus. Check out our first post here.
After tasting six classic hummuses, we turned our sights to its next of kin: spicy hummus. Home cooks have been spicing their hummus for generations — adding a little bit of paprika here, or a dash of cumin there, to add a nice kick to their meal or snack.
Hummus companies have taken the work out of spicy hummus and started blending in a variety of spices into their classic recipes. We tasted six different varieties of packaged spicy hummus, to find the best option on the shelf. During our tastings, we tried a few varieties of Jalapeno flavored (which we were surprised to find is a commonly sold hummus), some that were merely labeled “spicy,” and one that tempted us with “40 spices.”
What did we discover? Each spicy hummus somehow tasted different than the last. Even more surprising was how many of them didn’t taste spicy at all.
It seems, hummus is everywhere — and in every flavor. Even an innocuous trip to the corner deli leaves one dumbfounded.
Sabra boasts of 19 different flavors, with more on the way. Tribe follows with a close 16. Trader Joe’s, which sells an extensive line of house-brand hummus, offers three different versions of the original flavor, a hummus ground with edamame, and a special three layer hummus dip with cilantro jalapeno hummus and spicy hummus layered over the original.
Louis Fellman, the founder and owner of Abraham’s Natural Foods explains the hummus flavor boom as a relatively new phenomenon. According to Fellman, who has been making and selling hummus since 1985, the question he used to ask, “do you like hummus,” has morphed into, “which hummus do you like?”
On a recent evening at my local market — with $5 in my pocket, and eyes bigger than my stomach — I stopped in the hummus aisle to pick up a tub for the next-day’s lunch. I always go for my favorite: Sabra with Pine Nuts. But, as I reached past the five shelves stocked with hundreds of red-topped hummus tubs, my stomach and eyes began flitting excitedly through all the various labels. Luscious Lemon? Spinach Artichoke? Basil Pesto? And what about these small tubs of Abraham’s hummus that I see innocently sitting on the next shelf over? Could these be worthy of a spot in my refrigerator?
And so the idea for The Great Hummus Taste Test was born. I gathered together a diverse panel of Forward and Hazon staff to taste their way through 32 different varieties of hummus, all in the quest to determine which of these chickpea tubs were worth scarfing down on a nice carrot-filled summer evening.
Like many other CSA members, I have a love/hate relationship with lettuce. Oh it starts off innocent enough — the first tender bunches of arugula in early June herald a summer of fresh green things to come, blissful after a winter of squash and canned tomatoes and covert glances at California produce. Arugula and salad mix give way to the glory of the lettuce family, full heads of bib, romaine, oak leaf. Fractal symmetry amazes, salad possibilities tantalize.
But the magic fades quickly. Lettuce, again? Where are the tomatoes? The bushy purple-green heads languish at the back of the refrigerator, emerging a week later with frostbitten edges, only to be composted in order to make room for this week’s share…of more lettuce.
Chef Tamar Adler shares her secrets for making “brighteners” out of simple ingredients to breathe life into leftovers and more. [Food 52]
Kansas City goes kosher: the capital city of ‘cue is hosting its first-ever kosher BBQ Festival and Celebration with 16 teams set to compete for the inaugural honor. [Kansas City Jewish Chronicle
Daniel Delaney is popping up again this Fall with BrisketTown, an eat-in shop in “North Brooklyn or Lower Manhattan” that will feature sumptuous slabs of his oak-smoked, Texas-style specialty. [Grub Street]
The ever-appetizing Russ and Daughters gets a cameo as a date location for Louis C. K. and guest star Parker Posey to nosh on nova lox in an episode of FX’s “Louie.” [Eater]
Veterans of New York’s hummus scene, chefs Yigal Ashkenazy and Sharon Hoota, along with Nir Mesika of Tel Aviv and Milan, are setting up Brooklyn shop Zizi Limona, which will feature “modernized Mediterranean cuisine” and sell retail goods like pickles, cheese and produce. [Grub Street]
The New York Times Mimi Sheraton revisits New York institutions like Kossar’s and Katz’s to sample timeless “lost and found” specialties like pastrami, rye, and bagels and schmear. [The New York Times]