After careful planning and preparation, a team comes together for the ultimate test of their skills. Judges are watching, reputations are on the line, and the heat is palpable. A record is about to be broken — but not in London. Last Saturday, 10 Jordanian chefs achieved gastronomic glory when they fried up the world’s largest falafel.
The champion chickpea fritter weighed in just shy of 165 pounds, over three times as heavy as the previous title-holder. The recipe was scaled-up, too: 176 pounds of chickpeas, 11 pounds of onions, and over four pounds of parsley were mixed by hand before a 25-minute dunk in 92 gallons of vegetable oil. After being carefully inspected and certified “ginormous” by Guinness Book of World Records officials, the colossal falafel became a feast for 600 gathered at the Landmark Hotel in Amman, Jordan.
When you edit stories about Jewish food everyday — whether they’re about food carts, bagels or hummus (next week we’ll dedicate the entire week to the dip) — you sometimes get so caught up in the details that you forget to step back and look at this rich cultural world you cover.
Yesterday, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to contemplate the big picture of Jewish food with one of the most passionate Jewish foodies I know — James Beard Foundation VP and cookbook author Mitchell Davis.
Each week Davis hosts a radio show called Taste Matters on the food radio station Heritage Radio Network. And yesterday, the taste that mattered was decidedly Jewish. Check out my conversation with Davis to gain perspective on the world of Jewish food, hear what the Forward has in store for Rosh Hashanah and learn how to update holiday dinners without ditching your grandmother’s brisket recipe.
Click here to listen to the podcast.
Imagine this: you’re at your local greenmarket vegetable stall picking out a beautiful green speckled summer zucchini. Standing next to you is a man choosing his summer bounty. You begin to discuss recipes, and he explains his approach to summer vegetables. “Keep it simple,” he says, and continues to describe his plans for the zucchini he just picked up, “I’m going to slice it thinly and drizzle with good quality vinegar”.
Who are you picturing standing next to you in this scene? An up-and-coming farm-to-table chef? A food-blogger? In fact, you are speaking to Maimonides, the 12th Century Jewish scholar and physician, and he is explaining to you his philosophy of summer seasonal cooking.
It took me a while to feel acclimated and comfortable in Amsterdam, the city where I studied abroad. Riding my bicycle along those too-worn streets was terrifying at first—surrounded by spinning cars and fast-talking people who smiled with wide wide teeth. Everywhere I went, there was meat and French fries and eight different kinds of yogurt, but never any leafy greens or seitan skewers to roll around on my tongue. Everything about it was both strange and familiar — and the two twisted together constantly. An odd combination of competing realities, each one struggling to declare dominance over the other.
I had never imagined that the Shabbas dinners of my childhood would play a role in my 20-year-old life overseas. And yet, my Friday afternoons always took me to the city’s outdoor markets and ended in my cramped apartment’s communal kitchen — with sweat jewels adorning my upper lip and tomato seeds lining my inner arms. Within the whirl, of cobblestones and beer mugs, this became my oasis.
Two hundred years ago, famed philosopher Hegel wrote “The Science of Logic.” Sixteen decades later, Hall of Famer Ted Williams penned “The Science of Hitting.”
Are we now ready for “The Science of Bagels”?
Dan Graf is. While the 27-year-old resident of Oakland, Calif., hasn’t written a book (yet), he definitely is trying to re-write the predominantly steamed, bready and flavorless history of bagels in the San Francisco Bay Area.
And he’s doing it with science.
Graf is the founder and so far the sole employee of Baron Baking, which has been operating in earnest for about seven weeks. Most of Graf’s business is with 26-year-old Saul’s Delicatessen in Berkeley, which jettisoned a relationship with a local upstart Montreal-style bagel baker in favor of Graf’s more traditional New York-leaning style. He is also supplying two other local eateries.
Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with Rabbi Paula Winnig, Executive Director of the Bureau for Jewish Education in Indianapolis. At 101 years old, the BJE is the oldest continually active interdenominational Hebrew School in America. In addition to covering the traditional Hebrew School topics, Rabbi Winnig’s curriculum integrates food at every opportunity: The older children learn about agriculture in Israel and enjoy Israeli breakfasts on occasion and the pre-schoolers learn about compost!
It’s no surprise that Rabbi Winnig feels it’s important to put food on the agenda: raised in Northern Wisconsin, she spent much time during her childhood on her aunt’s farm. While others were eating frozen TV dinners, Rabbi Winnig was making her own raspberry wines and jams. Her great uncles owned a meat packing business and her mom made her own yogurt. “This ‘new food movement’ everyone is talking about?” she told me, “It really isn’t so new to me!”
In the fantasy phenomenon Game of Thrones, we meet a lead character, Eddard Stark, as he is about to execute a man. (Bear with me here — I promise there’s a point to this!) After the act, Eddard asks his son why he, a lord, should perform such a task when he could command anyone else to do so in his place. After his son fails to give a satisfactory answer, Eddard responds, “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.”
I have a feeling Eddard Stark would like Jenny Sabo, one of the two women highlighted in Jamie Jelenchick’s documentary Montana Fare. Though Sabo is no lord of a legendary city, she is just the same, swinging her own sword. Sabo is a farmer in southwest Montana who grows much of her own food, including her primary focus, cattle. A former vegetarian, the decision to eat meat again came with a caveat: “If I’m going to eat meat, I’m going to be responsible for…raising it, and killing it, and putting it in the freezer myself. I think it’s irresponsible to ask somebody else to be the butcher all the time.”
Don’t tell the rabbi: Bartenura is no longer the lame Kiddush wine preferred by Jews with weak stomachs and alcohol intolerance. Hip hop rappers and a new media campaign are turning the cheap “soda wine,” equally loved and mocked by kosher-keeping Jews, into the hippest drink of the year.
Made from the newly-popular Moscato grapes, Bartenura has been rapped about by Drake (who happens to be Jewish) in his song “Do It Now”: “lobster and shrimp and a glass of Moscato/for the girl who’s a student and her friend who’s a model.” DJ Khaled went so far as to include a close-up of the blue bottle in his video, “I’m On One.”
Celebrity chef Jamie Geller is chronicling her upcoming move to Israel in a series of documentary videos.
Geller, a television producer, author and cooking celebrity, is producing with the Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah assistance organization a documentary series following her and her family as they prepare to make aliyah and finally land in Israel.
She is leaving from New York on the Aug. 13 Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight in cooperation with Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Geller founded the Kosher Media Network, which combines traditional media such as magazines, books and broadcast with digital, online and social media. In the spring of 2011, the network unveiled its Joy of Kosher consumer brand, launching JoyofKosher.com and the Joy of Kosher with Jamie Geller magazine.
It’s the ultimate big bucks breakfast. “You are invited to a photo opportunity and breakfast roundtable with Governor Mitt Romney,” reads the bold blue print on the invitation sent to a select few. Then comes the price: $50,000 per couple.
Politics aside what about the two questions that are really on all our minds: what is on the menu, and what’s the profit on each plate?
The breakfast will be at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, where an insider tells the Forward that around 40 people will attend. The menu will include croissants, coffee, cheeses, eggs, salads and shakshuka, an Israeli dish consisting of poached eggs in tomato sauce. It will be served in one of the smart banqueting rooms.
As you may have noticed, the menu isn’t different to the breakfast you get in most Israeli hotels, or to the King David’s standard breakfast, which costs 128 shekels, around $30. This means that the Romney campaign should make at least $998,800 from the event.
By its very nature eating to me is a spiritual practice. There are two components to food. The “what” and the “why.” As for the “what” that’s the food itself. The “why” is the choice I make to eat knowing the history behind the dish and its connection to the community of growers, workers, and eaters with a sensitivity to the vulnerable in our community who do not have access to nutritious food. Foods without a “why” I call “Flat Food” because it is opaque and without context. The spirituality of eating, then, is measured by the depth of the “why.” This is, to me, the power and depth of our Jewish food ethic to know the context of every morsel that passes between our lips. And so, at the end of this week, when Jews worldwide observe Tisha B’Av, the day of remembrance for the destruction of both the holy temples in 586 BCE and 70 CE respectively, the “why” or in this case, “why not” completely overtakes the “what.” On all other holidays we remember uplifting moments like our quest for liberty through story of the Exodus, or the celebration of harvests and bounties on Sukkot and Shavuot. Who could forget God’s saving grace through miracles of Chanukkah, and to lesser degree Purim? None of this is so with Tisha B’Av. This holiday is our darkest hour when our freedom turned into slavery (Lam. 2:9), when feasts turned to famine (Lam. 4:5), and when God’s saving grace turned into wrathful destruction (Lam. 2:4).
For most Jews, Tisha B’Av is a nonstarter. It occurs in the middle of the summer when most of us shift down from the hectic everyday hubbub into something a little lighter and slower. We go on vacation and the kids go to camp. We have summer dreams of strawberry popsicles and lemonade (well I do at least). Then comes this dark holiday, that jilts us, and we think why do I want ruin my summer vibe with such a downer day? The tradition tells us to refrain from eating because of our mourning and remembrance for the pain, the loss of life, and the feeling of theological abandonment that occurred on those frightful days hundred of years ago. Tisha B’Av can have the effect of ruining a perfectly good summer — similar to when you are having a nice meal and someone tells you a horrible story. You sit there eating and when you here the tragic story it’s like you say, “I’m not hungry anymore. I can’t eat.” Which brings us to our central question, what can foodies learn from the darkest of holidays when the sacred dish of the day is nothing at all? What do we learn from the Jewish “Black Fast”?
Kutsher’s Tribeca might “knishify” the Upper West and East Sides of Manhattan. The team is talking expansion. [Grub Street]
David Lebovitz finishes he tour of Israel in Tel Aviv. Food porn ahead. [David Lebovitz]
Daryl Schembeck, the UN chef, cooks for people from 193 nations. That’s a lot of palates to please. [NY Daily News
25 of the best things to eat in Israel [Serious Eats]
About a year and a half ago, I had a cold. My itchy eyes were constantly tearing, my nose was both raw and runny at the same time. For someone who rarely gets sick and takes over the counter drugs on even rarer occasions it was a particularly out of body experience. I contracted this insufferable cold in December of 2010 while I was WWOOFing in Israel during my winter break at Hebrew University. I was staying in a quaint Moroccan moshav called Te’enim, where I learned how to cook delicious food and was offered a hand in marriage by just about every man who lived there. In this Salach Shabbati-eque town, I volunteered with a man whom I believe is one of Israel’s best kept secrets: Nissim Krispil.
Nissim is one of Israel’s leading herbalists (which explains his incredible immune system) and has written more than a dozen books about Israel’s foliage. He has a fascinating anthropological approach to Israel’s plants and their healing properties, and his incredible talent with a camera makes his books let your mind race in day dreams. Nissim is well over six feet tall, and yet as graceful as the blossoming plants which he studies. His skin is the color of afternoon coffee, leathery from spending years outside in the heat of the Moroccan and Israeli desert land. His voice, like an Israeli radio host, is comforting and familiar, even if you have never spoken a word to him in your life. Apart from giving me the worst cold I have ever contracted, Nissim started me on a path of fascination with the healing properties of flora, from Yemenite etrogs to wormwood to lemon verbena. This is Nissim’s story:
If you are lucky enough to have snagged a ticket to the Olympic games, which start tomorrow, you’ll likely see McDonald’s everywhere. The company is a major sponsor of the games and is providing 20% of the food served at them. But if you keep kosher, you’ll have to keep walking.
More than three years ago, the Jewish Committee for the London Games (JCLG), set up to coordinate UK Jewish community activity at the Olympics, called for kosher food stands to be provided by McDonald’s — given their experience with a “large number of outlets in Israel, a considerable number of which are kosher.” McDonald’s resisted plans for any special Olympic provisions.
Updated Wednesday at 1:45pm
When the Forward reported in January that H&H Bagels was evicted from its iconic West 46th Street bakery — a move that followed the closing of its Upper West Side storefront — it looked like curtains for the beloved purveyor of doughy discs. New York bagel lovers mourned the closing like it was the death of their favorite uncle.
But late last week, it looked like second coming of H&H was imminent. A routine listing of new commercial leases in real-estate mag The Real Deal included 1,800 square feet at 125 Fulton Street, leased to one H&H Bagels. And Grub Street reported that new tenants filed with the New York City Department of Buildings to convert the existing retail space into a “new bagel store.”
But this morning, the Wall Street Journal tells us that while the new space will be called H&H Bagels — it won’t be the same bagel company that New Yorkers mourned earlier this year.
The new spot (which will become part of a chain) will be owned by Randy Narod, owner of the Long Island Bagel Café chain. But, former H&H owner Helmer Toro says Narod doesn’t have rights to use the H&H name, saying that the two had been in talks about a partnership, but nothing had been finalized. Narod, spat back in the New York Times saying that he purchased the trademark — and more importantly, the secret recipe — from Toro and hired him as a consultant, leading to a big doughy mess.
When I was nominated to be one of three student speakers at my graduation from the University of Chicago this past June, I felt honored, terrified, and stumped. I wasn’t class president or an academic superstar. I couldn’t summon stirring rhetoric about “Our Education” and “The Future.” I was just a girl with an esoteric major who loved to write and lived to cook, especially with her friends. So I went for broke and decided to tell a story about the best part of my college experience: Shabbat dinner.
For the second half of my undergrad life, when my friends and I had finally schlepped out of student housing into our own “grown-up” apartments, we gathered together almost every Friday night to eat together. But it wasn’t just a regularly scheduled dinner party. Even though only one of us was Jewish, the meal was still Shabbat to us. We’d say the Kiddush, clumsily but eagerly, and greet each other with a cheery “shabbat shalom!” on our way up the stairs. Even I, an acknowledged goy, took it upon myself to learn bread-baking so we could have homemade challah (or pita, or ciabatta, or naan, depending on the occasion).
Traditional Ashkenazi food is often thought of as meat-heavy, fat-heavy, and just plain heavy (think brisket, flankn, gribenes and shmaltz). But that’s not the case at Yiddish Farm, despite the otherwise pervasive emphasis on Ashkenazi language and culture.
Yiddish Farm, a Yiddish-speaking organic farm in Goshen, N.Y., was founded to strengthen the language through an immersive environment, and to promote environmentalism through organic agriculture. (Read an article I wrote about Yiddish Farm in this week’s Forward here.)That means not only growing food in a sustainable way, but eating environmentally friendly food as well.
Los Angeles, Calif.
What to Order: The Original Brisketaco
What happens when Jewish cuisine meets California Mexican food? Takosher, that’s what: A kosher taco truck that takes the staples of a Jewish meal and wraps them in tortilla shells. The blue Mexi-Jew fusion mobile, emblazoned with the slogan “The Chosen Taco,” brings the joys of the L.A. taco truck to the kosher community. The menu is small, but packs a punch: It includes a deep-fried potato wonder called the Latketaco, which Takosher serves with a dash of apple jalapeno chutney, and the Brisketaco, slow-braised brisket marinated in chili sauce, raisins and sauerkraut, then sliced and topped with cilantro.
Check out our round up of Jewish and Kosher food trucks from around North America.
What to Order: Matzo Ball Soup
Central Florida’s Chutzpah Truck — nicknamed Carla by its owners — dishes out kosher Jewish-American comfort food to sunglasses-clad crowds, bringing together bubbe’s cuisine staples, like brisket sandwich, and Israeli street food, like hummus. Perhaps the star of the operation — aside from Carla — is Chutzpah’s matzo ball soup, made with matzo and chive dumplings in a savory broth. And to round out the meal, what better choice than a black-and-white cookie, the delight of deli desserts everywhere?
Check out our round up of Jewish and Kosher food trucks from around North America.
Los Angeles, Calif.
What to Order: Oy Vey Wrap
Matthew Koven moved from Manhattan to West L.A. as a deli evangelist, hoping to bring some of that good old-fashioned corned beef on rye to young Angelenos. Criss-crossing the city with a van full of roast beef and deli meats is no easy job. “You gotta be a schmuck to do this,” Koven told JTA in May. He specializes in traditional fare with flair — like the Oy Vey Wrap, a succulent roast-beef-and-potato Shabbat dinner stuffed into a tortilla, and a Reuben sandwich called “Fiddler on the Reuben.” The Schmuck Truck’s menu is enormous, offering muffins and egg sandwiches for breakfast. And don’t worry: You can get a bagel and lox here, too. Just ask for “The Tenth Commandment.”
Check out our round up of Jewish and Kosher food trucks from around North America.