Not in the way you might think—I wasn’t standing over a cutting board, knife in hand, sobbing my way through an extended dicing activity. The onions that made me cry were whole, bagged and stacked about 5 feet high, in a small village in Western Senegal, where I was travelling with American Jewish World Service.
I cried because of the story behind this stack of onions, a story of thwarted ambition, injustice, and our broken global food system. Working with a local Non-Governmental Organization called GREEN Senegal, farmers from this village had implemented new farming practices, such as drip irrigation that vastly improved their efficiency and productivity. With much less time and effort, they had increased the quantity and quality of their onion crop, and were ready to bring their goods to market. In addition to the economic gain the villagers hoped to see through their efforts, the new efficiencies had the side benefits of allowing children to spend more time in school, rather than in the fields helping with the harvest, and mothers to spend more time in the home caring for their families.
As a Japanese chef specializing in modern Japanese fare, Kaz Okochi of Kaz Sushi Bistro in Washington finds cooking a kosher meal fairly easy.
Shellfish aside, Kaz’s Japanese cuisine relies mainly on fish and uses sauces made of soy sauce, miso and mirin, all of which can be easily converted to kosher without making too many compromises. This is why Kaz wasn’t daunted by the task of preparing a kosher Japanese meal, and his kosher supper last Sunday night, at the D.C. home of Laurie Moskowitz and Steve Rabinowitz, which included Tai snapper carpaccio and miso-marinated Chilean sea bass, was absolutely fabulous.
This meal was part of an annual fundraiser, Sunday Night Suppers, that was launched four years ago by Alice Waters, Joan Nathan and Jose Andres. The three manage to bring together chefs from Washington and across the country, and they all team together to raise money for Martha’s Table and DC Central Kitchen.
Every year they put together Sunday dinners in private homes around town, each hosting about 20 guests, all willing to part from $550 for the cause and in return to enjoy not only the gift of helping needy families, but also an amazing meal cooked just for them by some of the country’s top chefs.
For more, go to Haaretz.com
Well, it is indeed winter here in the Holy Land. The warming lights of Hannukah have passed us by, and the days are still feeling short. Temperatures in the Tel Aviv area usually fall between 10C and 22C (50F-72F), while folks in the Jerusalem area suffer a bit more with temperatures getting as low as 0C (32F). Perhaps this seems laughable to folks in colder regions of North America, but keep in mind that our homes are not equipped for the cold, with most everyone depending on space heaters or dual heating/cooling air conditioner units. Luckily, Israelis are a warm and open people and are perfectly comfortable snuggling up with one another during these cold months. We all get by.
Yet winter is a time of growth and renewal in Israel. Winter satiates the earth’s thirst with its rains, and with that comes a blanket of green that envelops the land. As it has for thousands of years, the land continues to feed and nourish its inhabitants despite the temperature shifts. Fall and early winter offerings, fruits like guavas and persimmons, and nuts like walnuts and pecans, are nearing the end of their time, while the citrus trees continue to bless the land with their beauty and their tasty fruits. A quick drive through any residential area will reveal a multitude of lemon, orange, clementine, pomello, kumquat, and limequat (a key-lime and kumquat hybrid) trees, lovely and heavy with fruit. Meanwhile, closer to the earth grow the brassicas, one of nature’s nutritional monarchs, packed full of fiber and anti-cancer compounds. Broccoli, turnips, cauliflower, cabbage, kohlrabi, kale, and mustards all fit into this category and thrive during Israel’s colder, wetter months. Not to be forgotten, spinach, beets, carrots, and peas are also flourishing these days.
In her modest, shack-like home in southern Israel, my great aunt Toya served some of the best food I’ve ever tasted.
After my Iraqi grandmother, Rachel, passed away, her cousin Toya (Victoria) Levy took it upon herself to fill void in our hearts and in our bellies. One of her duties was to prepare tbeet for us on shabbat.
Tbeet is the Iraqi version of a Shabbat overnight stew. A chicken is stuffed with a mixture made of its inner parts, rice and spices, then covered with more rice, topped with hard boiled eggs and cooked overnight. The rice comes out moist and flavorful, the chicken so soft you can literally chew the bones.
The tradition of the Shabbat overnight stews grew from the desire to serve a hot meal on Shabbat, while keeping the Jewish law that prohibited lighting fire on the holy day. Women prepared the dish on Friday and baked it overnight, usually in a communal bakery, so it was ready at lunch time the next day when the men came back from synagogue.
Many people are familiar with the Ashkenazi (Eastern-European) Shabbat stew, the cholent, that is made of beans, potatoes and meat.
But Shabbat stews developed all over the Diaspora, and each community had its own version, using some of the local spices and ingredient that were available to them.
For more, go to Haaretz.com
MIT hosted its annual hummus taste-off for the fifth year in a row. It being MIT, the event featured math and science competitions involving chickpeas. [Boston.com]
Los Angeles gets its first “Jewnese” food truck. Owned by an Israeli Jewish couple, the truck serves up kosher eggrolls — including a dessert roll called Challah Pain Perdu. [Jewish Journal]
A Muslim inmate on death row in Ohio has settled a lawsuit that accused the state of infringing on his religious freedoms. The inmate complained that no halal food is available for Muslims in the Ohio prison system, while Jewish inmates are provided with kosher options. [Chicago Tribune]
While it may seem like an unlikely target for a swell of Jewish activism, the Farm Bill—which dictates U.S. law on everything from agriculture to food stamps to biofuels—is packed with policies that go against the grain of Jewish ethics. The bill is up for debate and reauthorization this year, and six Jewish organizations are seizing the opportunity to call for reforms that they feel will go a long way toward achieving their Torah-inspired visions of food justice. Even though they’re each tackling a different aspect of the bill, they’ve recently joined forces to maximize their power and mobilize their constituents toward a common goal.
We’re a few weeks in to the New Year, and for those of us who have sworn off (again) from eating that second piece of cake, and resolved to take the stairs and park an block away, the novelty may be wearing off. Losing weight is the most common New Year’s Resolution according to the New York Times, and one of the toughest. It involves exercise, diet and a willingness to adjust your routine; in some cases, the third is the hardest part of all.
The Times health section the first week of January had a large (no pun intended) feature on weight loss camps, many of them in the southwest, where you can pay upwards of $2,500 - $5,000 for a week of exercise, carefully balanced meals, and a luxury atmosphere that not only feels like a treat, it takes you enough out of your daily routine to make new habits possible.
Sounds great. But oy, such a cost. And what to do if you keep kosher!?
The way I always saw it, Shabbos dinner was a meal with a sizable reputation to uphold. It had to be not only festive, but also massive. When I was a kid, weekday dinner would involve a main dish, a side dish, maybe a salad. But a typical Shabbos meal at my parents’ house was a parade of at least seven courses.
There was the wine and challah portion of the evening, the latter accompanied by a series of sweet and savory dips (honey, hummus, guacamole, tapenade). Then there was the gefilte fish course, followed by the sweet-and-sour-meatballs-on-a-bed-of-rice course. Then came the soup course (chicken or vegetable), the salad course, all leading up to a hefty chicken (plus a vegetarian alternative) and variant sides. Then, inevitably, there was always room for more challah, which was always followed by several desserts.
Indie filmmakers may never have to eat treyf again. A new restaurant in Park City, Utah, just a snowball’s throw or so from the Sundance Film Festival (January 19-26) is serving up new kosher cuisine.
The 85-seat restaurant, Bistro at Canyons, is described as the first kosher restaurant at a North American ski resort. There are only three larger ski resorts in America than Canyons Resort — and this one has a heated chairlift, to boot.
In the Northeast, as winter creeps upon us and the weather seems to only get colder and brisker, one food seems to continually pop into my appetite: soup. As a self-proclaimed soup aficionado, I frequently find myself preparing new soup recipes, testing them out at Shabbat meals. Since my lentil soup proved a pre-fast hit on Yom Kippur, I’ve been searching for the perfect winter soup to serve to my Shabbat meal guests. Perhaps most strikingly, chicken soup will be absent from my winter soup repertoire. I inherited my mother’s excellent knack for making chicken soup, always adding the most important ingredient of love, but this skill is all for naught since I began eating vegetarian this past summer. Sure, I can make vegetarian chicken soup, but I’d rather take advantage of the wonderful, seasonal offerings to make a winter soup.
One of the many wonderful things I learned last year had nothing to do with my studies in school, and more to do with cooking. I learned that soup, much like any other dish, didn’t need a recipe to turn out delicious. I had to trust my instincts, and my taste buds, to prepare creative meals. I loved the idea of cooking without recipes, as I have always been one to throw away instruction manuals and directions, and through a joint effort, my roommate and I began an almost weekly tradition of soup and homemade artisan bread. Our soups nursed us through our winter midterms, and a great pot of soup would last us a week, meaning less time we had to spend preparing meals as we got increasingly busy. Below are a few guidelines that will help you to prepare the perfect seasonal soup, leaving plenty of flexibility to make the soup uniquely yours.
“A knish is basically a dumpling,” Noah Wildman said, when I interviewed him for the Jew and The Carrot in November. “You can pretty much put anything in it.” Noah was explaining some of the unconventional ingredients, like chocolate hazelnut and spiced pumpkin, he had used to stuff a line of knishes for his Knishery NYC debut.
When I read Julia Moskin’s article “Lucky to be a Leftover” earlier this month, about ways to repurpose leftover holiday meats, my mouth watered at the mention of a brisket knish — soft dough, surrounded by oniony potato and stuffed with succulent tender brisket — it seemed all the best parts of a Jewish grandmother’s kitchen combined into a single bite.
The H&H saga continues. Little-known Davidovich Bakery is stepping up to fill the void. [Wall Street Journal]
What’s the best hummus in New York? The foodies at Fork in the Road offer up their thoughts. [Fork in the Road]
Or, if you prefer your hummus homemade, try this stellar recipe from Michael Solomonov. [Saveur]
I had my first sip of raw milk last summer. It was sweet, rich and tasted surprisingly good.
I drank the pure milk, straight from the glass jars it had been pumped into a few hours earlier without any further processing or pasteurization. The goat milk came from a farm outside of Boston run by a caring woman, Jeanette, who feeds her animals organic carrots and allows them sunshine, fresh air and movement.
Supporters of raw milk argue that its benefits include essential bacteria and enzymes that aid in digestion and immune support that are lost during pasteurization. It’s popularity has been growing rapidly in recent years and has slowly started to reach the kosher market.
Julie Powell is conked out on the sofa while the alarm clock runs down and the boeuf bourguignon burns to cinders. She leaps up, pulls the rubbery mess out of the oven, and flops down in despair. The one, the only, dish to impress famed cookbook editor Judith Jones at dinner, is ruined. She takes the next day off work to cook her braise of beef and red wine again, risking her job and her marriage to get it perfect. Our sentimental hearts throb with sympathy as we watch the culinary drama unfold in “Julie and Julia.”
At least, mine did. But as much as I wish for the fresh charm of Amy Adams as Julie, smiling up to a handsome New York butcher, I must deal with real life. I shop in Israel’s shuks — noisy, crowded open markets. My butcher is an abrupt, elderly man who answers to Shlomo. And even if I wanted to, I couldn’t find bacon, the traditional first ingredient for boeuf bourguignon in the whole length and breadth of the shuk.
“This is not your average garden,” chuckles Yvette Parnell as we survey the former Hayes Valley parking lot that has been transformed into the Growing Home Community Garden on a stunningly clear January afternoon.
Indeed, a full tour and history of the vibrantly decorated urban garden reveals the magic contained not only in its lush expanse of edible crops, perennials, and herbs, but in its transformative effects on the homeless and housed San Franciscans who have joined forces to create this open green space in the heart of the city for all to enjoy.
The vision for the Growing Home Community Garden (GHCG), located at 250 Octavia Street in San Francisco, sprouted two years ago from Judith Klein, founding director of Project Homeless Connect a program which has connected over 27,000 homeless individuals with essential services since its inception in 2004. The intention of the garden was to offer a safe haven for people to get off the street, or out of shelters for a bit, and have the opportunity to experience the responsibility and nurturing involved in growing edible plants from scratch. Many, but by no means are all of the volunteer members homeless, in shelters, or formerly homeless. They meet weekly over communal meals to discuss different goals for the garden, and to share the work involved in maintaining an ambitious array of crops, including kale, cauliflower, berries, apples, carrots, passion fruit, and six different kinds of tomatoes. To date, over 285 people, including neighbors, students, artists and community members have participated in the garden’s efforts.
Some know chef Mitchell Rosenthal from his favorably reviewed Town Hall, Anchor & Hope, and Salt House restaurants in San Francisco. Others associate him with his many years working with famous names like Paul Prudhomme and Wolfgang Puck. But what few know, is that Rosenthal got his start cooking traditional Jewish food at (the recently closed) Jack Cooper’s Celebrity Delicatessen in New Jersey.
“That’s where I started. Jewish recipes are the foundation,” he told The Jew in the Carrot in a phone interview about his new cookbook, “Cooking My Way Back Home.” The book contains recipes for dishes served at Rosenthal’s restaurants, but ones that can be easily executed by an amateur cook in a home kitchen. The book’s 100 recipes — reflecting Town Hall’s southern flair, the more contemporary approach of Salt House, and Anchor & Hope’s emphasis on fresh seafood — highlight Rosenthal’s preference for bold flavors and contrasting textures. These are “recipes that are from all the experiences I have had,” Rosenthal explained. They’re not specific to one cuisine. “I don’t like to be put into a box,” he asserted.
It was the first day where the temperature hadn’t risen above freezing, and I was seriously feeling January. Until I picked up my mail…and found a Johnny’s seed catalog. Pages and pages of beautiful vegetables leapt out at me, warming my heart if not my blistered hands.
The night before, I had volunteered at my CSA Winter share pick up. My job was to weigh out the carrots for everyone, ten pounds per share. That’s a nearly-full grocery bag of carrots. Our farmer had delivered 12 crates of purple, orange and yellow carrots that had been harvested sometime this fall, and held in storage for the winter. Without the steady mist of a supermarket delivery shelf, the carrots looked a little pallid (kind of like we all do in winter). They are nevertheless sweet and delicious, but a stark contrast to the vivid hues of the seed catalog, and the real live fresh-harvested crops they represent. In winter, when the pale browns and beige of sweet potatoes, turnips, potatoes and carrots fill the store room, we start dreaming of summer harvest…and planning for it.
Milk Street Café, a large kosher cafeteria on Wall Street, will be turned into Trump Street Bar & Grill. Trump says he hopes to retain most of the staff, but will it stay kosher? [Grubstreet]
After publishing a review of Kutcher’s, the new Jewish bistro, longtime food critic Robert Sietsma received some intense gefilte fish hate mail. [Fork in the Road]
Need a new Shabbat chicken recipe? Check out Joan Nathan’s Moroccan Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemons. [Joy of Kosher]
First shoes, and now a film.
Oscar winner Natalie Portman, one the world’s most famous vegans, may be cooking up a documentary on the topic, several years after launching a line of animal-friendly shoes. The “Black Swan” star reached out to author Jonathan Safran Foer about her interest in making “a very personal documentary” inspired by “Eating Animals,” a book partly about Safran Foer’s own dietary decisions, which Portman said made her “go vegan.”
Safran Foer revealed his conversation with Portman on a French website last year, but the conversation is only now getting picked up among the actress’ English-speaking fans.
For both Safran Foer and Portman, recent Jewish history plays a role in their moral view of eating. In a Huffington Post piece, Portman writes that she’s “often reminded” that Hitler was a vegetarian, while Safran Foer writes in his book about his grandmother’s desperate search for food during the Holocaust.
Sabrina Malach is an inspiring leader of the New Jewish Food Movement in her native Toronto. She is currently the Director of Outreach and Development at Shoresh, a grassroots organization that aims to build a more ecologically sustainable Toronto Jewish community. Having received inspiration from her experiences as an Adamah Fellow and her work at Hazon, Sabrina has channeled her passion and knowledge into new food projects in the Toronto Jewish community. Most recently, she is one of the coordinators of the Shoresh Food Conference coming up this February.
I recently had the opportunity to catch up with her and hear about her work on the Shoresh Food Conference, and how the New Jewish Food Movement takes a Canadian twist north of the border.